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The Café Zola for 600 Seconds [US]:
Alice Fulton: I am talking with my student, Sean Norton, in the Café Zola, on West Washington St., Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. The state of Michigan is located in the Midwest. It is a sunny, pleasant day, about 60 degrees, with a slight (7 mph) wind, though inside the café, it is dimmer and warmer. There’s rock music playing, but not so loudly that we have to raise our voices. Sean and I are having our final discussion of his MFA thesis, Present and Accounted For. At 5:50, we start laughing self-consciously. I feel like continuing -- what fun, to laugh! -- but Sean quickly becomes sober, and I follow suit. My back is to the window. There’s a glass of warm iced tea and a cup of cold hot tea on the reddish wooden table. I’m focusing so intently on Sean (black sweater, black glasses, black hair) that the rest of the room blurs to inconsequence, though I note the light fixture, a retro-fifties crescent, hanging from the ceiling several feet behind him. He retains his equipoise under scrutiny. We gaze at each other through plastic filters. Sean’s eyes are seriously brown behind his glasses; my irises and pupils are wearing tiny, transparent shields: contact lenses.

Sean has brought some questions for us to discuss. The first concerns style in poetry: does it develop naturally or must poets strive to create it? I say look for the quirks, the accidents, even. If an eccentricity seems interesting, try it again. But I think style comes from character, ultimately. It can’t be forced or chosen. Then he brings up Picasso. When asked why he always painted figures, Picasso said it was because he believed the wine comes from the grapes rather than the other way around. Sean wonders how that analogy might apply to poetry. What, in poetry, was the “grape” from which issues the “wine” of the poem? I immediately suggest language as the ichor. Sean asks what I mean by language. I say all linguistic markers and I list some, but my list leaves out what I mean most: that the reinvention of language is poetry’s deepest reason. Sean thinks language is too inclusive, perhaps, to be analogous to Picasso’s grape, and I agree. Perhaps language is the analogue to paint, the material itself, rather than to the figure. Still, it’s my best guess.

He asks what poem might make a good ending for his manuscript. I think the second-best one in the group is often a good choice, though almost any strong poem placed at the end will provide a sense of closure. I glance at my watch. Ten minutes has gone by so quickly! I tried to be conscious of the Now, but I kept forgetting myself. Only agony elongates time, and that change of scale clearly isn’t worth the price. Having time to talk about poetry is an historical luxury. Yet poetry was important, present and accounted for, for this fetishized bit of time. For 600 seconds, ten flashing minutes, poetry was all we thought about, to the extinguishment of time and place.
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