Can you discuss the meaning of the title or origin of the poem?
This eponymous iron lattice tower, the subject of the poem, was once the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s fair, and it still famously splays itself over the world’s citizens who come to gawk at it and photograph. The French of refined taste considered it a monstrosity from the start, but through the years have absorbed it as a (crude but distinctive) national icon. When I first visited Paris I was astounded by the medley of people on the tower’s esplanade. They came from all over the world. They gathered in queues (as did I) to stand for hours just to climb the tower. The only Frenchmen in sight were those in uniforms selling or collecting tickets. As an American, comfortable with diversity, I merged cozily with the unalike crowd, feeling the monument would be more at home in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
You’re on a deserted island with only one poem. Which one is it and why?
I would choose Philip Larkin's "Church Going." It’s a poem that manifests for me the ineffable and sublime through sensation and compression. I wish I could write words like, “Since someone will forever be surprising/ A hunger in himself to be more serious,” so off-handedly and naturally and simply, and tap something so profound.
Where do you find your inspiration?
You ask what triggers a poem? What bothers me (in the focusing sense) so much I must make it gel into words? For me, it can come from something I see or smell or hear. Paying attention, I guess you could say. Observing and swimming in the goulash of an inner life, where memories or snippets of thoughts merge with the immediate. Sometimes it’s something I read. Sometimes it’s what some one says. Meaning usually comes as a discovery.
How would you describe your process?
I believe in stream of consciousness that is then chiseled down into a poem. I play around, relying on description as foundation, and then let my imagination have free rein, connecting and alluding. I save everything I write. Sometimes I amalgamate pieces, inserting thoughts or particulars saved before into the poem of the moment. I don’t believe a poem is born out of your forehead, finished, and unimpeachable, just because it has some compelling emotion or urgency. Poems are fashioned, revised and rethought,so there’s rhythm and other ear candy. To me, that’s the fun of it. That’s my process.
Would you rather have the power of invisibility or the power of flight? Why?
Invisibility. Think of all that you could SEE and HEAR as you roam about in a disguising cloak! What a fantasy for the probing mind.