Ann Lauterbach: On the Value of Effective Language After Trump’s Presidency
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Ann Lauterbach about her new poetry collection, Door.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: One of the things that I think is really interesting about this collection is that you have so many different poems called Door, and it’s the name of the collection. I don’t know if you’ve done that before. I’m curious if you have and your choice about that?
Ann Lauterbach: No, I haven’t. Others have I know, my great friend, Michael Palmer, likes to use the same title over and over again, which is different from this. I think, in this case, it amused me to think of the book as a kind of architecture, I do that anyway, because you know, stanza means room and I like this idea that the doors in it are literally like you’re going to go into another space, and then another space, and then another space. That felt very pleasurable, that there were just all these entrances and exits and entrances and exits. And, that they were not necessarily into anything of great merit or interest, most of the Door poems are quite small.
And then there’s the one long one. I think in the beginning, the earlier collections have had very distinct separations between their parts. And, this one, there wasn’t any way to arrange it. It didn’t seem to have that shape at all. And so, the way in which maybe the recurring motif like a pattern in anything, it was like we’re starting again, or we’re opening again, or we’re going forward again, and through this this trope of the door.
Mitzi Rapkin: I think too, as a poet, door is such a symbol in your poems and you do start one of the poems saying, “let’s explore what words cannot.” It seems very ironic on the face of it for a poet because that’s all you have as a poet. You have the images and symbols too but there are some boundaries to what words can convey.
Ann Lauterbach: Yes, well, not only what they can convey, but the question, which is very strong in this collection, but I think always from my work, is this idea of efficacy, you know, what is effective in terms of language? You know Auden said poetry makes nothing happen. But I don’t know that he believed that for a second, actually. And I think that question about the efficacy of language and the use of language and the misuse of language and what it does to cultures is so relevant right now.
I mean, it’s always on my mind, and after suffering through the years of Donald J. Trump and his abusive language, I felt, a kind of terror that language was going to no longer have any tenacity or relevance or way to touch down on how things are, you know, on the real world. And some of these poems were written in that sense of turbulence and terror that words were just going to not be effective at all because they were being emptied out of any kind of significance that we could count on to go back to that.
Ann Lauterbach is the author of ten books of poetry and three books of essays, including The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetics of Experience and The Given & The Chosen, her 2009 collection, Or To Begin Again, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Lauterbach’s work has been recognized by fellowships from, among others, the Guggenheim Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She is the Ruth and David Schwab II Professor of Languages and Literatures at Bard College. A native of New York City, she lives in Germantown, New York.