6 questions we always ask: Lightsey Darst, poet

The quest to feature as many MN Book Award nominees before the April 16 ceremony marches on! You can play along at home, and watch as a link to each author’s answers are added to this post

Lightsey Darst is a poet, dancer, NEA fellow, and curator of The Works, a salon for writers that happens the first Tuesday of the month at Bryant-Lake Bowl. Her first collection of poetry, Find the Girl has been nominated for an MN Book Award in Poetry.

If you want a better introduction to Lightsey and her work, you should watch the piece Minnesota Original did about her. Then come back and read her answers to the 6 questions we always ask.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
I pile up books on my coffee table until the stacks fall over. So it’s going to sound like I’m a reading monster, but you’ve got to keep in mind that my definition of “reading” is a bit loose-a page here, a chapter there, no rush. What’s currently on the coffee table:

poetry: Poetry State Forest, by Bernadette Mayer; The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats; 100 Notes on Violence and Sarah-of Fragments and Lines, by Julie Carr; Decreation, by Anne Carson; Sleeping with the Dictionary, by Harryette Mullen; Radish King, by Rebecca Loudon; Neveragainland, by M. C. Hyland

a couple of books of fairy tales and fairy tale illustrations, along with From the Beast to the Blonde, by Marina Warner, a Norton Critical Edition of the Classic Fairy Tales, and Buying the Wind, a folklore collection edited by Richard M. Dorson

issues of Fence, Salt Hill, The New Yorker, Court Green, Gulf Coast, Pen America, Eleven Eleven, and Vogue

Out of Sheer Rage, by Geoff Dyer; Against Interpretation and Other Essays, by Susan Sontag; The Lost Origins of the Essay, by John d’Agata; The Realm of Prester John, by Robert Silverberg; and The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Who?
Oh yes. Mr. Darcy, of course. And lots of others.

Adult literary readers feel a pressure to analyze and appreciate-or at least I do-a pressure that gets in the way of the devouring, crushed-out reading writers love. I’m trying to feel freer about my reading, trying to unlearn the deadening habit of appreciation. On the other hand, I don’t want to turn into a fantasist. Reading for pleasure, but with an openness to surprise, is a fine balance to pull off.

If your favorite author came to Minnesota, who would it be and what bar would you take him/her to?
Anne Carson. I’m a sucker for wine bars and modern mixology myself, but for Carson I’d pull out all the stops: the Red Dragon, Matt’s, Mayslack’s, or (best) the Hex. I think she’d get a kick out of their classic delivery to the id.

What was your first favorite book?
I’m going to be honest here and say that I learned to read for Nancy Drew. But I also remember loving Sloth’s Birthday Party and a similarly titled but quite different book, Edward Gorey’s The Dwindling Party; Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes and Cakes and Custard; my beautiful fairy tale books illustrated by Jan Pienkowski, Arthur Rackham, and Kay Nielsen, and Harry Clarke’s fantastic E. A. Poe; and we had Tintin, Swallows and Amazons, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Once and Future King, oh so many others. I was very lucky; I grew up with a lot of books around. . .

Let’s say Fahrenheit 451 comes to life, which book would you become in order to save it from annihilation?
Boring answer: the complete works of Shakespeare. But, assuming other people have covered the big cultural basics (the OED, major religious texts, the epics, lit 101, etc), I’d like to grab something a little more unusual: maybe Njal’s Saga, a 13th century Icelandic saga that first showed me how differently people can think, or Judith Thurman’s essay collection Cleopatra’s Nose, a lovely elucidation of fashion, tofu, and various female writers, among other things. Or I could be Pissing in the Snow, a collection of dirty jokes from the Ozarks.

What is one book you haven’t read but want to read before you die?
You know, my immediate reaction to this question is writerly shame: oh god, I still haven’t read Ulysses, Moby Dick, Great Expectations, Proust, William Carlos William’s Paterson, Leaves of Grass, etc. Sure, I’d like to get to all that, but I’m going to go with a modest answer: I’d like to read That This, Susan Howe’s new book, which I just bought after hearing her read at the AWP conference last month.

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