Raised in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, James Langer is the author of Gun Dogs (House of Anansi), which won The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for poetry. He co-edited The Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Poetry and lives in St. John’s.
Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager that you remember well?
Yes, I started reading poetry in high school when a teacher introduced me to the work of Robert Frost. But I read it secretly, preferring to be viewed by my peers as an athlete rather than a bookworm. I grew up in rural Newfoundland on the outskirts of a tiny, struggling fishing community, and Frost’s “Birches” really made an impression on me. In that poem, the boy is too far from town to learn baseball, has to fetch the cows and make up his own games. That was me, except I went out and in to fetch a horse. I still remember where I was the first time I read that poem.
When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?
I didn’t write my first poem until I was twenty-one, and it was wretched. But even twenty-some-odd years later, I rarely think of myself as a poet. Way too much baggage, and I’m suspicious of the posture. So I figure I’m only a poet when I’m writing poetry.
What do you think a poet’s “job” is?
To make tiny machines with words. Tiny machines to merge head and heart in a sustained event that passes.
What inspired you to write “St. John's Burns Down for the Umpteenth Time”?
Watching things change to remain the same.
If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?
Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Because you get to remember the line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” And because the rhymes are mnemonic devices, so it’s easier. And because, full disclosure, I’ve always had a crush on Elizabeth Bishop. In love with the way her mind works.