James Hall: I love that you risk sentimentality in the poems. Can you talk about how you construct a poem’s emotion without letting that emotion subsume the poem? What tools are available to a poet to mitigate emotion successfully?
Richard Siken: I didn’t see it as risking anything, and I suppose the tool for mitigating emotion is undercutting, but I’ll try to answer the question sideways: Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to believe in narrative. Things happen, one after another, world without end. Just because you’re self-aware doesn’t mean you can change what’s happening. Eventually someone is going to break your heart. Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking “I am falling to the floor crying” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it—you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well and when you’re having sex with your next lover on this very floor they will also notice that you didn’t paint it very well and they will think less of you for it. And then you think “Is that sentence too long?” And then you have to hold the contradictions of sobbing uncontrollably and wondering about grammar in your head at the same time. I think if you are true to the entire experience, not just the sad part, you don’t risk sentimentality because you’re not overloading the experience with fake, melodramatic feeling. I also hear that whispering helps.