MODERN POETRY: Diane Seuss reading and in conversation with Jeffrey Shotts
Join The Flow Chart Foundation for this special virtual event featuring poet Diane Seuss reading from her newest collection—Modern Poetry (Graywolf Press, 2024). Diane will then be joined by Graywolf Press’ poetry editor, Jeffrey Shotts. Hear Diane read her own work, and then find out how she worked with her editor toward realizing this brilliant new collection as we pull back the curtain on the poet/poetry editor/publisher relationship.
On the book:
“Diane Seuss’s superb Modern Poetry is no mere survey; it’s a full-frontal seminar on the subject. In these forty-one fiery poems, Seuss takes a deep dive into our inheritance from the Romantic and Modernist lyric poets, like Keats and Hopkins, through Stevens and Plath, ‘the final modern poet.’ Her sizzling (and often funny) task is to insist on the radical differences she savors from those earlier custodians of the melancholy sublime, where Beauty was writ large and meaning can still seem like an academic exercise—or mere fog. The truth in Seuss’s world is gritty, with dirt on its hands, determined by a self-assertive resistance to the Romantic ideal. For every ‘Aria,’ ‘High Romance,’ and ‘Villanelle,’ she counters with a ‘Cowpunk’ and ‘Little Fugue with Jean Seberg and Tupperware.’ She shows us that class, region, race, gender—those identifying features—are not things to be solved or resolved in some transcendental razzmatazz but accepted, embraced. Seuss exposes the falsity of idealized love, of academic coziness, and the grandeur of sublimity by a self-deprecating humor that morphs time and again into a wily, powerful, self-valuing gift.”—David Baker
If you are like me, to learn of the gods you must
beg, borrow, or steal. Eavesdrop, as gossip
is sagacity, a word I learned from Emily
Dickinson. Don’t underestimate direct
experience. Ants know earth. Dragonflies
know air. A cobbled mind is not fatal.
You have to be willing to self-educate
at a moment’s notice, and to be caught
in your ignorance by people who will
use it against you. You will mispronounce
words in front of a crowd. It cannot be
avoided. But your poems, with all of their
deficiencies, products of lifelong observation
and asymmetric knowledge, will be your own.
—from “My Education”
Diane Seuss’s signature voice—audacious in its honesty, virtuosic in its artistry, outsider in its attitude—has become one of the most original in contemporary poetry. Her latest collection takes its title, Modern Poetry, from the first textbook Seuss encountered as a child and the first poetry course she took in college, as an enrapt but ill-equipped student, one who felt poetry was beyond her reach. Many of the poems make use of the forms and terms of musical and poetic craft—ballad, fugue, aria, refrain, coda—and contend with the works of writers overrepresented in textbooks and anthologies and those too often underrepresented. Seuss provides a moving account of her picaresque years and their uncertainties, and in the process, she enters the realm between Modernism and Romanticism, between romance and objectivity, with Keats as ghost, lover, and interlocutor.
In poems of rangy curiosity, sharp humor, and illuminating self-scrutiny, Modern Poetry investigates our time’s deep isolation and divisiveness and asks: What can poetry be now? Do poems still have the capacity to mean? “It seems wrong / to curl now within the confines / of a poem,” Seuss writes. “You can’t hide / from what you made / inside what you made.” What she finds there, finally, is a surprising but unmistakable love.
Diane Seuss is the author of five books of poetry, including frank: sonnets, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Voelcker Prize, and a finalist for the 2022 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Still Life With Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Four-Legged Girl, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, winner of the Juniper Prize. She was a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2021 she received the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Michigan. Photo credit: Gabrielle Montesanti
Jeffrey Shotts joined Graywolf in June 1996. He completed an M.F.A. in Poetry at Washington University in Saint Louis and rejoined Graywolf in 2002. He is currently a Poetry Editor for Post Road and is on the advisory boards of the Literary Arts Institute at the College of Saint Benedict, and a national advisory board member of Essay Press and Whit Press. He has served as an adviser and on informational panels for the Bush, MacArthur, Poetry, and Vilcek Foundations, as well as the Minnesota State Arts Board. A published poet, essayist and critic, Shotts has taught or lectured on poetry and editing at a variety of colleges and universities across the country.