William Winfield Wright is Fulbright scholar and Professor of English at Colorado Mesa University. He has published in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Field, The Ninth Letter, The Seattle Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has two chapbooks available from Wormwood Chapbooks.
Amoskeag: The 2012 issue has come to be known as the “Identity” issue; in what way does your work deal with “identity?”
William: I am interested in persona, not in terms of hiding a real self behind the clothes of metaphor or situation but in terms of projecting a self into made-up and altered circumstances and language. I write science poems and surreal poems, and that allows me to see identity as play and to set out, or make grotesque, aspects of self. In the poem from this issue, the small size of the soul is featured as it meanders through physics, physiology, metaphysics, and biology like the bee in the title.
Amoskeag: In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?
William: As a poet, I think less about types of characters and more about how to bring dialog into the poem, how to have two or more speakers working in and across lines. In many cases, the speakers get lost in the performance of self or in the play of language, but that’s also how they communicate with each other, how they find a connection. Identity is produced in the accumulation of lies, contradictions, and play. In a recent poem coming out in the journal A Few Lines next year called, “The New Physics,” two speakers play at saying ideas and names from the history of physics. Here are the last two stanzas to show what I mean:
you did too
Tycho Brahe all out loud
and no I did not say Fermi
Amoskeag: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”
William: I like this one:
“Perhaps it is enough to be regularly nearby
like with horses and fish.”
That’s two lines, but they say something about the communal aspects of identity, that like those two horses that stand next to each other in a field, or the sardines in the local aquarium who swim in crowded circles with their mouths open, we are who we are in part out of our connection to others who are sometimes like us only in being in a similar kingdom, class, or species.
Amoskeag: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?
William: As a writer of scholarship, I got here by being my colleagues’ peer. García Márquez has said something to the effect that he writes so that his friends will love him better. I write so that my colleagues will continue to include me in their conversations about literature and about teaching. I am a poet in part because I spent nine months in Norway some 11 years ago. It was beautiful and lonely, and I spent part of each day around a language near but not my own. That and the supportive and attentive friends and colleagues I had there made for a fine recipe for poetry, and I can hope that they love me better for the results.
Amoskeag: What lies ahead for you?
William: There is some reinvention ahead for most of us, I would guess. In practical terms, I have another chapbook coming out and continue to get nibbles and bites on small and large manuscripts. The idea that I am building an identity, if only for myself, in the poems I have published is fun to contemplate. I recently had a fire and am gifted with the dubious and exciting chance to reinvent my home and what it means to live in a willfully constructed space. More in the “who knows?” category, I expect to live, or visit at length, other parts of the world either in memory or action. Publishing in the Amoskeag journal had me contemplating my time in southern New Hampshire in the 1980s. I can anticipate that my job will allow me to spend time in other countries. The world is full of interesting places to land, however briefly.
To view an excerpt from William’s poem “My Soul, the Size of a Bee,” click here.