An earlier version of this poem was published by First Things. A friend on Facebook mentioned it yesterday, which prompted me to revisit it this morning and change a few things that have always bothered me.
You said it, Charlie Brown.
Though all we get is grief,
they only knock us down
to topple our belief
that one day, maybe soon,
the meek will all inherit
and Lucy change her tune.
I don’t think they could bear it
the way we do: to rise
in failure and begin
where we left off, unwise,
knowing we’ll fall again.
And in our darkest mood
to still allow for Good.
Novelist and columnist Dayne Sherman was good enough to interview me recently via email for Louisiana Libraries. I’m attaching a copy of the interview here as a PDF. We talk briefly about my collection, Lord’s Own Anointed, the role my hometown and religious upbringing play in the poems, and my collaboration with Rob Fairburn.
Click here to read the full interview.
I will be reading with Simeon Berry and heather hughes at 6:30 PM on August 31 at the Cambridge Public Library (449 Broadway, Cambridge 02138). Click here to see the Facebook event page to let us know you’re coming and to invite all of your friends.
I am incredibly excited to read with these two poets. The event is hosted by Dan Wuenschel, a consummate host. I’ve attended a number of Dan’s poetry events over the past few years (and, I might add, he killed it a few months ago at Mr. Hip Presents); it is an honor to have the opportunity to enjoy some time behind the podium this time around.
I’ll be reading from Lord’s Own Anointed, of course, with copies available for sale. I’ll also read some new work, in case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to since the book came out. I hope to see you there!
Here are some commandments I have heard thundering from on high at my writing desk. Don’t take them too seriously, please. Except for #10. I humbly submit that if we all took more pleasure and pride in the success of others than in our own, the poetry world would be a much happier place. (I’m not saying it is easy, mind you. I fear I may never master it.)
- First thought: worst thought.
- Make it you.
- Go where your gut keeps telling you not to go. You’ve made it to the abandoned asylum. It’s not enough to throw rocks through the windows. Step inside.
- The vast majority of people out there don’t give a shit about poetry. Your poems, however, should care a great deal about those people. Write for those who never intend to read you.
- The speaker is never you.
- The speaker is always you.
- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your pop culture references.
- There is more to life than Shakespeare, Greek myth, and other canon fodder– your reader will care more about the life imbued in your poems than the content of your footnotes.
- Why should I read your poems rather than, say, binge watch Parks and Recreation on Netflix?
- For your soul’s sake, endeavor to celebrate the success of others more than your own.
My first collection of poetry, Lord’s Own Anointed, is now available at www.dosmadres.com.
This collection encompasses over a decade of writing and revising (and rewriting, and revising, and more revising, and…)
Though many of the poems were drafted while I lived in Boston and Brazil, the collection centers on the rural Louisiana of my youth. It features drawings done in pencil and ink by Rob Fairburn, a longtime friend of mine who grew up in my hometown. Rob’s drawings represent a special collaboration that I am particularly proud of–it’s a rare gift for a writer to work with an artist, particularly one who shares an intimate knowledge of the world in the poems.
In time I’ll share news about the book as it becomes available, including upcoming readings in Louisiana, Boston, New York, and elsewhere. Stay tuned!
This week I have been dipping a bit into the creepy stories of H.P. Lovecraft and delighting in the sensation of having the hair on the back of my neck stand up through the sheer electricity of words. I recently read a poem that had the same effect, in the current issue of The Hudson Review. I’m referring to Ernest Hilbert’s masterful “Insomnia Redux,” which aside from being beautifully wrought (the beam of a flashlight passing over a chair casts “a harp of shadows”) is genuinely eerie and unsettling. I’ll let you get to the chilling denouement on your own.
Tonight I returned to a passage that has stuck with me for years, from an introduction to the poet Chimako Tada in The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry (J.D. McClatchy, Ed.) The passage quotes Tada’s philosophy of poetry and expresses why poetry has such a spellbinding effect on some of us.
In poetry…all the elements work functionally, each word having a numerical value that changes constantly along with the changes of syntax. When dealing with even a short poem the reader must engage his intellectual energy to follow an equation of almost infinite complexity. How does such difficult work come to be experienced as pleasure? Because the concrete images and situations and structures presented by the poem satisfy not only the senses and the emotions but also the brain’s capacity for performing intellectually delicate work. And when to that satisfaction with decoding is added the poetic impact of glimpses of the utterly unexpected, of some other world, the resulting pleasure can approach that bliss which is among the most sublime experiences available to humans.
I do not know if the “numerical value” of words she evokes relates somehow to Japanese prosody, to some more mystical quantification, or something else entirely, but I can say that I have sensed this kind of intellectual work going on when I have become deeply engaged in reading poems. It happens after several read-throughs, when the words have begun to adhere to the mind through repetition, and new senses become apparent, or one notices felicities of sound that were missed in earlier readings. There will always be, in our enjoyment of good poems, an infinite progression of pleasures extending just beyond the reach of our ability to comprehend them.
Here is a link to a Chimako Tada poem that I particularly like.