THE WILDERNESS Author Maurya Simon’s Rediscovered Interview With Renowned Poet Robert Mezey!

In 1987, when I was three years out of graduate school and expanding my views of contemporary American poetics, I undertook an eight-hour interview, comprised of four two-hour sessions, with my former Pomona College English professor, renowned poet Robert Mezey. Each session of our interview began with the poet’s arrival at my cabin high up on Mt. Baldy, located in southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains. Because Mezey would be a bit breathless from the altitude (7,500 feet), we’d sip cups of chamomile tea before I clicked on my reel-to-reel tape recorder. Suffering from a skin ailment that required direct daily exposure to sunlight, he spent part of each interview discreetly sunbathing nude on my deck (I once told him that wearing his birthday suit was apt for the editor of his much-heralded anthology, Naked Poetry). Clothed or unclothed, Mezey illuminated our discussions with his characteristic wit, passion, humility, and erudition.

Mezey’s academic secretary later transcribed the resulting interview on her Selectric typewriter, making just two copies of it, one for him and one for me. Stacking up to a hefty 251 typed pages, this transcript of our conversations was lively, far-ranging, and occasionally controversial, but always instructive and insightful. In addition to discussing traditional, modern, and contemporary poetry and poets, we examined how America’s counterculture of the 1960s influenced Mezey,  his work, and his writing process. We also talked about many of the great themes in poetry, including love, death, transformation, and loss.

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