20 Questions with Don Share

Mariela Griffor interviews Don Share, editor at Poetry, on his writing habits and techniques. Let’s call it a game of 20 questions.

1. Where do you do your writing? Please describe the room where you write and why at room in particular.

I write on the Green Line trains of the Chicago CTA, the “L,” as it’s called.  Being on the train is the only circumstance in which I have the luxury, if that’s the right word, to work.  I don’t even own a desk!

2. Do you have any form of habit or preparation before writing?

No.  Writing sneaks up on me, often rather unpleasantly.  With regard to translation, on the other hand, it’s all planning and discipline: there’s work before one that must be done and must be done as diligently as possible.

3. Did you always want to be a writer?

I did, but only after realizing that owing to poor eyesight and a certain diffidence I would never be an astronaut.

4. Do you think poetry may be fundamentally another kind (because not everybody has it on a daily basis) of consciousness? In other words one that is not immediately accessible to most but which can be unlock by the histories or memories of other poets through poetry?

Poetry emanates from human consciousness in some measure, and unconsciousness, too, but otherwise I have no idea how it works!

5. How can poets or writers or even ordinary people ultimately recover the language of poetry?

Oh, I didn’t realize that it was in need of recovery!

6. How long did it take you to complete this book?

The first several drafts took about a year, but I worked on it, believe it or not, from about 1990 until this past year.

7. Did you have a tendency to write and then pause for days or weeks or months? Or do you write quickly one project at a time?

The former.

8. Why did you have to write this book? Tell me the story behind your book.

It’s a translation, of course, so it’s not my own book.  I had to translate it because I found it ravishing, charming, funny, and poignant.

9. Tell me about your favorite writers and poets and explain why. How did they affect you?

Richard Hugo, G.M. Hopkins, Milton, Dickinson, Bishop, Marianne Moore, May Swenson, Robert Lowell, Lorine Niedecker, W.S. Graham, Delmore Schwartz, Austin Clarke, James Dickey, Charlotte Mew, Thomas Traherne, Laura Riding Jackson, Jacob Glatstein… the list goes on.  They affect me so deeply that I can scarcely talk about them.

10. For people who are not very familiar with your style and with the characters in your book how would you invite them to make acquaintances of them?

Turn to the first page, and keep going!

11. Were you interested in poetry from the time you were a child or did your interest grow after reading certain authors or was it events in your life?

Always, always interested in poetry.  Oddly enough, as a child poetry struck me as very adult stuff, very grown-up, and now quite the opposite.

12. What was the most difficult part in translating or writing this book?

Translating is fraught and impossible.  If you’re diligent enough to get the sense down, the poetry evaporates; if you’re a good poet, you end up rewriting things.  You have to turn a lose/lose situation into a win/win one.

13. What is the author/translator relationship in your case? Please describe in detail anything that would be interesting to your reader concerning the creation of this book.

I loved the book, which a Colombian friend brought me back from a trip home, loved it so much that I wrote the author and begged permission to translate it.

14. Where did you grow up?

Memphis, Tennessee.

15. Why did you move to the place you are living right now?

To become an editor at Poetry magazine.

16. Do your parents understand what it is you do?

Of course not!

17. How does your spouse deal with the fact you are a writer? Are the routines in your household very different?

My spouse is also a writer.  Our routines are different because the division of labor between the sexes is unequal and unfair.

18. Are you affected or sensitive to the critical opinion of friends and colleagues?

I’d be lying if I said anything other than “yes.”

19. What would you like to accomplish in the next project? Can you tell us a bit about that?

I’m working on a book about Basil Bunting, but frankly, I can only do this if I am awarded a Guggenheim or something else that releases me from full-time employment.

20. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 5 years?

I’m blind to the future, but hope still to be alive in 5 years.


Don Share is an American poet. He is the chief Editor of Poetry magazine in Chicago.He grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Share was Curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University from 2000 until 2007. He was Editor in Chief of Literary Imagination, the review of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics (published by Oxford University Press); Poetry Editor of Harvard Review; a contributing editor for Salamander; and on the advisory board of Tuesday; An Art Project.

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