In this episode of VIDA Voices and Views, Melissa Studdard interviews poet and memoirist, Gregory Pardlo, who reads from his Pulitzer-winning poetry collection, Digest, and discusses topics ranging from adapting the slave narrative form for his celebrated poem “Written by Himself” to his family fining him for missed meals.
About Gregory Pardlo:
Known for his intellectual rigor, gorgeous musicality, and socially and politically engaged writing, Gregory Pardlo is the author of the poetry collection, Digest, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. Digest was also shortlisted for the 2015 NAACP Image Award and was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. As poet Campbell McGrath says, “These are poems that delight the ear, encourage the heart, and nourish the brain.” Pardlo’s other honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. As well, his first poetry collection, Totem, was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. Pardlo is also the author of Air Traffic, a memoir in essays forthcoming from Knopf, and he is a faculty member of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Rutgers University-Camden.
To learn more about Gregory Pardlo, please visit: http://pardlo.com
Photograph by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Gregory Pardlo Quotes from This Episode of VIDA Voices & Views:
“When the Pulitzer came along, I thought, well this is a clear mandate if ever there was one—this is a call to open doors for women and people of color and to campaign for a broader sense of aesthetics.”
“I do hear lines, but they aren’t necessarily the lines I open with. I use those musical inspirations as stakes—ways to stake down the poem—so I can have a sense of where it is spatially and how it’s operating. By the end of the drafting process, those lines are very rarely still present in the poem.”
“It’s only since I got sober that I even was able to write this book, Digest, and the whole idea of service then became something that I saw not as an obligation or onerous responsibility, but I saw it as something that is thrilling and an honor and a privilege.”
“So many problems in the world and in history can be boiled down to the simple—no, not simple at all—to the singular—idea of paternalism, of patriarchy, and how deeply that is rooted throughout so many isms and ills.”
“In the back of MAD Magazine, they had these fold over images. There’s an image that looks like one thing; you fold it over and it becomes something completely different. At some point in the last year, I was talking about my work, and I realized that is precisely the way I imagine the poems.”
“So, I get this text message saying, ‘Congratulations on your Pulitzer,’ and it’s from a former student, so I say, ‘this person is terribly confused.’”
“I don’t expect other writers to be activists or to approach their work in an activist way, but I do advocate for a kind of self-awareness . . . be aware of what you’re putting on the page. Be aware of the narratives that you’re playing into, and if those are the narratives you genuinely want to explore, do it responsibly.”
“I was thinking about sex work as the struggle over who owns labor and the kinds of labor that men profess to own and how that influences my understanding of myself as a father—and trying to struggle against that in a culture where that is the central kind of operating system.”