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Interview With Poet Dan Albergotti

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

by Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

“Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.

I’ve been working on a interview project with Deborah at 32 Poems magazine, and she kindly allowed me to interview past contributors to the magazine. We will be posting the interviews throughout the coming months, and our eighth interview posted on Deborah’s Poetry Blog of 32 Poems on March 31. I’m going to provide you with a snippet from the interview, but if you want to read the entire interview, I’ll provide you a link for that as well. For now, let me introduce to you 32 Poems contributor, Dan Albergotti :

1. Not only are you a contributor to 32 Poems, you are a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University and have a full-length collection of poems published called The Boatloads. You also have an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Literature. Do you think poets have an easier time getting published with higher credentials? Why or Why not? Also of your “hats,” which do you find most difficult to wear and why?

Over the years, I’ve occasionally heard this suspicion that having a good cover letter can get you “in” at magazines and presses. I just don’t buy it. Only the work matters to editors. And if a lot of people being published have degrees in creative writing, isn’t there a rival hypothesis to the idea that the degree “got them in”? Doesn’t it make sense that someone who committed two-to-four years of his of her life to study writing at a post-graduate level might just have developed abilities to the point that he or she is writing poems worthy of being published?

I do wear a lot of hats, and it’s difficult in the sense that it stretches my economy of time very thin. But I’m lucky in that every hat I wear–as writer, teacher, editor–is wonderful, so it’s hard to apply the word “difficult” to any of it. I’m blessed, really.

2. Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

This will be my “J” response: Joy Division, Jack Gilbert, John Keats, Joss Whedon, Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel). I might be obsessed with the tenth letter of the alphabet.

3. When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

I don’t really have any routines or playlists, but I love your question, and since you opened the door with your invitation of a “top five,” I will seize the opportunity to list my five favorite albums of all time, if for no other reason than to promote them to other people:

The Clash, London Calling

Radiohead, OK Computer

R.E.M., Murmur

Joy Division, Closer

Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane over the Sea

While these aren’t necessarily playing when I’m writing, they are all albums that I find inspiring. I remember that great moment at the 2008 Oscars when Glen Hansard, at the end of his acceptance speech for best original song, exhorted the millions watching to “Make art, make art, make art!” When I listen to these five albums, I want to make art in any way I can. And that’s always a good feeling.

4. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

Lately I’ve been writing in form a good bit, which is something I haven’t done in a while (all the poems in The Boatloads are free verse). But I’ve been writing new free verse poems as well. I have a very general idea of the shape that my second full-length manuscript will take based on the kinds of poems I’ve been writing. I don’t have a systematic project to fill a collection, and I tend to avoid such thoughts of larger structures when writing poems. So I’m afraid I have little more detail to provide than “I’m writing poems.”

About the Poet:

Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008), selected by Edward Hirsch as the winner of the 2007 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and other journals. In 2008, his poem “What They’re Doing” was selected for Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. A graduate of the MFA program at UNC Greensboro and former poetry editor of The Greensboro Review, Albergotti currently teaches creative writing and literature courses and edits the online journal Waccamaw at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.

Want to find out what Dan’s writing space looks like? Find out what he’s working on now, his obsessions, and much more. Check out the rest of my interview with Dan here. Please feel free to comment on the 32 Poems blog and Savvy Verse & Wit.

Also, check out this interview with Dan on How a Poem Happens.