An Interview with Tim Seibles

by Gabriela Igloria

GI: Who are your political heroes?

TS: My political heroes. Well certainly Martin Luther King, Jr. would be one, but I also consider Jimi Hendrix… I really admire Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Malcolm X. I mean, there are a lot of people that I really admire.

GI: Do you consider yourself a political poet?

TS: Well, yeah. I mean, some of my work is certainly political, some of it is not… So I would not consider myself a political poet. I’d say I’m a poet whose work is often political.

GI: I heard you were the only black poet in your workshop at Southern Methodist University.

TS: Um, often, I was the only black poet, but not every time. Often.

GI: What was that experience like for you?

TS: Well, I mean, I’ll try and keep it as simple as possible. Whenever you’re the—whenever you’re in a situation where your cultural frame of reference is not represented in any other way except through your own eyes, you always feel isolated. I did not find my workshop hostile, uh, but people just—they just don’t necessarily have a sense of where you’re coming from exactly. This was also true when I went to graduate school… same thing: people don’t really know what matters to you and why; but you—you just have to write what you can write, what you’re driven to write. Write what you think is most important or what itches in your heart. You have no choice. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the only black or the only Filipina or the only Mexican or German or Nigerian—it doesn’t matter. If you’re gonna be a poet worth reading, you’re gonna have to brave the thing that you feel is most crucial in your heart and head. You have no choice.

GI: What do you believe is the poet’s role in a time of crisis?

TS: I think the poet’s role doesn’t really change. Poets are always obliged, I think, to use language in imaginative ways and to get at the heart of things, be it political or emotional.

GI: What books do you recommend in times of unrest that may uplift or inspire the soul?

TS: One of the best books that I’ve read is a book called Hope in the Dark, and I’m gonna blank on the author’s name because I’m tired. Maybe it’ll come to me. Hope in the Dark is a very important book. Another book that’s not explicitly political, in the sense of the word, is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. That is an amazing book. It has a political turn, and it also has other kinds of impulses. And one more: there’s a book by Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s called Why We Can’t Wait. That’s worth reading. There are a lot, but those are three good ones.

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Tim Seibles is an American poet and professor at Old Dominion University. He has published several books, including Fast Animal (which won the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize), Hurdy-gurdy, Buffalo Head Solos: Poems, and most recently, One Turn Around the Sun. His work has been published in In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African American Poetry (1994), Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (2009), and Best American Poetry (2010). Tim Seibles is also the current poet laureate of Virginia.

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Gabriela Igloria is the editor-in-chief of Granby High School’s literature and arts magazine The Cupola and is a student at the Muse Writer’s Center. Her poem Lessons was published in the Rattle Young Poet’s Anthology (2016).