(Published recently in US literary journal ‘Orion Magazine’: read the full interview)
Camille: One of the things that is most exiting to me about all the best writing going on right now, all politically engaged writing (and I think environmental writing has always been politically engaged) is how it requires a roving eye. A roving eye can work well at a distance far enough to accommodate a number of different nonrelated possibilities as data points, as touchstones, to show a kind of commonality. How a writer can connect firestorms and blizzards and tornadoes, and also questions about police, and whatever might happen in whichever elections are coming up, and how all of these themes are interconnected. And poetry is a place that through metaphor, through image, through just pure fantastical language, and the beauty of alliteration, you can gather these themes, these spinning planets that seem to be millions of miles apart, and make them into a connected galaxy. Poetry can bring all these seemingly disparate things into one space, and that’s one way it can be politically useful, can help change minds, can help us see ourselves differently, and expand how we understand the world.
Art can help both slowly and quickly. Major fast change can happen in response to writing. We have examples of that. But there are also those slow centuries-long glacial-pace changes, too. But glaciers shape landscapes, right? A glacial pace can be as important as a lightning-fast pace. I think that is the responsibility of poets, of editors—to be able to put the poems into place so they can spark change at any pace.
Camille T. Dungy has authored an essay collection and four poetry collections, most recently Trophic Cascade. She has edited three anthologies, including Black Nature. Dungy is a distinguished professor at Colorado State University, and Orion’s poetry editor.
Major Jackson is the author of five books of poetry, most recently, The Absurd Man. His edited volumes include: Best American Poetry 2019, Renga for Obama, and Library of America’s Countee Cullen: Collected Poems. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts, he has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Award, and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, and the poetry editor of Harvard Review. He is also an Orion board member.