David Budbill is a Vermont author, poet, playwright, and musician whose poetry I fell in love with years ago, and whose prolific output makes writing seem effortless--which it most assuredly is not. Rewarded for his talents through a bountiful accumulation of prestigious awards and fellowships during the course of his career, David often writes about nature--both the outdoor kind and the human kind. His poems always make me think, usually make me smile, and often make me laugh out loud. Copper Canyon Press will publish his latest collection, Happy Life, in the fall of 2011.
Why not? It's short and easy to read, at least mine is.
How did you come to be a professional poet?
I'm a professional poet? I thought professionals earned money at what they do.
Do you have favorite poets or poems?
So many I can't count. Poets: Chaucer, Robinson Jeffers, Walt Whitman, Po Chu-i, Wang Wei, Yang Wan-li, Wendell Berry, Hayden Carruth, Han Shan, The authors of The Bible (the King James Version), the list could go on forever, but most especially Ryokan.
What's the most interesting "poetry pilgrimage" you've ever made?
I once went, with a California friend, to Robinson Jeffers's TOR HOUSE, in Carmel. Jeffers moved there very early in the 20th century when Carmel was a deserted California coastal town, three quarters of a century before it became hip. He built a house, TOR HOUSE, out of stone from the beach, and a stone tower too, both overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's a magical place.
In the great scheme of things, where does poetry fit in?
At the top.
Describe your writing routine and/or process.
I try to stay open to The Muse, to inspiration, as much of every day as I can. I carry a little micro-cassette (I haven't yet graduated to the digital kind) tape recorder with me almost everywhere, so I'm ready to get something down when it comes to me. As I am fond of saying, "I don't think things up. I hear them and write them down." In other words, I listen. I hear characters and lines of poems talking to me and I try to get it down as best I can. If I miss it, well, as I've said, too bad for me. I have to wait for it to come around again, if it ever does.
I'm a recordist, a stenographer, a secretary. If you want to get fancy about it, you could call me an intermediary, a priest. I don't invent what I write, I don't think it up; I record what I hear and see, both outside of me in the world and inside of me in my imagination and, most often, in that combination of the two where what is outside of me gets transformed into something new as it passes into the inside of me.
I do all this with language, which is not an end in itself, but a means to an end--the end of getting down on paper what I have received. Only as my capacity to be accepting and receiving comes together with my articulateness with the language is good work produced. If I haven't been articulate enough with the language, if my technique isn't good enough, well, too bad for me; I have failed. All of which is to say, I am responsible only for my mediocre and bad work. I can't take credit for my good work, since I am only the conduit for it. This notion has a pleasant sense of humility about it, which appeals to me.
I want to dwell for a moment on the passive, accepting, receiving aspect of being a writer. This may be particularly an issue for men, since to be open, passive, receptive, and fecund is not the way most boys are raised to be men but, increasingly, it is an issue for women writers as we live in an age which gives so much credence and value to aggressiveness, assertiveness, the positive, optimistic, light, active, "male" Yang virtues. At the same time our age denigrates the "female" Yin virtues of darkness, passivity, receptiveness, and so on. I understand that the idea of The Yielding Female—whether applied to men or women--is not a currently popular idea.
In short, I have a little sign on my wall that says: Don't think. Listen. Watch. When I apply my mind to the task at hand, I can't hear what is there to be heard. In other words, if I think, I can't listen; when I use my head, my ears fall off.
I understand myself as a writer as someone who is a receiver, a receptacle. After I am filled up, or while I am being filled up, I can then attempt to become a transmitter of what I have received. I listen for the voices and, if I'm lucky, I hear them accurately and write them down.
What's the most absurd thing you've ever written a poem about?
Is there some consistent trademark or characteristic that you've discovered in your poetry?
My simplicity and straightforwardness, my use of plain, unpoetic language.
Anything else you'd like to share--advice, anecdotes, forthcoming adventure, etc?
As my pal, Steve Sanfield, who is America's greatest Haiku poet, says:
Read the masters.
Make it clear.
Keep it simple.
Many thanks to David for his time and reflection on these questions. Your Daily Poem will feature his poem, "This Shining Moment in the Now," on November 13th, and you can read one of my favorite of David's poems here. Enjoy others by browsing the YDP archives.