Interview with Author Series:
Beyond familiar impressions of any feeling or object:
'There must be words to describe this'
A collection of poems by Dean Baltesson
Why do we dive into combinations of words with such wonder? Why does the mystery deepen, the more we gaze into the heart of a poem? Maybe because we use our five senses, or are drawn to the alchemy of metaphor. Or maybe it is the sense that poems embody what W.B. Yeats described as “the fascination of what is difficult”: choosing the best words in their best order to turn the poet’s genuine experience into a meaningful one for others.
Dean Baltesson: The Mint Edition just published a collection of your poems, called ‘There must be words to describe this’, which takes us beyond familiar impressions of any feeling or object. The title seems to imply the struggle to find words describing the unutterable - and yet you seemed to have found them. How?
DEAN: The title is not intended to convey a struggle, only the notion that there have to be words to describe everything. To me, it suggests a positive idea that we can find a way to describe our experiences to each other.
Poetry seems to come closer than any other art form to addressing what cannot be said. Would you say that in expressing the inexpressible, poetry remains close to the origins of language?
DEAN: I would say that it is closer to the currently evolved state of the language. Hopefully language is evolving in a direction that will improve our ability to interact.
What do you think makes poetry unique among art forms?
DEAN: Reading in general allows us to create images unique to ourselves. Any kind of writing will accomplish that, but poetry often seems to do it specifically, maybe because it can leave so much space between the lines.
Millions of people turn to poetry for important rites of passage, e.g. funerals, weddings, toasts, eulogies or birthdays. Dean, have you ever looked for a poem, other than your own, to send to a friend, or to read at a memorial service or wedding? If so, what was it you were looking for?
DEAN: I have looked for quotes when I feel too lazy to think of something of my own to say, but I don’t think I’ve ever looked for an entire poem for that purpose.
What do you imagine is it in your poetry that your readers could not have said themselves?
DEAN: The same thing I would get from their poetry, namely, everything from their unique perspective.
Your poetry epitomizes a mosaic, or archive, of personal feelings and thoughts. Is it your love for language that lets you ponder and labor over how you make music of words – in addition to composing music in real life?
DEAN: I like writing poetry because I can emote about a subject without being literal. That is what makes me search for the right words. I am reluctant to come right out and make a statement.
You have written all the lyrics for your music. Is there a similarity between writing a poem and composing lyrics for a song?
DEAN: I find that writing poetry has less of a motive than writing music. I spend quite a bit of time collecting ideas and words that will become the fabric for poems or songs, so they are similar in that way, but my process for writing a song is like connecting A and B to get somewhere specific. That is my motive for the song, and I am interested in the craft of writing a popular song. But the process for poetry is more dream-like. It is closer to what I think of as pure creativity that comes out of nowhere.
Most books of poetry sell a few thousand copies, at best. Yet lovers of poetry point out that books may not sell, but neither are they given away. My favourite poetry books literally fall apart in my hands when I pick them up as I have turned to them so many times for consolation and inspiration. Why do you think that is?
DEAN: … perhaps the book was poorly made?
When you find the right poem, what have you discovered as a reader?
DEAN: It always comes down to a moment when I say: "Yes, that is an answer" to something that has been puzzling me. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, "… try to love the questions themselves"; I suppose that is a nice way to look at life's predicament, but I like looking for answers.
Could you mention three of your favourite poets?
DEAN: I like Leonard Cohen, Rainer Maria Rilke and e.e. cummings among many others, but a great poem can come from anyone.
‘There must be words to describe this’ are beautifully composed lines that for me strike a chord in the most vivid form of expression that can be given to our conception of anything. Dean Baltesson, thank you very much for this interview.