Oct 16 03 by Published in: Interviews No comments yet

Poet Tom Chandler isn’t interested in becoming immortal.

Instead, he wants his poetry to be enjoyed in the here and now.

“I’m not a guy who worships in the church of Art. I’m a working poet, doing the best I can,” he said.

A champion of the ordinary, Chandler has no use for elitist poets.

“I think they’re responsible for keeping poetry on the fringes instead of in the mainstream where it belongs,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with the idea that poetry can be popular.”

Chandler, the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, looks for work that, “as Emily Dickinson said, can make the top of your head come off.”

“I don’t think it’s a mystery. I think almost anyone can know what is a good poem,” he said. “I don’t look for any one thing. I’m interested in new perspectives, new twists on words. What I don’t care for are abstracts.”

In his own work, he tries to “wring every drop out of a topic I’m exploring.”

Whether it’s a broken barn beam or a beached whale, a dead dog or a heart transplant patient, Chandler turns his keen eye to a subject that may seem commonplace, even banal, and renders it extraordinary.

“I always keep my antenna up, looking for a topic. Any incident I witness has the potential for a poem or a story,” he said.

It’s a process that may take dozens of rewrites to make the words seem effortless and natural.

“If there is art in writing, it’s in rewriting,” he said. “For me, it’s important to never see the footprints. Never see the work that goes into it.”

As much work as he puts into making the poem perfect on the page, he said the experience of encountering poetry is “a thousand percent” better when it is heard rather than read.

“I think that poems come to life when they’re read properly,” he said. “I’m an excellent reader, a better reader than writer. It just scratches my itch.”

The public can watch him scratch that itch Thursday night at Elizabethtown College when he gives a free reading of his work at 8 p.m. in the Brinser Lecture Room of Steinman Hall.

“I love giving readings, making poems stand up on their hind legs. I feel like I’m in communication with the audience, even when it’s just the silence of acknowledgement, it’s really the only feedback I’m going to get,” he said.

He gives plenty of feedback to fledgling poets though, workshopping with his students at Byrant College, as well as writers who submit work to the literary journal and newspaper column he edits.

His advice to aspiring writers is to read, read, read.

“I think of myself as a cheerleader. I flood my students with poetry. I want to return them to a natural love of poetry,” he said.

As for his reading in Lancaster County, he wants his work to be simply comfortable and entertaining.

“I hope they say, ‘Gee, that was a pleasant evening and what a nice guy’.”

Tom Chandler is the author of four books of poetry, Sad Jazz,” “Wingbones,” “One Tree Forest,” and “The Sound the Moon Makes As It Watches.” He is a Phi Beta Kappa Poet at Brown University, where he received his MFA. He received a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire and is a winner of the Galway Kinnell Poetry Prize.


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