Luke Hankins is Senior Editor at Asheville Poetry Review and the author of a collection of poems, Weak Devotions, a chapbook of translations of French poems by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, I Was Afraid of Vowels…Their Paleness and editor of Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets. This Sunday, December 9 at 5 p.m., at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Luke will read selections from Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets along with other featured contributors: Malaika King Albrecht, Richard Chess, Morri Creech, Richard Jackson, Suzanne Underwood Rhodes, and Daniel Westover. Luke agreed to a quick interview to discuss the recently published Poems of Devotion.
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Tell me how the anthology, Poems of Devotion, developed from concept to final printed book.
In my final year of graduate school, I took an independent study course with the superb poet and teacher Maurice Manning, which essentially meant that I chose an academic/creative project and he offered input on and evaluation of it. I have had a strong interest in spiritual poetry for many years, so it was natural that I would choose a topic that reflected this passion. The essay I wrote for that class was an examination of a particular set of qualities that characterized many of my favorite spiritual poems, qualities which, in my mind, constituted a distinct mode of composition. The essay was an early form of what is now the introductory essay of the anthology, examining what I call the devotional mode in poetry. When I first wrote it, the idea of editing an anthology hadn’t occurred to me, but as I continued to revisit and revise the essay after graduate school, I felt increasingly that the compiling “poems of devotion” would make for a superb collection of poems. As an experiment, I began gathering poems that I would include in a theoretical anthology, and that’s when I began to feel a real impulse — a “call,” if you will — to bring these poems together in an anthology. I sent out a proposal to several publishers, and I eventually signed a contract with Wipf & Stock Publishers.
What followed was — well, let’s just say a year of very hard work! Gathering the poems I wanted to include was one aspect: reading widely, taking recommendations, spending long days in the library or in coffee shops with large stacks of books. But all of that, though difficult, was full of pleasure and felt deeply rewarding. The other aspect was obtaining — and paying for! — permission from copyright holders to reprint the poems. That process was often labyrinthine, frustrating, and, not least of all, expensive. But it was worth it. I’m very excited about the finished anthology, and am moved and challenged anew each time I read it. Truly.
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Maurice Manning is becoming one of my favorite living poets. At the public library, I discovered his book Bucolics and then had an opportunity to attend one of his lectures at Warren Wilson. But I digress. You beat me to the second question which is what did you learn most? Seems like the whole publishing side of the anthology was quite a classroom of experience. If you will, highlight one moment during that year long process that “felt deeply rewarding” for you.
I think approaching the copyright aspect of the anthology with a certain level of naivety in many instances worked to my advantage. People were more inclined to take mercy on me and my minuscule budget! But there were a few publishing houses who were absolutely unmovable, and I had to pay out my teeth, so to speak, to include poems I felt were necessary to the anthology. So I learned to rejoice in small mercies where they came, and to practice stoicism about what I saw as exorbitant pricing from some of the major publishing houses.
Regarding your second question, I wouldn’t want to try to single out one moment that felt rewarding. I’ll just say that the process of discovering poets I came to love, whose work I had never read or had only read cursorily, was one of the most rewarding aspects. Re-reading poets whose work has been very impactful for me was another aspect. Also, there was an overall sense of being blessed to be able to dedicate myself to an undertaking that felt like an important fulfillment of who I am. I felt that I was working with real purpose. I felt that I was doing what I was meant to do.
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One final question, what’s the biggest thing you hope readers take away from Poems of Devotion?
I hope that readers — whether religious or non-religious, theistic or non-theistic — come away with a conviction that the devotional mode is a powerful, ongoing, vital mode in literature. I believe in these poems and their ability to do just that.