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ALLISON TITUS
in conversation with BENNINGTON REVIEW

 

HENRIETTA HADLEY

In the poems you have in Bennington Review, I’m struck by how sharply the speaker’s gaze moves around as we leap from one predicament to another. How do your poems get control of their own movement? Could you speak to this?

ALLISON TITUS

I really like the idea of the poems with their own agency, getting control of themselves! Like how William Carlos Williams called poems “machines made of words.” I’m happy to leave that movement up to them, to be honest, but I think if I had to define it, I’d say my poems tend to be associative in a moody way, so the emotional and/or atmospheric texture moves from one preoccupation or scenario or image to the next as the original impulse unfolds (expands?) into a series of related impulses. Maybe.

 HENRIETTA HADLEY 

“The Whole Shebang” is a poem scattered across the width of a page, with several phrases separated by white space on each line. Was that always the poem’s form or did you find the form after writing the poem? What inspired you to scatter these phrases?

 ALLISON TITUS

The current scattered form came after the first few drafts, which were more vertical and symmetrical, just one long column. I wanted the ideas inside the poem to hold together conceptually the way they would if they formed a more cohesive/concentrated block of text, but, more than that, I wanted all the particular moments of the poem to be little islands inside that expanse; like they’re these fragments of intensity that constellate into a rush of feeling or momentum.

 HENRIETTA HADLEY 

When and where do you get excited when reading a poem? When and where do you get excited when writing one?

 ALLISON TITUS

When I get excited about a poem, it’s always the same way, that I respond most to poets/poems that arrest me and startle me back to attention (to the world, to life, to living) all over again, in some strange or intense manner: I’m always mostly desperate to be staggered/astonished/undone (by the world and thus by language). I just really all the time want to be rearranged; Robert Creeley is really good at doing this to me (“I heard words / and words full / of holes / aching.  Speech / is a mouth.”). When I’m working on my own poems, I like most to be surprised by something that develops/materializes in the way that feels as “true” as it feels wild, crucial, off-kilter.

 

 HENRIETTA HADLEY

In addition to your books of poems, you have also written a novel, The Arsonist’s Song Has Nothing to Do with Fire. In order to write a novel, did you have to learn to write from scratch, or was the experience not altogether different from writing poetry?

 ALLISON TITUS

That experience wasn’t too different from writing poems, actually, because I wrote the kind of novel that you can imagine a person who mainly writes poems would write… quiet and lyrical, with sections that are basically prose poems and not super thrilling. The whole thing is basically a series of extended descriptions of bleak and disheveled landscapes. Just kidding! (Not entirely kidding).

 HENRIETTA HADLEY

Do you remember your initial experiences reading the poets who you love most? Could you read them immediately, or did it take a long time for you to feel (as much as possible) that you understood the work and the techniques involved? Do you always love the same poets the most, or do they shift for you?

ALLISON TITUS

Gosh, I think I don’t remember exactly most of those initial experiences, except for maybe when I first encountered e.e. cummings in high school and understood how radically language could tilt and vivify the world.  With the poets I love the most, historically and currently, it’s always that something about their work strikes me immediately and viscerally and probably mostly in a way I can’t necessarily name. However that happens—however the words combine to invent an energy/texture/mood that bestows an intensity—that’s what I’m always after. I don’t think about it in terms of reaching a fixed understanding of the work exactly, but in being able to receive something the poem seems to offer that feels essential: a heightened perception or a sense of recognition or a little life raft to cling to. And yes: I do love the same poets the most, the ones I think of as my fundamental poets, the steadfast ones I always return to, no matter who else I fall in love with, the ones who remain.


ALLISON TITUS is the author of The True Book of Animal Homes (Saturnalia) and a forthcoming chapbook, Sob Story (Barrelhouse).


HENRIETTA HADLEY is an editorial assistant at Bennington Review.



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