For the past eight summers Vijay Seshadri has left his Brooklyn apartment to teach poetry at Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center. This year Seshadri returned with a Pulitzer Prize in hand for his new collection “3 Sections.” Seshadri, a former editor at the New Yorker, is a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
SESHADRI: Right now, I’m reading “Moral Imagination,” a new collection of essays by David Bromwich and his “The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke,” about the 18th century Irish statesman and philosopher. It’s a slow reading process. When Bromwich mentions a Burke essay, I have to read the essay by Burke.
BOOKS: Had you read a lot by or about Burke before?
SESHADRI: I’d read “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” and “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” I knew about his speeches on the East India Co. He attacked it and defended the Indians, so Indians tend to have a soft spot for him.
BOOKS: Are the Bromwich books typical of your reading?
SESHADRI: These books require one to exercise one’s intellect at a high level. My reading tends to be that way, but I mostly read fiction, some history and nonfiction, and, of course, lots and lots of poetry. I don’t read that much contemporary work though I just ordered this Norwegian guy’s book, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle.” I also have the essay collection “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison. I’m reading Saskia Hamilton’s new poetry collection, “Corridor” and “The Knight’s Tale,” the first story in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” I read a lot of short stories.
‘I have poems I reread all the time, too. Reading those is like listening to music. You don’t listen to your favorite CD just once, whether it’s Bach or Frank Zappa.’
BOOKS: Who are your favorite short story writers?
SESHADRI: Alice Munro is fantastic. I reread John Cheever and Frank O’Connor’s stories. I recently reread J.D. Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut.” Wow, what a great piece of writing that story is. I have poems I reread all the time, too. Reading those is like listening to music. You don’t listen to your favorite CD just once, whether it’s Bach or Frank Zappa.
BOOKS: Which poets do you return to?
SESHADRI: The ones I call “The Great Suicides’’: Hart Crane, Weldon Kees, Sylvia Plath, and John Berryman. I always reread Yeats, who really influenced me. There are contemporary poets who I reread, but I can’t mention their names because people I hadn’t mentioned would get angry.
BOOKS: Have you always been a rereader?
SESHADRI: Yeah. I would just fall in love with books and attach myself to them. For example, I reread the Christmas dinner scene in Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” over and over. That scene is the pinnacle of western narrative art.
BOOKS: Is there any kind of book you would never pick up?
SESHADRI: Romances. I’ve never read romances or chick-lit, if they still call it that, though one of my favorite books of all time is Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” That’s certainly a romance.
BOOKS: Were you bookish as a kid?
SESHADRI: I’d been in an Anglican school in Bangalore. When my family moved to the United States I was skipped a couple of grades. I was kind of isolated because I was very different and much younger and smaller. I became one of those weird little kids. In those days you didn’t have video games so kids like myself read a lot. I read “The Bobbsey Twins” and “Hardy Boys.” My first canonical book was Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo,” an abridged version with beautiful illustration. By 14 I was reading Goethe, and from there I read deeply into the literary canon.
BOOKS: Do you read children’s literature now?
SESHADRI: I do. I like classics like “My Friend Flicka” by Mary O’Hara and “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I think those are beautifully written. I read things like C.S. Forester’s “Horatio Hornblower” books.
BOOKS: Does summer affect your reading?
SESHADRI: I never think about summer reading as opposed to winter reading, or serious reading as opposed to nonserious reading. It’s all pretty serious.Follow us on Facebook or @GlobeBiblio on Twitter.