• Your poem, “For the Sleepwalkers,” is very rich and sharp in detail, and has wild dream images. What inspired you to write this poem?
I wanted to try to make something strange, dream-like and
wonderful. The poem was first called “Something Wonderful,”
but in the process of writing it I decided to change the title to “For
the Sleepwalkers,” which seemed less editorial. I was trying to
dramatize a spooky experience and connect a group of solitaries.
• When did you write “For the Sleepwalkers” and how long did it take?
I think I wrote it in late 1979 or early 1980. I was 29 years old
and living in Detroit. It took me a lifetime to think of, but I think it only took me about a week or so to write.
• Have you ever walked in your sleep? If so, do the stories connect with the poem?
I was a sleepwalker as a child. My family has a lot of stories about my nocturnal escapades. I seemed to have a penchant for trying to leave the house at night, even in the dead of winter. Once I woke up just I was stepping outside into the freezing cold. The cold air blasted me awake. I think my childhood experiences are part of the background of the poem. I’m still a fitful sleeper but I don’t tend to walk it off anymore.
• What feelings did you have when you were writing this poem? How did you come up with this idea- like sleepwalkers- for this poem?
I remember that I was wildly energized by the poem. And I
was excited about writing it. I often write in coffee shops and I
still remember walking home down Woodward Avenue and
reciting the lines aloud to myself. I must have looked like another
Detroit crazy. I felt that in writing it I was discovering a voice that
was very much my own.
I don’t really know where the idea came from, but it must have
been some combination of personal (insomnia and disturbed sleep
have always been part of my arsenal) and literary experience. I
was reading Surrealist poetry at the time, especially the work of
Robert Desnos and Paul Eluard. The Surrealists were obsessed by
the unconscious and mined the dream-world for their poems.
• We know that you like your poem (who wouldn’t?), but do you have a specific line or phrase that you enjoy in “For the Sleepwalkers”?
Looking at my early drafts of the poem, I find that the first
phrase that I hit upon was “our hearts are thirsty black
handkerchiefs.” That weird analogy seems to be the bedrock of the poem. The second phrase I hit upon was the first line, “Tonight I want to say something wonderful.” The movement from that line to the second one, which modifies it in a strange way, still seems funny to me.
• Is “For the Sleepwalkers” your favorite poem among the poems you’ve written?
It’s my favorite poem in my first book.
• Why did you choose to name your first book For the Sleepwalkers?
I liked its resonance. I thought the poem was strong and could stand for the whole.
By Sarah, Vinnie, and Hannah
Works by Edward Hirsch
Works by Hannah Geluso
Works by Sarah Baar