Timothy Donnelly's much anticipated second collection of poems, The Cloud Corporation, features virtuoso displays of poetic power in long and short poems that closely trace, and play with, how the mind makes sense of the world using language.
There are a number of longer poems in this book—why do you enjoy writing extended poems?
My thinking and speech patterns tend to be full of digressions and rephrasings and analogies—a lot of material that might prove to be extraneous, or at least inefficient—so it's no big surprise that my poems turn out that way, too, I guess. When it comes down to it, though, all my poems are aiming for the same thing, more or less—to capture the movement of a mind through thought. It's just that the longer form can accommodate a wider range of effects, a more complex sense of character and tone, moments of wandering and discovery... even comic relief.
A couple of these poems were composed through a process by which you took language from other sources. What was that like?
Those took forever. This assignment was dreamed up by the poet Geoffrey G. O'Brien, a good friend. Basically he said to write a poem using the words in a chunk of the Patriot Act and, once per line, a word from another text. I picked Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run." Two other poems mashed up Percy Shelley's A Defence of Poetry with a chapter of the 9/11 Commission Report, and Osama bin Laden's 1996 fatwa against the U.S. with the theme song of The Beverly Hillbillies. The text that surprised me the most, actually, was the fatwa. Its fusion of history, nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and unabashed razzle-dazzle is frantic, frightening, and just plain hard to believe. And yet there are aspects of it—like the call to economic independence, or the dream of taking back control of one's life from corporations—that I found it hard not to sympathize with, at least in the abstract. But mostly I realized how people will say pretty much anything, true or false, beautiful or ugly, realistic or ridiculous, to get you to feel and think and do what they want you to.
Who is your ideal reader?
"The Ideal Reader" sounds like a short story by Hawthorne or Poe. One day a misunderstood writer encounters someone who appreciates every nuance of what he writes. They start a friendship—the reader moves in across the street. The story writes itself. In time the writer doesn't even have to write anything anymore, the ideal reader can just accurately predict what the writer would have wanted to write. Soon one of them ends up dead and the other vanishes.