Ask a Poet: Joseph O. Legaspi

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Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re getting to know Joseph O. Legaspi!


What are you currently reading?
I typically read a few books of different genres at a time, in addition to news, articles and essays from print and online magazines and sources. Currently I’m immersed in Jon Pineda’s Let’s No One Get Hurt (fiction), Matthew Desmond’s Evicted (nonfiction) and We’re On: A June Jordan Reader, a hybrid collection of the late writer’s works. As for poetry, I’m feasting on Jenny Xie’s Eye Level, Evie Shockley’s semiautomatic, Wesley Rothman’s Subwoofer, Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Oceanic.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
Poetry has been such a constant presence in my life. Even as a child I loved nursery rhymes and just the way words look. My body instinctively reacted and moved and danced to songs. Growing up in the Philippines, the world around me hummed and glowed with such light that I attested to some kind of poetic sensibility. I’d written poems since elementary school, albeit I was unclear of the form and the intent then. Not until I discovered Robert Frost in junior high school that I began to write poems deliberately, intentionally. I learned poetic traditions throughout high school and into my early years in college: the Shakespearean sonnets, Keats, Yeats and Wordsworth. But I truly broke open when I began reading and learning from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, then the contemporary poets like Philip Levine, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sharon Olds. Again my world shattered when I discovered Asian American poets: Li- Young Lee, Kimiko Hahn, Marilyn Chin, Jessica Hagedorn, Jose Garcia Villa …

What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Dodge Poetry Festival?
I’d never missed a Dodge Poetry Festival since 1996, from Waterloo Village to Newark, mostly as an audience, a few times as participant. I love it! My friend and I refer to Dodge as the Olympics of poetry. As usual I look forward to being immersed in words and song, to be in conversation, and bask in the joyful camaraderie of the festival.

What is something miscellaneous from your life that you would recommend to other people? It could be a person, a habit, an idea, anything that brings you happiness right now that you would like to recommend.
Spend a day quietly, with yourself, truly. Perhaps not leave your home, or stay in for the rest of the day after a morning stroll. Make sure you stock up on your favorite foods. Sip cups of tea. Read a book you’ve been meaning to. Write a little. Contemplate. Nap. Dream of the one you love. Peel a fruit. Observe the changing light. Hydrate. Have wine with your simple dinner. Dessert. No television, but perhaps music at a low volume. Journal. Think of your mother, your father. Read some more, by lamplight.

Joseph O. Legaspi, a Fulbright and New York Foundation for the Arts fellow, is the author of two poetry collections from CavanKerry Press, Threshold (2017) and Imago (2007; also, University of Santo Tomas Press (Philippines), 2015), winner of the Global Filipino Award in Poetry; and three chapbooks: Postcards (Ghost Bird Press, 2018), Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014), winner of The David Blair Prize, and Subways (Thrush Press, 2013). His works have appeared in POETRY, New England Review, World Literature Today, Best of the Net, Beloit Poetry Journal, Orion, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day. He cofounded Kundiman, a nonprofit organization serving generations of Asian American writers and readers. He lives with his husband in Queens, NY.

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