Sparks From the Anvil

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Christian McEwen

320 pp., 7 x 9, Gatefold paperback


April 2015

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What does it mean to grow up attuned to the particular, to the natural world and the inner world, to be astonished by language? What connections and what solitudes nurture a writer’s genuine voice? How can one find the time and space to engage with the world’s mysteries, with what Yusef Komunyakaa calls the “singing underneath things”? These are the kinds of questions Christian McEwen posed when interviewing visiting poets at the Poetry Center at Smith College over the course of five years, and the responses are by turns affirming, surprising, and gratifying. Many of the interviews are gathered here, in Sparks from the Anvil, a collection of conversations modeled after The Paris Review interviews. McEwen’s deep knowledge of poetry, her delight in these particular encounters, and her prodigious skill as an interviewer elicit deeply thoughtful answers—responses full of extraordinary insight, both delicate and frank, nuanced and bold. In McEwen’s own words: “Each poet has a private tale to tell, yet it is also possible to braid those tales together, and to read them as a kind of composite biography centered on poetry itself—where it comes from, what forms it can take, what circumstances encourage it to flourish. If the poet is indeed a blacksmith, what does her smithy look like? How does she swing her hammer? How smoldering-bright her coals? If poetry is a tree, how does the forester prepare the soil? What gives him faith that little sapling will take root?”

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