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A Stimulating Conversation with John Barr (originally published by Arte Realizzata)

Over the past 30 years, John Barr’s poems have been published in six books, four fine press editions and many magazines, including The New York Times, Poetry, and others. He was also the Inaugural President of the Poetry Foundation. His newest book, The Boxer of Quirinal, was published by Red Hen Press in June 2023.

I had the pleasure and honor of asking John if there is a perfect time to write, what the word poetry means to him, his role as President of the Poetry Foundation, and so much more.

UZOMAH: What is the most critical part of a poem?

JOHN: A poem must engage with life in some primary way. And it does that by saying something new about something old. So the most critical part of a poem is the discovery it makes for both the poet and the reader. As Frost said, “No surprise for the poet, no surprise for the reader.” His essay “The Figure a Poem Makes” has been on my desk for years — I go back to it all the time.

U: After getting your BA in English, you entered the Vietnam War, and upon returning, you went to business school. What made you go into business?

J: My father was a businessman so that was the model I knew. He and his friends all worked for the railroad (this was the mid-20th century) and their common talk was about how they hated their jobs. It was a revelation for me to hear a neighbor say he loved his work. I was lucky to go from business school into a career that I also loved.

People often think of business and poetry as antipodes, polar opposites. But the business of both is to create order out of chaos; for the businessman it’s external chaos, for the poet it’s internal chaos. But both draw their waters out of the same well.

Read the full conversation on Arte Realizzata.

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