Poets are quite difficult to find, good ones even harder, and funny ones almost impossible. We find ourselves lucky to be able to chat with Bob Archambeau, a professor of poetry and literature at Lake Forest College about his inspirations and thoughts on Twitter. An avid Notre Dame fan, Bob still waits, along with the other hundred million loyal Fighting Irish, for a real bowl appearance.
Things a poet does out in Chicago
F: Favorite place to read a book in the city?
B: Best place? Is it summer or winter? In summer, the bit of Millennium Park furthest to the east, across the bridge, is quiet and has great views. In the winter I like to hole up in the Classics Coffee Shop at the University of Chicago.
F: Where do you go when you need to relax?
B: My hammock. Unless it’s right after a faculty meeting, in which case I hit The Lantern, the sole virtue of which is that it’s the closest bar to Lake Forest College.
F: Your favorite poetry readings occur at…?
B: Danny’s Tavern. Myopic Books is good, too. And there’s a great series at Woodland Pattern Books in Milwaukee.
F: To learn more about poetry, one should check out:
B: Ron Silliman has a blog that offers two kinds of posts: his opinions on poetry, which I disagree with about half the time (that’s not a bad thing, I think), and sets of links to stories about poetry on the web. The links are great.
F: What is your favorite drink and where can you find it?
B: I like Duvel, a beer you can get here and there, notably at the Hop Leaf.
F: Who are your favorite writers in Chicago?
B: I think Simone Muench is one of the best poets of her generation, and she’s in town.
F: What neighborhood do you live in? What are your favorite things to do around there?
B: I live in Highland Park, and my yard abuts the Green Bay trail, a bike path that runs from Chicago to Wisconsin. You can take a spur off of it to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and south of that to the Skokie Lagoons. It’s a great ride. Just north of us is Highwood, which has my favorite dive bar (The Silver Dollar) a Cuban/French place called Miramar that makes a mean Cubano sandwich and a meaner mojito, and will give you a little plate of sausage and peccarino if you ask for it. Closer to home there’s a hole-in-the-wall Israeli joint called the Mizrahi Grill. You want shawarma? They got shawarma you wouldn’t believe.
Learning more about Bob
F: What were the defining moments in your life that made you go down this path?
B: I suppose there were two defining moments. First, there were the short films I made as a student: I realized when making those that I really wanted an art form I could work on alone, without needing a lot of funding or equipment. My film prof was a guy named Steve Snyder who worked with the incredible filmmaker Guy Maddin, and from listening to him I realized how rare it is for someone making movies to find a group of people with whom one could really collaborate. I used to be a moody bastard (maybe I still am), and I thought that if I ever found a group like that, I’d probably end up alienating half of them. So I wanted a solo art. Then, ironically, I fell in with a crowd of poets: some established figures on the local scene in Canada, and some people my own age. And I ended up with exactly the kind of crew of co-conspirators I thought I wouldn’t find.
F: You teach “Creative Writing – Poetry”. What do people need to know about poetry to understand and appreciate it appropriately?
B: Good question! Most people who arrive in the course are pretty appreciative, but those who have a hard time with it are generally people who don’t like to think of poetry as an art: that is, they don’t like to think that there are techniques to be learned, just as there are in, say, calligraphy or figure drawing or in playing music. It’s not necessarily bad to get yourself a musical instrument and sort of noodle around on it without taking lessons or reading up on how it works, but you can get a lot more out of it if you see the learning of technique as a means to expression, rather than an impediment to it. Poetry’s like that, too.
F: After you publish a piece or a book, do you ever read through it again and wish you could change certain sections or words? Why?
B: Always! I think it was W.H. Auden who said that poems are never finished, only abandoned, and I feel the same way. Sometimes there’s a line or a turn of phrase I know I could do a better job of, now, but more often I just want to work variations on the old piece of writing. Most of my poems are reworkings of found texts (sometimes other people’s poems, sometimes something that was never intended to be literary), and I like nothing more than to pick up a piece of writing and sound out its other possibilities by playing with it. My own published poems are no exception, but of course there are better things to work with than those!
F: What do you think about Twitter?
B: I blog, and I post to Facebook all the time, so I haven’t felt the need to work with Twitter yet myself. It seems to be something people like, and I’m skeptical of its skeptics: every new technology generates a bunch of cranky people who claim it will bring about the end of civilization. So far they’ve been wrong.
F: If you were to Twitter a poem in under 140 characters what would you say?
B: I think I’d wait to get a tweet I really liked and then rework it somehow. That’s my m.o.
F: What was it like growing up in Canada? Are there any Canadian stereotypes that you think are false?
B: Cold. It was what meteorologists refer to as ass-bitingly cold for about half the year. Eliot was wrong about April being the cruelest month. In Winnipeg, it’s February. As for stereotypes? Well, I suppose the idea is that Canadians are polite. I think it’s mostly true. They also have better donuts.
F: We understand that you are a fan of the Fighting Irish. How difficult is it to be a Notre Dame fan given its current struggles?
B: Awful! Terrible! I can hardly stand it! I mean, I was at Notre Dame during the Lou Holtz years, when Rocket Ishmael used to sail down the sidelines at the speed of sound and land a touchdown about every fifteen minutes. There have been good things to watch since then: Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija were a great combination. I think Charlie Weiss is a good, hard-working, honest man, and not a bad coach, but the guy can’t recruit and develop talent the way you need to in the NCAA. I suppose it was different with the Patriots. Anyway, as a Cubs fan I used to look forward to college football season as the time when I could finally see a team I support rack up some wins. Now, not so much.