Poems - Alternate Drafts - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Essay - Interview
Cannot Contain Us
I love how your all-terrain
vehicle bursts from the closet
carrying a pipe and admiring itself
in the broken mirror,
I love how it becomes
on the side of a steep hill
refusing to be obliterated by the sun.
I love a thundercloud
in a tangerine, the wing of a tree limb
so that you think the trees will be soon aloft
in the unexpected storm,
how your vehicle all-terrain slinks and gnashes,
how the scroll of its wake
seems a superfluous story so discontingent
we throw ourselves into rivers
and at the opening of the cave I love standing
as first a few looping scouts
and then a gush of bats
reverse-whirlpool into the sky, the sun bleeding as usual,
invisible cork popped from disfigured
hundreds of thousands of wobbly, pregnant huntresses
and sudden scatters and breaks
the swarm/flock/murder/mob/colony's tight formation
like the glue soup of homemade bombs parting
only the screws
and nails are quiet and gentle in the air
as drifting sheets of paper.
I love how your all-terrain vehicle's mirrors
and scrape the road when the road is a road
and trembling behind you
more than the ear can hold,
that it can still at this late stage be astonished.
There are those who refuse to believe in the capacity of the body
to withstand, to dole out, to make of soothing a Real
that leaches into other feeling things in existence
I am not one of them. Exhibit
alphabet: Your all-terrain vehicle. It gets fucked
into giddy moments of oblivion
and I love that. I love the breathing deeply,
the circling back to yourself, the slow dents of cool
a body after it has been an engine of fire
and how in love, vehicle, in awe, even the air
is a consoling gesture.
All Souls Procession
Bicycles dressed in animal suits
thread double and triple-tiered
spun in the ashen dusk,
drums and rattles ask and ask.
Fabergé skulls wearing matadors and mistresses
steal down 4th Avenue, brief anti-Lethe
upon a paved
Lethe. One Lady Liberty
is a shrouded effigy in a wheeled casket,
one a cloud-gowned girl
trying to be still while perched
on a rusted car adorned with beads.
At the mouth of the underpass,
urns hold flames which
can't touch the darkness.
Gold women dance prepositionally,
navigating yoked torches,
and bandage-wrapped figures
with square feathers jutting from their masks
lurch and glide on stilts and crutches
like forms moving
over us in our dreams.
A woman turns her head
her head is the head of a giant wolf
lacquered with mirror shards
so for a moment it is impossible to see yourself
except broken and multiplied.
Somehow you are
all still you. The train bleats
like an exasperated
gang of saxophones,
night's finished with us, we are confetti
stepping into a burst of wind.
How we want.
How we want
to cup each haphazard flash
in the blurred photograph of our hands.
Poems - Alternate Drafts - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Essay - Interview
Click here to read a forthcoming version of This Pantsuit Cannot Contain Us
Click here to read early drafts of This Pantsuit Cannot Contain Us and All Souls Procession
Marc McKee received
his MFA from the University of Houston and his PhD from the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he lives with
his wife, Camellia Cosgray. His work has appeared in various journals, such as Barn Owl Review, Boston
Review, Cimarron Review, Conduit, Copper Nickel, Crazyhorse, diagram,
Forklift, Ohio, lit, and Pleiades. He is the author of a chapbook, What Apocalypse?,
which won the New Michigan Press/diagram 2008 Chapbook Contest, and two full-length collections: Fuse (Black
Lawrence Press, 2011), and Bewilderness (forthcoming, Black Lawrence Press, 2014).
Poems - Alternate Drafts - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Essay - Interview
A "Mini-Review" of Marc McKee's Featured
Poems by Contributing-Editor Zachary Macholz
Mark McKee’s poems
are not for the faint of heart. They are not for people who need to keep their feet proverbially on the ground when
reading a poem, or those who need poems to fit into neat little boxes of themselves. If you like your poems to make
literal sense, to have a clear or even obvious “meaning,” the first time you read them, these poems aren’t
for you. Or at least, that’s what I thought. I’m generally one of “those people.” I often
get uncomfortable with the feeling of being completely untethered in a poem. I always want to be grounded some place
solid and familiar. Mark McKee’s poems don’t do that. But they don’t float listlessly, either.
No, they fly, and they fly at incredible speeds. At moments plummeting, and at others, weightless, poems like “This
Pantsuit Cannot Contain Us,” and “All Souls Procession,” are the poetic equivalent of a runaway
train headed for a trestle over a deep canyon, except the trestle turns out not to be there. Once you’re on
board, though, you find the ride so enjoyable that when you do plunge over the cliff’s edge, you do it smiling, with
your heart pounding joyfully in your chest.
“This Pantsuit Cannot Contain Us,” certainly seems odd at first glance. I mean, from whence is this
pantsuit, and why is it failing to contain this “us?” Who is “us?” What’s the metaphor
behind this “all-terrain vehicle,” that recurs throughout the poem? These are the kinds of ridiculously
narrow-minded questions my brain is desperately seeking a logical answer to after the first read. But then I decide
that, at least for a couple of minutes, it’s alright to stop being so uptight. I slough off my stuffy biases
and reenter the poem not with the intention of reading it, or making meaning of it, but instead, intending to simply
experience and enjoy it. So I do. And that’s when it hits me: the sheer joy of it. The white-knuckled wildness
of it. This isn’t a poem that’s merely about something. It’s a poem that is about everything.
It’s here and there, it’s all around. It’s about the human body, its vanity, its fragility, its
capacity for love. It leaps from metaphor to image to simile and back and forth between each, each seemingly independent
from the next, yet somehow inexplicably, tangentially linked in the back of my mind.
And though seemingly
intentionally disparate, the images are linked by the fact that they are things the speaker loves. The first several
sentences begin with “I love,” before the poem makes its philosophical turn with “There are those
who refuse to believe in the capacity of the body / to withstand, to dole out…” and then ultimately
returns to “I love,” in the final sentence. The poem propels itself forward by varying line length unpredictably
from line to line, and relying mainly on line breaks to create pause. The line breaks are largely syntactical, and
there are commas, but only the absolutely necessary ones. With several sentences a half-dozen or so lines long (and
one that extends to seventeen lines) on lines of varying length, and only the necessary punctuation, the poem rides
on the edge of breathlessness, seemingly appropriate for the poem’s subject matter. There is the occasional
exact rhyme buried subtly in the middle of consecutive lines, but it’s the assonance and consonance of the
poem’s many subtle off rhymes that really holds the single free verse stanza together sonically as the lines
fling themselves forward joyously towards the poem’s gorgeous ending.
Procession,” doesn’t have the same feeling of lines that are recklessly sprinting across and down the
page. Like a procession, this poem’s momentum is much more evenly tempered, reined in by its tercet form and
its comparatively even length of lines. This move away from formal abandon to a pace more trot than gallop echoes the
poem’s subject matter nicely. The poem’s images are obviously more closely linked, especially given the
title, and so we don’t need to fly as swiftly from one to the next, but rather want to soak in the totality
of the scene. The poem features “Bicycles dressed in animal suits,” “flames which can’t
touch the darkness,” “gold women,” who “dance prepositionally,” and a woman with a
head that “is the head of a giant wolf.” Instead of speeding, the poem takes its time in matter-of-factly
describing each image so as not to oversell or overdramatize what is a surreal, at times macabre scene. This poem’s
joy is not in the way it runs, but in what it sees, and how it dwells in its almost dream-like surrealism. The poem
describes the procession in such a way that situates us in a world which seems almost literally to be hell on earth.
The description of the series of strange images and characters blurs the line between image and metaphor. In the
poem’s haunting final sentence—“How we want / to cup each haphazard flash // in the blurred photograph
of our hands”—that distinction disappears completely.
of these poems are rich with meaning, and that meaning is contained as much within the poems’ movements as
their words. Though formally quite different, they each show a world that is recognizably our own, but which is full of
the unorthodox and unexpected. These are poems that challenge whatever small truths I think I know about poetry and
what it should do and how it should function. They are poems that make me rethink what it is I want to get out of
a reading—and writing—a poem. Things making sense isn’t enough anymore. That’s easy. Marc
McKee’s poems make more than sense. They make revelry and exhilaration and joy explode onto the page in a
way that begs us to explore another view of the world, and in light of it, to reexamine our own. What more could
we possibly hope for from our poems?
Poems - Alternate Drafts - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Essay - Interview
A Review of Marc McKee's What Apocalypse?
by Eric Weinstein, originally found at Prick of the Spindle
There are a few collections of poetry in print today that are near-perfectly
titled; Marc McKee’s What Apocalypse? is one of them.
McKee’s well-honed sense of irony and impressive wit cut through each poem at surprising angles, revealing
the dark humor that lies just below the surface of our world’s end. From the opening line of “We Are
All Going to Die and I Love You” (“The world is ending again”) to the last few words of “Electric
Company” (“Your night comes swift to my dawn / like a desperate, wasteful kiss / that tells me we are
still alive, / and won’t be”), What Apocalypse? presents us with the somewhat disturbing, occasionally
humorous, and all-too-human implications of the reader’s presence at Armageddon.
In “Attack Attack,” McKee invites us to consider:
[...] how long it takes
surviving fragments to leach through
the bottom of a coffin, the close room
we wear to the twilight of not being
likewise reminds us that “we move in the air of this world / which will cover the dent we made when we leave.”
In a sense, then, the end of the world does not necessarily depend on the end of the physical earth—after
all, in a number of these poems, it explicitly remains—but relies instead on the destruction of individual
consciousnesses. In many cases, it is “our” world (or worlds) that is (or are) being obliterated; they
can even be destroyed more than once. This is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, in
which a Bokononist’s last words upon committing suicide are: “Now I will destroy the whole world...”
Whether McKee’s sensibility
in this collection is strictly existential is debatable, but it is clear he believes the world can only be understood—or,
possibly, that it only exists—through the lens of human existence, and not in any absolute or abstract way;
with such an individualistic and subjective worldview at work, it is easy for us to understand that in McKee’s
universe, our private lives can be destroyed while an uninvolved bystander (or perhaps the world itself) looks
on, asking us, “apocalypse? What apocalypse?”
A Review of Marc McKee's Fuse by
Jeff Simpson, originally found at The Fiddleback
When seasoned poets, especially U.S. poet laureates, are asked about the state of poetry in America, they
almost always respond with an over determined, grandpa simplicity that it’s doing better than ever, citing
vague facts about the number of people writing today and the number of journals that exist, etc., etc. I never
feel that optimistic about anything, let alone the state of American poetry.
Marc McKee’s FUSE, a full-length follow-up to his 2008 chapbook What Apocalypse?
(New Michigan Press), is a brilliant and refreshing exception. Reading McKee’s poems—long, lyrical
assemblages shot through with insane amounts of verve and ingenuity—I want to slap those laureates on the back
outside of a Cracker Barrel and spit corn muffin remnants from my mouth while praising the steamroller might of American
From the opening poem, McKee reminds
us we live in a conditional universe paved with question marks: “If I started at the beginning / and told
you everything, would you / stick around and would then everything / and would then everything else.” Even
when McKee shows our lives spinning out of their tracks, our answer remains, yes. Behind FUSE’s avant-garde
maneuvers lies a writer who delivers combinations with real punch and revels in the ability of language, however
insufficient and disconnected from reality, to create new possibilities: “Gas pedal, shawl / of blitzy flutter
as we drive north again / through the exploded phosphorescence / of Nashville."
Throughout the book’s four sections, McKee sprints through an American landscape in which everything
happens at once. Like crash-test dummies, we're subjected again and again to folly and carnage only to discover
what we already knew: “Daily we are rifled, / even our history of ideas can’t cope.” Speed is
as much fun as it is painful, and FUSE traffics in the immediacy of experience—our accumulations
and corrupted databanks—but also our experiments and willingness to wake up the next day and do it all again.
McKee’s only weakness is that he’s a poet
of excess, but it’s an excess of such heart and charm and anabolic cleverness that you forgive the spillage.
In fact, you want the mess like you want explosions and a bad diagnosis to remind you this living “will
not make you eternal.”
Poems - Alternate Drafts - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Essay - Interview
Click here to read an essay by McKee regarding music and the creative process
Poems - Alternate Drafts - Bio - Mini-Review - Reviews - Essay - Interview
An Interview with Marc McKee by Andrew Mcfadyen-Ketchum
McFadyen-Ketchum: "This Pantsuit Cannot Contain Us" is one heck of a strange poem. It operates via its
own, interior logic of leaps and associations that make much less narrative sense then they do lyric. By lyrical sense I
mean that there's a movement from line to line and a mood the reader registers and comprehends in a psychological
way rather than a narrative way. Would you agree with this reading?
Marc McKee: I'd agree with this reading, mostly. In the poem, I'm certainly going for
speed. Associative logic piles up a lot of material, but my instinct is that if you can apply a righteous amount
of acceleration, it can lend enough momentum to that accumulation that the journey feels light, like being aloft.
I want the reader to fly, first on the ground the poem gives and then, after the last line, lifting above that ground
or veering sharply or leaping off a cliff. Maybe this desire for speed produces a more "psychological"
apprehension of the poem than an understanding that would process the poem as a story, at least right away. I would
say, though, that I think narrative is inevitable, even in the most willfully abstruse, "anti-narrative"
AMK: How do you
define the term lyric? How do you define narrative? How do the two play together in your work?
MM: Well, now-how long do we have? Unless I'm teaching, I try to resist defining both
terms absolutely, and even when I'm teaching poetry I try to offer caveats to the working definitions I feel bound
to provide students. Say I say that I think that what we'd most readily call lyric typically relies on compression,
that it privileges musical and rhythmic qualities of language in order to express emotional and psychological interiority
as they pertain to, usually, a singular, more-or-less coherent "I" in relation to others, objects, or "the
world." I could point to the Romantics, quote Mill, slip in a bit about Victorian dramatic monologues, and point out,
in the American lines of development, the rise of Modernism and... Well, I could blah blah blah you all the way to death,
probably. The pithy version is that a generic expectation of the lyric is, as Dean Young so memorably put it in "The
Decoration Committee": "A poem, usually shortish, / which begins ‘When I was a child' or / goes on about
clouds or trees or lost love: / woe, woe, etc." This could certainly characterize aspects of what we might identify
with lyric, but you're going to need some other talking points to even begin to get at half of what's going on in most of
the poets I love, and it's hard for me not to see lyric at this stage as increasingly less definable. At the end of the
day, what's useful from the history of lyric for me to think about is the ability to compress experience, imagination,
memory, desire, and whatever-have-you, into images or assertions that may be propulsive or moving. Beautiful language
is great, whether it's ornate or spare, but it's really the world of gifts that compression and precision open up,
and the new beauties that those pursuits forge, that I am interested in.
Similar points can be made about narrative, I think. Strictly speaking, one might say that a narrative
poem tells a story, but I feel like a narrative poem is unworthy of the name if it doesn't simultaneously demonstrate
the complementary attention to music and rhythm that lyric is often hailed for (I should point out here that my
sense of that music and rhythm would please no formalist, but whatevs). Part of this must stem from what I said
earlier, that narrative is inevitable. No matter what a given text is doing, there's almost no way to understand
anything without narrativizing it. C.D. Wright said it best (and shortest) in Cooling Time: A Vigil For American
Poetry when she said "Narrative is." I think that largely this comes from our experience of time and
the tools we've generated to deal with that experience, which we've agreed, for the most part, indicate our linear
experience or are in relation to our assumption of linearity (though our subjective experience of that linearity
is a whole ‘nother bucket of temporal quirkiness). Those tools in poetry, or the predominant poetry of the
Western canon, offer us (among others) lyric and narrative, both of which cut a linguistic shape out of what we perceive
every moment through the sensory apparatus. They both (hopefully) select for maximum pleasure and impact; the difference,
I think, is that they just compress to different degrees and to different emphasis and ends. Maybe the guiding
directive in the lyric tradition is to maximize an epiphanic moment and the sense of being outside of time, which
is something that the Romantics reached for and that those who came after resisted in different ways even as they
reiterated that gesture again and again. Maybe the guiding directive of the narrative tradition, which surely descends
from a host of older forms, is to identify a constellation of significant moments that form a revelatory arc. Whatever
the case, both must of necessity leave a hell of a lot out, and this is what interests me about these categories.
As for how these two are at play in my work, it's
kind of difficult to say with the kind of precision I would like. The history of those categories generates the
bodies of work I consume and steal from, and they offer examples that I understand as part of a conversation even
as I want to contribute in some new way to that conversation. I guess my desire to say as much as possible in as
fleet and musical a way as possible is an impulse that is more or less lyric, and it is in conflict with my desire
to go on, like life, and to resist the absolutely polished diamond that a lyric can be, which speaks to my appreciation
(at times begrudging) of narrative. I love the multiple hybridities that are available to us in the contemporary
moment; this poem in particular is evidence of me trying to honor the conflicts and dialectics opened up by opposing forces
in poetry, triangulated through a mix of experience and imagination, hopefully with enough linguistic facility that
I come up with a durable, pleasurable, singing thing.
It would be easier to shut up if I could have a drink right here on the page.
AMK: I really like the long, meandering and wildly imaginative sentences you use in this poem
on the first page and how, after the poem's turn ("There are those who refuse to believe in the capacity of
the body / to withstand, to dole out, to make of soothing a Real / that leaches into other things in existence..."),
you use much shorter, declarative sentences of statement. What effect are you going for here?
MM: I think I'm really just trying to vary the pacing
of the poem there, to bring the careering loops of the associative images to heel before I set the poem off, briefly,
in a different direction. I hardly ever want a poem to be all one thing. This one was so much fun, it could have
gone on for a while. The anaphoric invocation of "I love" and the ongoing appearance and mutability of
"your all-terrain vehicle" could have generated several more lines, each one longer than the last, but
I had the sense at the point you indicate that the energy of that move had just about played itself out. Consequently,
I decided more or less intuitively to break with that rush and slow the reader down by spitting out these punctuating
assertions. The short sentence, especially when its set against a ramble, has a wonderful capacity complicate pace,
and to suggest a kind of music that I'm going for, a kind of discursive dialectic that moves forward by turning
in on itself, not to mention out from itself, and also left. And up.
AMK: In fiction, short sentences usually create a sense of tension/conflict while longer ones engender
a sense of peace/calm; how does sentence length operate in poetry?
MM: One of the things that brought me fully into the realization that writing and literature
was a something I prized above most other somethings was experiencing William Faulkner's "short" story
"The Bear." He's one of the drunken masters of the sentence, and it was a revelation. Shortly after,
I was instructed on how to appreciate Hemingway. Vonnegut I already loved, Salinger I already loved, Hunter S Thompson
I found and loved, and then I moved into Shakespeare. I grew up with the Bible. Before I really plunged into the
sea and carnival of poetry, I had many masters of the sentence, and once I'd gone down into the poetries, it just
became so much fun to figure out the weights of sentence that could get further emphasized in breaking a line-I
mean, think about taking a really long, humid, half-drunk, historically-charged sentence from Faulkner, with all
its twists, emphases, and implications. Now figure out how to break that sentence into lines that double the weights
and shocks of it... I came to poetry drunk off the sentence, and it has impeded, no doubt, my formal education.
I'm not complaining a bit.
As for the way
sentence length operates in poetry, I think there are a lot of productive ways to try to understand it. I think a long sentence
pours, and if it is situated well, if its ongoingness is directed and shaped by formal constraints that maximize
its little internal bursts of power and meaning, then following a long sentence down the page can be a tremendous
adventure. Sometimes it's fast, white water rafting, and sometimes it's languid, lazy tubing, but I do love letting
sense accrue, letting meaning and sound build up. In that way, I think of the long sentence in poetry as either
an unfolding sense of a world or a roaming, discursive delay that builds can generate a certain amount of suspense.
Short sentences, on the other hand, frequently establish counterpoints to long sentences. They clap. Or in a
collection of short sentences the reader is presented with a more staccato, stop-and-start rhythm. This gives the
dispensation of image and information the palpable effect of a cracked whip or a number of reports rather like gunshots;
what comes to mind for a short sentence is jarring montage, rather than the crane shot of a long sentence. That
reference to cinematography is actually the best analogy I can conjure. It redirects your attention and your glance
with speed and violence that resonates back through the other sentences set around it. Whatever the case may be,
though, these are effects of music and mood. The sentences themselves do not have the final say, at least in the
poetry I experience, as to what mood or feeling they engender simply by their length, though this can help. Sentence length
is one part of the ultimately mysterious combination of machinations and delights that, now and again, yield up
something we could agree is poetry.
"This Pantsuit Cannot Contain Us" is a free verse poem of a single stanza. How did you determine to arrange
this poem in this fashion; how did you determine where to break your line?
MM: Writing the poem did most of that for me. When I'm writing a poem, I'm operating
with the bare minimum of shape in mind. I mean, I have an instinct for when to break a line, but given how often
I change line breaks in subsequent revisions, I think that instinctively breaking in the act of composition is more
often a way to keep things moving and providing a modicum of corralling in order to keep whatever beasts are spilling
onto the page moving in an identifiable direction. Yeah, that makes me sound like a really weird shepherd, but what's
wrong with being a really weird shepherd? Anyway, at the time I wrote this poem, I was deep into reading Stanford's
The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You, and I was entranced by the way he controlled the reader's experience
of the poem-it could have just been a mess, I mean let someone just tell you the stats: 15000 plus lines, no stanza
breaks, no punctuation... You have to be sure of your language handling. And he is, he's so absolutely certain
with how he breaks lines and arranges whole passages, how he generates patterns that create space where there at
first appears to be no space-it is simply amazing. I was trying to do that in miniature a little bit, though I don't
know how successful it is. The first six lines seem to work well enough. There's a sort of focus, zoom out and focus,
zoom out and focus that's me trying to give the reader some sense of orbital movement from image to image that is
in some way anchored by the anaphoric "I love," which I hope is in one way or another at the base of all
AMK: I usually don't ask
these sorts of questions but what the heck does the all-terrain vehicle symbolize? Are you at all concerned that
your readers might wonder the same thing?
I was trying to suggest, towards the end of the poem (though it occurred to me early on as I was writing the poem
that I knew what I meant), that the "all-terrain vehicle" was a mutant metaphor for the body, or any body
(anybody). I think it started with realizing that the human body is/can be/at times must be an (almost) all-terrain
vehicle, swiftly followed by the notion of to what degree the mobile bodies of animals and insects are, too, all-terrain
As for my readers (such as they
are) wondering what in the hell it might symbolize, I feel like I would be extremely lucky to have enough that might
wonder at all about anything I've written. I feel incredibly grateful at just the thought that someone might be
at a bus stop, maybe in Phoenix in the comparatively unbitter bitterest part of February looking up and going, "Now
what the hell...?" My sincere hope, though, is that the poem is entertaining and energizing enough on its own
that no one needs, necessarily, an answer key for what means what to walk away from it like they just got shocked,
or juiced up.
Souls Procession" is arranged into a system of artfully indented tercets with a final, single-line stanza.
Why compose it this way as compared to "...Pantsuit..."? One poet I know believes that stanzas indicate
narrative. Would you agree?
remembering something that my teacher Mark Doty said in an interview somewhere years and years ago-I wish I could
remember where, but alas, I'll have to paraphrase. He was talking about tercets, and remarking on their difference
from quatrains, which by comparison just seem somewhat boxy and complete. The tercet, on the other hand, is somehow
like a quatrain that's suffered a subtraction, an erasure. The gist of what he was saying, or what I took from
it, was that there's the ghost of a quatrain in a tercet, and I've always loved that: you're eliding something moving
to the next three-line stanza, of course you are, you are always eliding something, always erasing, withholding,
taking away, and it's like having Achille's heel: you'll never put the world back together again, the last stone
in the palace that would make it stand forever will never be laid. How will you make up for it? The answer to that question
is one narrative or another that recognizes in itself the need to be forgiven for not being all to whoever may listen.
As I said before, I think narrative is inevitable. Get the right letters together in the right order and you've
got a narrative that ends in one word, or get the wrong letters in no order and you've got a narrative about failure
in the resultant negative space. Yeah, I'd absolutely agree stanzas indicate narrative. Stanza comes from the
Italian for room, or at least that's one way of looking at it. Who has a room has a story. As for mine, I was
just trying to get the admittedly narrative experience of following a parade-a parade about honoring the dead, about
seeing them back, about decorating the void, and thus appreciating the narratives we fashion over the same kind
of erasure I was talking about with the maimed quatrain-to twist at the pace at which I wanted the reader to experience
AMK: You often
write lines that, particularly in this poem, are really arresting but a bit difficult to decipher, e.g. "urns
hold flames which can't touch the darkness" (by "touch," I think you mean "diminish," but it
could be taken more literally), "Gold women dance propositionally" (by which I think you mean that they
dance at the head of the procession, AKA "propositionally"), and ""How we want / to cup each
haphazard flash // in the blurred photograph of our hands" (the last bit of which I find completely baffling!).
I'm wondering if this is something you do naturally or if composing such odd and sometimes perplexing lines in something
you desire in your work. Do you worry that your reader might be more turned-off than energized by such moments?
Don't get me wrong, I think lines like these are a lot of fun, and I often wrote lines like these myself, but I rarely
keep them for fear I'll lose my audience.
I guess that to begin with, I'm not really afraid of losing my audience. Something that might impel me to make
changes for rational sense's sake might be the fear that I might lose a reader, but even then, I hope I'm sturdy
and steel-spined enough to stick to my guns when it comes to aesthetic choices I feel I made out of joy, or exhilarating
recognition, or some sad, real understanding. I'm at home with that which is perplexing, if for no other reason
than that I'm consistently, constantly perplexed, and as such, these shifts and associations are something I am
naturally drawn to cultivate. I feel like I've read so much poetry; I desperately need to do things that I haven't quite
seen before, even as I know I'm drawing upon an increasingly aged palette to do so.
Let's take these lines, though, shall we? (Btw: when this came out, my mom asked me to explain some of the poems
to her, and "This Pantsuit Cannot Contain Us" was the first poem to come up, and we spent 2 ½ hours
on it. I'll try to be briefer in this venue.) Here they are:
When I say "urns hold flames that can't touch the darkness," I'm making three connections (at
least). 1) The urns were stationed at the mouth of a short tunnel in Tucson. At that part of the night, there
were urns with flames in them and they were positioned at the corners of the tunnel. So, literally, the urns kept
the flames from touching the darkest part of the night that I could discern. 2) You are right with your assessment
of the flames not being able to diminish the darkness. Positioned as they were, they weren't really providing light
to see by, at least not in the sense that they could show anyone the way. They ornamented our failures against
the dark. This procession is an increasingly important local expression of Dias de los Muertos. So, 3) The light
can't touch the void dark of someone or someones being gone.
I'll be quicker about the women dancing "prepositionally": In the parade, women painted/arrayed in skin-tight
gold were dancing in, around, beneath, below, in front of, behind, etc. the loose affiliation of paradeers while
holding little flaming urns suspended by chains from their wrists, which just added more prepositions I couldn't
even fathom. I substituted "prepositionally" for all of the ways that they were dancing, thought it a
fine way to talk about them and moved on, just like my sensibility in the parade itself.
And I'll be almost as quick about "how we want to cup each haphazard flash in the blurred photograph
of our hands": 1) I like all the short "a" sounds, but even more importantly 2) I could see in my
mind and even in my experience the sudden appearances of things in such space that seemed flashes, not just of costumery
or performance or fire, but of insight, long slow and sad insight kindling rejoicing that I had the sudden feeling
of wanting to hold it-like a poem often tries to hold onto a moment and make it durable, with every trick or tool
at its disposal-and just as suddenly I knew that trying to make the hands quick enough to hold life would make even
the quickest eye register them as blurry, like a photograph for which the hands or face or demeanor won't stay still.
Maybe I didn't do all I wanted, but it sounded good enough that I counted myself lucky and moved on.
AMK: Both of these poems appear in your chapbook
What Apocalypse?, which is, well, largely about the apocalypse. You also have a number of poems in my
forthcoming anthology of Apocalyptic Literature Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days,
and the collection you're working on now I believe is
about the apocalypse as well. What is it about the apocalypse
that intrigues you so? Why do you feel that poetry is a good medium for examining the end of the world?
MM: My interest in apocalypse is surely derived from
my upbringing, specifically from having grown up in a church whose ministers proclaimed loudly and often that we
were in the End Times. It took me a long time to figure out that this predilection on their parts probably had
as much to do with their advancing years and conservative retreats from the movements and catastrophes as they perceived
them during the atomic and later nuclear age of the mid- to late-twentieth century. It took me even longer to figure
out that apocalypse has to do with revelation-I never made the connection growing up, I just assumed that apocalypse
meant the catastrophic destruction of civilization as we knew it. As I've gone along, apocalypse and its representations
have never been that far from my imagination. Whether it has to do with the entertainments I consume or is a kind
of natural ingredient in the aesthetic impulses of the literature I love, I remain engaged with it as a useful (if
blunt) instrument for helping to determine value and amplify love. It's really like a large-scale version of the
party "What if..." that people are getting at when they ask what you'd save first from your burning house.
If the world were to suddenly go up in incinerating gusts of eliminated life, what would you most miss or want
to save? There is a clarity in envisioning the apocalypse: what you aren't willing to live without comes into glaring
relief. And of course, by pointing that out, I'm eliding the obvious: envisioning apocalypse can be a kind of selfish
version of contemplating one's own mortality, especially if you suspect that when you die, the world your consciousness
struggled to contain and grasp dies right along with you.
said, the poems in What Apocalypse? and also in my most recently completed project, Consolationeer, are
trying desperately (and hopefully sometimes humorously) to look through apocalypse and embrace those things that we aren't
willing to live without now. On some level, this means that my speakers are invested in embracing the shadow as
well; to not be ruled by a fear of apocalypse means on some level to embrace its conditions. It's in this embrace
that I feel like poetry, with its capacity to turn on a dime, with its impulse to push forward and to celebrate
provides us with one excellent medium with which to make distinctions between catastrophe's rubble and murk and
the values and aspects of the world that we want to stand as our legacy. Of course, poetry is also an excellent
medium for crystallizing lamentation; it's every bit as inclined to elegy as to celebration. This is, I think,
clearly the first impulse when considering apocalypse: the revelation and its attendant images, whether in the Bible
or in Joss Whedon's oeuvre or any of the many apocalypse-minded poets who precede us, is our predilection to measure
and represent the scope of loss. I hope I'm able to look clearly at those subtractions and sing something into
and against loss. If it's true that life will out, then poetry for me can be a ramp and an amplifier of value that
can charge the reader and perhaps even commission them in the appreciation of various things they might be taking
for granted, or in the generation of images and feelings and the other worlds that are here that they didn't even know
they could be already taking for granted. Setting these lyric impulses against the conditions of dramatic loss
and devastation can grant even the smallest bric-a-brac, evidence of the human, a poignance that sweetens whatever
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