You're on a deserted island with only one poem. Which one is it and why?
Such an impossible question!—but for that reason, endlessly interesting. My answer would change from day to day. Today, I think it would be “Among School Children” by W.B. Yeats. Tomorrow, perhaps “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass. Next week, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29.
Who has been influential in your development as a poet?
The list of poets I love includes many I can’t claim as influences. I love Shakespeare, Dickinson, Whitman, Yeats, Rilke—but, not being a genius, would never aspire to emulate them. My first poems were haiku, and Basho and Issa are unfailing sources of inspiration. In college, I majored in biology, but also discovered a few contemporary poets, notably A.R. Ammons and Gary Snyder, whose work has influenced me greatly. I didn’t begin to read poetry seriously until about 10 years ago, and since then have been influenced by W.S. Merwin, Louise Glück, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hass, Mark Doty, and Wisława Szymborska, among many others. Those influences are all aspirational, of course – as a practical matter, my development as a poet has been most influenced by my friends and fellow poets in the two monthly writing groups I attend.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Nature, its beauties and its terrors. All the damage that we do. The puzzle of memory. The mystery of death.
What have you learned about the craft of writing poetry?
That it is very hard.
Would you rather have the power of invisibility or the power of flight. Why?
Well, I’m a professional ornithologist (bird scientist), so of course I would choose the power of flight. I think that the ability to live effortlessly in three dimensions, to weave through all layers of a forest, to hang motionless in the wind deflected by a mountain peak, would fundamentally transform my conception of the world. Besides, I’ve learned that the power of invisibility is readily available. All it requires is a certain stillness, silence—in short, the willingness to be unseen. It’s an essential ability for a naturalist—and, in my opinion, for a poet.