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Book Review:
Rattle Conversations by Alan Fox

rattle conversations by alan foxConversations. They are an integral part of the human experience, but how about a book of conversations? Rattle Conversations. Interviews with poets by a publisher of poets. Does it hold any particular value as a product on its own?

Is there anything you can say about a book of conversations that would give it justice? Unless you speak with the interviewees themselves then you can't vouch for the truth of their statements. All you have to go on is what the interviewer presents in the final package: A he-said he-said narrative or, as in the case of some, he-said she-said.

I think the biggest test of an interviewer's skills is whether or not the final product offers something compelling. Alan Fox's Conversations certainly does that. Truth be damned.

It's not that I don't think there is truth in this book of interviews. It's more that I don't think the truth is important. What's more important is that we get to the heart of each poet that Fox interviews, and I believe we do.

Rattle Conversations is compiled from years of interviews with poets that appeared in Rattle's print journal. All of the interviews were conducted by Rattle editor-in-chief, Alan Fox. Among the poets interviewed for the journal and Rattle Conversations are:

  • Daniel Berrigan
  • Hayden Carruth
  • Lucille Clifton
  • Sam Hamill
  • Jane Hirshfield
  • Yusef Komunyakaa
  • Jack Kornfield
  • Li-Young Lee
  • Philip Levine
  • Sharon Olds
  • Gregory Orr
  • Luis J. Rodriguez
  • Alan Shapiro
  • Diane Wakoski
With one exception, all of the interviews are fantastic. The only one I think falls on its face is the Sharon Olds interview and that's primarily because I had such high expectations of it. Olds was one of my earliest influences among contemporary poets and I admire her poetry tremendously, but I found her to be rather scatter-brained in her conversation with Alan Fox. My disappointment had more to do with Olds than with Fox, who I think handled all of the interviews with great style.

Fox's style is to allow the person being interviewed to tell his or her story without too much interjection. When he does offer comments he is pushing the interview along in a way that isn't demanding of the person being interviewed nor too forceful upon the reader. He is laid back and tends to let the poet tell his or her own story through their own voices.

In these interviews you'll find insights into each poet's life and their approach to poetry such that you'll walk away with a deeper, richer understanding of contemporary poetics. If there is one criticism of Fox that I'd offer it would be that his breadth of range of choices for interviews was a bit too slim and represent a middling ground of mainstream American poetics. I'd have appreciated more interviews and broader scope of poets. But that's a minor disappointment when you consider that the poets he does have conversations with offer unique insights and tons of wisdom. I couldn't recommend Rattle Conversations by Alan Fox more.

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Rattle Conversations by Alan Fox

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