Do you collaborate or do you prefer to work alone?
Alexis: We are both pretty independent, and write most of our work alone, but there are plenty of times where we will collaborate, whether on an editing basis, or something more substantial, such as our epistolary poems.
Domenic: Yes, that’s a meaningful differentiation. I think any readers that convey their critical response to a work are, to a certain degree, collaborating with the writer, because that writer is forced to walk two paths — to agree with the response and pause before stepping forward, or to disagree and continue right along. So, in that sense, we are always collaborating, because we are constantly editing each other’s work. However, in the more direct response-collaboration sense of the term, we usually work independently. But, as she was saying, we have been writing poems to each other in an epistolary manner. Alexis will usually write a poem, and then I will read it, and respond to it with my own poem. Robert Vivian and Richard Jackson just published a collection titled ‘Traversings’, and they both respond to each other’s poems in that manner. It’s unbelievable to see where they begin and end the collection, considering that all of their poems are responses to the previous poems.
Do you think poets have a duty to be politically engaged, or at least to reflect the world around them?
Alexis: I pretty much agree. I don’t really like to read very political poems, because oftentimes they come off as preachy. I do think there are poets that do it very well. But going back to what Domenic said, I think a poet’s only obligation is to themselves. This sounds totally selfish, but if a poet’s entire gut isn’t in the poem, you can feel it. That disconnect is almost painful. I think it’s definitely important to have poets that write political poems, but I don’t think it’s mandatory. If a poet doesn’t want to write political poems, they are still obligated to talk about political poems in the education-sense.
Domenic: Absolutely. The notion of being “preachy” leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I think that the vast majority of “political poems” fail to move me, because they seem regurgitated. However, like I said, many wonderful poets are writing amazing political poems.
Alexis: Mark Doty’s ‘In Two Seconds’ comes to mind. A poet as skilled as Mark Doty writes about this societal and political problem without coming off as “preachy.” Although everything he does amazes me.
As a poet, is it important to feel part of a community or a wider movement? Are you involved in writers’ groups at all?
Alexis: I don’t think writers are as social as people think they are, especially poets. I think it’s important to have a “community” of readers, whether those people are poets or not is not as important. I think writing groups are great for people who want them, but I am not one of those writers. I’m not in one of those groups. I’m not gutsy or trusting enough.
DS: I’ve never felt comfortable being a part of any “movement.” I am far too shy. Also, I think it’s dangerously easy to be swept away by the tide of the newest contemporary contrivance. I think a community of readers is certainty important, though. MFA programs beautifully nurture this. But I am also not in a writing group.
How do you see your own poems developing over the next ten to fifteen years? Could we invert the classic “what advice would you give to your younger self” question and ask what advice you’d give to your older self?
Domenic: This is a difficult question. It sounds reductive and clichéd to say “stay true to yourself,” but oftentimes I think clichés can express the most meaningful emotions. Of course, it’s impossible to predict what “stay true to yourself” will signify in ten or fifteen years, but wherever, or whatever, that nexus is, I would advise him to orbit it. I would want my older self to remain humble and receptive. I find that nearly all of my poems are responses to, or reinventions of, poems that vice-grip my wrist and demand countless readings, so, I guess, contextually, I mean reception in that sense.
Alexis: I agree about staying true to yourself, though I can’t say where my poems will be in the future. I would advise myself to not force them.
Domenic: What do you mean by “force”?
Alexis: I want to just be patient with them, and to not see something and immediately write it. My poems need to sit around awhile.
Domenic: In your “new work” folder?
Alexis: Yes, in my “new work” folder.