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Graham Foust on Workshops, Line Breaks, and Prosody

Graham Foust on Workshops, Line Breaks, and Prosody

Foust speaks with Barbara Claire Freeman of Omniverse about his collection of poems To Anacreon In Heaven And Other Poems. Click here for the full interview.


Barbara Claire Freeman: You’ve recently published a new collection of poems titled To Anacreon In Heaven And Other Poems and readers who are familiar with your previous books may be in for a surprise. Other collections, such as A Mouth In California and Necessary Strangers tend toward, if they don’t indeed exemplify, “the minimal”: they’re composed primarily of short poems, short lines, short-ish words. This new book, however, is very different. It’s a collection of poems written in long lines (or sentences) and, with the exception of the one-line poem titled “Sonnet” and a handful of others, most of the poems are quite long. “To Anacreon in Heaven,” for example, is fifty-three pages and “To Graham Foust on the Morning of his Fortieth Birthday” spans twenty-eight. What’s up?

Graham Foust: At least a couple of things were up. (I’m back to writing shorter, more traditionally lineated poems now, so I’m having to think back a bit here…) First, I’ve always had an infatuation with the concept (and the deployment) of the sentence, which in turn led me to teach a couple of graduate courses on the subject alongside the many composition courses I taught while at Saint Mary’s College of California. (When I teach composition, I teach grammar and mechanics—that’s the course’s “theme,” which is as it should be, I think.) We read (and diagrammed!) a lot of fantastic sentences, and so for a few years I was thinking quite a lot about the music and meaning that can be achieved by way of the sentence and not so much about how to break the line, which is something I’d been used to thinking about alongside or in relation to sentences. (Obviously, most of my earlier poems are also “in sentences,” but they also make use of the line.) At any rate, the music of this latest book is generated by sentences and the spaces between them. That said, I suppose it’s also the case that one could see each sentence as a stanza—that certainly would seem the case if one simply looked at the poems without reading them, given that there’s a space between each of the sentences—but I think of, say, “To Graham Foust on The Morning of His Fortieth Birthday” as a stichic poem, not a stanzaic poem. But perhaps that’s cheating a bit—wouldn’t a stichic prose poem be one in which all the sentences were squashed together in a single paragraph? That seems better in theory than in practice I guess, at least with regard to these poems…

Second, I think I just got tired of writing little poems with relatively clipped lines, so I decided (after a long period of not really writing anything at all) to just try something completely different. That I had gotten very, very tired of reading poetry, generally, and had both returned to and discovered a lot of terrific prose writers (Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Taylor, William Gass, Renata Adler, Leonard Michaels, Diane Williams, etc., etc.) was probably also the reason for such a drastic change.

It’s funny—I began writing this stuff when I was away at a writers’ colony—the first and only time I’d ever done such a thing—and the minute I arrived there, I began to worry intensely about absolutely everything: how was my family getting along, what was the “proper” use of all this free time, exactly how much euchre can one play on the computer without going insane, etc., etc. So maybe not having to worry about line breaks was just an attempt to at least not worry about one thing…

[To read more of the interview, click here.]



Poet Graham Foust was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and raised in Wisconsin. He earned his BA from Beloit College, MFA from George Mason University, and PhD from SUNY-Buffalo. Foust once noted that he is “generally uncomfortable with comfort in poetry,” and his work has received praise for its uncompromising, even dark, blend of humor, allusion, and metaphysical investigation. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including As in Every Deafness (2003); Leave the Room to Itself (2003), which won the Sawtooth Poetry Prize; Necessary Stranger (2007); A Mouth in California (2009); and To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems (2013). With Samuel Frederick, Foust co-translated the German poet Ernst Meister’s In Time’s Rift (2012). Foust’s essays and writing have appeared in journals such as Conjunctions, Jacket, and TriQuarterly. He has taught at Saint Mary’s College of California and at the University of Denver.


To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems (2013)
A Mouth in California (2009)
Necessary Stranger (2007)Leave the Room to Itself (2003)
As In Every Deafness (2003)

Almost As If I’ve Been Given an Horizon
And the Ghosts
From a Finished Basement
Pop Song

Wallless Space, a translation of Ernst Meister's Wandloser Raum (2014)

In Time's Rift, a translation of Ernst Meister's Im Zeitspalt (2012)

On Ernst Meister (co-written with Samuel Frederick)
On Wallace Stevens
On Jack Spicer (2)
On Jack Spicer (1)

An Interview with Barbara Claire Freeman (August 2013)

Wallless Space reviewed at The Volta
Wallless Space in Publishers Weekly
To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems in Colorado Review
To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems in The Iowa Review
In Time's Rift in The Kenyon Review
In Time's Rift in The Huffington Post
In Time's Rift in The Rumpus
Stephen Burt's "The New Thing"
David B. Olsen's "People are Stranger"
A Mouth in California in Ploughshares
A Mouth in California in the Oxonian Review (U.K.)
A Mouth in California in Rain Taxi Review of Books