In George Kalamaras’ work, “language that blurs and buries itself in the body like an osculant ox” is found as often as the tongue once we pay attention to it. His work is attention, wild and kind, just like the tails and eyes of the beagles he loves. I was lucky enough to be a student of his during my undergraduate work, and it’s wonderful to have his work featured in Issue No. 26 of CPR–“Amnesia of the Hardboiled Detective Novel” for one. George expands on poetry, dogs, and what inspires him in a recent interview:
CPR: Where is your lowest left rib currently?
GK: It’s hiding in the fourteenth string of my sitar in my meditation room, among the other floating ribs of the fret board and the floating strings of my ease.
CPR: What is inspiring you at this point in time?
GK: Nature always inspires me. Reading about biology and the natural world is a constant. Working with dogs—hanging out with hound dogs, in particular.
CPR: Who was the first poet who was important to you?
GK: The first poet who was important to me was Wang Wei (699-759 C.E.). I had a teacher in college turn me onto this Chinese T’ang Dynasty poet when I was 19, and he remains one of my favorite poets to this day.
CPR: Could you describe your composition process(es)?
GK: The word “organic” is overused, the word “meditative” misunderstood.
CPR: What do you observe about today’s poetry landscape?
GK: I find a great deal of poetry, some of it very good. Unfortunately, a large portion of what I read appears self-involved, verse that doesn’t look at what the Chinese poets of antiquity called “the world of the ten thousand things.” We need to look at the world and observe and feel the reciprocity of the inner and outer realms. I find a great deal of chatter in today’s poetry, language for the sake of language, often-useless irony, and an endless stream of language that appears self-involved. At the same time, I see the importance of all this writing, even the poetry that I find less satisfying, as poets need to learn to talk. I just grow concerned, I suppose, wanting to remain mindful that we respect poetry enough to embrace it as an attentiveness practice and not as a commodity.
CPR: Finally, what did you do today?
GK: I graded papers and evaluated poetry chapbooks for class. It’s finals time! (But yesterday—glorious day off!—I spent the afternoon with my brilliant dog-trainer friends, walking through lush spring Indiana fields, working with a group of exuberant dogs!)
George Kalamaras is a CPR contributor to Issue No. 26 as well as the author of The Mining Camps of the Mouth (New Michigan Press, 2012), which is his thirteenth book of poetry and the winner of the New Michigan Press Chapbook Award. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne where he has taught since 1990.
Interviewed by CPR editorial board member AmyJo Arehart.