Poet/professor Albergotti sits down for a stanza of questionsby Derrick Bracey
Dan Albergotti is a poet. He is also an associate professor of English at Coastal Carolina University, but it doesn’t take long to know after talking to him or listening to him teach his students, that above all else and most importantly – he is a poet. The way he views and makes sense of the world around him, his passion for all things poetry – these are the aspects of his character that make him an effective and impactful teacher. More than that, it makes him a powerful poet and an energetic ambassador of the form.
His new chapbook, “The Use of the World,” was published by Unicorn Press in June. And this past spring, his new poetry collection, “Millennial Teeth,” was chosen as one of the two winners of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry’s 2013 Open Competition.
The prize includes publication of the collection by the Southern Illinois University Press in August 2014. He will also receive a $2,000 award and a $1,500 honorarium to read at Southern Illinois University Carbondale following the publication of the book.
Albergotti is also the poetry editor of CCU’s online journal, Waccamaw. He’s earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Clemson University and a Ph.D. in English Romantic period literature from the University of South Carolina and an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina - Greensboro. He has been the recipient of scholarships and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the South Carolina Arts Commission.
But Albergotti would say all that is a byproduct of being a poet.
A native South Carolinian, Albergotti came to CCU in 2005. In 2007, his debut collection of poems, “The Boatloads,” was selected by Edward Hirsch as the winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Albergotti’s poems have appeared in Ascent, Meridian, Mid-American Review, New Orleans Review, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review and a host of other journals. His work has been reprinted in various anthologies, including Best New Poets 2005, From the Fishouse, and Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. And his poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor's “The Writer's Almanac,” a radio broadcast on NPR.
Recently, we tracked him down to answer a few questions about his new work. But it wasn’t easy to pry him away from the writing and the teaching of what he describes as “the most important thing in this life.”
And after a quatrain of questions, he was back in the act of being, first and foremost, a poet.
Q| Is there a theme or specific topic you approach in “Millennial Teeth?”
A| Natasha Trethewey (U.S. Poet Laureate) says that a poet should "honor his or her obsessions," and I agree. I am still grappling with the same themes I return to again and again – the tininess of humanity in the universe, faith and doubt, death. You know, the usual. In this book, though, I do go deeper into the personal realm, exploring my experience with family more directly and deeply.
Q| What kinds of poems are in these new collections: traditional forms, free verse or a mix?
A| The poems in “Millennial Teeth” are a mix of form and free verse. In a way, this is a return to form for me because I had studied and written in traditional forms early in my writing life, but moved almost exclusively to free verse for a long period after that. Every poem in “The Boatloads” is free verse, but I'd say that at least half the poems in “Millennial Teeth” employ form of some sort. Often though, it's a hybrid or variant use of form rather than the execution of a traditional form.
Q| Were these poems written after "The Boatloads?" Or have you been compiling them for awhile, and they just didn't fit with the themes in your first collection?
A| The majority of these poems were written after “The Boatloads” was published, but there are some that had been written before it was published, but after I'd considered that manuscript finished. A number of the poems in the book were written during two residencies at artists' centers that I held last summer, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences in Georgia. I have the CCU professional enhancement grant program to thank for those four weeks spent writing in Virginia and Georgia last summer.
Q| The poetry market is intensely competitive and it’s extremely hard to get poems published in respectable journals on a consistent basis. Yet, your poems appear in journals regularly, your second poetry collection is in the process of being published and you just released a chapbook in June. Aside from the obvious talent answer, are there any special steps or measures you're taking when getting your work out there? Or are there any key attributes that have contributed to your success as a published poet? Or is it some sort of voodoo?
A| There's no voodoo, no silver bullet. I just think the longer you're in the writing world, the wiser you get about what publication venues are available and where your work would most likely match with the editorial vision of a journal.
But I will also say this: I think there may be an inverse relationship between one's desire for publication and one's success in getting published. When the writer is obsessed with being a published author, that kind of obsession can take energy away from the work itself. When I was a young writer, I was fixated on being published and tried to make the work "good enough" for publication. As I matured, my obsession shifted from the publication of the work to the work itself. I started trying to make the work not "good enough," but great. And when I did that my poems started getting a lot better. The publication success followed.