Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Charles Rafferty: Poetic Journey From Craft to Art

Charles Rafferty, poet
Award-winning poet Charles Rafferty has a new chapbook entitled Appetites with Clemson University Press. Head of the low-residency Master of Fine Arts program at Albertus Magnus College, and a consummate professional, Charles speaks candidly of diligence in the revision process and of patience two nearly lost qualities, but essential for the journey from craft to art.

Appetites, poetry
AA: What was the inspiration for this book of poems?

CR: I don't think there was one particular inspiration. Some of the poems in this collection are more than 10 years old; others were written in the past year or so. I've been steadily working on them. I'm not someone who puts much stock in inspiration anyway. Yes, there are those moments when we're "hot," but most of the work in finishing a poem (at least for me) comes with revision — and the willingness to let poems sit around until the mistakes float to the surface. One of the oldest, "The Lesson of Less Light," was started from an "actual moment" back in 1988 or 1989. I generally don't write autobiographical poems, at least not explicitly, but this one did start that way. I couldn't get it to work though and put it aside until about 2003, at which time I started working on a cycle of "state poems" — one poem for every state in the country. This was my Oklahoma poem. Ultimately, though, that collection proved to be a bad idea, but I was able to salvage this poem from it.

AA: How did you select which poems to use?

CR: I basically tried to have each of the poems touch on the notion of appetite or desire. And many of these poems are persona poems or dramatic monologues. So they seemed to cohere together fairly well. It was really just a matter of me deciding that "Appetites" was a good title, and then spreading all of my poems on the basement floor. Then I put a check mark on anything that seemed to talk about appetite or desire. It was really just a matter of sifting.

AA: What was the biggest obstacle to completing the work?

CR: Having a life, I suppose.:-) It's just difficult to find time to write when I have a busy job and family life. I make a point of writing every day though — even if it's just for small amount of time. If I can finish a draft of something every day, I feel like I've done good. One of these poems — "The Man Explains His Sourvenirs" — started back in 1989 when I found an actual pig's tooth in the woods. It didn't exist as more than a handful of lines, though, none of which are still in the poem. Then, about five years ago, I was working on a cycle of poems based on the White Album by the Beatles. I resurrected this poem as the one that would make people think of Harrison's song "Piggies." Obviously, they have little in common, and the poem sequence was ultimately a terrible idea. But I got a few good poems out of it.

AA: What would you say is different about this compilation, compared with your past work?

CR: I'm struck by the similarities to my other work, rather than to the differences. My first book, The Man on the Tower, employed many similar techniques — persona poems, dramatic monologues, poems with speakers who are obviously flawed. The difference in this book, I suppose, is that the desire that drives them is more mature, and maybe more desperate.

Charles Rafferty heads the low-residency Master of Fine Arts program at Albertus Magnus College. He has authored four collections of poetry: The Man on the Tower (winner of the Arkansas Poetry Award), Where the Glories of April Lead, During the Beauty Shortage and A Less Fabulous Infinity. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Quarterly West, Poetry East, Connecticut Review, Massachusetts Review, and DoubleTake. His work also appeared in several anthologies, including Carnegie Mellon University Press: American Poetry: The Next Generation. He received the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, the Brodine/Brodinsky Poetry Prize, a grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His "The Man Explains His Souvenirs," appeared in The New Yorker.