Joseph Fasano: The Mind That Merits A Pulitzer


Joseph Fasano, Pulitzer prize nominee, met me at his office, his door flung open, while he held his head over the heaps of papers that adorned much of his desk, rubbing his eyes as if coming out a trance and welcoming my interruption.

His office is minimally furnished, save for few essentials: computer, desk, and a bookshelf cluttered with books that range from the subjects of philosophy to Longman’s writing handbook. The apparent bareness of his workplace contrasts the clarity with which he speaks, explaining to me that the recent nomination of his poetry book is “. . . just that. It means my publisher believes in my work. It’s flattering you know?”

But as he explains, what moves him the most is meeting other writers that have read his work. “I get the chance to meet with them and have a nice chat. It’s a nice way to connect with people who are doing what I’m trying to do,” he says.

There is an air of modesty in his demeanor. He sits back in his chair pulling up the sleeves of his worn sweater, thanking me for the flattery of choosing to interview him. He recognizes that the nomination will help his work but in that “People will actually read it!” he said.

“Someone said that publishing a volume of poetry in this country is like dropping a feather in the Grand Canyon, and that’s true but for the idea that its just as lovely as that,” he said. “It’s no tragedy at all.”

He never thought of the profession as something to seek fame with. For him, it’s about doing something you love. He admits that the work is hard: “I was five years working on my first book, but I always had the sense it would get out there.”

He disregards any claims that poetry and literature are dying.

“People say that Twitter and other kinds of communication have ruined our relationship to language. It’s not true and never will be true.”

Described by his colleague and friend Andrew Bodenrader as someone who has the ability to “. . . swing between deep erudition and hidden accessibility,” Mr. Fasano, easily moves from speaking of T.S. Eliot to discussing the Boston Red Sox.

“He’s someone who understands the spaces he needs to make for his work,” explains Mr. Bodenrader, a writer himself.

Mr. Fasano expresses his own fears with toggling personal work between everyday obligations.

“Of course, it really taxes your relationships with other people,” but to him, writing in this sense is not too different from any other job. “If I’m a doctor and I’m focused on my work, and I’m doing it all the time, it’s gonna take a large strain on, you know, whatever the term social life means.”

When asked if he thought poetry had been hard choice he explains that, in many ways, it chose him.

“I’m not one of these people who was writing in earnest when I was very young, and I actually studied mathematics and physics in my early undergraduate career,” he said. “But I started to feel like that wasn’t doing it for me . . . while at Harvard, I came into writing after applying for a poetry workshop. It just felt right.”

He mentions his hopes that he does not sound too self-serious at times, but his success is likely the result of the very fact.

As Mr. Bodenrader explains, “He’s an incredible poet who is very serious about his work.”

All good work requires an immense commitment, which Mr. Fasano stresses.

However, he is admittedly vague about the process of making a poem. “To be honest I have absolutely no idea how anyone else makes a poem because I’ve never asked them and I don’t think I would,” he said.

“It’s an effort of trying to be a maker and a listener and bringing those things together, and although one fails more often than not.” To him, life happens and it gives you an idea, then a lot more happens and you add to that idea. “Are there other poems that come out fully formed?” he says, “sure, and that’s a pretty good day!”

He expresses the fulfillment he receives from teaching, and claims the old clichés are true.

“Being able to connect to the energies that a student might bring is incredibly helpful!” he says. “You are learning something yourself. But of course, I’m not talking about teaching comma splices or anything like that.”

Often quoting numerous writers throughout our talk, Mr. Fasano makes particular mention of the poet James Wright, whom he explains has been a great inspiration to him, although as he says, “. . . I try to shy away from terms like that. There’s something to be said about a more contemporary voice that tells you how to say it in American and James Wright did that for me,” he says.

“He showed me how you can talk about those those dark places of the unconscious mind but you could also say things like: ‘therefore their sons grow suicidally beautiful at the beginning of October and gallop terribly into each others bodies,’ You know? It’s an American voice!”

His excitement suggests his concern in creating work that is at heart, deeply American.

When asked about those things that the writer sacrifices for his work, in the spheres of building a family and keeping close friends, he mentions his wife and compares the marital relationship with that of having children.

“Having children, you know, it’s different . . . with the child the relationship is the case in which you are a servant, and you damn well should be if you’re ready to do that in your life.”

Mr. Fasano’s adherence to commitment resonates throughout much of our conversation, and is present at the end of our meeting when, having already expired our time, I ask that he share some advice for young writers.

He meditates behind his desk for a few seconds, drawing an apologetic smile followed by a nod.

“I think it’s advice except for the fact I don’t feel like its advice that needs to be given, in as much as it’s not really a choice,” he says. “But if writing is a thing you feel compelled to do, you have to be ready to give yourself to it. Writing is like being on the trapeze without the safety net, and you’re not gonna do any good tricks if you got that net under you.”