“The Guiding Light Is Surprise”–A Chat with Tony Trigilio

So, how’s everyone doing this week, now that so many of us are sheltering in place? 

From the bottom of my heart, I’m wishing you and your loved ones health and ease during this supremely strange and unsettling time.

I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so many wise and compassionate friends who are helping me make sense of the wide variety of emotions that have been coming up around all the continued uncertainty in this ongoing coronavirus situation.

I feel even more fortunate that I had the chance to speak with one of those wise and compassionate friends for this week’s episode.

Today, I’m incredibly pleased to be speaking with my friend, neighbor, and former bandmate, the poet Tony Trigilio

(You can stream our chat via the embed here, on Anchor, or pretty much anywhere else you source your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and Google Podcasts.)

Tony is the author and editor of 13 books, including, most recently, Ghosts of the Upper Floor (published by BlazeVOX [books] in 2019), which is the third installment in his multivolume poem, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). His selected poems, Fuera del Taller del Cosmos, was published in Guatemala by Editorial Poe (translated by Bony Hernández). He is editor of Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments (published by Ahsahta Press in 2014), and the author of Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics (published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2012). Tony coedits the poetry journal Court Green and is an associate editor for Tupelo Quarterly. He is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago.

Today we discuss his origin story as a poet, the possibilities that get unlocked by asking a student “tell me more of what you mean by that,” building bridges between the hemispheres of the brain, how playing drums professionally helped Tony unite his practice as a writer with his work as a scholar, and why the best art feels like a friend saying to you, “I’m going to tell you something but it’s hard to say.”

For more information about Tony, you can find him online at starve.org.


The Beatles, “The Fool on the Hill”

The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind

Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

Allen Ginsberg, “Kaddish”

Guy Rotella, Professor Emeritus at Northeastern University

Read more about William Blake at the Poetry Foundation here.

Read more about H. D. at the Poetry Foundation here

Tony’s dissertation was later expanded into the book “Strange Prophecies Anew”: Rereading Apocalypse in Blake, H.D., and Ginsberg.

Tony’s old band, Drumming on Glass

You can find out more about the history of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop on their site here.

You can listen to the eponymous Pet Theories album on Bandcamp here

You can listen to the podcast episode with Keiler Roberts here

Ghosts of the Upper Floor is available now from BlazeVOX [books] here.

You can listen to the podcast episode with Gene Kannenberg Jr. here

You can read more about my process of excavating and digitizing the old recordings of my father’s band’s gigs here, and you can listen to those recordings on Bandcamp here

Read more about Harryette Mullen at the Poetry Foundation here.

Read more about Thom Gunn at the Poetry Foundation here.

Read more about David Trinidad at the Poetry Foundation here. His book of poems about his years living in New York is called Notes on a Past Life and his collection of poems about Peyton Place, which inspired Tony’s Dark Shadows project, is called Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera.

Read more about George Oppen at the Poetry Foundation here. He won the Pulitzer in 1969 for his collection Of Being Numerous.

Read more about Sylvia Plath at the Poetry Foundation here

Read more about Bernadette Mayer at the Poetry Foundation here. Her poem in six parts, Midwinter Day, was also an inspiration for Tony’s Dark Shadows project. 

You can read Betty Hill’s 2004 obituary in the New York Times here. It contains a brief explanation of her and her husband Barney’s alien abduction story. You can read a handful of Tony’s poems about the Hills here

Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments

The tarot class that I took with Camelia Elias was her Marseille Tarot Foundation Course.