Ask a Poet: Marilyn Nelson

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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 spending some time with Marilyn Nelson!


Hey Marilyn! What’s new with you?
What’s new with me? Every day is new: I can’t stop myself from realizing that many times a day. Every moment is new. A couple of days ago I watched my 12-month old granddaughter see a rhinoceros. Watched her look at the picture in the identification plaque in front of the enclosure, then look at the actual creature pacing there. Back to the picture, back to the actual rhino, over and over again. I feel like that a lot. Yesterday for lunch in a Vietnamese cafe in Chicago, I had a bahn mi sandwich. Today I realized I can probably hire an assistant to help me organize my little library and my notes toward various writing projects. I have several new projects approaching from the distance.

What are you currently reading?
Books by Tracy K. Smith, Jenny Xie, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires, as well as old issues of The New Yorker.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
In Washington, DC during a time when there were lots of news stories about war in Somalia, I was picked up in a taxi driven by a beautiful young man who said, when I asked where he was from, that he was from Somalia.

A long awkward silence followed. I thought about the turmoil that was going on over there, which had probably brought him to the US. Finally, he broke the silence by asking about me. I said I was in DC for a conference. He asked what kind of conference. I said A Poetry conference. “Poetry?” he asked. “What is this “poetry”?” I couldn’t thing of a meaningful response.

Do you have a favorite Festival moment from the past?
Favorite Festival moment from the past: “In Praise: Music and Poetry” reading with Gary Snyder, The Parkington Sisters, and the Newark Boys Chorus, in 2014. The boys are singing here, and Gary and I are sitting in front of them.

Marilyn Nelson was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her most recent poetry collections include My Seneca Village (namelos, 2015), How I Discovered Poetry (Dial Press, 2014), Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011 (Louisiana State University Press, 2012), and The Cachoeira Tales, and Other Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2005). She has received a Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2001 to 2006, she served as the Poet Laureate of Connecticut. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013. Nelson currently lives in Connecticut and is a Poet-in-Residence at The American Poets Corner of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

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