This week, Emily Fragos and Bobby C. Rogers will come to the Library of Congress as the 2015 Witter Bynner Fellowship recipients. In advance of their evening Fellowship reading, the Poetry and Literature Center conducted e-mail interviews, below. Here is Bobby C. Rogers:
Bobby C. Rogers is the author of Paper Anniversary (2010), winner of the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of the Greensboro Review Literary Prize in Poetry and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in literary journals such as The Southern Review, Georgia Review and Shenandoah, among others. Rogers is professor of English at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.
1. On March 12th you will give a reading at the Library of Congress and be introduced by Poet Laureate Charles Wright. What has he meant to you, and how does it feel to have him select you for the Witter Bynner Fellowship?
I’ve admired Charles Wright since I was first figuring out what a poem could be. When I arrived at the University of Virginia to study with him, I was twenty-one years old and needing to learn everything. What Charles showed me was how a serious mind goes about making art. (And Charles was from Tennessee: he had a completely reasonable accent, really no accent at all.) Every artist needs some good luck, and Charles Wright was mine. He had us reading architecture books that autumn, thinking about what Vitruvius’s ideas regarding the proportions of a gracefully conceived stairway might have to do the with shaping of a poem. Each workshop was a revelation. I don’t know what good it does to rank poets, but there’s no one ahead of Charles. And there’s no one I would rather have not be offended by the poems I make.
2. As part of your fellowship you will also give a reading in your home state. What relationship does your work have with Tennessee?
Oh, it’s an easy relationship. They get along fine. Like a house afire. The doings in my poems rarely have any excuse to be located outside the Volunteer State. My roots here are deep. It’s where I grew up and went to school. My great-great-grandfather and his two brothers fought in the 7th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry (U.S.A., not C.S.A.), and according to family legend never saw each other until they were prisoners of war at Andersonville. I have great hopes for the resurgence of University of Tennessee football.
I’ve never had a problem being considered a regionalist poet. If my work is noticed at all, it tends to be because of its Southernness, whatever that may still be capable of meaning. I recently had a poem anthologized in the Everyman’s Library Poems of the American South that David Biespiel put together. My next book will be in Dave Smith’s Southern Messenger Poets series from LSU Press. I’m from a place. I don’t know what else to make a poem out of. Maybe if I liked air travel more.
3. What will the Witter Bynner fellowship offer you?
There’s never a bad time to receive a fellowship, but for me the Witter Bynner fellowship is especially well timed. I have also received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for 2015-16, which is another great gift. NEA grants don’t go as far as they used to, however, especially for those of us with kids to keep shod and get educated. The additional funds from the Witter Bynner fellowship make it a little more justifiable to take a semester off from teaching and sit down to make some new poems.