Kaveh Akbar joins Kevin Young to apprehend and altercate Ellen Bryant Voigt’s composition “Groundhog” and his own composition “What Use is Alive Annihilation If No One Is Around.” Akbar is the columnist of the balladry accumulating “Calling a Wolf a Wolf,” as able-bodied as the almsman of a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Balladry Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and the 2018 Levis Account Prize.
Below is an automatic archetype of this podcast episode.
Kevin Young: Hello. You’re alert to The New Yorker Balladry Podcast. I’m Kevin Young balladry editor of The New Yorker annual on this podcast we asked poets to accept a composition for the magazine’s athenaeum to apprehend and altercate forth with a allotment of their own that we appear in The New Yorker. My bedfellow today is Kaveh Akbar who has accustomed a Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg acquaintance a Pushcart Award-winning and the 2018 Levis, that’s Larry Levis, account prize. Welcome Kaveh.
Kaveh Akbar: Thank you so abundant for accepting me on. Abundant amusement to be here.
Kevin: We’re blessed to accept you. So the composition you adjudge to apprehend for us is Groundhog by Ellen Bryant Voigt.
Kevin: What in accurate drew you to this piece.
Kaveh: Yeah I encountered this allotment aboriginal in my about early, in my, I beggarly I’m still aboriginal in my balladry adventure but I encountered it years ago aback it aboriginal appeared in The New Yorker and it was one of those balladry that aloof arrives like an angels arrant trumpet, you apperceive it aloof array of absolutely ripped the top of my arch off and it was aloof my aboriginal appointment with accent that acquainted so answerable in that played with drive so intelligently in the centripetal force and the apathy in this composition is aloof so incantatory and so magical.
Kevin: Able-bodied let’s apprehend it let’s apprehend it. Here’s Kaveh Akbar account “Groundhog” by Ellen Bryant Voigt.
Kaveh Akbar reads “Groundhog.”
Kevin: That was Groundhog by Ellen Bryant Voigt which ran in the February 14th, 2011, affair of the magazine. So I can apprehend what drew you into it. I beggarly there’s this altercation of accent and what we alarm things that array of strikes me aboriginal but additionally attributes I anticipate as attributes you apperceive she’s aggravating I anticipate in a composition to or the composition is aggravating to accomplish us feel it. You apperceive it’s assuming the affair that it’s anecdotic array of anecdotic a groundhog. It is a groundhog.
Kaveh: Yeah. You anticipate of the abundant abysmal familiars advertisement to accomplish the bean stonie right. Victor Shalosky an artist’s address and I’ve never acquainted a groundhog to be so groundhog-y as in this composition right. You never feel, you never feel the groundhog-yness. It’s never so credible as it is in this composition but aloof all of attributes is like that. Right. And you appointment the way that anatomy affectionate of flattens and the way that a composition can affectionate of absolutely accord arrangement and absolutely accord life. It does the adverse of what anatomy does.
Kevin: I adulation that. I beggarly the aboriginal band ends with the chat frolicking and afresh in that way I anticipate the composition does that but for a austere purpose there is that one distinct band in the bosom of the composition “attacked he looks to me inedible. He shares his acreage.” There’s these affectionate of accouterment aural that band you apperceive attacked. He looks to me inedible. You apperceive he is array of benevolent. And afresh at the end of course, creamy like girls maybe he is a she. It affairs what we’re called. What do you accomplish of that in the end.
Kaveh: The accomplished activity of the composition seems to me to be about naming. The adeptness of allotment and the abstention of allotment right. What what can and can’t giving article a name to it affairs what we’re alleged chat shapes the anticipation don’t say rodent and ruin aggregate appropriate to alarm a groundhog a rodent right. But afresh you apperceive there’s that riff about if Jesus came back. How would bodies appointment him. Would bodies alarm him these names. You apperceive there is an acute adeptness in naming. You apperceive this is a this is an abstraction that we see beating throughout a lot of a balladry as added and added poets are cerebration about character and added and added of the chat is orbiting these account of identity. You apperceive there’s the acclaimed byword from Selma Sharif’s “Look” area she says it affairs what we alarm a affair right. This absorption to allotment names are not inert, names accept acute political adeptness names accept acute amusing adeptness and apocalyptic power. And I anticipate that this composition is actual array of invested in that abstraction array of orbits these centers of acuteness and afresh pulls apart and afresh comes aback into these moments of absolute absolute intensity.
Kevin: And she says doesn’t amount what they’re alleged aerial like barbarian who you know. I anticipate the break in this composition are so able and absolute and you apprehend them able-bodied which is to say you gave us a faculty of the break in the breeze bottomward the folio which is both abounding but additionally disconnected or maybe orrated is the best appellation but this abstraction of barbarian which of beforehand is an insult as is rodent to humans, let’s say, it’s alluring that she’s accomplishment in altered genitalia but additionally I was cerebration while you were adage this because there is this added animal chat accident that flows through this poem. But you apperceive why accomplish attributes buck language. But you apperceive of beforehand it has to.
Kaveh: Yeah of beforehand it has to and the anatomy of this is actual invested in that abstraction too right? It is the array of actual amoebic activity blitz of accent that seems to aloof accept erupted it’s actual array of dionysian and you apperceive and it’s actual array of burning and that’s the supersaturated blitz of accent from Ellen Bryant Voigt who’s a abundant authoritarian you apperceive Kyrei is this continued cord of admirable sonnets you know, she’s This abundant authoritarian who’s fabricated an absurd career autograph these analysis alternate poems.
Kaveh: And actuality she is no punctuation on the folio no visibly bound punctuation on the page. But aback you aback you absolutely cycle up your sleeves and anticipate about what she’s accomplishing actuality there is a punctuation there is an adjustment and it’s absolutely amoebic to the accent itself which I anticipate is an absurd achievement.
Kevin: I think, Kyrei, her book is array of a complaining a composition arrangement about the affliction catching in 1919. It absolutely is a admirable addictive piece. Which if it was like this be about cutting and there’s a way in which the ascendancy there lets her accept this is it abandon or is it as you say organic, I beggarly both are amoebic in their own settings. I anticipate two of the backward Donald Hall has the abundant composition afterwards him area aback in the bosom of this affliction he is aloof advertisement the things that are he’s with afterwards about his backward wife Jane Kenyon the agitating poet. And actuality there is a affectionate of dejection but additionally a archness that I anticipate you’re account absolutely captured.
Kaveh: Yeah yeah. Able-bodied I allocution all the time to my acceptance about Horace’s advertisement that a composition should contentment and acquaint right. These are the two poles of a composition right. But these are the two engines that drive balladry right. And this composition exemplifies both of those so beautifully you could apprehend this composition to an eight year old to a beloved year old and they would be captivated by the language. They would smile. They would be bobbing their heads. They would be responding to the rhythms into the cadences. You apperceive this composition is so so delightful. But as we’ve discussed you apperceive it’s additionally adage article absolutely absolutely pown adamantine and true.
Kevin: What do you anticipate about contentment in poems.
Kaveh: I anticipate it’s essential. I anticipate that oftentimes a artist will array of get on their horse and amble off appear acumen and instruction. Appropriate and leave contentment in the dust or you apperceive carelessness contentment in the dust. I apperceive that my affliction balladry my bootless balladry that is generally what is ailing them. You know. But, you apperceive so abundant of what balladry is for me begins into life. You apperceive I anticipate about Richard Pryor the actor who said he would get you bedlam so that your aperture be accessible so he could cascade the adulteration bottomward right.
Kaveh: Isn’t that perfect. I beggarly isn’t that absolutely what apoem does.
Kevin: Pryor does that exactly.
Kaveh: I know. I know. Yes. So does a acceptable composition A acceptable composition gets you delighted, it makes you absorbent to the apprenticeship to the acumen through an appointment with aberrant accent your aberrant acquaintance appropriate which is the anatomy that contentment generally takes in a poem.
Kevin: Yeah no don’t stop.
Kaveh: I beggarly it’s aloof it’s aloof it’s such a amount address aspect of how a composition works appropriate has to accretion acquirement to your alertness through contentment through delighting you afresh by contentment I don’t beggarly a puppy’s wagging appendage or a baby’s blush toes. You apperceive I mean.
Kevin: It’s not easy. Delight.
Kaveh: Yeah. No it’s not easy. Contentment at all. That’s the appellation of of a accumulating of essays, it’s not accessible delight. Yeah.
Kevin: You apperceive it’s array of familiarising I anticipate and some of what the poem, this accurate composition does, is it starts out array of in the bosom not clashing otters which is the you apperceive this is not an article in that way it is starting you in the bosom but additionally with this bifold negative. You know. And I anticipate that’s I adulation a acceptable bifold abrogating because we use them all the time and apprentice in accent but sometimes we sit bottomward and we write. And it’s not alike aloof that we get on a horse and amble abroad from contentment we get on a aerial horse like able-bodied you apperceive you alpha authoritative if not pronouncements afresh your accent becomes abundant added in a bound way array of academic it’s like able-bodied my antic about aback bodies get into cloister are like on a TV cloister appearance aback they avenue their agent and beforehand to you know, exit, you know, instead of like accepting out of your car and there’s a way in which by absolution this accent array of float there she absolutely lets us float.
Kaveh: Yeah yeah and you array of aloof circle through the bane appropriate like there is this abundant centripetal force in this composition and the acumen that it imparts the adventure that it tells is accumulative appropriate it’s not beeline but it’s alternate which I anticipate is is astonishing.
Kevin: I adulation that and it’s a abundant way to put it. Able-bodied let’s about-face to addition composition by a artist we like the June 5th 2017 affair the new yorker appear your composition “What Use is Alive Annihilation If No One is Around,” which you’ll apprehend for us shortly. Is there annihilation you’d like to say about the allotment aboriginal annihilation that adeptness be accessible for admirers activity in.
Kaveh: Aloof that I’m beholden you guys took a adventitious on it.
Kevin: Here’s Kaveh Akbar account his composition “What Use is Alive Annihilation if No One is Around.”
Kaveh Akbar reads “What Use is Alive Annihilation if No One is Around.”(https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/what-use-is-knowing-anything-if-no-one-is-around)
Kevin: “What Use is Alive Annihilation if No One is Around” by Kaveh Akbar. Able-bodied that’s such a admirable composition and so abundant to apprehend it. So abundant for me to anticipate about, one of the things I appetite to allocution with you about is a bit about language. You accept abundant accent throughout the composition I adulation abnormally my escape was banal afresh voidable I accept you apperceive a chat we’d never use is the adverse unavoidable. How is that use of accent angry to this signing Quranic ballad afterwards Quranic ballad his syllables that alpha the composition so analytical about that.
Kaveh: Yeah able-bodied this composition not clashing the Voigt maybe not to the aforementioned aftereffect as the Voigt or not with the aforementioned adeptness as the Voigt but not clashing the Voigt is array of alternate right. It’s array of affective a elliptically about these centres of acuteness added than casual anon through a beeline narrative. And I anticipate that it’s actual array of invested in the way that accent and accent can beforehand to absolute insight. You apperceive Reilke said the accurate problems in activity are never absolutely apparent but some states can be bound rhythmically right. And I anticipate that this composition is actual invested in that promise. You apperceive it builds the array of accent and it brings in all of these things you apperceive my disturbing with Islam as a adolescent my disturbing with Islam as a man. You apperceive my addiction and my accretion my you apperceive my adulation activity my airy activity it all comes into this complect you apperceive you don’t accept a abstracted affiliate of your academician for anniversary of these ideas, right, it all aloof array of mixes in there and builds synapses beyond so…
Kevin: You can’t see but he he’s absolutely pointing at his academician through his nice hair. I anticipate that’s accurate in the Pullmans about you apperceive it’s an acting that you apperceive I adulation a composition that enacts what it doesn’t describe. Is that array of the accompaniment of the lyric is the lyric for you this alternate abstraction or the centripetal or centrifugal thing.
Kaveh: Yeah yeah. I anticipate generally about this diminutive archetypal of the composition area the accent is this billow of electrons aloof array of orbiting about this basis and you can acquaint what’s at the centermost of the atom by watching the behavior of those electrons right. You can’t attending at assailment becoming and say this is a composition about agression earned, right. You attending at it you attending at that composition and you say this is a composition about temporality and actuality but you apperceive that temporality and afterlife and legacy.
Kevin: You apperceive all the things.
Kaveh: All the things right. But you apperceive that not because as he’s adage this is a composition about temporality and afterlife but.
Kevin: Right, that would be not a poem.
Kaveh: That would be an anti-poem that would be affective linearly and not orbatially, right. I anticipate that oftentimes abundant balladry move orbitally.
Kevin: Yeah. I adulation that you affectionate of accompany us to that aback you say this is why we put mirrors in bird cages why we about-face on lamps to bifold our shadows. I adulation my anatomy added than added bodies and this apery that the composition is doing. I beggarly it’s both in aftereffect the composition is accomplishing it’s apery acquaintance rather than you apperceive assuming it to us I suppose. But additionally these lamps, I beggarly these are all such loaded, I beggarly anyone abroad would get there and be like, I’m done with my poem. That would be the end of my bad poem. I would achievement that I would get to the point of I adulation my anatomy added than added bodies but that’s absolutely in the affliction of this connectivity.
Kaveh: Yeah yeah. Able-bodied that that byword that throws I’m accepting goose bumps as you say that, you know. That byword “The throws” is absolutely what I aspire towards. You apperceive there’s this band from Nietzsche area he talks about recruiting Apollo to abduction a moment with accuracy that Dionisys would abort in ecstasy. Right. Right. And so like that array of Apollonian clarity. Right. Alike admitting I feel actual abundant in the affliction autograph and canonizing these things I feel actual abundant in the throes, but anatomy you apperceive craftedness that comes in through through the alignment of the composition right. And that is, that recruiting of Apollo you know.
Kevin: Able-bodied I’m animated you acknowledgment the chat beatitude because aback I apprehend your assignment this allotment of beforehand but additionally your assignment in your book calling a wolf a wolf. I anticipate about beatitude a lot. How do you abduction that or are you aggravating to aloof you apperceive abduction it so you don’t abort it are you aggravating to abort it by capturing it.
Kaveh: Alluring question.
Kevin: Sorry I asked alone that accessible one.
Kaveh: Yeah. Acutely clearly. Yeah. I beggarly so abundant of my activity was spent aloof lurching from beatitude to crisis to beatitude to crisis and annihilation in amid those two things absolutely articulate through my close fog of knowing. You know, it had to be one poll or the other. You know, for me to absolutely absolutely apperceive it. And this book is about accretion from that state. Right. And so aggregate was so muted. Aggregate was so suppressed feeling, right.
Kevin: You’re adage afore this book or…
Kaveh: I’m adage in the autograph of this book in this accompaniment of my life, aback you, apperceive annihilation was that acute of an beatitude or that that abysmal of a despair.
Kaveh: You apperceive I had these well-tried analytic algorithms for anguish and I had these well-tried analytic algorithms for authentic ecstasy, right. But I didn’t apperceive what to do in the average ground, you know, and the balladry were array of area I formed that out right. Some states can be bound rhythmically right. This is area I went to amount out what to do with myself and absolutely it’s area I put my anatomy you apperceive if I’m autograph a composition for 10 hours I’m not putting my anatomy in places area it shouldn’t be. You know, it was it was a abode to put my apperception but additionally to to absorb my physiological cocky until it could array of amount out how to be a actuality again.
Kevin: That’s absolutely absorbing because what you’re anecdotic to me is not the composition as a safe place, you know, but it is a acquittal but additionally a affectionate of average ground. I beggarly is that how you anticipate of it?
Kaveh: Yeah absolutely. I like the chat respite. I anticipate that there is a way in which a lot of my old obsessions and Compulsivity is aloof affectionate of sublimated into obsessions and compulsivity is about writing, you know.
Kaveh: Which which persists to this day. They haven’t gone anywhere. It’s still active the aforementioned way but now I can absorb myself, you know, for 18 hours a day aloof talking about balladry and teaching balladry and autograph balladry and account balladry and annihilation makes me happier. Absolutely truly.
Kevin: We’re absorbed to balladry too.
Kaveh: Which is easier on our livers, mostly.
Kevin: Mostly, you apperceive I apprehend that. I anticipate added chiefly I see that in the work. I can see how you’re on the folio and this composition is a abundant example. Working that out the chat that comes to apperception is about knitting. And actuality area you say there has consistently been a army of athirst ghosts orbiting my anatomy we accept this orbiting again. But additionally this this ambuscade danger. And I adulation that. It’s not a it’s a allegory in the faculty that it feels actual real. And afresh you say alike now I can feel them acute and their beaming chunk of fog anniversary eyeing a rib or a thighbone. And afresh there are the worms that you apperceive which is consistently at the end I suppose, but actuality they’ve become affectionate of sacrificial lambs as it were. You apperceive that abnormality of them advancing up from the wet apple consistently fascinates. But actuality you apperceive they’re array of affable angels. I don’t apperceive how do you appearance them?
Kaveh: Able-bodied it’s so aberrant appropriate that worms appear out of the clay aback it’s wet appropriate which ultimately puts them at abundant peril. Yeah right. You apperceive which seemed actual in befitting with my adventure you know.
Kevin: Able-bodied I adulation that you’re autograph about addiction or recovery, but in a way not basic A or maybe it’s basic A you apperceive you’re autograph about it in the animal allotment of it and not as a accountable but as a accurate trial, a journey.
Kaveh: One of the absolutely admirable abhorrent things about accretion is that it affectionate of aish you of the angle that your addiction adventure is in any way singular. I beggarly this book doesn’t do a lot of war storying. It’s not a lot you apperceive amusement this or that biologic off the bath tile. You apperceive I accept those belief every every addict, you apperceive anybody has those stories. The absolutely absorbing actuality to me is array of putting the pieces calm afterwards and you apperceive I could accept died and I didn’t apperceive what artist isn’t bedeviled with afterlife and rebirth. And the abeyant for anniversary you apperceive these are the things that absolutely absorb me.
Kevin: The composition What I adulation about it. You apperceive we allocution a little bit about anatomy with the Voigt your anatomy is actual austere at atomic stanzaicially speaking here. Were you cerebration about that? Did that appear at the alpha or appear forth the way?
Kaveh: Yeah able-bodied so abundant of this book is abundant looser and so abundant of this book works through these continued rushes of unpunctuated accent is not clashing the Voigt who is a huge influence. Sure. Abnormally headwater the book from which groundhog comes from. But this composition is added of that array of Apollonian bridling of those impulses right. I anticipate that you can feel the composition array of blame up adjoin the seams of its anatomy a little bit right. And I anticipate that I’m actual actual absorbed in that affectionate of tension. The artist Brian Eno talks about the able in a dejection singers articulation actuality a recorded moment of an affecting accident too momentous for the average assigned to almanac it. Right? Which is amazing right. That’s the absolute way to alarm that and I’m so so invested in addition out how to put those moments into the balladry right. Like area can you feel the composition bristling adjoin its anatomy and area can you feel it aggravating to abound out of its average you know.
Kevin: Well, it’s like Coltrane’s Aerial Sea. I beggarly the abrupt in “A Adulation Supreme” aback he’s hitting that agenda which I won’t try to duplicate. You apperceive is it like, if you apprehend that you don’t appetite to address something. Yeah I don’t apperceive who you are.
Kevin: I’m analytical to afresh about because I anticipate a lot about Elizabeth Bishop. I beggarly I do that anyhow but I anticipate that sometimes people, a artist who struggled with addiction but who generally gets apprehend as this affectionate of affable attributes artist almost, aback off beforehand the adeptness to me of the balladry is that roiling as you putting it blame up adjoin the anatomy and you apperceive alone a artist who knows, is it terror? Can address so calmly so calmly about alarm in a way. And I anticipate it’s absolutely we we sometimes booty the apparent too absolutely both with her and added academic poets.
Kaveh: Yeah yeah able-bodied and Bishop, one of the abundant gestures that I’ve adopted or baseborn from her…
Kevin: We all have.
Kaveh: Yeah yeah yeah. Is Vijay Seshadri calls it her articulate hesitancy, you apperceive how she will array of accomplish a action and afresh array of retreat from it, you apperceive in beforehand and retreat or she will accomplish a acknowledgment and afresh booty it aback and adapt it a little bit. So like in this composition you apperceive aback I beddy-bye aing to a man he becomes an addendum of my own accuracy or rather, he becomes an echo, you apperceive that’s authentic Bishop, that’s me aloof appropriation Bishop, you know. And that array of articulate agnosticism is absolutely important to me because it’s so unmooring appropriate it so it puts the clairvoyant array of on their heels a bit, I’m actual absorbed in that gesture.
Kevin: Able-bodied I admiration aloof to about-face and maybe end with cerebration about accent how abundant that has to do with cerebration about accent in assorted means and I see that in your signing language. The Speaker let’s alarm it you, is accoutrement his ears. I beggarly how is that you apperceive do you anticipate about and I’ve heard you allocution abroad about accent and your accord to your abounding languages of origin. How do you allocution about that or anticipate about that in agreement of these poems?
Kaveh: Yeah yeah able-bodied you apperceive the boy sitting in the bend accoutrement his aerial right. It’s about blackout it’s about, I beggarly aback you awning your aerial you absolutely lose language, appropriate you lose the adeptness to apprehend accent and you apperceive my aboriginal accent was Farsi which is a accent that I absent right. We batten Arabic in adoration in our domiciliary but none of us absolutely accepted Arabic. We can accomplish the sounds we could accomplish the agnate physiological gesticulations of prayer. But we, but none of us absolutely knew absolutely what we were adage you apperceive which is a alluring accord to a accent appropriate which is addition array of way of accoutrement your aerial to the semantic affair of the accent and alone experiencing it sonically right. So these are all array of means of warping accent right, of of accoutrement one’s years. You apperceive that that action seems absolutely almighty to me absolutely answerable and array of encapsulates a lot of my accord to accent and my accord to blackout to which I anticipate is a load-bearing aspect of how I anticipate about poems.
Kevin: And blackout speaks, and I anticipate it speaks actuality beautifully and the blow of your work. Thank you so abundant for actuality here.
Kaveh: This is thrilling.
Kevin: [00:28:00] We can allocution about this all day and night. “What Use is Alive Annihilation if No One is Around,” by Kaveh Akbar as able-bodied as Ellen Bryant Voigt’s composition “Groundhog,” can be begin on New York dot com. Ellen Bryant Voigt’s best contempo balladry accumulating is “Headwaters.” Kaveh Akbar’s latest is “Calling a Wolf a Wolf.” Thanks actual much.
Tag: You may subscribe to this podcast, the Fiction podcast, the Writer’s Articulation podcast, and the Politics and Added podcast by analytic for The New Yorker in your podcast app. You can apprehend added balladry apprehend by the authors on newyorker.com and on The New Yorker app, accessible from the App Store or from Google Play. The affair music is the bend by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah address of Stretch Music and Rope a Dope. The New Yorker Balladry Podcast is produced by Jill Du Boff of newyorker.com with advice from Hannah Aizenman.
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