Poets Online Talking About Coffee: Erin Belieu

What makes coffee American?

What makes it American? Well, given how much we collectively enjoy being nervy and jangly, how hopped up by nature, it’s a fossil fuel for us. And it’s brilliantly legal. I mean, coke is the Platonic American drug, don’t you think? The one that represents our personality as a nation most, I’d say. But it’s hard to find an eight ball just sitting around in front of the secretary’s desk at the office.

Comedians In Cars Snorting Coke? Seinfeld should make that show.

Yeah, Seinfeld would have a much bigger career if he’d listened to me more.

Thanks again for your contribution to the Corbyn book. It’s quite unusual for Americans to get involved in the politics of other nations…

It is. But it interests me. I’ve studied up recently. And before I started teaching poetry for my living, I was a field staffer and advance team member for a couple of national political campaigns, a presidential campaign, here in the states in the late 80s and early 90s. That sort of work was how I figured I’d support myself, but then, against all odds, the poetry publications allowed me to make a life with my first devotion. So I’ve always been an actively political person. I mean, clearly, I can’t pretend or assume the stakes for an outcome that affects the people actually voting in your country. That would be wildly impertinent. So I think, as you and I discussed elsewhere, it’s important to see “Poem Of Philosophical And Parental Conundrums Written In An Election Year” more as a commentary on that old notion of how the personal and the political are fundamentally indivisible. I think many of us would do better to recognize just how small and particular, therefore human, are politics really are. We’d be nicer to one another if we did.

You co-founded VIDA in 2009. Why did you recently decide it was time to step back from its daily leadership?

The poets Cate Marvin, Ann Townsend and I, who are the original founders of VIDA, had put six very gratifying years into building VIDA, along with a wonderful group of generous woman and men who came on board to help us immeasurably with that work soon after.

But the thing is, Cate, Ann and I are writers, full time professors, and two of us are single mothers. VIDA was and is no small amount of effort. Some years it was a full time job on top of our full time jobs.

So we felt it was a good time to step back and let other’s work more directly to shape the organization’s future vision, while giving ourselves the chance to enact what VIDA espouses—writers who happen to be women pursuing their art and careers in literature in the most dedicated ways. Cate and I both have new books out that need our full attention, and Ann has one on the way. We’d done what we needed to do, ethically and politically.

Also, in many respects, the VIDA Count has done its job, too.It’s hard to find anyone serious in literature—readers or writers– who doesn’t know about the necessary conversation VIDA: Women in Literary Arts helped to start. The VIDA Count will continue to be important to keeping an eye on what’s actually going on in literary publishing culture, and in helping to bring awareness to those important intersectionalities—race, issues of difference and disability, sexual preference and identification, etc.—that deeply impact women writers’ opportunities and outcomes professionally. Because these tedious old bigotries and assumptions people make about one another have a tendency to keep creeping back like noxious vines if you don’t keep the hoe handy to give it a chop regularly. But now Cate, Ann and I have the chance in our advisory capacity to pursue other projects to support what we believe specifically about literary feminism in a manner that’s manageable for our lives personally. It had always been our intention to hand over the ball someday.

See you in France and LA!

That is the most absurdly glamorous parting phrase that will ever be directed at me. Au revoir, mon petit pamplemousse!

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