"Always, the hunger."
An Interview With Indigo Moor, by Susan Culver
 
Indigo Moor was born in 1964, in Charlotte, North Carolina and currently resides in Rancho Cordova, California.  His collection, Tap-Root, was published in 2006 as part of Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Select Poetry Series.

Indigo is a 2003 recipient of Cave Canem’s Writing fellowship in poetry.  He has also received fellowships for the Napa Valley Writer's Conference and the Idyllwild Summer Arts Academy.  He is the vice president of the Sacramento Poetry Center, and editor for the Tule Review.

He is the winner of the 2005 Vesle Fenstermaker Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers. Indigo's work has appeared in the Xavier Review, LA Review, Mochila Review, Boston University’s The Comment, The Ringing Ear, the NCPS 2006 Anthology, and Gathering Ground.

Other honors include: finalist for the T.S. Eliot Prize, finalist for the Naomi Long Madgett Award, Saturnalia Book Award finalist, and finalist for the Crab Orchard First Book Prize.

Indigo has read and lectured at universities throughout the country.  He has presented workshops to students of varying levels, from grade school through graduate.

Photo by Crawdad Nelson.

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SC: How did you first become interested in poetry?  

IM: I don’t fully remember my first encounters with poetry. I am sure it was in school. What I do remember was not feeling any particular empathy with the poets we read. My love of poetry began as an adult, reading poets who appealed to me, resonated.

SC: Who were some of your early influences?

IM:  The first poet that actually invited me to deconstruct his work was Yusef Komunyakaa. Much like Faulkner, he exhibited an extensive vocabulary, a rich texturing of syntax and sentence structure that appealed to me. Before I discovered Komunyakaa, Paul Dunbar’s ability to write effectively in both the tongue of the black south and “proper” English also fascinated me.

SC: Your collection, Tap-Root, speaks of the South.  If asked to describe the South, what are the first things about the region that come to mind?  

IM: The geography of the South, the landscape, the soil. Always, when reading about the South, no matter the writer, no matter the genre, it always comes back to the land. As children, we spend our time on it and, often enough, it’s in us. We plant flowers and our dead in it, grow our food from it. There is more of a heritage that we derive from it than most areas in the country; many of us count generations all the way back to when our ancestors first set foot here. I am sure some would disagree, but I feel no land mass or landscape in America carries such a memory, is so steeped in the history of the people that inhabit it. When describing one’s origin, few words carry the stigma, the mystic, the pathos, the lament of the simple phrase: The South.  

SC: How do your ties to the South impact your writing? 

IM: A writer can’t help but be influenced by the factors that inform his life, shape his upbringing. Phrases, etymology, mannerisms seep into the work, even for those who actively try to suppress the teachings of their homeland. Biblical references are second nature to me, also. I think as a southerner, even though much of my present work has little to do with the south, I have actively sought out different ways to express myself. But I imagine, eventually, the pendulum will swing back and I will continue my discovery of the past. 

SC: Cave Canem is described as a workshop/ retreat designed to counter the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in writers' workshops and literary programs.  As a black poet, have you experienced that isolation yourself?

IM: The problem with the recognition of African American poetry is that it is perceived as just that: African-American poetry. With citizens who have traditionally been considered second class there is a tendency to characterize or, more precisely, categorize the work: You must write about these topics. You must have this flair, this turn of phrase. It is named; therefore, in a larger sense it is owned or controlled. I know poets who receive such praise from instructors and mentors as “your work is as black as fill-in-the-name-of-the-few-famous-black-poets-here.” The work of many aspiring black poets is dismissed as second class because the subject matter is outside of unwritten, but clearly established, post-modern parameters. It can be difficult and isolating to write in the voice, the landscape, the heritage that informs a poet. Too often writer meets blank stares, condescension, or (even worse) apathy. Cave Canem is more than a retreat, it is a fellowship. The poets of Cave Canem have been the recipients of every major award, fellowship, and honor that poetry has to offer including the Pulitzer. The daily successes are innumerable. This statement may appear to contradict the previous ones, but it doesn’t. Many poets still express great frustration at the passive and active obstructions they face, often by those who consider themselves enlightened. 
 
SC: Do you find the literary landscape today to be more or less nurturing for black writers, and how?  

IM: Definitely improving, becoming more nurturing. I believe the greater issues at this time to be laziness in some facets of the governing poetic bodies, these traits more prevalent than actual opposition. Yet, many people and organizations are working towards changing these stigmas. What I like most about Cave Canem is its inclusive nature. The program encourages you to write about any subject, to explore any culture, any language, any style, any form, to be a writer not constrained by any perceived or actual boundaries. Contrary to what many believe of organizations that seek to help a particular minority group, the focus of Cave Canem is not exclusion. Poets of any color, race, etc. are studied and celebrated. Cave Canem in concept and execution is not ethnocentric, attempting to promote only black poetry. It provides a comfortable place for black poets to study what they want. As much freedom as it allows, Cave Canem also provides an honest assessment of your work. You can really get your ass handed to you if your work is lazy.   

SC: What changes could be made to create a more nurturing environment? 

IM: A very difficult question to answer. The problem lies with society, not necessarily the poetic community. Although, there is a certain degree of hubris present in the poetic canon that I find alarming at times. 

SC: What is the importance of poetry workshops? 

IM: First of all, let me say workshops are not for everyone. Also, no two workshops are alike. Finding a good one can be difficult. A poet has to be ready for the workshop environment and the workshop has to be ready for the particular poet. Always, two questions must be asked: What can you get out of the workshop and what can you contribute? I divide workshops into 3 categories. The first provides a sense of communion, a chance for poets to share their work with others. There is more sharing of artistry than observation of technique. The second enables the poet to work on his craft, a chance to improve his overall craft. The third enables a poet to improve on the particular poem brought to workshop, but not necessarily improve his craft as a whole. Each type of workshop has its purpose and its target participants. It is important to choose the right one, for the sake of the poet and the workshop itself.   

SC: You've lectured throughout the country and presented workshops for students of varying levels, from grade school through graduate.  What do you think is the hardest thing for poets of all ages to learn?  What's the most important thing for them to learn?

IM: The hardest thing to get across to poets of all ages is how to end a poem without drawing a conclusion. The tendency is to make a point, but in doing so, the poet affects a lack of respect for the reader’s ability to follow the poem, glean the purpose. The most important thing for mature poets to learn is how to balance image to statement to enable the poem to move. It is too easy to get caught up in imagery, allowing the poem to become cumbersome, heavy. Alternately, constant statement of fact can flatten a poem, preventing the reader from ever connecting with the poet and the poem.

SC: What is something that you see in a young poet that you wish they'd hang on to as they continue to learn their skill?

IM: Always, the hunger. Mentors and teachers have to be careful to present poetry in a nurturing manner, inviting poets to incorporate learned skills into their own work, being careful not to convey that those same skills are beyond the poet's reach.

SC: In your undergrad lectures, you talk of fictionalizing reality.  Can you explain what the subtle lie is that illuminates the truth? 

IM: I believe Desiree Cooper said it best, although I am sure I am paraphrasing: I speak of the truth of my experience. To get at the truth, sometimes I have to fictionalize the events. As poets, we are attempting to capture the veracity of a moment, a feeling that often is not fully actualized by the event itself.  Artists look deeper and recognize somehow there is a more acute emotional construct to a moment than is readily apparent, one that we feel compelled to convey. In this eventuality, we have two choices: to be true to the emotional content or to a precise accounting. The answer is obvious: we carry the awareness of the moment, not the history of it. To not do so, would be to forsake the heart of the experience, making it no different than a well-written news article. Poetry is communication and, sometimes, to allow the poem to move in the intended emotional direction, to allow the moment to be realized, you have to move it away from the factual.

SC: Tell me a bit about the Sacramento Poetry Center, which you're the Vice President of.  What does the Center do?  How many people are involved?  What are some of your duties there?

IM: The Sacramento Poetry Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting the best poetry from the Sacramento Valley and beyond. Our eight member board of directors volunteer their time. Our funding comes from members’ dues and from an annual grant from the Sacramento Municipal Arts Commission. We host readings on Monday nights and offer an annual conference. There is also a Tuesday night workshop. As vice president, my role is defined by the goals and momentum of the board at any particular time. From a personal standpoint, I want to increase membership and funding. 

SC: What has been your proudest moment as a poet?

IM: I know that having my first book published, seeing it, holding it would be what most people would imagine as my proudest moment. Actually the moment of hearing Michael Scott Douglas, editor of Main Street Rag, offer me publication was the proudest. Despite the mercurial nature of the publishing game, there is a certain validation to having a publisher willing to put his or her mark on your book, willing to gamble on your worth. A close second was being accepted to the Napa Valley Writers Conference and working with Jane Hirshfield.

SC: What is one poetic goal that you dream about, but haven't yet reached?

IM: Wow. That is a difficult one. My goals fluctuate, having more to do with my artistic aspirations than my material ones. I do recognize the allure of the exposure garnered by large prizes, titles, etc., and believe me, I would love them! But I need to feel as if I have earned them. There has to be a process of working towards a particular artistic peak, achieving it, and then winning commensurate recognition for it. In other words, the goals I strive for are always in line with where my poetry is leading me. Having said that, I want a Pulitzer! lol. Someday. And an MFA degree; the chance to be immersed in study would be something I would love, but I see it as more of a lifestyle than a goal.  

SC: Finish this sentence: If I wasn't writing poetry, I would be ___________.

IM: Writing fiction. My sensibilities always lead me toward the narrative. Learning to write more parataxis than hypotaxis (two words that were drummed into my head over the course of the Napa conference) was something I began to experiment with after studying with Jane Hirshfield. Ultimately, I am a storyteller. Although I don’t achieve a moral or exacting resolution to a poem, there is always a sense of an ending, even if the conclusion is that there is no actual conclusion. Fiction provides more latitude in my opinion. Because I am not operating under a single horizon, a particular moment as I do in poetry, I am able to let my imagination run for a bit, see what emotional menagerie I can shoehorn into a thimbleful of sentence structure.



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