An Interview with Alan Britt

Alan Britt’s “Ebb and Flow” is featured in our current issue (78). Alan Britt teaches creative writing, poetry, and composition at Towson University and is the author of Vermilion (The Bitter Oleander Press: 2006), Infinite Days (The Bitter Oleander Press: 2003), Amnesia Tango (Cedar Hill Publications: 1998), and Bodies of Lightning (Cypress Books: 1995). This interview was conducted by the minnesota review’s Meaghan Russell.

tmr: In the forward to your most recent collection, Alone with the Terrible Universe, you express a desire to “keep the garden [of poems] devoid of sentimentality, that sweetest of illusions, at all times.” Would you discuss why you wanted to avoid sentimentality in this collection? Our poetry workshop group recently read an article (http://aboutaword.org/2012/02/12/kevin-prufer-on-sentimentality-and-complexity-2/) in which Kevin Prufer defines sentimentality as “reducing an emotionally complex situation into an emotionally simple one.” What are your thoughts on sentimentality and emotion (as you define these) in poetry?

(Pruffer explains, “reacting to sentimental war propaganda, the Modernist poets abhorred sentimentality as a political position.  Sentimentality, they said, was dangerous because it lured us into stupid (often war-like, often fatal) emotional responses.  Sentimentality swayed the masses into violence.  Today, we have inherited their suspicion of sentimentality, but not their understanding of it.”)

AB: Kevin Prufer hits it square, reducing complexity to a lazy simplicity: sentimentality’s auto-affection for baseball players regardless of shenanigans off the field, plus the flag. Baseball players don’t always behave and neither does the flag, but we vote them both into halls of fame just the same. Sentimental emotion is tempting and sweet but tends to smear the lenses. Sentimental emotions are handed down, passed down generation to generation without question, borrowed, so to speak. And borrowed emotions are dangerous for poetry.

tmr: You have described yourself as an Immanentist. Would you briefly explain this view and how it influences your writing?

AB: (…a living linguistic reality…not something like a butterfly with a pin through its body…As one reads, the poem flutters. —Duane Locke)

That definition by Duane Locke has been a guiding principle for me.  Duane’s quote covers the linguistic side. The rest of Immanentism came from an intense interest in nature, often identifying oneself with a lusty pine cone or gold rings around a bumble bee, often linguistically fusing oneself with these terrestrial miracles.  Language creates experience: verbs like charged ions, adjectives with scales.  At times language can create a wholly unique intellectual and emotional sensation that doesn’t involve borrowed emotions. Easy to say, hard to do.  Frankly, I enjoy many types of poems. If the poem engages me, I’m happy.

tmr: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

AB: That advice never changes: read, observe, write, read, observe and write some more.  Fall in love.

tmr:Where can we find more of your work?

AB: A recent book, Alone with the Terrible Universe, is available from http://www.bitteroleander.com/

tmr: Parting thoughts?

AB: Write your hearts out.  We’re all in this together.

Meaghan Russell was just startled by a boxelder that flipped from her poetry notebook, unfazed, and without comment. She wears boots.

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