Nick Sturm is this joy of a man who really knows how to SHAKE a WEIGHT. He’s excitable and lovely. He’s been known to jump over things. Jump over people, even. He’s jumped over some people I love very much. You know what? I like him even more for jumping over those people. In fact, I may even love those people more for having been jumped over by Nick Sturm.
Two FYI’s for you about Nick. 1. He has a book, BEAUTIFUL OUT, coming out from H_NGM_N next month. 2. Nick is reading this Saturday at Joe’s Coffee Shop in Atlanta. It’s going to be grand. Other readers include Molly Brodak, Jenny Sadre-Orafai, Kory Oliver, P.I. Navarro, and yours truly. He may even jump over some people. We’ll have to wait and see!
So Nick- your last name, STURM, makes you sound mega-serious. Do you know its origins? Do you think it could give people the wrong impression of you?
I totally understand how the über-Germanness of Sturm could make you think I’m a serious person. It’s kind of a monosyllabic brick of a name. The hiss-to-exhale through the “st” at the beginning is like a stutter-spear followed by the pursed lip inhale of “urm,” which, if you exaggerate when pronouncing, makes your eyebrows crinkle in to make an angry face. Side note: some friends in high school called me Mruts, Sturm backwards, which was fun. The word “sturm” actually means “storm” in German, which is pretty rad. It can also mean “tempest,” “gale,” “assault,” “attack,” “rush,” “squall,” “thunder,” “gust,” “turbulence,” and “forward line,” as in a battle. It’s fun to think there’s some kind of exchange between these meanings and how I think about poems. But synchronicity and coincidence are their own metaphors. Not like I’m not willing to carry those words on my banner though. I love the opaque, roaring rush, the joy of turbulence, the thunder sheet in the vowel feelings, and I’m more than in favor of poem as assertive force and contradiction, as Dean Young says. It’s really too bad none of the Futurists were named Sturm. When I was an undergrad I was completely delighted and, in a youthful, idealistic way, validated when I found out about Sturm und Drang, translated as Storm and Stress, which is the German counter-Enlightenment movement. Goethe is the most well-known writer associated with Sturm und Drang, though he eventually discarded the term. Essentially, a number of 18th century German artists and intellectuals looked at the principles of the Enlightenment: empiricism, rationality, and a focus on science, and were like, we think you’re fucking up. 1) Because you forgot to take account of human emotion and, 2) Oh yeah, everything is irrational. The only drawback is that they were just as into exclamation points as they were suicide notes, but they had something to rail against, and they railed, un-reigned themselves where it felt right, and so as a movement it’s always captivated me. It was essentially the German door into Romanticism, and if you want an intense not-wasting-your-time introduction to the principles of German Romanticism check out Lars Von Trier’s films Antichrist and Melancholia. Charlotte Gainsbourg is in both. They’re enchantingly dark and disturbing, visually gorgeous, and there’s a great article in the October Believer about them. I wish my name meant/sounded like what happens between Williem Dafoe and the fox in Antichrist. I’d be happy with that.
I saw Williem Dafoe on a train in Chicago once. Two things about Williem you should know: 1) He’s way shorter than you think. Think he’s short? He’s shorter. 2) It doesn’t matter that he’s short- his jawline is larger than life.
Man, how about that opening scene of Melancholia? Holy smokes. I wept like a baby and nothing had even happened yet. Did you? What movies make you cry the hardest?
The saddest part of Melancholia is when Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character puts a pancake on her son’s plate the morning of the last day of the world and Kirsten Dunst’s character looks at her like she’s done the most senseless thing ever. I cried when the cat died in Miranda July’s The Future. July wrote a wonderfully fun, honest book called It Chooses You (passed on to me by Wendy Xu) about her struggle to write the screenplay. She says great, simple things like, “Trying to see things that are invisible but nearby has always been alluring to me. It feels like a real cause, something to fight for, and yet so abstract that the fight has to be similarly subtle.” And that fight is constantly creating the condition for tears, for necessary scattering and reconfigurations, for glowing things to stand up in us. Pretty much a Matthew Rohrer poem. I’ve been having a lot of feelings lately watching documentaries, most recently Nostalgia for the Light, a lyric documentary about memory and being in Chile’s Atacama Desert post-Pinochet, and Buck, about Buck Brannaman, who was the inspiration for The Horse Whisperer. The documentary Happy, about the nature of happiness, is also excellent and warm and humbling. Horses, light, and deserts always resonate with a good, complicated yes.
Word on the street is that you really enjoy lemonade. Have you ever had a glass of lemonade bring you to tears? What was the best lemonade you’ve ever had?
Lemonade brings me to many things, but not tears. This spring Joshua Kleinberg, Mike Krutel, Tyler Gobble, Ashley Ford and I, in lieu of a football, threw a carton of lemonade back and forth in Lake Erie. There was some whiskey in it, too, and probably some Lake Erie. It was good monster juice. Just the existence of lemonade makes me happy. Every glass of lemonade is a total affirmation, an ontological exclamation point. It always seems to show up right when you need it. Also, it’s one of those drinks that someone will offer you but is rarely asked for, as if it’s very special that they have it and can suggest you share it with them. No one ever comes over and asks for lemonade. You give lemonade. Also, why is When the Sun Tries to Go On full of lemons? Why is The Tennis Court Oath full of peaches? I’m being a little hyperbolic with Ashbery, but Koch’s long poem is a fruit basket rioting in a broken semantic blender. It’s not just an objective correlative; there’s a wider emotional pattern at work. And it’s not about being cute, it’s about sheer celebration (“The pears are dancing. What rain?”) coupled with inevitable loss (“my love / Is lemons”). Food and drink carry a lot of associative emotional fuel. In August of 2008 I was sitting on the Rhone River in Lyon and somebody handed me a bottle of red wine and said, “It’s shit, but it’s good.” It’s difficult not to spread those kind of statements out over the whole world.
What if I told you I was that somebody who handed you the wine? WOULDN’T THAT BE SO WEIRD?
In the second episode of the first season of Star Trek: Voyager, the USS Voyager approaches a type-4 quantum singularity, a black hole, and receives an incommunicable signal from another ship trapped inside the event horizon, which Captain Janeway decides to try to help. What they don’t find out until later is that the ship they see stuck in the event horizon is actually themselves, in the future, as the space-time continuum has been distorted, allowing effect to precede cause. Our friendship is kind of like that. In the future we’ve been handing each other drinks for a long time.
I remember that episode very clearly. That one and the Star Trek: TNG episode where Data has a daughter Lal. That one made me cry. Is it just me or does earl grey tea sound like a very good thing right now?
I just put on water for coffee. It’s funny, the last couple weeks we’ve been talking about Ron Padgett’s most recent book How Long in one of my classes and he has this poem called “Earl Grey” – it’s very much a poem of the moment it was written, casual, conversational, restless, playful, turning around on itself light-heartedly, giving the impression it was dashed off. The first lines are “That cup of Earl Grey / didn’t perk me up. / What time is dinner?” The general opinion was that this poem, along with others in the book, wasn’t fully formed, i.e. it wasn’t fulfilling expectations of what a poem should do or be. I was a little upset about this. As a reader, I’ve always tried to experience those moments of resistance as a widening of what’s possible in a poem. Specifically, Padgett shows us that to be whimsical is not to lack pathos. To imagine Padgett’s poems skirting honest feeling just to be cute! How do the lines “What a joy to sit here and think / of oven mitts!” not nuzzle up next to your heart? There’s no difference between listening to a symphony and being suddenly astonished by oven mitts; the former appeals to your emotions overtly, you can’t avoid hearing the themes and feeling the vibration of the sounds, and that’s great and fine, but the latter is more subtle, favoring the nuanced epiphany of small joys, the pleasure of the everyday, eliminating the idea of inconsequence, and, really, pointing to the innumerable ways we’ve found to protect ourselves from a world made of so many elements we’re not built to withstand, yet need to get close to. So, now I’m on my couch drinking this coffee. If you don’t want to dance it’s not because you can’t dance, it’s because you forgot you’re free. Did you make tea? Is it incredible?
As a matter of fact I did, and it is a lovely thing. So. You’re reading in Atlanta and the name of the reading is WE AIM TO GET YOU SO EXCITED. Can you tell me what makes you excited to be in Atlanta and to read at that reading and why other people should come and hear you read, and others read, at that reading? Read.
I am so excited to be back in Atlanta! And excitement is a big beer-shaped blanket I’m bringing for everyone to hang out under! I’ve spent two weekends in Atlanta since I moved to Florida a few months ago and I’m totally in love with the city and everyone in it. It’ll be fun to read, but I’m more stoked to hang out and see everyone! It’s going to be such a lemonade smash, an oven mitt from the future. Six poets with emotion hooves. It’ll be dark when we get started. We’ll sit close together for light. It’ll be pretty.