From the Boston Review:
TD: The foreword to your debut collection Tea (1998) begins, “This is not a book about Aids.” Many readers would probably hear in this an echo of Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe, captioned “This is not a pipe.” What role did AIDS play in your early work if it wasn’t what your work was about? What might your poetry be like today without the illness?
DAP: Well, I think, philosophically, this is a hard question to answer; it’s rather like trying to separate form and content and to consider them as independent of one another. I think in the first place we need, as artists, obstacles. A river flows faster where there are more rocks; the water has to push through the barriers, and perhaps ultimately it is the very essence of a river’s energy, this impediment and pressure formed from encountering resistance. Aids was a force that exerted pressure on the poems, but my hope was that the poems triumphed over that pressure, that they were language broken free from the times. And so, even as we need obstacles, we need velocity, we need an internal desire to break free of what shuts us out or blocks our way, we need to be ever striving to reject the language of control and confinement and to work ourselves past the words that seek to define us. So I don’t know what my poetry would look like without this obstacle and my intent to resist it. Something else. Perhaps I would be writing love poems to people still alive, instead of elegies for those who are not.