you look at the statue headdresses, you can see that they represent different and mixing cultures, subjugating one people to another as empiresstruggle to reshape themselves.
WALPOLE: Empires is much more than a meditation on the instructionsthe ancient world offers the modern one. There’s a nice balance betweenthe public and the personal poems. What were you aiming for in some ofthe other poems?
BALABAN: As the book goes on, the direct historical sense and preoccupation ease, and there are poems about departed friends and poemsabout traveling in the United States. Richard Hugo makes the distinction between personal and public poems. From Horace we get thephrase “The purpose of poetry is to teach and delight.” Which accountsfor public poetry, but I don’t know how you would apply that to a lot ofcontemporary poetry like the poetry I just moderated a panel on, whereeveryone was thirty or younger, writing only personal poems. Not that Ihave anything against personal poems, but the “I” that is in them mustrepresent something bigger than the mere personal identity of the author. An “I” ought to be able to subsume the reader as well. The readershould feel that he or she is part of that “I,” and that’s lacking in a lot ofcontemporary poetry.
WALPOLE: You have often found yourself an outlier, someone on theoutside of conventional wisdom.
BALABAN: Joe, in the place we both grew up, which you wrote about
so powerfully in Agni, both of us had a sense that we were outsiders
and that we didn’t belong to much of anything. [Editor’s note: Balaban
Not that I have anything against personal poems, but
the “I” that is in them must represent something big-
ger than the mere personal identity of the author. An
“I” ought to be able to subsume the reader as well.