10 Questions for Ron Padgett

To celebrate the publication next month of Ron Padgett’s Collected Poems, the Huffington Post has put up “‘Perpetual Delight’: 10 Questions for Poet Ron Padgett,” a brief interview with Padgett conducted by Travis Nichols.

In his preface to the interview, Nichols writes

Ron Padgett is a national treasure. He’s published, edited, and translated dozens of collections of poetry and prose, and over the past fifty years he has been an influential and necessary force in American letters. After coming to New York City from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early ’60s, Padgett became part of what John Ashbery called the “soi-disant” Tusla School with Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Alice Notley and Joe Ceravolo. This fall, we are lucky enough to finally have his Collected Poems published by Coffee House Press, where the astonishing breadth and depth of his work can finally be fully appreciated. In this volume, readers will find some of the most large-hearted, quick-witted poems of the past fifty years. I return to Padgett’s poetry again and again when I need inspiration, insight, or simply a shot of sanity. I was lucky enough to email back and forth with Padgett to glean some insights into his writing process, how to be a man, Red Skelton, and more.

Among the other questions, are these two:

I’ve always felt that there was a strong “Looney Tunes” and Buster Keaton influence in the way you describe action in your poems. Is that just me? Or, a better way to ask this, what besides poetry itself has been the biggest influence in your work?

One influence, though hopefully not the biggest, is my having been, as a child, a passionate consumer of comic books and animated cartoons, as well as comedians such as The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Sid Caesar, Red Skelton, Ma and Pa Kettle movies, Dannie Kaye, Jerry Lewis . . . The list could go on.

Of all the poets you’ve known, who tells the best jokes?

I’ve known very few poets who tell jokes. The wittiest poets I’ve known—Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Frank O’Hara, Kenward Elmslie, Anne Porter, Bill Berkson, to name a few—never told me a single joke. I think jokes are a kind of word play that uses itself up, whereas poems can have word play that gives perpetual delight.

You can find the interview here and Padgett’s forthcoming Collected Poems here.

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