Six Questions for James Arthur

Poet James Arthur reads at the Pratt Wednesday, February 26, with George David Clark.

Who or what inspired your latest book?
Fatherhood is the inspiration for many of the poems in my most recent book, The Suicide’s Son. For me, The Suicide’s Son is about what we inherit and then pass on to our children, or try not to pass on. It’s also about the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, and where we come from.

What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever received?
To read poems out loud, so you not only see them on the page, but hear them. The teachers who fostered my love of poetry understood poems not as puzzles or as coded messages, but as songs, with each poem being an expression of thought and feeling wrapped around a rhythmical core. When people find poetry inaccessible, it’s often because they’re reading it in silence, not hearing it.

What’s one of your favorite lines of poetry or sentences from a poem?
This is one of my favorite sentences, from Adam’s Curse, by W.B. Yeats:

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;  
We saw the last embers of daylight die,  
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky  
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell  
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell  
About the stars and broke in days and years.

Yeats’ wonderful command of meter and syntax make the sentence a pleasure to read out loud; I love the effect of that alliteration between “daylight” and “die,” and how the comma after “moon” creates a subtle rhythmical pause, giving dramatic emphasis to the image of the moon — and setting up an aural contrast to the remainder of the sentence. And I especially love that final, elaborate conceit, which compares the moon to a shell, and time to a tide that rises and falls, covering up the moon and stars then revealing them, day by day, night by night.

Which of your poems do you most enjoy reading to an audience, and why?
Which poems I enjoy most changes all the time. What’s important to me is that the reading be authentic and expressive; if I start to feel that I’m presenting the same material over and over, just going through the motions, then I change things up. Lately one of my favorites has been “In Al Purdy’s House”, a poem I wrote while my family and I were living in Ameliasburgh, Ontario, in a house that once belonged to the Canadian poet Al Purdy.

Is there a poem by another poet that you wish you had written yourself?
There are so many poets whose work I admire—Bishop, Cummings, Millay, Auden, Stevens, and MacNeice are a few—but I rarely if ever wish that someone else’s poem were my own. Reading a great poem, I feel that I’ve entered into deep communication with someone, so that I’ve understood that person, and been understood. But I have no desire to be anyone other than myself, or to write someone else’s words. The pleasure of writing is that you’re speaking for yourself!

What books have you loved lately?
Right now I’m reading Cane, by the Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer. It’s a beautiful book that moves between the South and North, mixing poetry and prose, as well as different modes of narration, so that you’re sometimes not sure whether an individual scene is real or imagined, or whether a particular line of dialogue represents thought, speech, or something in between—but all the parts work together to build a narrative that’s extremely powerful and complex.

Four Questions for George David Clark

Poet George David Clark reads at the Pratt Wednesday, February 26, with James Arthur.

What books have you loved lately?
I first read A.E. Stallings’ Like a little more than a year ago, but I picked it up again last week as I prepare to teach the collection later this semester. It is a brilliant book: even more formally inventive and ambitious than the poet’s earlier work, and Like also showcases the incredible insight and nuance of Stallings’ metaphors. James Arthur’s The Suicide’s Son is another collection I find I’m always recommending. There isn’t another poet writing today who has such a subtle command of free verse rhythms, or who can use that rhythm to so skillfully skewer his readers. It’s really going to be an incredible treat to read with James at the Pratt.

What’s one of your favorite lines of poetry or sentences from a poem?
A few lines I suppose, but what pops into my head at this question today is the beginning of Wallace Stevens’ The Well-Dressed Man with a Beard:

“After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends. / No was the night. Yes is this present sun.”

How did you pick the title of your new book?
Just a couple weeks after my wife and I were married she underwent an emergency surgery to remove a large, ovarian cyst. Then, in the aftermath of that procedure she went on a synthetic morphine, dilaudid, one side effect of which is extreme sleepiness. For the next several weeks Elisabeth was spending 20+ hours each day in bed. I’d leave her sleeping when I went to work and find her still unconscious when I came home in the evening. It was a strange way to begin a marriage and I started writing a series of reveilles—“Reveille” being a French word for waking and, in English, the term for the bugle call that rouses soldiers in the morning. At first my reveilles simply imagined my wife’s waking and her return to health, but soon the theme of waking seemed productive to my imagination well beyond its autobiographical trigger. The book is not about me or my wife directly, but Reveille ultimately seemed about right as an overarching title for the dreams and fantasies, lullabies, and awakenings that tie the collection together.

Which of your poems do you most enjoy reading to an audience, and why?
It’s always nice to share something that will get a few laughs, but lately I’ve been writing poems that are particularly dense in their sounds, many of them deliberately-rhythmed and heavily-rhymed. Poems with debts to Hopkins, and to contemporary poets like Heather McHugh and Christian Wiman and Kay Ryan. These are a great deal of fun to read aloud. They seem to sing themselves at times and help me get as much feeling as I can into my spoken voice.

Let’s Get Down to Business

Are you kicking off the New Year with a new business? The Pratt can help! Budding entrepreneurs and business owners will appreciate these books.

How to Write an Exceptional Business Plan
By Ashley Cheeks

Every great business starts with a great idea but it can be tough turning that idea into a concrete business plan. Ashley Cheeks teaches entrepreneurs how to clarify your business strategy, maximize your odds for bank and lender funding, and create a strong impression when pitching to investors.

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Starting a Business: All-In-One for Dummies
By Bob Nelson

Featuring new content that reflects the latest laws, business climate, and startup considerations, this book offers important practical advice entrepreneurs need to start any type of business from the ground up.

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Taxes for Small Business
By Mark Smith

If you are ready to take control over your own business and taxes, or you are starting up a new small business, this book will help you get started! Learn how to file your taxes with the proper paperwork and when you need to have your paperwork into the IRS office.

Read the book

Looking to learn more?
Stop by the Central Library for these events in February.

Small Business 101
Monday, February 10 at 5pm
Central Library

The Haysbert Center for Entrepreneurship is offering this workshop to assist entrepreneurs and small business owners with methods to securing capital, creating a business plan, marketing, and more.

Learn more

Business and Nonprofit Resource Fair
Saturday, February 22 at 10am
Central Library

This free event is an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs and nonprofits to connect, learn, and discover local resources.

Learn more

Get Hooked on these History Books

They say that history repeats itself so it’s essential that we take time to learn from the past. Check out two new history books about little known parts of American history.

Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America
By Candacy Taylor

Explore the historical role and impact of the Green book known as the “black travel guide to America.” The books published between 1936 and 1966 were innovative and important during a time period when it was dangerous and difficult for African-Americans to travel because black travelers couldn’t eat, sleep, or buy gas at most white-owned businesses.

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Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy
By David Zucchino

Pulitzer Prize-winner David Zucchino uses contemporary newspaper accounts, diaries, letters, and official communications to create a gripping and compelling narrative that weaves together individual stories of hate and fear and brutality. This is a dramatic and definitive account of a remarkable but forgotten chapter of American history.

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Interested in learning more about history?
Check out these upcoming events.

Douglass, Tubman and Harper: 19th Century Freedom Fighters
Saturday, February 1 at 2pm
Northwood Branch

Learn more

Stories from the African Oral Tradition
Monday, February 3 at 6pm
Orleans Street Branch

Learn more

Also new in Nonfiction this month…

Easy Weekend Getaways from Washington, DC
By Jess Moss

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Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice
By Andrea Freeman

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The History of Philosophy
By A.C. Grayling

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The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison
By Ralph Ellison

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Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World
By Gilian Gil

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You are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For
By Kyle Carpenter

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Envision Financial Freedom in 2020

By Katy Troeschel, Business, Science and Technology Department

We all know that the library promotes literacy, but did you know that financial literacy is a thing? Learn the ins and outs of mastering your money with these upcoming programs at the Central Branch.

Conquering Debt
January 15th at 12pm

Investing 101
February 12th at 12pm

Earn It, Plan It, Keep It
March 18th at 12pm

You Can Bank On It
April 15th at 12pm

No need to register, just show up! These free programs are hosted by CASH Campaign of Maryland, who also provides tax assistance for those who qualify. To find out if you qualify for free tax preparation and to set up your appointment, please contact CASH directly at 410-234-8008 or online at  

Don’t forget to add these books to your reading list!

What Matters Most
By Chanel Reynolds

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How Money Works
By DK Publishing

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You are a Badass at Making Money
By Jen Sincero

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