A few weeks after winning the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Diane Seuss says, “It’s this great concept I’m still trying to feel while getting my kitchen faucet replaced, folding laundry, and living my life.” Her winning collection, “frank: sonnets,” is a memoir of the poet’s complex life in 127 sonnets that draws inspiration in part from Frank O’Hara. The Michigan native resides in Kalamazoo, where she’s at work on her next collection.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
SEUSS: I’ve become a very selective reader. As a kid I read anything but now I don’t pleasure read so much except for the pleasure of getting what I need for my work. For that, I’m currently obsessed with “Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph” by Lucasta Miller. It’s this cool combo of literary criticism and biography. Keats grappling with his brother’s death and his own impending death, and how that impacted his poetry is very important to me. That’s probably because of my father’s death when I was young, the friends I lost to AIDS, the pandemic, and now my own aging. Keats is an object lesson in how deathiness can impact a poem and not make it more fearful but braver.
BOOKS: Have those formative deaths in your life inspired other reading?
SEUSS: I read tons of contemporary poetry because that’s my job but what feeds me are the books from the past. That’s probably because my father died when I was 7. My relationship to him was based on my imagination so my relationships with writers of the past are easy for me. I have a very strong relationship, for example, with Emily Dickinson. I read her poetry and all the biographical material I can. Richard B. Sewall’s “The Life of Emily Dickinson” is unsurpassed in scope, though somewhat dated. I love Cynthia Griffin Wolff’s “Emily Dickinson” and Susan Howe’s “My Emily Dickinson.”
BOOKS: Who are the other writers you feel that connection with?
SEUSS: I was really interested in Sylvia Plath when I was a young poet. Plath fed me because I understood her ferocity as well her feelings of abandonment but she was a tough role model because of how things ended for her. Still reading her poems and her biographies have been important. The newest one, Heather Clark’s “Red Comet,” is amazing.
BOOKS: Who are the contemporary poets you’ve been reading?
SEUSS: I just read “Concentrate” by Courtney Faye Taylor. It’s edgy aesthetically but it never leaves behind the speaker’s lyrical voice. Michael Chang’s “Almanac of Useless Talents” is just audacious as hell. It cracked me up and made me think. “The Wild Hunt Divinations: A Grimoire” by Trevor Ketner takes all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and rearranges them into something contemporary.
BOOKS: What do you read for nonfiction?
SEUSS: I love reading art history, especially if it has a particular point of view, such as “Looking at the Overlooked” by Norman Bryson. That is a book on still life painting that rocked my world. I love reading philosophy. Roland Barthes, love, love, love, especially his “Camera Lucida.” I also love reading Helene Cixous. Reading philosophy has the most impact on my writing.
BOOKS: What kind of reader were you as a kid?
SEUSS: I started reading at 3. It was one of the few things I remember about my dad, that he was really proud of that. When my dad died, my mom decided to go to college and major in English. She brought real books into the house, like “Mrs. Dalloway” and “Finnegans Wake.” I can still see the spines of all those books in my mind.
BOOKS: What are reading after the Keats biography?
SEUSS: “On Weaving” by the artist Anni Albers, who was part of the Bauhaus. I find her essays on weaving almost allegorical. I have a poem in my next book that was inspired by reading the Roman poet Catullus. I’d like to read Daisy Dunn’s biography of him. I also have the Booker-winning novel, “The Discomfort of Evening” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. I started it and then squirreled it away. That would be more pleasure reading and I don’t allow myself that. I always feel the clock ticking so I have to use my reading time wisely.