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Poets Are Present: Virtual Poet-in-Residence Gary Logan

Our third virtual poet for the Poets Are Present poetry residency is STC’s own Gary Logan, Director of the Academy for Classical Acting.

Gary Logan

Gary Logan, Director of the ACA, talks about Robert Frost, giving yourself permission to edit and “thee,” “thy,” “thou.”

Gary sat down with us to chat poetry (in perfect diction) and even wrote us two new poems inspired by our conversation. 

STC:What is the story that started you on your poetry career?

Gary Logan: As I think back it all really started ten years ago. I read someone’s poetry that really affected me; unlike any kind of writing that I’d seen before. Before that, I didn’t know I had permission to write that way, so I started jotting things down and having fun with it. It became serious a couple of months after that. I thought, “This is something” and I began to develop it. It all came out of getting permission from another person’s writing.

STC: And whose writing was that?

GL: A friend of mine. Her writing was an inspiration. That same summer, another friend of mine and I would play games. He would say, “You go inside and write a line.” So then I would go write a line. And then he’d come back, tell me to go outside, and he’d write a line. We would never know where the direction of our poem was going, or how long or short it was going to be. And that also broke down walls.

STC: What poems or poets inspire you?

GL: As an actor, when I got cast in a role, I made a concerted effort not to see anybody else’s work on it. I didn’t want to be tainted by having any kind of preconceived notions about it. I liked going into it naïvely, which is a hard thing to do because it was my study and my business to know those plays. That’s how I started with the poetry in the beginning, not looking at anybody else’s work. But because I work with Shakespeare every single day of my life now, I’m surrounded by poetry. So, it’s not as if I’m not influenced by great poets, and one of the best, but I kept away from the mainstream of poetry for a long, long time. A lot of the poetry that I was writing was free-form, yet the Shakespeare that I was working with had a structure and form to it, and that made me want to look at other poets. Names like Sheamus Heaney, Tennyson, Pablo Naruda, and Robert Frost come to mind as the kinds of poets who began to have an influence on me. I seem to go on jags. Robert Frost, in particular right now, seems brand new to me.

STC: Can you tell us a bit about your process: where do you write your poems (in a notebook, on your phone, etc), How long does it take you to write a poem, and once a poem is written, what is your preferred way of reflecting on the poem?

GL: I don’t try to force anything. I might start with one idea but then the poem takes me somewhere else. I sat down once to write about Prometheus and what came out was a villanelle about Matthew Shepard. I suppose the impetus to write gets me to sit down, but then the first line falls out and I follow it.

The physical place where I write is on a laptop computer, preferably with a candle and headphones playing very low, peaceful music, usually chakra massage music. Oh, and a glass of wine always helps. Definitely on a computer. I wouldn’t be a writer at all—and I’ve published a book before—but I wouldn’t have written anything if it weren’t for computers. The editing process is so instantaneous. You just write a word, and if you feel like it, zip it out. It’s not like the old days when you had to use white out and typewriter paper. And I’ve never been a long-hander. What I try to do is to drop into an event—a memory—as the stimulus. I’m not necessarily writing poems autobiographically, although some of the poetry is, but even when I’m writing about Venus or Orion or some other mythological figure, it has something to do with me. And I need to be in a contemplative place to do that.

And there is a revision process, because I have license from writers such as Shakespeare to go back and revise, even if something hits me years later. I did it just yesterday. I went to look at some poems that I had written in 2007, and I went, “No, this is a better word,” and “This line would work better that way.” Even though a poem as it stands might be my original creation—my child—I revise all the time. But once it’s published, it’s published.

You asked if there was some sort of notebook, and yes there is, on my computer. I see privately the stages a poem has gone through, the trickle-down of changes and edits. But no one else sees that.

STC: What do you strive to do with your poetry? Do you have specific goals when you begin a poem, or do you write and see where it goes?

GL: I try to write the kinds of poems that I like. And the poems that I like, first of all, feel universal to me. They have something that connects to the humanity in me, and others too, I hope. That’s one of the reasons why I like Shakespeare. I get tired sometimes of poems that to me simply describe something, such as a beautiful desert. A beautiful desert described poetically is beautiful. But what I look for in a poem is some sort of antithetical turn, something that shifts the ground, something seismic happening. And I don’t mind investigating uncomfortable questions. That’s another thing about the poetry I write: some of it is not fun. A lot of my poetry has to do with loss and death.

A poem should say something, but it should also underneath be saying something. So to go back to Robert Frost, I don’t think After Apple-Picking is at all about apple-picking, any more than mending a wall is just about lifting stones; it’s about something much, much bigger.

STC: What are your favorite themes or key influences?

GL: Like Shakespeare, I like metaphor. So, to use a metaphor to describe metaphor, there are themes in the galaxy of my poetry’s cosmos that seem to gravitate toward heavier, central themes, and there are those that are elliptical; they arc away a little, but at some point seem to come back. And those themes are usually, as I mentioned, death and loss. I know that I’m probably trying to process something subliminally for myself, but if I can do it in a way that other people can relate to, then perhaps it helps their process, too. Misery loves company. With tongue in cheek, I almost called a collection of my poetry The Company Misery Loves. Along with loss and death, the elements of water and fire—water shows up a lot—and eyes, eyes and water seem to come back a lot over and over. Angels, too.

STC: What words matter to you?

GL: All words matter. All words. And I’m not afraid of using words that are completely unfamiliar to the reader. We read Shakespeare and there are tons of words that we are unfamiliar with. They don’t seem to set us back. There are ways of getting adaptations or finding meanings for those words, or creating one’s own in the context, which is what a lot of people do with Shakespeare. They get a feeling of what the word must mean.

I borrow from other dialects. I used the word aye the other day in a poem, which in the context of the poem meant forever and always, and I used the word biteen, because it meant just a little and it sounded perfect to me, but it’s from the Irish vernacular. I also like arcane and archaic words from old. I’m pretty eclectic as a poet. I’m on Robert Frost’s poetry for the moment but I don’t have a single book of his. I have anthologies, and all of the different styles of his evoke something in me, especially with structure. So, I do all kinds of different poetry, whether a sonnet or a villanelle or one of these Robert Frost-ian types of things. I try to find an idiom that befits the structure. I will say things one way if I’m writing in a Shakespearean sonnet form, but will say something in a completely different way if I’m emulating Leonard Cohen.

STC: What have we inherited from the poets of the past? What should we abandon?

GL: I’m never really in favor of discarding anything; anything like words, anyway. I think it’s more about discovering things. Poetry seems to be kind of like the Hubble Space Telescope: we hold it on a spot for a long time to let as much light come into the lens as possible in order to fill the picture. So whether it’s spoken poetry …which I would never think to do …and can’t do …and don’t want to do, or rapping, or anything like that, they’re all part of the galaxy. It’s just not where I happen to live, but still it’s part of my picture. So there’s nothing I would discard—nothing—and I can’t wait for more discoveries to come. Watching how language and the expression of language morphs over time fascinates me. It’s infinite, and expanding, and ever changing. Like the universe.

STC: What is the climate of poetry today?

GL: There’s always a dynamic tension that poets are in: trying to figure out how to articulate what they want to say and how they want the readers of their poetry to feel without putting them off, trying to touch on big themes in littler objects, littler moments, and littler words, in modern words. I don’t mind using “thee,” “thy,” “thou,” and other older words sometimes, but I think there is a tension in trying to seem natural, regular, free and structure-less, and yet knowing that there really is a structure behind that. You might not see the support structure or scaffolding beneath the façade; that’s the art of it. I love Nikki Giovanni. She’s got this “sit on the porch on a humid day in Richmond, Virginia in bare feet” way about her.  She’s got a way of speaking about regular relationships in her life, and I like the way she talks and the rhythm I feel under her language, but the themes are huge, and they are universal.

STC: What contemporary poets or poetry books would you consider mandatory reading?

GL: An anthology of poems from throughout the centuries is a good thing to have. And I like them because they’re usually done chronologically, and you can see how we are standing on the shoulders of everyone else who came before. I would also recommend Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowolf, Nikki Giovanni’s love poems, and of course Shakespeare’s sonnets. Of his, the ones that affect me the most are those that deal with Time decaying and the ones that have to do with copying ourselves, regenerating ourselves, seeing the youth now gone in our grandfathers and grandmothers. They are the ones that get me. Our time comes, but because it is written down some new generation will read, and their breath will give it new life. We are spoken of again and are briefly memorialized.

STC: Who would you be surprised to find was a poet?

GL: Ha! Honestly, I have to tell you the first person that flashed into my mind was if Rush Limbaugh was a poet. Wouldn’t that surprise you? It would really surprise me!


Winter Dance

By Gary Logan

Winter gathers her skirt
Readies herself for the big dance.
Summer’s oak
Erstwhile cock o’ the walk
Humbly bows, doffing cap
Giving her the floor.
Souls pay dearly to be her partner
For some, the dearest price.
For them it will be
Their last turn.

Winter… she’ll never even see them
Never will know who came to call
And mingle in the trance
Of her howl and mortal winding.


Aunt Irene

By Gary Logan

 I never knew my dear great aunt Irene
Before she had had her devastating stroke.
Photographs of her when she was young and fair,
Glad reminders of days spent on a village green,
Sat still as she, atop an old buffet of painted oak.
The mantle clock above a long-sealed fireplace
Didn’t really mean to mock her, keeping perfect time
As she slowly fit a purple cloche upon her hair.
Still, something soft from behind her nearly frozen face
Came groaning forth, watering her reaching eyes
Whenever we would meet: at first, like a mime
She gestured with her gnarled knuckles and made do
Thumping thumb to chest. Then, with fury and with size
She struggled, finally untwisting “I. love. you.”

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