Josh Milberg

REMORYAL

 

THEY EXITED THE PLANE, briefcases behind, dirt rod hot and nuclear still. HALFLIVES they hailed, only men left. Their ties, still fastened fat and dimpled, flapped in the wind like flags or sock. BOMB was painted with big strokey B’s. Haste made red by the stump short straggler. His frizzle peaked from neckringed cotton, the hairs like vines away from dirt. BOMB titled the beachbeached shell and the B’s curved buxom around and around. None of the men were set on search, not for women or whatever might be. They were the last, a tribe of few, slant for setup, already in thought who would cook, who to fix. Chef, fixer, fisher, accountant. They would lead lives new and anew. They, like the plane, would don new names. TORR, LUN, ZHOOZHOO, LIGHKE. They scribbled their flesh, twigs to their arms. There was bare, what they allowed. The short one, Mike, died early on. His tie was taken and tied to shrub. Free of leaves from the outfall they thought. LUN said REMORYAL and prayed for the after, taller and longer than what life he’d known. But the body stayed stank, shrunk and shriveled. None knew the cause, heat or height, old world paint. They left him as was, sleeves still on and no name carved into his arm. The night of the funeral, the tide was high and the nine left well danced in the night. One sung low. His voice carried tune and the moon looked big, moonso above. The moon cycled plenty before it got its and pebbles dotted the name of the shore. They knew it impossible but decided toward project. Lighke proposed one, crouched under shelter—none could stand the acidsting rain. Staring toward names born from rolled cuff, he said, TO THE MOON and construction began. Tower after tower stickbuilt straight up. Sturdy enough to carry stones, better than huts in series too high. The towers made cause to keep life civil while Mike got shorter, dryer and smaller. Microbes fared worse than food they would eat so heat took its toll toward kiln and keeper. Mike remained nameless despite the memorial and, in spite of the falls, none died awhile. Crookset bones and namenamed arms marked the men who wanted the moon. They had ties and fished for their food. After some time, before KALENDAY came, KEL said to KLE, EVERYTHING WE KNOW HAS A NEW NAME, EVERYTHING SINCE WE BEGAN TO GIVE NAMES. WHAT IS THE MOON? WHAT DO WE CALL IT? All of them broke and agreed to a vote. Devised to the dirt silent and separate, each conjured thought of the man that they missed, how he nor the moon had handle to herald, yet each was worth wanting, to hope toward and trust. Each HALFLIFE left was scribe and survivor. Each set toward summit, ensuring sure death. The next night they met where the plane first landed, struck single file an arrow or line. Finally the fire where flames licked sky, they knew now the name, what they would write.

Joanne Hart

Assembled In Not To Notice

 

never knowing what power they are inside about

Around when I eat your filth and you. Our clean and

be you’re not. Words are like birds that fly. Skin

bitten. Out of skin. Carves out where you go

and swallows infant blooms withered

put back to vase. So as not to notice on a

trip what to where what to where.

This self pillages lives heaped of

nights’ piles days our piles nights be.

Going I am carving out the anti pile

for someone many. Of them like yours

an exaggerant ride – their bodies – how

real. Their piles are collections of scare. Then

when piles are paired. Force for them. Piles.

The floored hair. The clothes I wear. Made by

remember. As if you could spare a thought meaning

no matter. You see them roofless in your head if it

would on its own. So said why piles? Piles grate with entirely clean

ironed things. But a box is a pile with business. Why scissors could always

be put away along side. When a box is being carried by me it does not know.

 

 

 

Sole Regard

 

 

If a lament were as sorry

as sorry erupted

it would crawl around

so around as a woman tied already so

tied with flagrant threads from expert planets

that have shuffled their way secretly behind trees

all down here spoon fed a dower limp

like a drowner not drowned

hung with tense missing bodies that stopped

the leap up on a day

not in case of gravity

and birth but from the boy who can’t love

the girl who imitates it – weepless hot body

 

It would lay by – catching

a rain wet foundation

in barrels of no protection

a breakwater taken up all day

susceptible yielding to supple

the unknown feet

 

Amy Wright on The Necro pastoral

The Fleecy White Pastoral of Decay

Review of Joyelle McSweeney, The Necro-pastoral, Spork Press (2011)

 

 

            Scholar Harold Toliver characterizes the pastoral by its appetite “to devour elegies, lyrics, plays, fairy tales, masques, odes and even to gnaw ambitiously at romances, epics, and novels,”[i] making it the crème genre and choice palate cleanser for the epicurious 21st century. Joyelle McSweeney savors its power to absorb by opening The Necropastoral with a critical essay on Jack Smith’s film Normal Love, which he refers to on a grant application as “EXOTIC LANDORDISM OF THE WORLD.” If one doesn’t own a field and sheep of her own, she might reel through “the crinkled Vale of / Food-for-thought” choosing kumquats and squashing grapes.[ii]

            It is telling that this hard-bound chapbook published by Spork Press features no publication city. The Necropastoral is cross-location, takes place in a modern country that is one part “rainslicked hairpin” and two parts “hard drive.” We come flying around the turn of the has-been heading toward outer space. The novel isn’t dead it’s necro. New means old; attics are basements; speed is grace.  We come to originality schooled with awareness that we’re just stirring the kettle, not even adding a pinch of saffron to it. What McSweeney is doing is “convulsive and self-contaminating, accessing both a Golden Age, a prehistory somehow concurrent with, even adjacent to, the present tense.”[iii]

            Tense is the operative denominator, as each “King Prion” first relieves the pressure with a valve-like whistle. “Hoooooooo” begins each poem in this seven-poem series with identical titles, as if none will withstand the heat of its own impetus without a preliminary release. The device is leading, generative of that space of union between reader and written Barthes uses to characterize text, and as demanding of confrontation as Matthew Barney’s The Cremaster Cycle.[iv] If you have heard McSweeney read the poems aloud, its operatic call is as up-lilting as a farmer bidding stock, summoning the Landrace of Bentheium in from the pastures, the fleecy white subjects of commercial interests. These are not your grandfather’s purchases.

            Like Barney’s five-film cycle, The Necropastoral is a performance, an enactment that takes readers off the presented page. If you cannot make the showing, it will not, for you, be made. But there is comfort in the packaging, like bringing home a brochure from the 2002-3 exhibition. If the craft did not open for you and carry you into what the Guggenheim show curator, Nancy Spector, calls the “self-enclosed aesthetic system” of Barney’s cycle, you can still walk away with a picture of the dehorned red-head to remind you of its alien vision. McSweeney’s system, in contrast, is referential and dependent on connections within and without the series, including the character of King Prion and pastoral rhetoric. Readers function  as a sonic bridge, transistors on whose ear crackles:

            —Hoooooooo

            Used to haunt

            the lobby While you stood there in your

            Capezios

            White-ankled

            As anything tied to a spit

 

Every journeyman is an apprentice who learns the electrician’s trade by wiring her own circuits, and this writing asks more of us than conduit. In return, it offers itself as an art object. Andrew Shuta collages shimmer on the cover, drizzle a turquoise backdrop in front of which tree trunks and revolutionaries prop the title and motorbike wheels ride out a zombie highway, a kind of quid pro quo or guarantor of interest whether it is pulled out or not.

            The dominant figure that forms The Necropastoral is King Prion, who is a character that appears briefly in an 1898 travel narrative, Frederick Albion Ober’s Crusoe’s Island: A Bird Hunter’s Story. The book is introduced by its editor as part of a “home reading series,” which declares a “new education” that combines original observation and systematic home reading. If we now educate ourselves via experiments learned in the classroom, (and McSweeney is on faculty at the University of Notre Dame) we learned them from early classrooms. The editor who introduces Ober’s volume, William Harris, calls for a method to extend education from those initiatives at Cambridge and Oxford in which experts began supplementing home reading with round-tables, and discussion circles with lectures.  Harris promotes a method of reading that goes beyond the school to “make self-culture a habit of life.”[v]  The integration of creative writers and academia is an old story in which it is increasingly apparent that a teaching poet shapes not only the poetics of individual classrooms, but that of the reading public.  For those who would learn to hunt birds from this Prion king, begin by dragging a river of leaves.

            One reads The Necropastoral as one might read a label, skimming, with some resistance,  and uncertain as to just what manna we have been fed/drugged/diddled into:

            I just wanted to give my body to

            A net of guarine

            Ginkgo-biloba azatine melanine

            Camphobacter phylactery nicotine

 

Critical consciousness is discomfiting. How do women negotiate the “go-home-and-feed-the-baby milk of it” against “a highbrow eyebrow / Pencil skirt and smile”?[vi]  The way Rilke says we answer questions by living into them.

            Grounded in nothing but repetition, the poems circle round the locus of their winged, aerial center. A prion is both a folded protein and a small petrel bird. In Ober’s text, the prion is christened “King of the woods” by the bird-hunter, who, on a walk by a fern-laced stream meets him, learns his call and imitates it: “Who?” the hunter says, walking around, calling to the tree tops in mimicry.  Before the prion answers, a second arrives so that the bird-hunter cannot know if it is the original prion or a competitor who answers his “Who?” for “Who?” in echo, but they go on “bandying words for awhile and thoroughly mystifying the wondering birds.”[vii] Except birds do not mystify, only people. If you want to be ignored, try conversing across genus. The small petrel  is more interested in its gullet than a human agent. Against its implied disinterest, the  question of “Who?” reverberates outside this forest toward the ontological questions posed by the Chesire cat, Ramana Maharshi, and others. As Alice and numerous sanyyasins attest, seeking the answer outside oneself indicates trouble. McSweeney drops that call for response. The “Hoooooooo” that opens each poem implies there are no questions but ones that answer:

            Whoozat

            Beggar French

            His hat blade cut the murk about his

            Antibody. His switchhand

            Switched like a cat.

 

            McSweeney’s swashbuckling use of a sometime-Victorian capitalization emphasizes the performative quality of the lyric, as idiosyncratically tuned as Hopkins meter. Sound-driven by the “ooh-oon” of lagoon and ah, the same aural compulsion that drives a title like Bernadette Meyer’s The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters is alive and kicking. Listen to “bent / Over the medical suite / Table In San Diego Wholly / Martyred from the bottom”[viii] and tell me rhyme hasn’t gone underground and offed itself, triumphed and risen. Reclaimed and incantatory, this verse isn’t high, it’s inebriate of air and syllable, spinning Emily Dickinson: “You thought you could Death / On your own terms Do.”[ix] Fat chance Andromeda cat, the age-old hymnals will even school you.

            The Necropastoral is in conversation with a pastoral tradition that most recently includes Erik Anderson’s The Poetics of Trespass, (Otis Books, Seismicity Editions, 2010). The initiate of his project is to step off the letters p-a-s-t-o-r-a-l in a twenty-block Denver radius. A travel record of pointed wandering to find domestic comfort anywhere, Trespass realizes the find is not what is imperative but that “soul stirred by some divinely wrought swizzle.” In it as well as McSweeney, the “I” recedes along the avenues, undergoing recession and decay. Death, McSweeney clarifies, is media, while Anderson illustrates it via Roland Barthes’ The Lover’s Discourse:die Wunde, die Wunde! says Parsifal, thereby becoming ‘himself.’” The loss of the self traces a ghostly expedition through streets, as his speaker walks out thought in all its iterations, which “is not the thinking.” The thinking is something else and possibly unthinkable. The crush is generative. Normal Love, referenced in McSweeney’s introductory essay, is a never-finale of a 20-year old cinematic project that did not solidify as a completed work. The 1989 death of filmmaker Jack Smith alone caps a narrative by stopping the wax pencil whereby the bleed was endless because the editing process was.

            The concluding section, “Arcadia,” or “Anachronism: A Necropastoral Effigy” is a list and stabilizing scaffold on which to burn the I that has been resurrected. It has more lives than a cat. Unstable as a nucleic acid exposed to the misfoldings of prion, “I” was a few items ago a camera and before that, a sheep and “an at home experience,” and further, La Lunette and springtime. I is in transit, more of an incubation period, an operating table from which clones are harvested or “shedding copies.”[x]  I is an artist by which chronos is unseated, because to keep time is to lose it. Grace changed, or “had changed.” She was running from a marine, “she hadn’t known…but she would feel the presence of his activities.”[xi] The pun is clever and wry, one of many reminders to keep readers on their toes. “Now I am another,” the last line reads.  By it nothing is laid to rest but the sweet corn compost of psychological illusion. Let’s just say, as Cher did of Velvet Underground, here lies an anarchy so restive it “won’t replace anything, except maybe suicide.” Thus, carpe artem! Seize not the day but those streetsmart shepherds who grasp it.

 

 


[i] Toliver, Harold. Pastoral Forms and Attitudes. Berkeley: University of California Press,             1971. Print. 3

[ii] McSweeney, Joyelle. The Necro-pastoral. Spork Press, 2011. Print. 9

[iii] Ibid., 2

[iv] The Cremaster Cycle website including film clip.

[v] Ober, Frederick A. Crusoe’s Island: A Bird-hunter’s Story. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1898. Print. viii

[vi] Ibid., 15

[vii] Ibid., 15

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid., 30

Ben Kopel

DUENDE-TRIPPER


Decapitate the headlights, I did

so our bodies could alone float free
away from the blacked-out city.

My darkness, it expanded

to fill the space provided, like a melody
or a metal rod placed in a loved one.

Some summer ago, the surgeons

they shoved a goodbye into my jaw.
There was confetti in the carpet.

A steak knife in the ceiling. So what.

So long. In between such stations
my life can save no song.





CIAO MEIN, MORNING STAR


1.
Whiskey tango foxtrot,
pipsqueek yankee sweet-

heart! So strange it must be
to sing your own name. So

glad I am to have a pain
I can call all my own. A life.

My life. The life of it and the life
in it. No, not who am I but

what I was. One-third-dog.
One-third-man. One-third-

star. A mind out of time
and almost brave.





2.
Some bloom slum
later, high on Christ

and some kind of kindness
we two cross kites

and kiss against cars and
shine like a skulk of foxes

all warm skin warm
under a sky sans junk—

You: Roller-skate skinny
Me: A box of blood

Gregory Lawless talks with Adam Fell

I Am Not a Pioneer: An Interview with Adam Fell

 

 

GL: The first poem in I AM NOT A PIONEER is called “Information Accumulated from Interviews of a Random Sampling of 1,000 American Citizens between the Ages of 18 and 65,” and it offers the reader a catalog of observations about subsets within that title’s broad demography, such that, for example, “48%” of a certain group of Americans are said to “wait quietly for their turn beneath the median trees, watch the lowest branches abscise, watch fathers tow little storms across the yard.”  Each indexical finding thus provides the reader with a kind of psychical/spiritual snapshot of the “average American”; this gives your beautiful poem tremendous scope but it also, in both a sinister and playful way, seems to comment on the fact that people won’t recognize evaluations of American life without some kind of data to back it up.  Do you see this poem as functioning as either a critique of our quantitative obsessions, or a kind of poetic census of the American soul, or a little of both?  Or was it just a device that allowed you to write a lot of great lines?

 

 

AF: Throwing up my hands and saying “This country is screwed” or becoming an expat is not, to me, a viable option, so I try to write the stress out. Writing helps me gain a bit of control, or at least trick myself into thinking that I have some. I got sick of the tactic that politicians and pundits use where statistics and jargony language are tossed out to convince the viewer of their side of the aisle’s virginity and truth and righteousness; both sides looking at these exact same numbers, using the exact same phrases, getting all alchemical, molding language, one of the things I hold most dear, into these deceptive monsters, then telling us “See? Look how right we were. We love you most!” If both sides can use a statistic or a point of information to support their side of an issue, then there is zero meaning in it, even if the study or statistic is truly competent and correctly vetted.

 

So, I had this immense anxious urge to somehow grab the collar of all this senselessness, to somehow find some meaning in it, and couldn’t really, so I decided to give that political form a meaning that was personally important to me. I tried to make these percentage points into a personal accounting, a checklist of images and slight narratives that are really personal to me; each of the numbers is a particular event, a memory, a feeling, something essential to me in a deeply personal way. It’s the only way I can make myself feel like a living, breathing, tumultuous being in the middle of all that data sniping. We all have to do that at some point: stand a reckoning of how to make ourselves feel less impotent in the face of all the electioneering. Apparently, my way is to take the forms of media, the statistics, the political discourse, the data, and create myself in it. However, I can really only create myself by burning everything down to the frame.

 

 

GL: There are some moving lines in your book that point to our limited capacity to absorb or digest wondrous phenomena:

 

Light falling on snow

                        is naturally cast upward,

                        but we are not designed

to fully contain the glow (“Limbo”)

 

And sometimes your speakers make an aesthetically pleasing miscalculation: “The rain stops beneath the overpass. / What I mistake for silence is the sound / of everyone else shutting their windows at once” (“Thylacine”).  In both cases, you find poetic opportunities in human fallibility. At times, you almost seem proud of it, or what it can produce.  Could you explain your affinity for moments of imprecise cognition or perception? 

 

AF: I love the fact that there are so many things, as humans, we are all simply just biologically incapable of perceiving. I love that on a badass science-y level, but also on a personal, emotional level. There are objects and ideas and feelings that we choose not to perceive, or have damaged ourselves enough to not perceive, or pushed so far away from ourselves, that we can no longer accept those things without our lives caving in upon us. It’s how I imagine all those folks that thought the end times were beginning back in May. They’re getting rid of their life savings and their pets and their houses, pulling their children out of school, in affirmation of this singular belief. And when it doesn’t happen, do they get outraged and self-reflective and reconstitute their ideas of the world? No, they just say “Ooops. Calculation error. Sorry, we were a couple years off.”  Their idea of the world is so barricaded and so brittle at the same time, and instead of being willing to change their minds and pick up the pieces, they go in the opposite direction. It’s amazing what the human mind can push away. We all do it in vast and minute ways, but it’s also this human fallibility that makes us individuals, which makes us interesting, which makes us capable of redemption and empathy and self-reflection. Clumsiness, mistakes, fuck-ups, lead to searching and realization and answers and change. I love humans for that. I love thinking about these things in regard to my life and in regards to the psychology of others. I AM NOT A PIONEER is full of pretty intense, confessional poems that ached coming out, that really dazed me until I get some distance from them. I really tried to use these poems to reflect on the way I am, the good and bad I willfully commit. I try to be as honest with myself as possible, brutally if need be, tortuous and obsessive if I’m not careful, and I hope that comes across.  Mistakes should propel us forward in our thinking and I think that is, eventually, hopefully, lovely.

 

 

GL: Your poems “Bomb-Making Materials, Pt. 1 & 2” show the speaker being, at least temporarily, held aloft and saved by a group of cheerleaders from “riot cops” and “college kids,” among others, who run amok, inciting and responding to violence in their urban milieu below.  The poem is hilarious and strange, and it’s obviously invested with having a bit of crooked fun.  But beyond the tonal audacity and adventurousness of the content, I wonder if this piece provides a kind of commentary for how we (or you, or one) push reality away.  The speaker, after all, revels in the health, beauty and cooperation of the cheerleaders (an image here of civic and sexual utopia), who are in nearly every way antithetical to the marauding, violent masculine hordes below.  That is, the speaker shields himself from anomie and societal decay with a fantastical mass of beautiful women.  Is the poem, among other things, pointing out that this is something we all do—insulate ourselves from news of catastrophe by retreating to the extremes of idiosyncratic fantasy?

 

AF: Man, I’m glad you think that poem is funny! I really wish I meant it that way, I really do, but those poems scare the hell out of me!

 

It actually came out of one of those happy poetic coincidences. I had given an assignment to my students where they had to use a line from a song to jumpstart a poem, then cut out that lyric. I chose for myself this line from The National song “Mr. November” that says, “I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders.” I love the use of that image in such a decidedly non-athletic, non-triumphal sense—a failing falling from grace. I thought, “What is the most un-clichéd thing a group of cheerleaders could do to me?” And “Save me from a riot” seemed like a good answer.

 

The character in the poem isn’t carried in the arms of cheerleaders because he’s the hero of the game or pulled a toddler off the subway tracks; it’s because he was caught in this, as you point out, young, masculine horde, and this guy, who feels such distance from that horde, who is trying to be a one-man, anti-masculine horde, still finds time in his brain to do what these masculine hordes would do: objectify sexually these people that save his life because of who they seem to be on the outside. What started as an exercise in destroying stereotypes became, to me, an exercise in trying to dissect why this man does this, even though he feels it is wrong. Is it biological? Is it that this stereotype has been so drilled into his head that he can’t fully cast it aside even though he knows he needs to? Is it something in his upbringing? Some societal influence? I ask myself similar questions in a few other poems in I AM NOT A PIONEER too. I’ll be honest, it terrified me when I was writing those poems. They were a bit agonizing coming out, but I also think it led me to some really interesting and important places in my poems and in my brain.

 

 

GL: Let’s talk titles.  Why is the concept of (not being) a pioneer at the center of this collection?  Why the negative definition of self?  What would it mean to be, as a poet, a pioneer, and why do you push this designation away?

 

AF: I realize that the idea of not being a poetic pioneer is inevitable in the title since it’s a book of poems, and also the idea of a kind of faux humility (I am not a pioneer, but…) is there too, but its role to me is to represent my own version of being human. I have these two disparate parts of me. One wants to just walk out into the woods, build my own cabin, hunt, wear pelts, live off the land, hike, haunt the mountainsides, etc. Just be mist-clung and knot-haired and pull myself out of crevasses and shit. However, I also love air-conditioning and pillows and video games. I get so distracted by technology, caught up in it, and that scares me, but I also see the immense value in it, bask in it. New technology immediately overwhelms, but once our brains quickly rewire themselves, that overwhelming becomes acceptance then ubiquity then impatience and disdain. If I walked into the woods one day and never came back, I’m very sure I’d go through that exact process with the natural world. That might seem trite or obvious, but it’s a tension I struggle with and I think that tension is alive in most of my poems: an attempt to balance the technological and the natural in my life.

 

Also, however, from that one title phrase come three distinct sentences in three separate poems in the book, and each one has its own emotional resonance to me, its own personal connotations. It’s a really pliable phrase I found as I was trying to deploy it. The one in “MAKESHIFT MEMORIAL” deals with the idea that when we’re in high school we tend to think we’re the only ones who have ever felt a certain way or experienced heartache or tried to hide beer cans. We think we’re pioneering being human, when, in fact, we have no idea what being human means yet, being a part of a community, being depended on. The version in “HUMAN RESOURCES” deals with how a romantic relationship will be remembered after it’s gone, down to the anthropological impact of it. And the version in “THERE MUST BE SOMETHING LEFT OF THE MINOTAUR IN ME” deals with escaping a terrible fate because of a combination of luck and desperation and determination.

 

One phrase, four very different ideas. Thank you, Language!

 

 

GL: What is most fascinating/sustaining aspect of contemporary American poetry?  And, by contrast, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about contemporary American poetry, what would you change?

 

AF: Oh, man, am I ever not the one you want to give that wand to! Give that wand to Tony Hoagland, or that curmudgeonly dude from The Huffington Post. If you gave that wand to me I’d probably snap it over my knee like a pool cue.

 

Sure, I could list this and that which I don’t respond to in poetry, but that doesn’t mean it’s an inherently bad or a negative trait, that it has no value to the poetic community. Whenever I hear a contentious discussion about what contemporary American poetry should be like, or should be doing, or where our vast, disparate community of poets has gone wrong, I just go order another bourbon and soda, and play some Loretta Lynn on the jukebox. I don’t even know how I want to write poetry, what I consider good and interesting in my own work; it fluctuates on an hourly basis! Sure, when I was young, I was a dick about writing and had all these bullshit opinions, and felt if someone wrote a poem that didn’t do it for me they were actively trying to ruin the world. People act like that all the time, and good for them, but since I’ve actually learned about poetic history, learned about what people are capable of poetically, learned that as long as art affects someone positively in some way, it’s a force for good. I’ve never read a poem and thought, “This is bullshit! You’re ruining America! You should all be writing like this!” If I read a poem I don’t like or get into, it just means it doesn’t quicken my blood, so I put it down. And that’s fine because most things don’t quicken my blood, most art, most music, but it inevitably quickens someone else’s blood and that’s cool and powerful. Maybe that sounds like a copout, or like I don’t care about the art, or I think poetry is beyond criticism (It’s not.), but I don’t mean to imply any of those things. All I know is that when I walk into my classroom, I have 20 students trying to write a poem and the process always feels really, really good, no matter what the outcome is.

 

 

GL: Who were some of the poets and poetic models who/that helped you write I AM NOT A PIONEER?  Have your tastes or your poetic mode changed greatly since you began the book? And, in general, what’s new with Adam Fell these days?  What are you reading, writing, thinking?

 

AF: I’m always a big fan of poets who try to translate into language some sort of dark, emotional truth. Now, that, of course, can be accomplished in a pretty infinite number of ways, but it’s really contingent on an image, an idea, a narrative, or just a sound hitting me hard in the gut.  It’s so personal of an effect that I’m sure it’s a different kick for everyone. I just find a lot of joy and empathy in really visceral stuff, blood and guts and mistakes and admissions, what’s really aching inside a writer. Berryman is a good place I find that, James Wright and Transtromer, and the fiction of Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy and David Mitchell. I also find a lot of kindness in George Saunders’ work and Italo Calvino, a lot of imagination and world-building and empathy. I adore that in both poetry and fiction and want to try my hand at that. I just read that Richard Siken book, Crush, which ached my blood for days. Daniel Khalastchi’s new book Manoleria destroys me, makes me want to be able to use severe narrative images like that to discuss how political of creatures we all become despite ourselves, despite our attempts at hiding, how important it is to be safe and loved within a community. Matthew Rohrer’s new book, Destroyer and Preserver, just made me want to hug everyone, which is a great feeling, if a bit intrusive to the daily lives of others. And the last couple years I often go back to Chelsey Minnis’s Poemland, because she can say more in a line than I feel like I say in an entire poem. If you can surprise me, make me see the obvious in a new way, you win, so she kicks my ass all over the place.

 

As for what I’m up to: drooling and twitching over the fourth season of Breaking Bad, teaching some kind, intelligent students, co-curating a lovely reading series in Madison called Monsters of Poetry (www.monstersofpoetry.org), and trying to find time to write. I actually tried to take a break from poetry the last two years. Kind of worked, kind of didn’t. Grad school and the intensity and bloodiness of the poems I had been writing for this book really got to me, so I’ve been writing a young adult zombie apocalypse novel since then, and fiction is a whole new inspiring beast. It’s ridiculously freeing! I adore that I have this strange place to go and I can create the narrative and characters. World-building is, apparently, something I enjoy immensely, something that is seeping into my poems more and more. Been trying to find my way back into new poems and that is a possible path, I see now. We’ll see what new world becomes of that, I guess, what new world becomes of us all.

 

 

 

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