During my junior year of college at Central Michigan University, I took an Introduction to Poetry class taught by the poet Eric Torgersen. I had a passing interest in writing at the time and was taking the course to escape the doldrums of my public relations major. By the end of class, I was kicking myself for choosing the wrong major. Eric’s poetry has a quiet, pure quality that I admire and enjoy reading and his teaching techniques mirror these qualities. Eric took the time to share the following insights into what inspires him and what poets are important to him.
CPR: What is currently inspiring you creatively?
ET: Mostly mortality, as I’m pushing seventy. I think about “good years left,” both bodywise and brainwise, and get down to work. Death has a way of coming up at the ends of poems, as in “Broken.”
CPR: Who was the first poet (or poets) important to you?
ET: I grew up about two miles from the house where Whitman was born, and where a lot of things–a high school, a road, a bowling alley–are named after him, and maybe in a general way that made being a poet seem conceivable, but I never thought of being a poet till my first year at Cornell, when David Ray, later one of my teachers, published a lot of poems in the school literary magazine of the day that actually got me interested in poetry for the first time. He got me started, and I’m grateful.
CPR: Could you talk a little bit about your process?
ET: It keeps changing. Lately a few come from word games, mostly anagrams. I’m just about at the end of a series of ghazals–around seventy, not all of them worth anything–and variant ghazals like “Broken.” There, once I had momentum, the poems often just grew from having a possible rhyme-refrain combination pop into my head–I’d never worked that way before. For a long time I did voices a lot, first person monologues by persons who were not me, though the poems often grew out of events in my life. Go back far enough and for a while, like Yeats, I was versifying essays, or the ideas in essays.
CPR: Would you make an observation about today’s poetry landscape.
ET: I’m in agreement with Tony Hoagland that too many young poets seem to need to prove that they’re smart. This often goes along with being quite buttoned-up emotionally, for fear of being sentimental or corny. Smart is a minor virtue in poetry, though getting a PhD might tempt you to think otherwise. But there are plenty of very good poets around.
CPR: What did you do today?
ET: In the morning I worked on a review of a monograph by Diane Radycki on the great and under-recognized artist Paula Modersohn-Becker (the subject of Rilke’s great “Requiem for a Friend.”) Then worked out on the elliptical machines at the Student Activity Center at CMU. After lunch worked more on the review. In the afternoon, with my wife, a fair amount of house cleaning in preparation for guests the next day. Then went outside to cut up and clear away a tree that fell on our lawn from the neighbor’s yard. Dinner and more cleanup, watched the end of the Tigers game and a bit of the Red Wings. Before bed, read a couple of Times Book Reviews. Did I mention I’m retired?
Eric Torgersen is a Professor of English, emeritus at Central Michigan University. He is a contributor to Issue No. 26 of CPR. His most recent book is Heart. Wood. (Word Press, 2012).
Interviewed by CPR editor Patti Pangborn.