Meet Tanner Crunelle, Woodfin Fellow in Poetry

Hanna Reynditskiy interviewed Tanner Crunelle, our new Woodin Fellow in Poetry. Read on to learn about Tanner’s inspirations, writing rituals, and influences.

What drew you to poetry and who are your biggest inspirations?

My favorite poet is Harryette Mullen because she writes about identity, but experimentally, through the condition of our immersion in language. Identity itself, as both a topic and analytic lens, is engaged in her writing, which I find profoundly freeing. What drew me into writing poetry? Really, it was studying and learning about poetry. That and how forms persist overtime. That’s another question I’m fascinated by. We may be modern, but what makes us historical is the persistence of form across time. So studying poetic form is a way to see how form persists and transmogrifies. Poetry gives us a rarefied discourse of meta-cognition. It allows us to think about thinking itself. I don’t know of many other art forms that do it so well, being that we are creatures of language.

Do you see yourself fitting into a certain movement or school of poets, and if so, who and why?

There are some really interesting things happening right now—and Harryette Mullen is a part of this—that is somehow tentative in its social, public identity. There’s somehow stability in that identity while also being foundationally unstable and open, coming from a sublation of confessional forms and a critique of language and poetic expression, especially that of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. So this is one “school” that seems to have rigorous philosophical commitments while also containing some of the rhetorical features of lyric poetry that convince us of the different formulations of human being. But I don’t uncritically agree with all they say and do. I think it’s much more interesting to think about my work in relation to these poets than to categorize myself as a part of their “school.”

What is your writing ritual and routine?

Usually I am accosted by a poem. So I am usually scribbling a first draft. Then there is the delightful task of trying to read my own handwriting! But I find that the most pleasurable part of writing poetry is revision, because it gets me closer to what lies at the core of a given mental formation, relation, affective state, or whatever else a poem may be interested in.

What topics, themes or tendencies do you notice bubbling up in your poetry?

Desire. Desire in relation to speaking. It’s not like, “Oh, I write about being a man who desires men.” I mean, there is some of that, because I am gay and I am writing poetry. But my poetry isn’t gay poetry, per se. So desire would be one. Sound, as a formal feature, is the single most prominent rhetorical feature of my poetry. All of that and our relation to sound, as subjects who are shaped by sound, but also speaking, which is a sonic act. In some ways I see my poetry addressing philosophers, so that’s one of the themes in my poetry. But they are ultimately very different styles of writing, that of critical study versus poetry. If I could tentatively distinguish between the two, philosophy and critical study lets me see truth obfuscated in the written words of others, whereas poetry lets me see the truth obfuscated in my own speaking.

How does music influence your poetry and who would you consider your favorite musician?

I am always perplexed by explanations of music that give music meaning. Music to me is almost like pure sense and abstraction. Pure sense in the way that we feel it in our bodies. It may evoke some feeling that connects us to others or inspires us into action, like when we’re marching, or the feeling of being held or contained by a song. And pure abstraction in the sense that music evokes unnamable states in our bodies. I grew up playing the drums, the timpani, so there is some quality of my poetry that retains this panache of a drum that is tuned, adds flare, and carries the orchestra forward. So there’s that quality to my poetry. When it comes to pop music, I really like Khruangbin, Sufjan Stevens, Beach House, Joni Mitchell. I don’t have a favorite musician. I have a set of musicians that I will consistently listen to and even rely on, but I like remaining open to many different types of music.

What are you reading right now (outside of class, of course!)

I’m reading Judith Butler’s The Force of Nonviolence, which is really a masterpiece. It’s about how to militantly combat violence, which is figured not just as aggression within ourselves on a subjective level, but also corporate degradation of the natural ecological environment, and war. War especially. It’s illuminating for me as someone who practices yoga and seeks tools for living nonviolently, but I hadn’t really considered nonviolence as an active force. I’m also reading Little Mr. Prose Poem by Russell Edson, which is a collected edition just released in October, and The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes. I’m working through some of the big names, and I like to have books in different genres going at once, so I can satisfy my curiosity through whatever style of engaging with a text.

What are your plans after your MFA degree?

 I will also finish my MA in Philosophy, Art, and Social Thought at the European Graduate School and seek admission to a PhD program in the critical humanities. I know my vocation is teaching. So I am preparing my mind and spirit for a career as an educator.