Interview with a Ghost: Essays


The first book of inventive prose by a poet whose writing “refuses to cut emotional corners and yet achieves a sense of lyric absolution” (Seamus Heaney)

I: What do the dead think about, anyway?
G: For me, it’s questions of realism, I mean what’s more real than the body once you don’t have one?
—from “Interview with a Ghost”

In Interview with a Ghost, poet Tom Sleigh investigates poetry from his conviction ...

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The first book of inventive prose by a poet whose writing “refuses to cut emotional corners and yet achieves a sense of lyric absolution” (Seamus Heaney)

I: What do the dead think about, anyway?
G: For me, it’s questions of realism, I mean what’s more real than the body once you don’t have one?
—from “Interview with a Ghost”

In Interview with a Ghost, poet Tom Sleigh investigates poetry from his conviction that “while art and life are separable, they aren’t separate.” These essays explore issues of selfhood that are often assumed but not adequately confronted by contemporary poetry—namely, subjectivity and its limits, what it means to employ the first person in a poem, the elusive “I” with all of its freighted aesthetic and psychological implications. The works of poets such as Anne Bradstreet, Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Lowell, Thom Gunn, and Frank Bidart are examined, as are Sleigh’s own poems in the contexts of history and private life, disease and health, the realm of the spirit and the realm of the day to day.

One essay imagines the poet delivering a lecture, followed by a reception full of jokes and asides; another essay becomes a wild extended parable about the avant-garde; the title piece, in the form of an interview, interrogates the poetic soul, after the body has passed on. In a style that suits the subject of the multiplicity of the self, Interview with a Ghost establishes a new way for thinking and writing about poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In dense and formally playful essays, poet Sleigh (Far Side of the Earth) explores how "private life, historical circumstance, and art converge" and "what it means to say `I' in a poem, in all its psychological, historical, political, and aesthetic ramifications." In his opening essay Sleigh draws on his own experiences of bodily wasting and brushes with death (he has a chronic blood disease) to read between the lines of Plato's Phaedo. Another autobiographical essay reflects on his parents' East Texas drive-in movie theater while analyzing the relationship between technological and poetical thinking; here Sleigh invokes Heidegger, Auden, Lowell and Yeats and recalls memories of his father hooked to a dialysis machine, en route to striking insights into technology, magic and the divine. He traces notions of the self from Anne Bradstreet to Emerson, Whitman and Eliot, noting that "the self in American poetry has usually been dependent on some sponsoring transcendental source." To richly suggestive effect, Sleigh combines child psychologist D.W. Winnicott's ideas about infantile absorption in play and T.S. Eliot's theories of "impersonality" to comment on the act of poetic communication. Sleigh concludes by focusing essays on specific writers and their works, treating among others Frank Bidart, Elizabeth Bishop, Randall Jarrell and Seamus Heaney. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What is the meaning of "I" in poetry? In his first collection of prose, poet Sleigh (Far Side of the Earth), who teaches in the graduate writing program at Hunter College, delves into this issue by viewing the writing process from a variety of angles. In the title essay, it is unclear whether Sleigh is the Ghost, the Interviewer, both, or neither. He follows with autobiographical essays discussing his drug use, his incurable blood illness, and his family, all of which has influenced his writing. In the second part of the book, he attacks the idea of an easily knowable first-person narrator, showing how even an ostensibly confessional writer like Robert Lowell shapes and edits the self that is presented to readers. Finally, Sleigh discusses the work of other poets, some overtly confessional, others who tend to conceal themselves. In this readable and absorbing work, he does what any good poetry critic should do-he makes the reader want to read more poetry. Highly recommended for all literature collections.-Amy K. Weiss, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555974404
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 3/21/2006
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.88 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Sleigh is the author of five poetry collections, including Far Side of the Earth, and a translation of Euripides’ Herakles. He teaches in the graduate writing program at New York University and at Dartmouth College. He lives in New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Interview with a ghost (G) 3
The incurables 11
Education of the poet 31
Syringe dreams : on "in the park" 55
Spacey rooms : a note on translating "lamentation on Ur" 63
To the star demons 75
Proteus as poet 103
Self as self-impersonation in American poetry 111
Space composition in two poems by Robert Lowell 135
"Some measure of insanity" 157
Eleven scenarios for the avant-garde in the new millennium 177
Against the text "poetry makes nothing happen" 209
Too much of the air : Tomas Transtromer 211
Raleigh's ride 219
Frank Bidart's voice 225
Hers truly : a note on Elizabeth Bishops' letters 237
At the end of our good day : Randall Jarrell 241
To go nowhere : Derek Walcott 253
In rough waters : Seamus Heaney's : government of the tongue 263
Visitations and seductions : Thom Gunn 275
Exit interview with myself as a ghost 283
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