JULY 30, 1997
+ i = n = k
Poet Ron Koertge's
first found Ron Koertge in Edward Field's
A Geography of American Poets, which was published in
1979. I fell for the way he loved language, the way he could tell a story
in a poem and print a photograph
on your memory.
Making Love to Roget's Wife (University of
Arkansas Press, 1997) is a
collection of his poems, new and selected. This is what poetry should be:
outrageous maps of actions that are impossible. Ron Koertge's
poems are not pedestrian or pedantic. Woe is not a large part of his
poems, although he writes seriously. Humor is one of the names of his
I have been penpals with Ron for some time, and this interview was done by
What brought you to poetry writing?
When I was in graduate school at the University of Arizona (1962-5)
Gerry Locklin showed me some poems in a magazine that either was The
Wormwood Review or was certainly like The Wormwood Review.
That sort of sassy, dirty, iconoclastic poem really appealed to me
compared to the devotional pageantry of graduate school. Because Gerry
and a few other guys in the graduate program
were writing poetry, I thought I'd try my hand at it, too: poetry buddies
instead of golfing buddies. The dominant style of the little mags in
those days was easy going - versus the virtuosic, let's say, and that
played right into what I could do, i.e.,
talk and show off.
There is a sense of humor in your poetry that is often taken to an
absurd degree. Were you told as a child that you went too far, and found
the page a safe place to retreat with your imagination?
I was told (and am told) that I go too far, which only makes me want
more people to say that louder. I'm not so sure, though, that the page is
a retreat; it's more a place to escape the curfew and spend some quality
time with what I think of as the Florida of my mind. I know that things
my poems seem absurd - the penis tongs, "12 Photographs of
Yellowstone" - but they don't seem that absurd to me as I'm writing.
I'm not thinking, "Boy, am I zany today!" I just set up a premise and
follow it, like those little guys walking great
Did you abandon writing fiction for adults at some point, or is the
world just not ready for that yet?
Fiction for adults abandoned me right after The Boogeyman came out in
the early 80's. It's a pretty good grown-up novel, as those things go,
the next two that I wrote were failures. When the Verisimilitude
came around, he just laughed. So I was at one of those low points we all
hit when a friend of mine said that I should just forget about being a
and famous novelist and try my hand at kids' fiction: I could write in
first person, and I could be a smarty pants. Who could resist an offer
What writers led you up the ladder to your voice? Who do you admire in
the big name game these days?
I like the idea of being led up the ladder to my voice. ("What's
that on the roof? I thought it was a Frisbee, but it's Ron's voice! Will
he be happy to see this!") Seriously, folks, the blame falls on
Edward Field. He has always written a
bout pop icons and I remember reading his early books with great delight
and a sense of liberation: Poetry didn't have to be serious. I didn't
have to know classical myths or learn Babylonian. I could write about
Tonto or Ozzie Nelson and use the loot o
f a normal life to finance the art of a normal life. As far as the big
name game today, nobody can touch Billy Collins.
What is your training in the realm of the traditional and your thoughts
Nearly all of my poems are free verse. A lot of people find the
discipline of meter and/or rhyme inhibiting. My poetry students always
they can't write what they want in traditional forms. For me, though,
not inhibition, it's difficulty. Using rhyme and meter well -- as someone
like Tim Steele does -- is way too hard for me. It's not that I can't say
what I want in ye
olde forms. It's that I can barely say anything well.
I've never had any formal training in poetry at all. I'm basically
self-taught. I've never taken a class in poetry writing or gone to a
writer's conference. I've simply read a lot and had a lot of rejection
slips. One summer, though, about twenty years ago, I wrote a sonnet a day
every day for three months. The rule was that I couldn't do anything else
-- go to the track, take in a movie, spend time with my wife -- until I'd
written a creditable sonnet. And I stuck to the rule. Most of the
weren't very good, but at the end of the summer I was a different kind of
writer. My lines weren't as lazy, the rhythms were less asperitous, the
irony was less obvious, the whole poem was a more interesting instrument
-- Ron Koertge
interviewed by Amy Halloran
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