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Eugene Gloria

02-04-2013

Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews
 
Eugene Gloria 
 
Water

The street when I was five
was a deep, wide river
coursing through a shimmering city.
I had no need for proper shoes,
no need for long pants.
I didn't yet know how to make
conclusions and say, "Life's like this..."

You could say I was baptized by a red circle
at the center of my forehead-a constellation

of tiny scabs, federated by Mercurochrome.
Why the dots on my forehead?
          And why, you might ask,
did I want to cross the glistening street?
I had crossed my brother and in his anger
he chucked the whiskbroom; its edge-tip
handle smacked my forehead.
I was five, my brother was fifteen.

What was he doing washing his body
at the spigot behind the house?

I caught him bathing
not in the shower where he should've been,
but alone in the small yard, a tin
can in his hand, dousing his head with water.
Why did I laugh when I saw him?
What did I know about anything?
Was this the beginning
of my brother's rage? Was this the birth

of water? The cool drink
an old woman wanted and I, instead of

directing her to the kitchen where
a pitcher of water was chilling in the icebox,
led her to the spigot out back.
There is no story here. No melody
to this song; only a street and what
punishment metes to the one who wants
what he knows he cannot have.
                And the water?

The whole expanse of it-
was only a street I wanted to cross.

 

Detroit

My wife carries this city
like a pebble in the heel of her sock.
My mother-in-law with her dour smile
hands me a bean cake from the front seat.
We are driving through Belle Isle.
We come here for holidays and family.
In the hub of the wheel that is the city
hangs a boxer's hand: Joe Louis's giant fist.
Nobody seems to like this thing.
Why, I can't say for sure.
Does it honor a man who behaved well?
Observed all the cardinal rules of Jim Crow?
Malcolm X met Cassius Clay here in 1962
at a luncheonette where the boxer
extended his arm to shake the minister's hand.
Maybe you saw the photo of them in Harlem
in bold and vivid black and white.
Joe Louis, aka the Sepia Slugger,
the Tan Tornado, didn't pay no mind
to young Cassius Clay, even later
after Ali whupped Sonny Liston.
Nobody likes a misbehaving black man
even when he's right. In 1967,
Ali said, "Man, I ain't got no
         quarrel with them Vietcong."

Suspended from the ring, Ali
would come around again. In Belle Isle
trees testify to urban blight and I am
trying to locate the history of my fear.
The chairs of our dining set are made
from fruitwood trees, chairs
hand-crafted in Italy, bequeathed
to us by my mother-in-law
who bought the set from Hudson's.
Tree branches, foliage, roots, and vines-
everything is spreading across America.
Let me honor this woman who hands me
a bean cake and the woman she was
in 1967 giving birth to my wife.
Let me bless this car containing
our picnic through Belle Isle, across
the Detroit River and the long drive
back to where the past is heaped
and folded like an animal asleep
on the soft shoulder of the road.

 

Young Americans

I was eighteen or nineteen when I pumped gas
on the graveyard shift for Standard Oil
at the company station on 19th Avenue and Irving,
a strange intersection of highway and hamlet.
This was after the Arab oil embargo
when gas was rationed, years before I took
Econ 101 and learned the supply and demand axis
and the word anomaly, which I defined for myself.
Pumping gas and washing dishes were not stupid jobs.
Standard Oil supplied me with laundered shirts
shrink-wrapped and pants on hangers, a blue
waist jacket with my name, John, sewn on it.
There are things you can count on as certain
like having your name on your jacket, or Ziggy
Stardust playing, "John, I'm Only Dancing."
David Bowie turned sixty today, and whether
you call it "climate change" or "global warming,"
we are in a new era of geography, unfolding
a new cartography of grease: Young Americans
with Chevrolets and Fords, we had a boss
named Johnny Chan at Standard Oil.
I drove a `68 Mustang with a V-8 engine,
black grease caked under my fingernails
and gasoline on my pants that smelled
like fresh paint that never dried.
My friend Duane would die of gunshot wound
in a crossfire between warring Chinese gangs-
Joe Fong's crew and the Wah Chings.
Duane was at the Golden Dragon restaurant
in Chinatown with his girlfriend, coming from a dance.
By eight a.m. when my shift ended, I had seen the sun creep
up the stunted buildings, the shop doors creaking open,
the Chronicle truck dropping off the weekend papers.
I had already heard the dark descanting to the street,
the wail of cop cars crescendo by the time I reached home.
What freedom did I bargain for in sleeplessness?
Was it for pleasure of motion, safe in a car?
Fearlessness I've long outgrown?
"Let there be commerce between us," Clyde
said to the undertaker in Bonnie and Clyde.
My one good thesis in college was that
the Barrow Gang was safest in their cars...
Detroit's Big Four was already in trouble.
The exodus from the Motor City began in droves
ten years before my love-in at Standard Oil,
four dozen seasons shy of "Japan Bashings"
and the subsequent murder of Vincent Chin
with a baseball bat, before we named such a thing
as hate crime, before the Exxon Valdez
struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound,
spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil,
a lake of black bigger than the state of Vermont.
Pumping gas in the graveyard shift was
the loneliest job I could find. It was the silence
I bartered for; it was the darkness I knew
the empty highway kept and me illumined
in isolation, catching a glimpse of the ineffable.
David Bowie turned sixty today and I can see
Alan Lau beginning his shift at eight a.m.
Alan, who was more anomaly than I, shuffled to work
on foot, still a little sleepy. The harbors where
we dock our dreams were continents apart,
but there we were trading shifts at Johnny Chan's
gas station-in league with the invisible.

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Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews

Eugene Gloria earned his BA from San Francisco State University, his MA from Miami University of Ohio, and his MFA from the University of Oregon. He is the author of three books of poems -- My Favorite Warlord (Penguin, 2012), Hoodlum Birds (Penguin, 2006) and Drivers at the Short-Time Motel (Penguin, 2000). His honors and awards include a National Poetry Series selection, an Asian American Literary Award, a Fulbright Research Grant, a San Francisco Art Commission grant, a Poetry Society of America award, and a Pushcart Prize. He teaches creative writing and English literature at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. During the 2013 spring semester, he will be the Arts & Sciences Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bowling Green State University. 

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Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews

A "Mini-Review" of Eugene Gloria's My Favorite Warlord by Contributing-Editor David J. Daniels

Like past reviewers, I admire Eugene Gloria's poetry for its meditative examination of Asian-American masculinity and for its power to compress memories and place them into current scenes. There's an efficiency to many of Gloria's poems, maneuvering deftly between past and present experiences in an almost strangely liquid manner. As soon as a reader feels situated, Gloria's vision shifts. In his review of Gloria's early book, Hoodlum Birds, Robert Pinsky praised Gloria's ability to bring "the historical and the contemporary into fresh, vivid relation, so that the street and the museum are no longer sealed off neatly from one another." Pinsky nods here to another of Gloria's gifts: the juxtaposition of personal experiences (those of the street) with those of public storage (or of the museum).

So, too, in his third book, My Favorite Warlord (Penguin Books, 2012), Gloria continues to interrogate the ways in which the past interrupts the present and how private, often familial memories collide with public concerns. Because Gloria is also a poet of landscapes, his mode for addressing these intersections between private and public histories often involves literal mappings, some mythic and imagined, others grounded. Consider, for example, the rich unfolding of "Young Americans," a poem that begins, simply enough, with the memory of a dull teenage job, delivered in plain, unadorned language: "I was eighteen or nineteen when I pumped gas / on the graveyard shift for Standard Oil / at the company station on 19th Avenue and Irving, / a strange intersection of highway and hamlet." From this premise, Gloria quickly shifts gears, accelerating through time and place ("This was after the Arab oil embargo / when gas was rationed, years before I took / Econ 101...) while picking up textures and details from his young adulthood, from Ziggy Stardust on the radio to "a boss / named Johnny Chan," until the poem locates its central concern, the murder of a childhood friend during an instant of gang warfare:

      My friend Duane would die from a gunshot wound
      in a crossfire between warring Chinese gangs -
      Joe Fong's crew and the Wah Chings.
      Duane was at the Golden Dragon restaurant
      in Chinatown with his girlfriend, coming from a dance.
      By eight a.m. when my shift ended, I had seen the sun creep
      up the stunted buildings, the shop doors creaking open,
      the Chronicle truck dropping off the weekend papers.
      I had already heard the dark descanting to the street,
      the wail of cop cars crescendo by the time I reached home.

The movement, to my mind, is kaleidoscopic and impressive: Gloria focuses in, pans out, flashes forward or back, and suspends time for occasional moments of reflection.

In "Young Americans," automobiles recur as the figurative images, those symbols of American prosperity and Motor City promise, that hold the poem's remembered details together: first, the '68 Mustang owned by the speaker; later, The Chronicle delivery truck; later still, the getaway car from Bonnie and Clyde, about which the speaker had written a decent college paper. With cars, of course, comes grease, whether caked beneath the speaker's fingernails or spilled into Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez, both of which appear in the poem. And it's significant that "Young Americans" is, as I regard it, only partially an elegy to Duane, for Gloria adopts a grander responsibility as a poet: not just as an elegist, but as a public chronicler, of co-workers and neighborhoods, of gang warfare, of an era marked as much by David Bowie as it is by the threat of global warming. All are crammed with remarkable force and hustle into "Young Americans," a poem bearing witness to "a new era of geography, unfolding / a new cartography of grease."

Elsewhere, such interruptions between past and present bring with them an ironic turn, as in "Here, on Earth," a poem about identity and cultural assimilation that takes place in a popular pho restaurant during a wicked storm: "The booths here are lit by bright faces: / Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Filipino. / Hundreds of years on their faces!" The speaker, dining with his wife, notices a fellow customer enter, a "bottle-blond salaryman" who reminds him of his father, yet just as the speaker begins to meditate upon their similarities, his waiter interrupts, in somewhat comic fashion:

     Over the no. 1 and no. 3 appetizers,

     we are speculating, my wife and I,
     where the salaryman comes from -
     Manila or Saigon?

     Oh, but here comes Peter with our orders
     of steaming bowls of pho. Our faces
     shining like klieg lights.

     Inside this booth, my moon face
     is a lantern in the mainstream
     lengthening, lengthening.

     Here, on earth we are curtained by rain.
     A subset in the far corners floating
     toward the center. We are an island

     in landlocked America. We are
     Thai, Filipino, and Vietnamese.
     We are, all of us, post exotics.

I love the tone that Gloria manages here, the earnest lyricism of ‘we are curtained by rain' juxtaposed with the more absurd details of klieg lights and bottle-blond salesmen. I love too (though perhaps don't fully grasp) the commentary Gloria offers here about exoticism, the complexities of Asian-American identity politics and cultural assimilation, and the refusal among the dead to be fully restored through memory.

These are qualities, in both tone and subject matter, that Gloria sustains throughout My Favorite Warlord, as in the book's following poem "Apple," which begins: "My people are never the same in memory. / They are the dead come back for a picnic, / a table set with plates of sliced apples. / I am there somewhere hidden in a tree." Or later, in "Detroit," a poem about Jim Crow laws and urban despair, Asian-American and black masculinity, Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali. It's another car ride, literally through Belle Isle, but also metaphorically through America's history of racial violence, in which Gloria writes:

                                          ... I am
      trying to locate the history of my fear.
      The chairs of our dining set are made
      from fruitwood trees, chairs
      handcrafted in Italy, bequeathed
      to us by my mother-in-law
      who bought the set from Hudson's.
      Tree branches, foliage, roots, and vines -
      everything is spreading across America.

As rooted in specific place as most of his poems are, Gloria just as readily eschews time-sense in order to locate opportunities for lyrical mysticism; many of the poems in the book are psalms. One of the strongest poems, the book's first, titled "Water," highlights Gloria's meditative grace. It begins with a childhood memory and, once again, a place: "The street when I was five / was a deep, wide river / coursing through a shimmering city." In it, the speaker recalls a moment of early violence between himself and his older brother, an angry man who takes on both erotic and terrifying qualities. The brother has chucked a whiskbroom at the speaker's forehead; the speaker later catches his brother washing in the outdoor spigot. What I admire is its closure, dramatically led up to by a series of questions that signal Gloria's central concerns - familial and cultural heritage, the restorative powers of memory, and the location of self within confusing landscapes:

      Why did I laugh when I saw him?
      What did I know about anything?
      Was this the beginning
      of my brother's rage? Was this the birth

      of water? The cool drink
      an old woman wanted and I, instead of

     directing her to the kitchen where
     a pitcher of water was chilling in the icebox,
     led her to the spigot out back.
     There is no story here. No melody
     to this song; only a street and what
     punishment metes to the one who wants
     what he knows he cannot have.
                      And the water?

     The whole expanse of it -
     was only a street I wanted to cross.

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Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews

Publishers Weekly Review of My Favorite Warlord

Fathers and sons; brothers, sisters, and immigrant culture; Filipino heritage and multicultural San Francisco; and-perhaps most prominent-the ideals and limits of Japanese martial tradition animate this lively, fast-paced third book from Gloria (Hoodlum Birds). His technique varies too, with a norm of broad-shouldered, no-nonsense free verse interspersed with quatrain, sonnet, pantoum, and haibun, a Japanese hybrid of verse and prose. Some of them are delicate, nearly funereal ("life unlike lacquer will always be rounded"), but others are tough, like the titular warlord, Hideyoshi, who organized the samurai and re-unified Japan. This "coarse man" stands in opposition to the poet's own Filipino immigrant father, "a big soft man in his pink T-shirt," commemorated in a six-part elegy. "My brother, who is quick/ to anger and prone to unreason" takes over other, more unsettled poems. Gloria establishes himself as a poet of memory, of masculinity, as well as of Asian-American political identity (with, for example, an elegy to Vincent Chin, slain in a famous anti-Asian hate crime). His formal resourcefulness and his attention to manhood, its symbols, its troubles, place him in the company of Bruce Smith, though his work will also, and rightly, find another niche among other Asian-American writers; Gloria (who teaches at DePauw University in Indiana) sets himself confidently against injustice, in favor of inquiry, amid the eclectic language of contemporary scenes. 

 

Poet's Choice: A Review of Hoodlum Birds by Robert Pinsky first published by the Washington Post

Eugene Gloria's new book, Hoodlum Birds , demonstrates a central quality of poetry: depth of language, the power to get past the first surfaces of words and of things. Or to put it differently, the power to hear harmonies beyond the obvious ones, finding new undertones of meaning.

Instead of the customary, sensible and predictable word, poetry discovers one that vibrates with meaning. When Shakespeare says "Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow" (in Sonnet 30), the lethal and exaggerated meaning of "drown" communicates an ambivalent, self-critical feeling: His weepy mood may be self-indulgent or less than clear-sighted.

Gloria's book brings the historical and the contemporary into fresh, vivid relation, so that the street and the museum are no longer sealed off neatly from one another. He finds the buried historical passions underlying a world of Cadillacs and fistfights. And conversely, he finds a contemporary urgency in violent saints' lives. Gloria's material is not limited to a tough American neighborhood or a 12th-century Andalucian Jewish poet, but traces the currents of feelings and ideas that run between the two.
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I don't mean simply his eclectic range of reference -- though it is pleasing to read poems that can speak with conviction about the poet Lorca and the painter Zurburán and with similar passion about the boxer Flash Elorde or the neighborhoods of Manila and Anaheim. Beyond that, and beyond the mere metaphor-making ability to see things in terms of other things, the poems attain a robust sense of reality. The title brings the language of the first term, "hoodlum," together with the observed reality of the second term, "birds." That simple procedure is richly imagined:

     Hoodlum Birds

     The fearless blackbirds see me again
     at the footpath beside the tall grasses
     sprouting like unruly morning hair.
     They caw and caw like vulgar boys
     on street corners making love to girls
     with their "hey mama
     this" and their "hey mama that."
     But this gang of birds is much too slick.
     They are my homeys of the air
     with their mousse-backed hair and Crayola
     black coats like small fry hoods who smoke
     and joke about each other's mothers,
     virginal sisters, and the sweet arc of revenge.
     These birds spurn my uneaten celery sticks,
     feckless gestures, ineffective hosannas.
     They tag one another, shrill and terrible,
     caroling each to each my weekly wages.
     But they let me pass, then flit away.
     They won't mess with me this time--
     they know where I live.

I like the way "each to each" sounds both like Renaissance lyric poetry and the screech of the birds. I like the literary flamboyance of "feckless gestures, ineffective hosannas" played against the vernacular flamboyance of "small fry hoods who smoke/and joke." And I like the way the merging of birds with gang boys finds its resolution in the last line, with "where I live" implying that the poet is not completely unlike the bird-toughs. "Where I live" is part of the street-threat but also a phrase that means "what is important to me." That implication of fellow-feeling with his subject is part of Gloria's imaginative generosity.

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Poems - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interviews

An Interview with Eugene Gloria by Jenna Bazzell and Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

Jenna Bazzell & Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum: In "Water," you open in the first person and, fairly quickly, invoke the second person "you" in the second stanza. What effect are you going for by doing this?

Eugene Gloria: The effect I was going for was to set up the "I" as both you (the reader) and me (the speaker). The switch to second person felt inevitable in part because I was reading Richard Hugo's The Real West Marginal Way, his collection of essays on craft when I was working on this poem. I was quite taken by his piece called "Self-Interview." This was six years ago and I think it was Derek Walcott's long poem "The Prodigal," which stayed with me for a long time and in particular this line: "This is the music of memory, water" and it became a kind of mantra for me when I was writing my poem. Memory, of course, is a huge subject for me and for most poets I imagine. The swift switch in point of view felt necessary to leap into this mode of interrogation as the speaker in the poem is attempting to draw some meaning from his unreliable memory. I think what happens when we're inside a poem or well within the process of making one, is that we find ourselves conversing with the things we're reading. But when the poem was eventually ready to let go of me, it turned into this investigation of my relationship with my oldest brother and how my earliest memories of him were often tinged with anger and violence. Making this discovery in writing the poem also opened doors for me, in later revisions of my book, My Favorite Warlord. Water became a recurrent theme of the collection.

JB & AMK: How did you come up with this concept of addressing an unnamed "you"? Was it always part of the poem or did it enter into it as you revised?

EG: Point of view is usually something I tend to play around with during the revision process. What I find liberating about the second person point of view is allowing the "you" in the poem the flexibility to stand for the imagined reader as well as the "I," or the speaker in the poem as well. So in keeping with the poem's theme, the speaker is addressing himself.

JB & AMK: Speaking of revision, how much do you typically revise your poetry? How many drafts or how much time would you say "Water" went through and how important was that time to this poem; how much of the poem came to be as a result of revision versus how much of the poem "fell out of the sky" in its initial draft?

EG: I think it took at least two to three years to finish "Water." Though there were long spells when I didn't look at the poem for several months. I am envious of poets like John Ashbery whose poems, I've heard him say, require very little revision. Then there's another poet I once knew who took meticulous care in organizing her revision process through various folders, chronologically ordered, containing drafts of a single poem. This allowed her to revisit earlier versions in which a good line that was later cut could be salvaged. I am not as organized as she nor as clever as Ashbery. Lately I've adopted a method learned at an artist colony: pinning drafts of my poems on a giant corkboard in my kitchen so that I can view a hard copy of my poem while drinking my morning cup of coffee. I love how I can revisit my lines from a fresh perspective everyday.

JB & AMK: You use a number of questions in "Water," which seem to encourage reader participation or to almost demand it in some instances. What effect on the reader do you think these questions have or don't have? What effect were you going for in using so many questions in this particular poem?

EG: I think that the poem is more interested in interrogating memory, or in the poem's case, the speaker's younger self rather than seeking the reader's participation. What music there is in memory is perhaps what the speaker discovers about boundaries, as he tries to interrogate the younger self who refuses a poor woman the common courtesy of a glass of water. I think that's the tension I was looking for in the poem.

JB & AMK: Only two lines are indented in this poem, both of which begin with "And." What is the choice behind indenting these two lines in particular and why was it important for you to call attention to these lines by indenting them?

EG: I love getting lost in a poem when I try to revise something that's been sitting around for a long, long time. An earlier version of "Water" was in prose and lyric lines. I was experimenting with the haibun form among other things around this time and so this poem began in prose and broke up into lines. Then I decided to capsize the haibun structure entirely. I settled on the shorter lines and wanted to create more spacing to create this illusion of vastness and introspection. The shorter lines were a way not only to speed up the poem, but also avoid making the poem seem like prose. Also, I think that the line breaks I finally settled on afforded the possibility of tension. The dramatic indents beginning with "And," in retrospect, may seem slightly melodramatic; but at the time I felt that the space I created with the indented lines also allowed for hesitation and deep pause, visual markers suggesting the speaker's intense engagement with his imagined interviewer. The second indented conjunction is an attempt to draw from the emphatic power inherent in repetition. But having said all this, I think that how we break our lines is purely by instinct.

JB & AMK: "Detroit" uses a simile to establish the wife's perspective of the city, while the rest of the poem is focused on the mother-in-law and honoring her presence and perspective. What effect are you trying to achieve by the use of the simile of the wife's perspective of the city in comparison to that of the mother in law?

EG: Both the speaker's wife and mother-in-law are from Detroit. The speaker is not. I am fascinated by the story of Detroit and my fascination is steadfast and ongoing. It is, in many ways, symbolic of my coming to poetry in the first place because of my affection for Philip Levine's poems when I was a student years ago. But the poem's presence in this collection is significant because a sub-theme of the book is "1967" and attempts to echo the turbulence of the riots in Detroit that same year my wife was born. In the poem I try to imagine the complexity of that historical period for a woman of color who is not black and living in Detroit during that time. What I try to imagine occurring in the poem is how my mother-in-law tries to negotiate the tension of the race riots surrounding her with the birth of her child.

JB & AMK: There is a noticeable change in diction in the poem when you use the word "whupped" and "didn't pay no mind," which is distinctly different from the language in the rest of the poem. I just finished teaching a class on dialect and how to use it without... going too far. Are you ever concerned that using dialect/vernacular might offend a reader or confuse them? Forgive me here, I guess I'm looking for some teaching tips!

EG: The landscape of my poem is urban. I'm not aware that I'm speaking in a dialect or trying to appropriate one. I grew up in San Francisco where there is so much racial and ethnic diversity. I went to Catholic schools and attended a Jesuit preparatory school. But I also lived in a bicameral house so to speak. I kept two sets of friends-those I hung out with at the prep school and those I hung out with in my neighborhood. Now I'm not trying to say that my neighborhood friends who went to public schools were thugs and my Catholic school classmates were angels who spoke only in proper English. I'm trying only to suggest that like most young people where I was growing up, I maintained two sets of spoken languages.

At home was another story entirely. My father was quite proper, but my mother, a religious, well-dressed lady had a sailor's salty tongue. These aspects of my growing up in San Francisco I think eventually fed into my poems. I say this now, because I am also a teacher and I expect my students to take better care of how they inhabit language. Dean Young says: "People use language for two reasons: to be understood and not be understood." I think poetry always operates within this tension. My students have their own vocabulary among their friends and they adopt a modified version of this language when they speak to me in class. One of my favorite exercises is having my students make a list of idioms, or listing their least favorite clichés and expressions they grew up hearing. A white student from Indiana wrote that her grandmother used to tell her, "You better hush, child, or I'll slap you like a redheaded stepchild." How rich is that! That's certainly an expression I didn't know. A black student came up with a similar expression that I did happen to know: "You better shut your mouth or I'll slap the black out of you." Am I familiar with the latter expression because I'm also a person of color?

I was preparing my students in reading Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary. What I love about Mullen's work is that she's always playing around with language. Her improvisational wordplay insinuates meaning, opening up new possibilities of utterances that are always surprising. I think she's also interested in cultural constructions of identity without being didactic.

Warming up in workshop is like drilling for black gold in order to let those creative juices to flow without any impediments in the company of people we hope we can trust. How someone responds to another's language during the workshop session is another matter. Still, it is ultimately the writer's decision to stick to her words or acknowledge how best to suffer the consequences of another's offense. Revisiting that younger, more foolish self, a fellow who allows his girlfriend to make decisions for him was considered "pussy whupped." Today when people say so-and-so got a real "ass whuppin" the expression triggers an emotion that for me means a shameful defeat the way another person from a different generation might describe Manny Pacquiao "getting clocked" by Juan Manuel Marquez in the final seconds of the sixth round during their recent (and I hope final) fight. My only concern with using the word "whupped" was making sure I got the spelling right. "Ass whuppin" is familiar spoken but seldom seen in print. So getting a consistent spelling of the word "whupped" for my poem was a bigger challenge. I love the collision between high and low language (if there is such a thing in contemporary American English) that I occasionally hear happening inside a poem. It is a necessary recklessness I can live with in my poems. I think I favor poetry over all the other arts because it privileges and celebrates the various carols of human speech.

JB & AMK: What effect in changing this language are you trying to achieve at this point in "Detroit"? How important is language to you as a poet and reader in general? I know that seems like a dumb question, but I'm wondering how much you think about language versus other, more specific issues/tools of the poet.

EG: I am always finding myself astonished by words and expressions that come out of people's mouths. Not only in the mash-ups and memes we find on the Internet, but even the mundane twist of words formed by a loved one's accent. I can't seem to let go of my mother's answering machine greeting when her lingering Tagalog accent mixing her ps for fs reward me with a possibility for a future poem. Her message ends with this savory directive: "Please leave us a message after the long beef..." Now I know that one of these days I'm going to have to write a poem about "a long beef." I think the poet's most powerful tool is her ear. At the beginning of every semester when I'm teaching a writing workshop, I tell my students that the two lessons they should live by after our class is over is to read a lot and to pay attention.




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