Our chapbook poets talk writing process, the rush toward (or avoidance of) epiphany, as well as theft and free association. You’ll find full interviews in the purchasable book. A few teasers here.
Jack Bedell on measured metaphor
Brian McKenna: In poems involving sports there often seems to be a rush toward epiphany. Poets sometimes enlist grandiose metaphors or deploy mythological or religious allusions in an effort to capture intense emotion without laying the requisite groundwork. While poems like “Smoke, Mirror” and “El Tajin” certainly don’t shy away from moments of catharsis and visceral emotion, their pacing and balance is such that those moments feel integral and authentic to the experience rather than seeming grafted on. What have you learned about striking a balance between communicating the intense emotion of an event while avoiding the trite hyperbole and cliché sports writing often trades in?
Jack Bedell: One of the things I teach my creative writing students is to trust that the things you feel are important, or great, or beautiful will be the same for your reader. Just be accurate and true in your writing, and all of that will come across because of its inherent value. There’s no need to force value on anything. For me, these moments, these people and places, already have significance. There’s no reason to reach for metaphor to invest them with meaning. Life provides its own metaphors, actually.
Probably the most difficult aspect of writing about sports for me is modulating the feelings I have towards the events or the athletes in my poems. Man, I LOVE Joe Namath. His drop was poetry. The way his hand came through on throws was beauty. It’s hard for me to keep those feelings in check when I write about him. None of my words could ever match Namath. But the same is true for an afternoon on the dock with my sons. I don’t have words to match the wonder of that scene. All I can do is detail people and places as honestly and accurately as I can. The rest is love and trust.
Paul Hostovsky on following the sound
Nicholas Reading: In “Exercise” you speak about “free association” regarding your work. How does that aid your writing process? And more, your thinking process?
Paul Hostovsky: I sort of think “homonymically.” It’s the scourge of the poet, I suppose. I can’t help noticing when words sound alike or look alike. The sounds of words, their music, is primary for me; it practically overshadows their meanings. And when it comes right down to it, everything rhymes a little, don’t you think? Which is why endorphins make me think of dolphins. And dorsal fins. And fishing with Eddy Dorf in my memory or imagination. I don’t use a lot of terminal rhyme in my poems, but I do like inner rhyme, slant-rhyme, sight-rhyme, and images that rhyme sort of visually, like making snow angels and doing the elementary backstroke (aren’t they basically the same?).
In his essay “Poetry and Happiness,” Richard Wilbur talks about the poet’s “itch to call the roll of things,” the pleasure we take in making lists and catalogues, suggesting the totality of things by the casual piling up of particulars. “When a catalogue has a random air,” says Wilbur, “when it seems to have been assembled by chance, it implies a vast reservoir of other things that might just as well have been mentioned.” Thus the list in the last line of that poem: “Pomeranians, sputniks, saxophones.” A list, after all, is three or more items. And I love the randomness of that particular list, which (mea culpa) I think I actually lifted from one of T.C. Boyle’s novels. (I forget which one — I’ve read so many of them.) (“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.”) But in this way, I think, free association has a way of sort of getting at the totality of things; just a few parts, however small, are able to include by synecdoche the wonder of the whole.
MK Punky on what’s in a place and a name
William Meiners: Poetry is often about a sense of place. How did you decide to write a suite of poems situated in Dodger Stadium? What was the writing process like?
MK Punky: For the past few years, whenever I attended a game I found myself moving away from the field, to the distant precincts of the stadium, up at the very top. It’s like sitting in a bird blind, watching the action voyeuristically. So much happens at a stadium in addition to the game being played. It’s a kind of adult circus. I usually take a notebook and make some notes — ideas, phrases. Then I come home and make them into poems.
WM: I’m curious about the pen name. You’ve written several books, including some critically praised creative nonfiction. Do you need to transform into MK Punky before you turn to poetry?
MK: I’ve been writing poetry for many years, but never attempted to publish it outside of my website, and I never performed my work at readings or poetry slams. A few years ago, I decided to change that, and I thought that both I and the Poetry World — which is like even more microscopic that the Jazz World — would come at each other fresh. I’m proud of my journalism and essays and novels, and I continue to publish them under my legal name, but I wanted my poems to be judged on their merits, not the author’s track-record (or lack thereof). So, MK, my initials, and Punky, because I’ve always been a punk rocker at heart.