Campbell McGrath on Reading Poetry Aloud ‹ Literary Hub


Campbell McGrath is among South Florida’s most revered poets recognized with the MacArthur Genius Award, a Kingsley Tufts poetry Award and by admirers from Robert Pinsky to Elizabeth Alexander. His newest collection is Fever of Unknown Origin and on this edition of The Literary Life, we celebrate its publication with a reading at the Coral Gables location of Books & Books.

Introducing Campbell is Scott Cunningham, executive and artistic director of OMiami, which is building community around the power of poetry.

From the episode:

Campbell McGrath: My professional life is mostly walking around inside my own head, you know, just the empty corridors, like reciting words to myself.

It’s, you know, it’s, again, it’s a good thing that art, most of the things artists do, they would put you in asylum for if you weren’t doing it in pursuit of art, right? But, you know, since it’s about art, it’s kind of all forgiven. It is totally, totally essential — and you’ll never meet a poet who won’t agree that at some, at one of the key stages in writing a poem, developing a poem is standing up and reading it to yourself in the room and saying, “What did I just hear?”

Another stage is, however, reading it to other people for the first time that, ’cause you know, you can still, you’re still trying to gauge yourself. It’s still always complicated even though you get better at it over time. But hearing an audience is super informative, like, I guess that one was a little flat or this happened or that happened.

So it’s a key part of it and that’s what makes poetry different from all the other great forms of writing is that the oral tradition kind of is essential part of it, and that was always important to me.


Campbell McGrath is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems, and XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. His writing has been recognized with a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, and a United States Artists Fellowship. He lives with his wife in Miami Beach, and teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University.

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