Culture and Society
An Interview With David Budbill
There are many different uses of language. There’s the politician’s use of language, which is too often an outright lie. There’s the diplomat’s use of language, which is carefully worded so as not to anger or offend, yet calculated to achieve the intended goal. The supreme diplomat these days is UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. And then there’s the poet’s use of language. Emily Dickinson said, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” I think she meant that the truth, like the sun, is too bright to look at directly. Allegory, for example, is a way of telling the truth but telling it slant. In my own poems, though, most of the time, I try to tell it blunt and straight.
After two decades of wandering the country by bus and living below the poverty line, I’d been unable to find whatever it was I was looking for. My adventures had not supplied me with the artistic depth and raw material for a sensational first novel. I’d bet every last chip on the literary roulette wheel, and the ball had chuckled and hopped around and landed on someone else’s number.
She neglects to mention the coins that dot the walkway in front of the prison’s main doors. As you leave, you bend over for a penny and discover the coin is sticky with ejaculate. Cheers and howls erupt from the many floors above your head, and more coins rain down, along with obscene invitations. You drop the penny and wipe your fingers on your pants, but the damage is done. They now have your measure.
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You have to practice tuning out the noise of the culture to hear the messages transmitted from your gut and your heart. You have to become like a bird-watcher and be vigilant and develop the skills to spot and name the quick flash of awareness in yourself.
My father. He wanted me to become a writer, but when I did, he didn’t like what I wrote.
He hated my first novel and called it pornography: it features lots of teenage sex and masturbation, as well as an unsavory portrayal of a narcissistic and selfish patriarch.
Our car climbs a hill, and as we descend, we see it: A dinosaur. A swaying beast, disappearing into the woods. There’s a car stopped on the other side of the road, its doors open. Did it stop to see the dinosaur? No. The dinosaur stopped the car. A woman stands in the road, waving her hands. We see two young girls in T-shirts and shorts but no shoes, standing together in sparkling shards of glass, screaming. Billy slams on the brakes.
There are no children’s books in your house growing up. No dictionaries. No encyclopedias. Not even a Bible to skim through. Your main reading material consists of Catholic leaflets given out at Sunday Mass.
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