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July 27, 2018

Giskin, a retired world literature professor, threads his vast knowledge of poetry through a worldly collection of verse steeped in memory.

Is there a thread that links the poems of Murmurings?

With Murmurings, my motivation was to capture recollections from more than 40 years of travel, life, and family. Strictly speaking, not all the poems collected here are memories, though in many cases their inspiration springs from something I've witnessed or lived through. Now that I am retired, I have time to let things ferment and settle, rather than feeling rushed to produce a poem or piece of writing.

Who is your ideal reader and why?

My ideal reader is someone who enjoys travel and is interested in the joys, sorrows, and discoveries in life; a person fascinated by history, philosophy, and the mysteries of human nature; someone willing to step into the shoes of another, if only for a few moments.

What makes your poems particularly relevant now?

We are living in an increasingly interconnected world, more interconnected than at any other time in human history. Modern genetics has confirmed that we are one human family, related through complex webs of ancestry and descended from common ancestors. I'd like to think that Murmurings captures a little of this interconnectedness.  

Memory figures prominently in this collection. Why is poetry, rather than prose, your chosen medium for capturing the past?

I think poetry is most suited to evoking the feelings associated with unusual and complex states of mind. It's also a way for the poet to connect with his or her past meaningfully and in a way that, hopefully, if a poem is doing its job, connects with the reader. For me, perhaps most importantly, memory provides images, which are often charged by complex and, at times, fascinating emotions. Frequently, this is the start of a poem for me, an image accompanied by a feeling that suggests it could form the basis of some verse.

How has your experience teaching world literature shaped your poetic craft? Do you have any favorite poets working outside of the English language tradition whom you would cite as creative inspirations?

Over the years, I've paired teaching ancient and modern literature with traveling, sometimes for pleasure and other times for academic exchanges to Asia and Latin America. There are some wonderful love poems from ancient Egypt that are nearly 4,000 years old, and the Epic of Gilgamesh has some of the most powerful lines in all of literature. For some reason, though, I'm particularly attracted to early Japanese literature from the Nara and Heian periods, a formative time when two of Japan's greatest collections of poems, the Man'yōshū and the Kokinshū, were compiled. With Murmurings, I aspired to capture the same level of fleeting emotions, sensations, and complex sentiments of the type often found in classical Japanese verse.

What is the one thing you most want to tell readers about your book?

I write primarily from experience, from what I have seen, felt, understood, and sensed as transformative in my life. My message is that everyone has stories worth telling, be they in the form of poems, prose, song, prayer, or simply conversation with friends. Murmurings is my attempt to tell some part of my story.