National Poetry Month Interview with Abraham Smith

26 Apr

Abraham Smith is Abraham Smith. Ever since I first heard the first utterance of his poem “Whim Man Mammon” I was there to stay. His first book of the same name and then his squalling/sprawling second, HANK, both create new dents in what I see when I close my eyes and dream about poetry. And there’s Abraham’s voice, creating a new soundtrack. His words are rowdy without the rude, ramble on without blubber, their own brand of booze. His third book, only jesus could icefish in summer, will be out next year, again from Action Books. I’m so stoked to have electronically sat down with Abraham and chatter a bit about all this.

1. Hey Abe. Thank you so much for chattering with me a little bit. You’ve got this new book only jesus could icefish in summer coming in 2014 from Action Books, the rad folks who published your first two books.

Without breaking the spines too much, it’s always nice to see the poets picking apart and squeezing fresh lemons over their own books and serving them up fresh first a little bit. So as we’ll get to my blabber about the book soon, I think everyone here at the Vouched blog would be mighty glued to this screen to hear your own thoughts and (p)review of this next book of yours.

this new one is like a mason jar fulla buttons.. now where’d the hell those buttons come from? popped off stuff is the answer to that.. where are they going? onto stuff a button popped off lately.. that’s the way this thing went.. i was writing a mighty long poem epic about charley patton son house louise johnson wheeler ford and the king of lake cormorant blues et al et al all piled in a teapot of a car ablazin out for southern wisconsin paramount records to a chair factory where they made a lot of school desks to record THE delta blues.. lord did i think i was hot tamales, writing on that book.. but i found the swerves the verves.. i found they were kinda cold.. and they had a tinny echo of all of what i’d kinda already kinda yelled around that time in that hank book.. i mean how many times could i possibly croon about the delicious licorice anonymities of the road etc etc.. i wrote like hundreds of pages of tepid dew.. in order not to as they say lose my bean, i ended up doing something i’d never done.. i ended up writing a few stand alone poems.. but really i ended up sifting through these pages on pages of giraffes.. i ended up as they say pinching a few spots off those giraffes.. really this jesus bookie then is actually yrs truly mr smithy sifting through the slagheaps the junkheaps.. finding little prizes.. at least little things that shine.. and i pulled those out.. and i made a book of my epic gaffs.. once i’d retrieved the mirrors the steering wheels the stereos etc out of that junked meadow.. then see i looked back through and said: actually ya know what.. here and there there yet remain lines that i kinda can’t bear to give too much of my back to.. so i salvaged those out too.. and put those in a section i called the compost.. and because really the whole thing is an unsettling yearn shanty anyway.. i found that those wounded wings there in the compost kinda seamed together just fine.. thusly welcome to jesus dipping a frozen line.. i embrace y’all here mong my stumble stuff..

2. I dig dig dig the epigraphs for this book, but the first of the two, a little smidgen from S.T. Coleridge’s Biographic Literaria, seems to pound the hammer next to the whole book. It says, “I lay too many Eggs in the hot Sands of this Wilderness, the World! with Ostrich Carelessness & Ostrich Oblivion.” With the Bigness of both the book’s subject matter and your style’s heavy, it is the perfect tool for dually preparing for this book and for mending the parts of oneself as it breaks you along this way.

I’m wondering, is there anything wrong with laying too many ostrich eggs in this world? Is that what you’re doing with this hulking manuscript?

maybe in mine ramble i answered two back there in one.. bless STC.. yeah the point there of that little quote wedged in.. is the point.. where fragile and fecund meet.. where head in the sand meets eyes and eyelashes just as long as the wrinkles down the face of that old blowhard the ancyent mariner..

3. The prologue strikes, icy and blistering. It has a taut line latched onto a single eyehook, onto ice fishing. That brace (and here here I mean it in a totally positive manner) is stronger here than even in any parts of your other work I can remember. From the get-go, we get “only two kinds of people gone/icefishing and we/we were never the shanty caliber typo.” What drew/draws you to ice fishing as this hitching post, this starting line, this spot to drill your hole at?

icefishin is all that delicious emily dee perfection: ‘then the letting go’.. i guess in writing there are things you are kinda hangin around waiting to slip in there.. they hang around in you like a pebble in yr skin from an old bike roadburn.. they around in you like the shepherd’s shears in the livermeats of the pastoralhandpain.. these type things are just waiting around bumpbump to fall out of you.. it just so happens that i’ve always wanted to jot one about icefishing.. about how you slowly go totally dumb while yr elders eyes turn into little campfires via the hooch.. the car so loud you couldn’t ever forget you were going.. that weird tilt in that sag ass buick like you might be about to NASANASA.. the faded brown tint of the freeezing backseat: only thing to call that’s grocerystore mushroom saliva.. parts of this book are absolutely sorta screwed up willy wordsworth Prelude esque pissy pearls.. so i felt it a just frame to frame the thing with a few childhood snapshots that i’ve always been walking with.. waiting to fit in the fire somewhere.. and yes icefishing.. the jigging of a dwarfish pole over a black slur hole seemed an apt way to wink at what comes later in there..

4. This book continues down the road of people. You have a knack for turning your eye on people, people of a special blend, your eye with a special lens for looking at them. In Whim Man Mammon, it was “two women called/dawn doing/crystal meth/in Montana/boon shacks” and many others of the snippet variety. In HANK, it was the man himself, the things in orbits around, and the shapes of them shaped. And here it continues, right, with the Jesus fellow first off and continuing with others in more snippets and in carried on. I was particularly drawn to the “you” early on described suchly as this angel-variety. We learn, “why stack this/in a neat little pile/on the floor by the records/that you and only you/know how to sing to/having learned all the skips/as little goings quiet and wet/the dust where this was.” A magnificent way, I say, of picking one bit to shine the flashlight on and make a whole light show. Reminds me of this wacko world we’re in now, the seconds of glancing in passing, the glow faces on the interwebs, the literary communities webbed more than ever (MFAs, online lit mags, etc.). It’s hard. It’s brief. It’s impactful to say the least. Can you go for a moment on how you deal with characters in your poems, how characters make the cut, what they mean, or whatever, or etc. etc.?

my hobbyhorse a la tristram shandy is townes.. i fit him into everything i say.. in a new manuscripto of critter creation myths i’ve been workin on for a year and change i write about how there’s a silent blue shed in everything i ever have or likely will write.. now they can paint over that shed all they want.. but creak creak that shed that mellifluous dissonance is in everything.. let me wrap that back into townes.. he said of his awesome banjo portal Tecumseh Valley that he wrote it with a particular woman in mind.. and that each and every time he sang it, he’d think of that same woman.. the you in these jesus ones, she is a real someone.. i ain’t goin all junior high snow flake dance on ya here.. but aren’t poems about accepting or wanting to accept love? aren’t all poems love? aren’t all poems combs run through the hair of people we love? there’s loose change and then there’s people.. the temperatures of the people i love were in my pockets as i scraped this book together.. i could go through the book and say hoo this one and then hoo that one was for.. as they are all With someone.. companionable.. all the yous are the same person.. but for example that one you mentioned earlier, that’s for virginia woolf and for my ex uncle vern.. aunt joy and uncle vern got divorced but i still call him uncle vern.. aunt joy and uncle vern are actually visiting in a few weeks.. we’ll complain about how grandma tries to sucker us into working on jigsaw puzzles.. and we’ll whistle a martini down our gullets while the tuscaloosa sunset goes TANGERINE tang tang.. i was an anthro major in college.. i am lonesome on a tractor all summer.. i love and i lorn peeps.. scratch any one of my poems and a face peeks out hulloo hulloo a la magician tophat rabbit rhino ribbit rivet.. see right there with Rivet i just went all Ligeia via Poe.. words are people..

5. The video of you reading from HANK at the Racine Library is one of my favorite videos of anyone reading EVER. The style and the intensity sustained for the length like that is WOW.

Right now, I’m working as an instructional aide for a first grade class and I’ve taken over their morning writing lessons to talk poetry for a hunk of time each day during April. Last week, I actually showed selected parts of that video of yours.

With all the poems and such we’re diving into, I want them to see the joys in language beyond making sense in the traditional sense, the way they are obviously (and for a good portion, should be) taught. You are the great example of the art of conveying in a totally clipped and riled up and non-traditional way, a way I find incredibly joyful, subject matter being whatever. And let me tell you, they were baffled and stoked completely.

We talked about alliteration and assonance and rhyme and repetition and making our own words and meanings. The whole of your page six in this new book is basically a new lesson in all those things, in the overarching wild joyride of language. Like:

twitch junk hills jump
in wars me i only lonely line difference
between that and heartbeats
bird versus fish
fist verse bomb wind
but what ills doll is the fizz
line bobwhite bombin boom
mmm shoulder pain
that’s a sweet hurt that’s a natural
crank ol loomin like a mirror where
the people went home from the summer caddy
even where there’s none past odd home

There’s a performative emphasis (necessary, whether or not intentional) to your work, but also the poems read and re-spark so well on the page. How do these things come out of you? When writing, what’s that process like, hovering between the spoken word and the written?

thank ye for such kindness here in numero six.. yes i pretty much throw the heavyhanded assonance consonance on there.. sputter it on there.. and then i try and do a little of the banjo claw and hammer thing.. i stick my right hand down in the lower right hand corner of the keypad.. where those cardinal arrows are.. and then i twitch my hand through east west north south the east west north south which makes the cursor jitter down the screen like a crazy ass rain bead down a pane.. and i keep on doing that.. sometimes intoning ’em as i go.. until each poem’s seams seem both hidden and ridgey as a beautiful scar

6. It’s important (though maybe at this point a little unnecessary) to say seeing you perform is a totally different Thing, compared to reading your poems, compared to see other poets read. I finally finally got to see you read at AWP this year in Boston and thank goodness for that.

Who are some of your favorite performers, literary of course, but also not? What makes a performance that’ll get Abraham Smith listening and riled up?

mare-sea again sir.. yeah well ya know at that same reading i really enjoyed the haayell out of heather christle’s performance.. years ago here in tuscaloosa lynn emanuel gave a reading with the laryngitis upon her.. i think that reading still sticks out for me as the best reading i’ve ever seen.. she was swaying away.. she pretty much became a swing on a swingset.. a rusty swing tilted to and fro by a gusty wind.. she squeaked and honked her way through the poems.. i kinda looked aroung and everyone was swaying along with her like water weeds.. i myself became an algae in a currant current, lord! also here a few years back aaron kunin gave an amaaazing trembly reading.. it was a relatively cloudless night.. but i guarantee you that he had 20293854098 paperclips in his pocket and some lightning maybe up in alaska was electocruting him kindly: wonderterrorwowwow!

7. You’ll be putting your editor hat on soon, compiling an anthology of hick poets. How do you define hick poets? Also, please do fill us in on that anthology’s details (the who and the when and the from whom, etc.).

cheeaating: i am cutting pasting an email about what i think about when i think about that word hick: and why i think this anthology has something to say about Class: i am doin this antho with the faaaabulous shelly taylor: i luv her poems: image of owl head spinnin around.. she totally slotmachine spin spins my noggin in the best o’ craaazy ways: and is a very dear friend: yes we are very excited about this antho: very excited: already many of our favorite dreamboat hayseeds are on board for a ride on that rusty bouquet: wheee: commencing the cutting and pasting: here:

first, let’s take the term hick.. as far as i have ever known hick comes from hickory.. from the prez Andrew Jackson.. no favorite of mine.. the ol Indian Killer i believe is what they called him.. a merciless blight upon native america he was.. his nickname i think was something like Ol Hickory because he was the first prez to come from peasant stock.. so folks who took pride in their own humble beginnings via jackson’s humble beginnings were called hicks.. i don’t think shelly nor i are too very concerned about whether or not we are reclaiming a word which has a deep and biting historical legacy of oppression.. because i am not sure that the word hick does have that legacy.. we feel that we like the phrase Hick Poetics because it’s playful.. and because it jabs a bit.. we are both jabby people.. and because it really does sound like a book i’d like to read.. more so than Reclaiming the Pastoral.. also it seems to me that hick is an inclusive word.. does not tie into ethnicity so much.. and seems then a fair open meadow kind of word within which to gather a diverse set of poets..

as for class, i don’t think we are concerned that our hicks have gone on to harvard.. to quote unquote lift themselves out of hickness.. i don’t think we are searching for ‘authentic rustics’.. i don’t think the amount of tweed they have on matters to us.. i put that class sentence in there.. because the countrysides.. tend to be reported upon.. and that vision tends to trend towards the romanticizing of the great beyond.. who is witness to the countrysides? who has the voice? the word class for me means this: the urbane have forever spouted their ethnographies on what’s up in the sticks.. this anthology’s contributors would have the chance to reclaim that literature of witness.. here’s what the sticks really felt / feel like it.. i guess all i meant by class is that: who has the power to craft the narrative of the pasture.. those of us who got stung are getting stung by the ground hornets nest.. those of us who are farriers right now.. we should.. we should have that power..

8. Do you have any National Poetry Month things you do (i.e. a poem a day project, reading goals, etc.)?

yes as fer nat po moonth.. just back from montgomery.. where i emceed the poesy tent there at the alabam writers festival.. dovely little jamboree: got ta hear the new poet laureate of alabam: mr andrew glaze: he’s a few million years old (92 going on 93): and read some of the most vibrant lively jaunty poems i’ve heard in a long time: i am garbling this a little: but the last one he read was about the books he’d like to be buried with.. just in case he wakes up in there.. when he gets around to how emily dickinson will absolutely have to be in there.. he’s like yeah emily dickinson.. in copper.. in cartouche.. on my tongue.. lord: have: mercy.. that takes the twenty one hundred dollar cake if ya ask me..

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  1. National Poetry Month Recap | Vouched Books - May 2, 2013

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