Robert McDowell

Are there essential ways in which you consider yourself an American poet?

Only by accident of birth, then temperament.

When you consider your own "tradition," do you think primarily of American poets?

Yes, but only after starting with Homer, Dante, Milton, and many others.

Do you believe there is anything specifically American about past and contemporary American poetry? Is there American poetry in the sense that there is said to be American painting or American film? Do you wish to distinguish American poetry from British or other English language poetry?

Yes to all.

Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating distinctly American poetics?

Longfellow, Dickinson, Whitman, Frost.

What import does regional poetry occupy in your sense of American poetry?

There is no poetry without regional poetry.

What significance does popular culture possess in your sense of American poetry?

Sauce for the goose.

What about the American poets who lived primarily in Europe (Eliot, Pound, Stein)? What about the European poets who have recently lived or worked in America (Heaney, Walcott, Milosz)?

Eliot, Pound, Stein—significant. Heaney, Walcott, Milosz—overrated.

Are you interested in poetry written in America but not in English?


Are you more likely to read a contemporary non-American poet who writes in English or a contemporary non-American poet translated into English?

Either, or.

Do you believe you could readily distinguish a poem by an American poet from a poem by other poets writing in English?

Of course.

What do you see as the consequences of "political correctness" for American poetry?

Embarrassment. Disaster.

What are your predictions for American poetry in the next century?

Poetry survives in spite of us.

Additional Comments:

What other poetry's House is made up of rooms and raw materials of the verse of all nations, present and past? American poetry began in Puritan oppression, and evolved to express liberal oppression. Regional poetry is American poetry. In the modern age, what other poetry is as institutionalized as our own? American poetry provides tenured jobs for a host of mediocrities. American poetry melts all pots, leaving on the grass a new, a living thing. Three individuals were elected to the city council. One promised to impede unnecessary growth at all costs; the second promised to bring in new technology, to build and expand, to embrace the future; the third invented American poetry to resolve the others' discord. If God is my salvation, then poetry is my raison d'etre. American poetry is God knows what, heading God knows where.




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