Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in an ongoing series of Web-exclusive Q & As with authors who are on book tours.
W. S. Di Piero, whose volume of new and selected poems, Chinese Apples, was published by Knopf, is on a four-city book tour. We caught up with him in the Boston area. The night before our conversation, Di Piero read at Harvard, and that night he was scheduled to read at the Brookline Booksmith store.
First, let’s talk a bit about the book—what was it like to look back at all your previous books and put together a career-spanning selection?
It was an unsettling experience—in that I went back and reread things from times past that I haven’t read in a long time. I discovered something that I should have known: when you’re writing poems, you’re not aware, quite, of the kind of poet you’re becoming until after you’ve become it. I realized that there are different kinds of music being made in the language [of my poems], but that there was a shared pattern in the kinds of music, and that there were themes.
Do you feel now like you can put that old work behind you and move on to new things?
Everything is about moving on. It’s always about staying in motion.
Speaking of moving, how’s the tour going?
I gave a reading at a bookstore in Burlington, Vermont, though I was in Burlington largely because a woman who has a talk show on Vermont public TV wanted to interview me, so I did the reading and also this interview. Unlike most interviewers, she was terrifically prepared. That set me at ease. Two books ago, I was interviewed on radio, for NPR. I was in a sound booth in San Francisco, and this distant voice was coming form Washington D.C., I think. And the opening question was what I thought of the advance that my publisher Knopf had just paid Bill Clinton for his memoir. Where do you go from there?
If only they gave poets Clinton-sized advances…
Then I was in NY to read in a wonderful series that I’ve read in before called the Speakeasy series. I read there two or three years ago, when my last book came out and they were doing the series at The Knitting Factory. Clubs are the best venues for poems—I’d choose a club over an auditorium any time.
I’ve never heard anyone say that before. Why are clubs better?
Because it feels like it’s life in process. Its’ not a poetic event taken out of life, which is always the hermetic feeling of a classroom or auditorium reading. I love clubs.
Do you have any weird book tour stories?
I once read in my hometown—I lived for 21 years in South Philadelphia.--7 people showed. Three were relatives, two were friends from San Francisco who were visiting friends in New Jersey and came just to make sure there were bodies in the audience. And then there were two others guys. One of them was a guy who read a book through my reading and stroked his beard. The other guy had this crazed gleam in his eye, and at the end of the reading he said "do you have a question and answer—can I ask a question?" and I said, "ok." And he said, "Where do you come from," and I said do you mean where in South Philly, and he said, "yeah, South Philly, South Philly." I said I was born and spent my first 10 or 12 years at 22nd and Morris". He said, "No Kidding. I grew up at 21st and Tasker. That’s really cool" Then he got up and walked out.