Guernica Magazine

In Defense of Imagination

The poets Matthew Zapruder and Ada Limón discuss Zapruder’s new prose book, Why Poetry.
zapruder, why-poetry, poetry, Book image: Harper Collins.

I first met Matthew Zapruder in San Francisco in 2010 at something called the Poetry World Series. We had to read poems back and forth as judges scored us and made witty quips. It was fun, and it was uncomfortable. There was a large game-like concept to it all, and a small, seemingly less game crowd. (It’s grown in popularity since then, and the crowd’s grown too.) Zapruder made that first night easier, however, by cracking jokes, generously complimenting people’s poems and making everyone feel more at ease on stage.

Later, when any new article came out talking about how poetry is dead (again? snore), I noticed he would challenge the author with a lively discussion about poetry’s current vital and expanding existence. While I knew and loved his books of poems, his way of being of service to the poetry community always impressed me. I suppose this is why I’ve often thought of him as a benevolent defender of poetry.

So, when I was contacted to interview him for his new book, Why Poetry, I immediately agreed. He and I had talked about the book before and I was eager to see the finished product. The kicker was that I had to read the book quickly, while I was traveling and teaching. This proved to be undeniably easy. I devoured it. Within hours I was copying whole sections down that I wanted to read to my class. (I did. They’ll attest to it. One student even shouted, after I finished, “Preach!”)

In Why Poetry, Zapruder makes a case for poetry. That sounds simple, but that’s what he does. From a refreshingly honest and personal point of view, he talks about how he came to poetry, how he began to read it, and his own journey. In doing so, he takes the reader deeper into poetry’s mystery and the necessity of imagination (something especially valuable now).

As we were about to begin the interview, in typical Zapruder fashion, he suggested that this become more of a conversation instead. Apparently he had some questions for me, too. What follows is an excerpt from a conversation that is quite possibly endless.

—Ada Limón

I can’t tell you how I excited I am for your book, Matthew. I know you’ve been working on it for a while now, and it must be strange to see it to come to life at last. I think, as poets, we are in the odd position of constantly defending our art form.

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