Joan Larkin And Tony Leuzzi Discuss Poetry at HuffPo

Joan Larkin, whose chapbook Legs Tipped with Small Claws is forthcoming from Argos this spring, chats with Tony Leuzzi about poetry, sexuality, and their writing processes. The conversation is part of a series at Huffington Post called Voice to Voice, which “feature[s] intimate interviews between novelists, poets, playwrights, and writers as they discuss everything from the state of LGBT literature to sex and sexuality between the pages to the joys and challenges of writing about LGBT issues, themes, and lives.”

After complimenting each other’s work, the two poets get down to business: how do they write? Like many wordsmiths, Larkin and Leuzzi call on classical music, visual art, and family history for inspiration. Unlike most, however, they eschew the popular practice of write-and-release: Leuzzi notes, “I don’t think every poet needs to be constantly writing. The ideas need to germinate. I need time to agonize over what’s coming next.”

The intellectual struggle seems to have paid off, but it pales in comparison to the hurdle of accepting and expressing a LGBT viewpoint. “Poetry was not an acceptable place to express such things,” says Leuzzi. “It’s a challenge I’m willing to embrace now, but I do so hoping to avoid cliches and polemics.” Questions Larkin, ”Do queer poets have an obligation to spread an awareness of our experiences to the world? Do we need to make same-sex experiences explicit in our work?” The query is an important one both in terms of identity and literary authenticity: at what point does the autobiographical become exclusive? When does the universal become cliche? How does one navigate the two fields to produce something honest but not exploitative?

In attempting to answer her own question, Larkin delves into the perils of the personal:

“It often doesn’t affect how I write but I can’t help but be conscious of how certain words like ‘narrative,’ ‘autobiographical,’ and of course ‘confessional’ have become pejorative words for a lot of people talking and writing about poetry now — some are dismissive of the ‘I’ that has always been the heart of lyric poetry.”

As the topography of poetry changes, it’s true that we have moved away from ‘confessional’ works in favor of the abstract and impersonal. Both Leuzzi and Larkin are lauded for balancing their histories with controlled verse and stylistic timeliness, a distinction that serves them well when exploring the LGBT perspective. Larkin concludes:

“I don’t want to be told what I should or shouldn’t be writing. I want to resist the temptation to be trendy or to be political in only the most obvious, limited sense…telling the truth means going deep, exploring what’s under the surface, letting whatever is real emerge –– and it’s often disturbing. Whatever it happens to be I want to be loyal to it.”

Legs Tipped with Small Claws is now available for pre-order.

Read the full interview here.

-Aiden Arata