It’s no secret that at the Catskill Mountain Foundation we’re working to expand our literary programming. This month, our program has grown to include Kirby Olson, poet and professor of philosophy and humanity at SUNY Delhi. I was lucky enough to catch him for a quick interview, in which we discuss several movements of poetry, politics, and the intersection of religion and art. I realize that the title of this interview may not make sense, since we didn’t really talk about post-anything; the idea comes from a review of Kirby’s book by Andrew Tully (which, by the way, you can and should read here). So scroll on, dear reader.
Trust me. He’s an interesting guy.
When did you study with Allen Ginsberg?
Allen Ginsberg had opened a Buddhist poetry college in Boulder, Colorado in 1976. It was called Naropa Institute. I went there in the summer of 1977 and the summer of 1979. Had I been able to finish my Evergreen State College degree there, I would have remained. Although I was from the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, my guidance counselor at East Stroudsburg University suggested I go to Evergreen State College, which is a non-traditional college in Olympia, Washington. However, while there, I found a catalog for Naropa Institute, in the student lounge. I recognized all the poets in the Naropa Catalog. I wanted to study poetry. That’s about all that I knew at the time. I studied with almost all of the Beat poets and lived in the same housing complex. In addition to Ginsberg, I talked daily with the poet Gregory Corso, and with Philip Whalen, and many others. There were some New York School poets there, too. Kenneth Koch was there, and Kenward Elmslie, for example. I met all of them, and found them all quite fascinating.
How much influence does surrealism and the New York school still have on your work?
While at Evergreen State College, I had begun to read surrealist and Beat and New York School writings, even though none of the professors at that time were poets. I found their work in the library. It was much better to study with the Beats and New York School writers in person. This summer I met the poet Peter Schjeldahl, who was a New York School poet in the 1960s and 1970s, but gave up his poetry in order to write art criticism for The New Yorker. He no longer writes poetry, as he didn’t apparently feel that there was much of an audience for his work. His poems were really good New York School work. He’s like Frank O’Hara, to an extent, but with a more honest feel, a more Lutheran feel. He’s from Fargo, North Dakota, and was raised as a Lutheran. There is a certain honesty in his poems that I feel in general is missing in the New York School poets. I had sent him my poetry book, and he Continue reading