Words to Live By features exclusive interviews with authors, artists, and community members.
Chris Vitiello (The Poetry Fox)
September 1, 2022
Seen at events around the Triangle, including nearly all of Book Harvest’s events, the Poetry Fox produces custom, on-demand poems. Chris Vitiello, the man behind the Fox, was gifted a fox mascot costume and hasn’t looked back. Give him a word, and he’ll use that word to create a poem on the spot — typing it out on his vintage typewriter and stamping the document with his official Poetry Fox stamp. Learn about Chris’ passion for words, books, and all things literacy below.
Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?
I was a voracious reader of everything, from field books and naturalist journals to fiction by Susan Cooper, John Bellairs, and Joan Aiken. But I fell in love with poetry early through anthologies of “children’s verse” with everything from the whimsy of Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash to the lyricism of Longfellow and Rosetti to the more contemporary work of Poe and Sandburg and William Carlos Williams.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I read all the time. I hid books in plastic bags in treetops so I could climb up there and read. When I would read in bed and start to nod off, I would stand up in the middle of my room to read so it would keep me awake so I could read more. Nose in a book, always.
What book should everybody read before they turn 18?
The dictionary. Which is a bit of a cheat because you can’t read the dictionary. But I have always spent a lot of time just flipping through it and reading definitions, seeing the connections between words and their etymologies, learning new words and seeing which ones have fallen out of usage, puzzling over word senses and trying to use them in sentences. You learn a lot about language itself from the dictionary that you can’t really learn from literature.
What kind of books are on your bookshelf?
I have a lot of poetry, a lot of eastern European and Russian literature, a lot of art books, plenty of plays and novels, lotsa nonfiction books about animals and city planning and politics and witchcraft and UFOs and history and linguistics and everything else. One should read widely.
What are you reading currently?
A novel by Imre Kertesz. Stories by Brian Evenson. A backlog of New Yorkers. Some Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators kid books. Poetry by Etel Adnan and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge and Vasko Popa.
What is your favorite place to read?
In the chair by the window with the table and lamp and a cat on my lap.
Who is your favorite all-time character from a book?
The narrator of Alice Notley’s book-length poem “The Descent of Alette.”
If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?
The French poet Francis Ponge, the Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, and the Finnish poet Anselm Hollo because I didn’t get to say goodbye to him before he passed and I’d give a lot for just one more espresso with him.
What are the children in your life currently reading?
My 16-yr-old is reading graphic novels (Batman and the Japanese spiral one, Uzumaki) and my 23-yr-old is reading Joan Didion.
Do you have a favorite quote from literature? If so, what is it?
I have too many. Maybe the great Jack Spicer line: “the poet is a counterpunching radio.”
We are grateful to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions! You can learn more about Chris and the Poetry Fox on his website www.poetryfox.com. You can also see him at our upcoming Dream Big Book Drive on MLK Day, January 16, 2023 — he will write you a poem at no cost to you!