Interview with George McFadden, The Anchor, a Rhode Island College newspaper, on May 9, 1974. It was conducted before a poetry reading J.H. shared with Allen Ginsberg.
What do you think is the function of the poet in society?
JH: I can only answer for myself…I think that the poet should be as honest as he can with what he wants to say. He should begin with emotions and work up from there. He shouldn’t write down to an audience or up to an audience. He should be as honest with himself as he can and, once in awhile take an inventory of what’s going on inside himself. He should also watch out for the traps that come with his profession, as with any profession.
What could these traps be?
JH: Too much false recognition. A poet could get on the bandwagon and believe this and forget that his main job is to write. It’s very easy, if he achieves a degree of fame, to lose touch with himself.
If I had my way, I’d say that every beginning poet would have to write a certain amount of time each day for five years.
What is this idea of apprenticeship? How could or how should, the poet serve this apprenticeship?
JH: By not wanting to publish too fast. One of the traps here is that fact there are more small presses now than ever before in the history of our country. Let’s say a beginning poet has a friend who has a small press and this friend publishes some of his work. He could receive some recognition in the area and he might think, “Wow, I’m a poet!” Then he’s in trouble because he’s fooling himself. He’s going on what other people say he is. He hasn’t decided for himself. He hasn’t found a particular style that he’d like to write in or a style, which would suit him. What’s the name of that old movie? Too Much Too Soon? This is what happens. I think that a person has to earn the title of “poet”. By experimenting when a person is starting out, by writing in another poet’s style, is a good way because eventually a person writes himself out of these styles into his own style. I think it’s important to set up a five-year apprenticeship. If I had my way, I’d say that every beginning poet would have to write a certain amount of time each day for five years.
Do you think that institutional education should play any role in the apprenticeship?
JH: It could but it should not necessarily involve just the English Department. If you’d have a poet teaching a creative writing course, it would be much more effective. It would be much more of an influence. Otherwise if you have someone teaching writing, someone from the English Department, who just writes occasionally, it could be damaging or misleading. I think if a poet is present in such a course, he can be much more objective.
Have you ever written prose or fiction?
JH: Yes, but not for several years now. I used prose fiction during my apprenticeship, which lasted nine years. I didn’t study the writing of poetry in any school or college; I did it on my own. During this period, when I couldn’t write poetry, I wrote prose-fiction. The difference for me is that I can be lazy in fiction. I can be evasive. I can even lie and get away with it, because I can put it off on another character. To me, poetry is the way of expressing truth. I always try to express what I feel inside myself and in order to do this; I have to be open and direct. In fiction, I don’t have to. I can dispense with honesty.
Do you think poetry, on the whole, is more expressive than fiction?
JH: I think so, yes, because poetry, if the poet is serious about what he is doing, works out much better. For me, poetry is the only way to write.
True inspiration creates emotion; you could say it’s not instinct, either. It has its own identity.
Do you think that poetry could be used today as social commentary?
JH: It could, yes but I don’t think anyone would pay any attention to it. Society would have to be educated to see it that way. A limited number of people would see it that way but it wouldn’t be enough to do any good as social commentary.
Could satire be effective?
JH: Yes, but again, society would have to be educated to see it that way. Many people see satire in terms of a comedian or in terms of some sort of fiction, but I don’t think many people look for it in poetry. It would take a long period of time to teach people that poetry could be satirical.
You said that “true inspiration” exists. What do you mean by this?
JH: To me, true inspiration comes back to emotion. It’s not an elation or depression. It’s something that you feel that is not a physical thing. It’s a feeling that, I don’t think is necessary to put into words. It’s just there. True inspiration creates emotion; you could say it’s not instinct, either. It has its own identity.
Where do you think poetry will go in the future? Does poetry have a future?
JH: There is more poetry being published now than ever before in this country, but it stands to reason that there is also more bad poetry being published. That goes for the large commercial companies as well as the small presses. As far as good poetry or honest poetry, that’s up to the individual. It comes back again to the individual.
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