In this episode Niall Munro talks with Christopher Kempf about his new collection of poetry, What Though The Field Be Lost, published by Louisiana State University Press in 2021.
Chris’s first poetry collection, Late in the Empire of Men, won the 2015 Levis Prize from Four Way Books and was reviewed widely, including in The New York Times. His scholarly book, Craft Class: The Workshop in American Culture, is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press. You can find out more about Chris on his website: christopherkempf.com
What Though The Field Be Lost may be grounded in the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but it doesn't just offer just a fascinating engagement with the soil and statues there. It is also a profound exploration of conflict and memory more broadly in the United States. Indeed, one of the most striking things about the book is the way in which it is so attentive to the complexities of history.
Through the discussion of two poems from the book, ‘Remembrance Day’ and ‘After,’ (both of which you can read on the Poetry Centre's Podcasts page), Chris considers first of all what motivated him to write about Gettysburg, ‘the presentness of the past’ that he felt there on what many consider - as he puts it - ‘the most consequential piece of land in the United States’, and how he responded to the ‘tactical beauty’ of the Confederate monuments that dominate the landscape now. We go on to think about how far it is still possible to claim an ‘American we’, something that Chris himself recognises might be an old-fashioned claim, but one that he puts forward with great vigour and skill in the collection, making use of the poetic or rhetorical strategy of the synecdoche - that is having one part of something stand in for the whole thing - to think about the relationship between the human body and the body politic. Chris also discusses his interest in the Civil War re-enactors that he met at Gettysburg and their motivations, and thinks too about art’s capacity to re-imagine the present. What possibilities does poetry provide as a space to think about radical equality in America, and what responsibilities does the poet have to society and to history?
If you enjoy the podcast or have any comments, feel free to get in touch: we’re on social media where our handle is @brookespoetry, and you can e-mail me via the Poetry Centre website. Thanks again for listening!
Christopher Kempf, Niall Munro
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