Interview with Leo Yankevich (Part I & II)

Part 1
I recently flew ­to Europe to interview Leo Yankevich, universally recognized as the greatest living English-language poet.  Leo graciously put me up in a hotel a minute walk from his penthouse flat where this interview took place. He opened the balcony doors to show me the beautiful view of art nouveau townhouses across the street, and left them open during the entire interview.

It’s great to be here, Leo.  There are no minorities and when we went for a walk last night I never felt safer in my life.

Well, you were with me, and I am big, and have a bad-ass stare from growing up in the hood and living in New York City.   Of course, I’m just being facetious.  Yes, this is a 100% racially homogeneous country and that explains everything.  Old men and women are not mugged, but rather treated with respect. And there’s a genuine sense of community, which doesn’t exist in the States, the loneliest place in the world to live since the 1960s. The United States is not a nation, but only a federation of States where nationalities and races are all united in the love of money.

Those are strong statements, Leo. Aren’t you afraid of the wrath of the leftist PC police?

I consider left-wingers to be untermenschen, the term Germany’s National Socialists used to describe dysgenic-oriented communists.  It was never used, by the way, to describe ethnic groups or other races.  The untermensch is an egalitarian who wants to keep humanity in the mire of equality. He’d rather feed a welfare queen than send a spaceship to the nearest solar system. He’d rather allow 10 million “refugees” into his country than preserve his own nation and race.

Which writers, philosophers, and poets have influenced you the most?

Socrates, Plato, Plotinus, Origen, John Donne, George Herbert, Emanuel Swedenborg, William Blake, Adam Mickiewicz, Herman Melville, Charles Baudelaire, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Algernon Charles Swinburne,  Edwin Arlington Robinson, Madison Cawein, Rainer Maria Rilke, Georg Trakl, William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Robinson Jeffers, Leopold Staff, Boleslaw Lesmian, Hart Crane, Roy Campbell, Theodore Roethke, Wystan Hugh Auden, Dylan Thomas, Weldon Kees, Bronislaw Broniewski, Czeslaw Milosz, Stanislaw Grochowiak and many others.

I notice that you don’t mention Richard Wilbur and Anthony Hecht? 

Both fine poets. Hecht was really, really good. However, Wilbur is, for the most part, an extremely accomplished, but boring poet. I’ve fallen to sleep reading his poems. The only one that stays in memory is The Pardon.  Here are the last four lines:

Asking forgiveness of his tongueless head.
… I dreamt the past was never past redeeming:
But whether this was never false or honest dreaming
I beg death’s pardon now. And mourn the dead.


I’d rank Richard Moore much higher than Wilbur.  Dick is a PC liberal who’s never risked touching taboo topics in his verse. He’s an old fart and bore.

Are there any female writers, philosophers and poets that you admire?

Simone Weil.  That’s it.  Sure there are some good female scribblers like Alicia Elsbeth Stallings and Sally Cook, but good is not great. Generally I admire woman for other things.  They’re for bearing children, smacking on the ass, and serving beer. And we, for them, are only sperm donors and ATM machines.

Are there any contemporary formalist poets that you admire?

Joseph S. Salemi, Jerry H. Jenkins, the late Neill Megaw and the great late Richard Moore. Dana Gioia is very accomplished, but doesn’t know how to tell a tall tale and has no punch. R.S. Gwynn has a good ear, but his verse has restricted high seriousness owing to his communist beliefs. The PC police have a squad car in his ear. Jared Carter is very good, but long-winded and boring. I’ve admired M. A. Schaffner for decades; he’s a very fine poet who knows how to close his poems. A.M Juster is a poetaster; Timothy Murphy a sing-song bullshitter on his way to hell.

Well, Leo, let’s take a break.  I see you are thirsty.

Which reminds me of an old Hitler joke.  He was standing in his bunker with three of his generals: Rommel, Guderian, and a fat red-cheeked one whose name I can’t remember.

“What do you want to drink, meine Generäle?”
“A cup of Tea, mein Führer,” answered Rommel.
“Coffee,” replied Guderian.
“A pitcher of beer,” said the fat one.
“At last, an honest German,” retorted the Führer.

Part II 

The second part of my interview with Leo Yankevich took place the following day. He took me to one of his favorite watering holes, a quaint bistro with a delicious version of American Pale Ale on tap, which I drank during the whole sitting.  Leo later switched to a dark and rich 9.5% Baltic Stout, which he handled as if water.

Is it difficult being a right-wing poet?

No, I’d say it’s liberating.  I can do and say what I please.  No topic is taboo. Only I can write a poem in which Red Army Mongols stand in a queue outside a barn to rape a Polish peasant girl, and only I can write about the injustices wreaked on the German people in 1945.  I can also like or not like what I please.  I have a truly open mind.  In fact, I believe you can’t be a great poet if you are a leftist, liberal or cuckservative.  They write with restrictions on their minds, with political commissars whispering in their ears what’s allowed and what’s not.  They live in terror of being found out by one another.  They have captive minds.

Does your right-wing reputation narrow your publishing venues?

It depends on how you look at it.  Why would I want to appear in a journal along with communists like Quincy Lehr, Janet Kenny and Janice D. Soderling? Leftist poets are not only bad, but embarrassing. Have you read a great poet that was a lefty?  Robinson Jeffers, W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Roy Campbell were all right-wingers.  And the poets who once were communists, like W.H. Auden and Robert Conquest, later switched to the right.  They were honest men who no longer allowed themselves to be delusional.

Poetry magazines generally are edited by liberal idiots with agendas and axes to grind.  They’d sooner publish a poem about sodomy before they’d publish one about the catastrophic effect of illegal immigration.

My books sell well, and I’m one of the most read poets on the planet thanks to my ability to stand on my own feet and market myself.  I don’t need to publish in liberal poetry magazines.  There’s a superb right-wing poetry journal called Trinacria, edited by Dr. Joseph Salemi, that gladly publishes my work.  Chronicles has featured my work many times.

Now, let’s switch to the topic of form.  Do you consider syllabics to be a meter?

Of course.  Linguistically it works in other languages as the most popular metre. And it has worked well in English. And yes, you can hear syllables. I can write 13 syllable lines without even counting.  Sure, some lines will be iambic hexameter with feminine endings, some not. But all will have 13 syllables.  Formalists think syllabic verse is not a metre because they need to count and hear thumps. What it isn’t is a stressed-based metre. When you write in it you have to find the music without the metronome. Generally you should rarely introduce enjambments.  A sense of line is very important.

Do you still write in syllabics?

Not since around 2001.  I count iambs and trochees now, and have become a purist when it comes to rhyming.  However, I don’t preclude writing syllabic or free verse in the future. I am so good I can do anything, even tell the truth in our straightjacket world.

Your poems always seem to be beautifully and masterfully rhymed.  Is there a system or set of rules you use?

Well, to rhyme well you need to read the great poets well, not just English-language poets, but poets from other languages in other languages.  You need to start at the beginning of the Norton Anthology of Poetry and stop at poets born after 1930 or so.  You’ll find the secret lies in the alchemy of words, archetypal ones like stone, water, flint, salt, etc.  We can’t feel airy abstract words borrowed from French and Latin.  English is Germanic. So a well-schooled poet will rhyme on concrete nouns whenever he can at least 50% of the time.  It’s applicable to other languages as well.  The great Adam Mickiewicz and Dylan Thomas were my best teachers. This is a secret, I hope, other poets won’t pay heed to, since  99.99% of other poets are not my friends.  I write for the lovers,

…their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.


David Castleman lives in Dayton, Washington. His poems, tales, and reviews have appeared in hundreds of small press magazines since the early 1970s.