We were excited to get our hands on an early copy of Ron Padgett’s latest book, Big Cabin, which he wrote over the course of three autumns in Vermont. And we were even more excited when Ron agreed to do a short interview for our readers.
You may already know Ron as a member of the New York School of Poets. Or you may know him as the poet who composed the poems featured in Jim Jarmusch’s 2016 film, Paterson. And if for some reason you don’t know his work, we’re here to change that!
Padgett has written over 20 collections of poetry and his work has garnered much praise. His poems are playful, witty, and moving. Everyone will find poems in Big Cabin that resonate. This collection is filled with concrete observations of the world through the windows of his cabin, time, memory, and humor.
Thank you so much, Ron, for answering our questions!
Literary North: How did the structure of Big Cabin arise? When did you decide to include the prose piece, “Completion,” between the two groups of poems?
RP: I went to a cabin in Vermont every autumn for three years, not knowing what I’d write once I was there, and certainly not thinking I was writing a book. I wrote poems during two of those autumns, prose during the third. Later, when I saw that maybe the three parts worked together as a book, I took the easy way out and arranged them in a poems-prose-poems sequence—A-B-A, like a sonata.
LN: Did writing in Vermont affect your daily writing process or what you wrote about? Did writing in the big cabin (consciously or unconsciously) change anything about how you wrote?
RP: The interruptions of New York City make following a routine hard for me there, but the relative isolation of Vermont has allowed me to set aside dedicated times for writing. In the case of Big Cabin, my routine was to go to the cabin fairly early in the morning every day, sit down with a notebook and pen, and wait to see what happened. Invariably I would write something—good, bad, or indifferent—and at a certain point, after maybe two hours, I’d know I’d written myself out for the day. By the way, I wanted to try writing in the cabin to see if I could overcome my romantic notion of a writer in his or her garret or cabin. I think I did: the cabin became more of a work space than a cabin. But in retrospect it now seems very romantic. Go figure.
LN: In the poem, "Ticking and Tocking," you write:
"I see an alarm clock
with a bell on top
and with arms and legs
dashing out the door
of a room in which
time has stopped
reminding the human race
that we are running out."
We can’t help but see a reference to climate change here, to the way we humans are running out the clock on the environment. Were you thinking about climate change when you wrote this poem or others in Big Cabin?
RP: Climate change is obviously a very big deal—as big as the world! I wish I were able to write poems that could turn it around, but whenever I take a polemical or political feeling into writing a poem the result is always feeble. As I sat in the cabin alone and looked out the window and saw how magnificent everything was, my feelings about climate change found their way into the writing. I didn’t try to put them there.
LN: A few of your poems seem to form a conduit between the past and the present, like “Life Without You.” And there are many poems that include watches, such as “Timex Blur" and “Wristwatch." Can you talk about the importance of time in your poems?
RP: Not really, as thinking analytically about my own work doesn’t give me any pleasure and it certainly doesn’t help me write future pieces. But I can talk about the importance of time in my life. Recently I turned 77, and I’ve noticed that time is whizzing by faster and faster and getting smaller and smaller.
LN: Which poems by other writers do you find yourself returning to again and again?
RP: Andrew Marvell's “The Garden” and Frank O'Hara’s “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” Plus a lot of others.
LN: What would you like for readers to know about Big Cabin?
RP: I’d like them to know that it exists.