Poem New Fans Should Read First
"Dojo" was the last poem I wrote that made it into Suicide by Jaguar, and if you want to know what my next book looks and feels like, it's "Dojo." There's an easy point of entry for the poem and it really has a signature structure for my work. Old fans may miss the longer, meandering lines, but I'm attempting to communicate more clearly than I ever have before. Communicating with the reader (via the poem) means more to me than the line or the artifice of the poem. If you can't hear me out, the poem has failed us both. I think my longer lines had a tendency of getting in the way of communicating and drawing more attention to themselves, simply for the sake of stunting on whoever was reading it. In "Dojo" the attention is on the entire poem as a complete unit of communication. David Berman (one of my favorite poets) has a line that says "I want to say something plain so we are both comforted by the honesty" and I think that's an ambitious and satisfying goal to work towards as a poet.
Poem that Showcases me Best as a Poet
For some reason this question made me go straight to thinking of rhyme and alliteration and musicality. That's annoying. There's more musicality, meter, and rhyme in my next book than in Suicide by Jaguar. "Perhaps Loons" stands out as a showcase poem. It's a poem that starts in a free-standing Sbarro's and meanders around the atmosphere before returning in an unexpected way. Each section has its own form. There's a certain amount of flexing in this poem that's deliberate, but the flex is more on the music of the poem and its integrated forms than the lines themselves.
Poem that Best Showcases me as a Writer
"Small Victories" is an imitation of Tomas Transtromer's Baltics. The format of Baltics was liberating to me. I can write long lines that pack a lot of tension and kinetic energy in them, and Transtromer's willingness to jump from subject to subject from each stanza/paragraph to the next gave me a confidence to pursue the language of my lines in this poem, as opposed to the form. Kathleen Rooney, a friend and professor of Creative Writing at DePaul University, teaches "Small Victories" to intro to poetry students to show them that poetry can be all sorts of ideas and structures and doesn't have to limit itself to one topic. What if you did an entire movie trilogy in one poem? Give me the origin story, the dark times, go to the future, and come back again. That's kind of like "Small Victories." I like how the poem tracks horizontally and vertically across time, space, and terrain. "What is beauty?" is always a fertile question for poetry - why not start the conversation with Burger King and head to a bull fight along the way to answering the question?
Poem I have to Read at a Reading or People Will Riot
Right now, it's a shorter poem called "Platform" in the next book. It used to be "O Brendan Fraser" or "Kick-Ass". Those are still good poems for the right crowd.
Poem I Always Want to Read at a Reading no Matter What
"Earth is Where I Keep My Stuff" - some poems just work regardless of the individual crowd or vibe, and this is one of them. I also like to read it because I feel like its a good buffer poem to place other work in front and back of. "Earth is Where I Keep My Stuff" draws a lot of my main themes as a poet into one poem. Tony Hoagland told me it was beautiful after hearing me read it live. A British artist named Orly Orbach created a series of illustrations based on the poem that still resonate with me. I wrote it so quick that sometimes I feel I take it for granted, but when I give it back to people at a reading I realize I didn't really write it for myself.
A poem I wish I could edit published versions of
"Brazilian Women's National Volleyball Team" - When I read BWNVT it feels a little too distant. For a poem about memory, that's thematically apt, but I don't think it does what the poem wants to do, which is be a little bit more upset and indignant about the ridiculous framing that we put on our hours, days, and our memories.
Poem in my Next Manuscript that was Easy to Write
"Berserker" is a poem I wrote about doing a bunch of mushrooms and playing basketball with my friends. It came out very easily because I knew exactly where I was going, which is not normal for me when I begin writing.
"Plane Country Song" also came out very easily and it's significant in that it taught me that I should write more country song poems. I wrote one country song in Suicide by Jaguar, "Apocalypse Country Song". The next book has about 8 Country Song poems. Country Songs mean a couple different things in the context of the book, but what they really allow me to do is poetically capture the kinetic energy that I used to physically display in my lines. Amazing country songwriters like Jimmy Webb or Bobby Braddock used to do this with great ease. The country song may be the most definitive American art form that exists. Here I am aspiring to it - my pen as a slide guitar.
Weirdest Poem in my Books
I have a poem about masturbation in my next book, "Dreamboat," that goes into some uncomfortable territory for me and for the poem itself. There's a lot of pornographic topics in my next book. Most people don't like to get caught with their dick in their hand, but I'm going there. Vice is a sensation I'm very interested in at the moment. I'd like to think that I'm engaging with vices and pornography in a meaningful way in this book, but I know writing about eating pussy is going to make people squirm. Some of you probably squirmed just reading that. What does this say about poetry? Or the act of reading when thinking about the body and pornography? Language as a sexual signifier? I'm still working through these ideas, and I think most readers are too, if they are honest with themselves.
Poem that still makes me emotional
"Cygnus" is an elegy for my Uncle Ralphie. With each year that passes it gets harder and harder to read. It's strange to birth something out of grief only to have it give you more and more grief as the years pass. I'd have to be in some kind of mood to read it live. When I read it I see the faces of his sisters in my eyes. I miss my uncle.
Poem I'm surprised is a fan favorite
"Miami Hates You". I didn't know what I had when I wrote it. I was saying goodbye to Miami and I was intuiting a lot of what I thought I would feel when I left. Miamians really resonate with the poem. I remember seeing hats in South Beach that said "MIAMI HATES YOU" on them a few months after my book came out. I still want one of those hats. I really am surprised with how people relate to the poem, especially given that there's this strange diversion into an abandoned condo building where pigeons and chimps have domesticated one another in the climate apocalypse. But I guess that's the kind of shit I do.