MSU Alumni Magazine - Winter 2017
A CONVERSATION WITH DAN GERBER Tell us about your practice of Zen Buddhism: I’ve been practicing for over 40 years now, and it’s an integral part of my work, of being awake, of seeing. When I was ordained, my teacher said, “Your practice is to see the world through words and letters, and words and letters through the world.” And so I do. What makes you happy? Writing well and sensing the presence of unseen animals watching me. What’s been on your mind lately? Wondering if democracy in America can survive reality TV. What worry or worries keep you up at night? Occasionally a “storm of secondary things,” as Wallace Stevens put it, “We must endure our thoughts all night until/ the bright obvious stands motionless in cold.” Did you have a favorite place, a memory or a professor at MSU? Professor Clyde Henson, who made himself a hard mountain to climb, whose lectures soared, who challenged me, who woke me up to Walt Whitman, and who introduced me to my closest, long-time friend, Jim Harrison. What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers? Only write if you have to. If it isn’t necessary to you, it won’t be to the reader either. Stay awake to the life in, and around you. And pay attention. Richard Hugo said that good poems come as lucky accidents, but that lucky accidents seldom happen to poets who don’t work. See yourself in every aspect of what you see and forget what you normally think of as yourself. What kinds of dogs do you have? Names? Do you find inspiration when walking them amidst the grapes, horses and picturesque landscapes outside your door? We’ve had succession of literary Labradors with names like Willa (Willa Cather), Eudie (Eudora Welty), and Rainy (Rainer Maria Rilke). They work with me every day, watching me write and giving me pleading glances to keep it fresh by insisting I give it a rest and go for a walk. I’m stunned by the beauty and terror of the world I see every day. It was that way when I lived in rural Michigan too. At this time in my life, I can’t get enough of it. Born and raised in Western Michigan, Dan Gerber earned a bachelor’s degree in history, philosophy, and political science in 1962. Over the course of his life, he’s been a professional race-car driver, a teacher, a university professor, a magazine editor, a world-traveling journalist, a novelist, and a poet. He and the late author and alumnus Jim Harrison cofounded an earlier literary journal, Sumac. His award-winning writing brims with adventure and contemplative reflections, and has appeared in Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Poetry, Best American Poetry, Outside, The Nation, Narrative, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. BOOKS BY DAN GERBER POETRY Sailing through Cassiopeia A Primer on Parallel Lives Trying to Catch the Horses A Last Bridge Home: New and Selected Poems Snow on the Backs of Animals The Chinese Poems Departure The Revenant NOVELS A Voice fr om the River Out of Control American Atlas SHORT STORIES Grass Fires NONFICTION A Second Life: A Collected Nonfiction Indy: The World’s Fastest Carnival Ride This fall, Gerber’s ninth book of poetry, Particles: New & Selected Poems, will be released by Copper Canyon Press. Coppercanyonpress.org The MSU Press has published five of Gerber’s books. Msupress.org Gerber’s personal papers, journals and transcripts are available for research through the MSU Libraries Special Collections. Lib.msu.edu/spc
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