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Literary Prestidigitations on Display

15 Questions: An interview with I Goldfarb


15 Questions For you to Answer: 

Tell me about your book.
K: A 21st Century Canzoniere is a book of love poetry, inspired by Petrarch’s Canzoniere for Laura, but quite a bit longer. Most of the poems are sonnets, and the 590 poems (15 of which have been removed for privacy reasons) were written at a rhythm of nearly one per day over a bit less than two years.

What influenced this book?
The book tells the story of a chaste or “Platonic” love relationship between a professor around 70 and a beautiful graduate student in her early twenties. I first wrote one or two poems, then decided to write a cycle of ten, then a hundred, then Petrarch’s 366, and finally just kept going until my Muse broke off our relationship

Where does this book fit into your career as a writer?
It is a unique departure. As a professor I have written over a dozen books, but no volumes of poetry. I have written poetry before, some of which I am proud of, but after sending out some poems to magazines about 18 years ago and getting all rejections, I stopped thinking about publishing them. But the Canzoniere is far more poetry than I had written in my life until then. As I said in one of the poems, “In past lives I wrote poetry / you a poet have made of me.”

If you had to convince a friend or colleague to read this book, what might you tell them?
I honestly think this is a major work of poetry. It maintains a high level throughout and contains some beautiful lines and sequences. Above all, it is a unique work in the modern era; you have to go back to the Renaissance to find a volume of this length and quality dedicated to the glorification of the poet’s Muse.

Tell me about the last literary reading you attended.
I don’t go to many readings. We used to have a little group nearby populated largely by people of my age and social situation that met monthly in a little theater, and I would read a couple of sonnets there. Unfortunately the hostess of the group (something of a poet herself), who didn’t live nearby, lost the service of her assistant and decided to move the readings back to her home area, about 40 miles away, which put an end to my participation.

When did you realize you we're a writer?
I used to think of becoming a novelist, but never got beyond a novella. Poetry isn’t something I really thought much about as a career until now. But I have always written books of scholarship and “theory.”
Tell us about your process: Pen and Paper, computer, notebooks ... how do you write?
I used to write out everything by hand and have it typed up. After using a computer for several years, I became able to compose expository prose at the keyboard. But for poetry, I almost always write a poem out on a pad, small or full (not legal) size, then type it into a “draft” file, and after working on this, transfer it to a file for “finished” poems, which I often continue to tweak.

How do you handle a bad review of your work?
As a “new” poet I haven’t had much of this, except for rejection. I have always kept a low profile rather than seek publicity for my work. Virtually everyone I know who has had even a small dose of celebrity has become the worse for it; it is extremely hard to avoid vanity and a sense that visibility somehow confers an excellence that those less known cannot attain. If people start to notice this work, I think I’m old enough now to handle it, but I don’t expect it.

Which writer would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
I guess I’d say Baudelaire, since I know his work well and, as so many do, find him the greatest, most human artist among lyric poets. I wouldn’t mind talking to Homer or Sappho either, over a glass of ouzo.

What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
In my non-fiction works, some people tell me I should have tried harder to appeal to the public, but I don’t like to pander. In poetry, I haven’t written enough to make any mistakes; I might have tried harder with the mags, but I was struck by how mechanical the process was: every single rejection (in a SASE, this was before the Internet) arrived on a nearly identical “pink slip.” It just seemed like a mechanical system where you have ten packets of poems you submit to ten journals, and when they get rejected you send packet 1 to journal 2, etc., and after a while they recognize your name and start accepting your poetry. I got some advice from a real poet who told me, just take the whole thing and publish it as a book, and that’s what I did; we’ll see how that works.

What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
Playing the game; you have to eat, but a real writer has to remain faithful to his star, or to his Muse, as in my case.

What scares you the most?
Less death than a prolonged half-death. Not being able to write anymore would make life unbearable even without physical pain and disability.

Where do you buy your books?
I used to buy lots of books, French mostly; lately, I buy very few, some on a Kindle, others usually online.
Who are you reading now?
I just finished reading lots of old novels I hadn’t had time for before retiring: Walter Scott, Fanny Burney and many other woman writers of that era. Having exhausted that domain, I haven’t found much to enjoy lately. I’ve always meant to reread Dostoevsky, whom I loved as an adolescent, but I’m a little afraid I’ll be disappointed, as occurred recently on (re)reading Don Quixote.

What is your favorite TV show at the moment? 
Ah, since Seinfeld I never watch TV. The Sopranos, Breaking Bad—I can’t agree that this is “literature,” somehow as good or better than film. There’s no comparison between those shows and even a halfway-decent movie. I’m not a huge fan of Coppola, but how can you even begin to compare The Godfather with The Sopranos?

Bonus Round
What do you want the world to know about you? Make it juicy ....  
Goldfarb respects the privacy of his Muse, but his aim in writing the Canzoniere is to immortalize, not her worldly self, but her essence, her soul purified of the weakness that I should have recognized before sharing my feelings with her. I want readers in a hundred, in a thousand years, to say: how wonderful she must have been to inspire all that poetry. I hope the poetry is good enough to make that happen.