Before he was a published poet, Kevin Goodan fought forest fires. A decade battling blazes with the U.S. Forest Service combined with a predisposition for asthma left his lungs severely damaged, to the point where life was in question.“If I could go back and do things differently, I wouldn’t,” says the 44-year-old professor of creative writing at Lewis-Clark State College.
The dichotomy between life and death arises often in Goodan’s poems. Raised in Ronan, Mont., on the Flathead Indian Reservation, his travels have led to Iceland, Sweden and now Joel, Idaho, where he lives with his wife and son.
His first collection, “In the Ghost House Acquainted,” won the 2005 L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Goodan will read from his 2012 collection, “Upper Level Disturbances” and the forthcoming “Let the Voices” at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at the LCSC Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St., Lewiston. Admission is free. Refreshments and non-alcoholic drinks will be served. Before the reading, he talked to 360 about poetry’s present and past.
1. What does poetry do for you as a writer?
For me every poem is an experience. When I begin writing I don’t know what will happen. … It’s when one tries to translate the landscape into language that some interesting things begin to happen.
2. Is poetry in danger in the current age?
I think poetry is in a big transition from traditional print venues to the Internet. I don’t see it as endangered. A lot of people like to write poetry but not a lot of people like to read poetry. That’s a problem in the publishing world.
3. You call people seeking out the next best thing instead of looking to the past “the cult of the new.” Which poets inspire you?
Christopher Smart, John Clare, Keats, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Linda Gregg, Yusef Komunyakaa, C.D. Wright — those are the people I go back to. They give me the strength to go forward.
(to crave what the light does crave)
— By Kevin Goodan, from the collection Winter Tenor.
to crave what the light does crave
to shelter, to flee
to gain desire of every splayed leaf
to calm cattle, to heat the mare
to coax dead flies back from slumber
to turn the gaze of each opened bud
to ripe the fruit to rot the fruit
and drive down under the earth
to lord gentle dust
to lend a glancing grace to llamas
to gather dampness from fields
and divide birds
and divide the ewes from slaughter
and raise the corn and bend the wheat
and drive tractors to ruin
burnish the fox, brother the hawk
shed the snake, bloom the weed
and drive all wind diurnal
to blanch the fire and clot the cloud
to husk, to harvest,
sheave and chaff
to choose the bird
and voice the bird
to sing us, veery, into darkness