Download our new mobile app - details here
Alumni
AmherstReadsLogoFinal.png

Come on All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder '89

Matthew%20Zapruder_crop

An interview with Matthew Zapruder '89 and Tess Taylor '00

Wallace Stevens talked in his great essay, “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” about one of the things that poets do in their poems is they resist the pressure of the real. And I’ve been talking about how important it is to me to get everyday life and everyday language into poems. That I think in equal part of what poems do is to create a space for dreaming, contemplation. Whitman would call it loafing, looking at clouds, contradiction, all these things.
- Matthew Zapruder '89


Loading the player ...

Listen to the interviewListen to the interview
Loading the player ...
 
 

 
Tess%20Taylor
Tess Taylor '00, has received writing fellowships from Amherst College, the American Antiquarian Society, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her chapbook, The Misremembered World, was published by the Poetry Society of America. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the Boston Review, the Harvard Review, Literary Imagination, The Times Literary Supplement, Memorious, and The New Yorker. She just finished her term as  the 2010-2011 Amy Clampitt Resident in Lenox, Massachusetts.

 

 

Tess Taylor: Hi, this is Tess Taylor and I’m delighted to have the chance to talk to Matthew Zapruder, class of ’89, a Russian major, who is the author of three collections of poetry. Most recently, “Come On All You Ghosts” from Copper Canyon, which won a bunch of prizes – The Good Reader’s Choice Award for Poetry; it was one of the top five books of poetry from Publishers Weekly, as well as the 2010 Book List Choice Editors Choice for Poetry.

He is also a co-translator for Romanian and has a fascinating background in the Russian language and Slavic languages, and his poems, essays, and translations have appeared in many publications, which writers would aspire to, including Open City, Bomb, Slate, American Poetry Review, Tin House, Harvard Review, Paris Review, the list actually goes on for a long time.

Hi, Matthew, it’s great to talk to you.

Matthew Zapruder: Hi, Tess, it’s great to talk to you, too.

TT: We are here today to talk about “Come On All You Ghosts” and I thought I’d start by asking you to read one of the poems I enjoyed from that collection, which is “The Prelude.”

MZ: Sure, I might just say a few things about it before I get started. Many Amherst grads who took English courses while at Amherst will recognize that the title of this poem is taken from Wordsworth’s famous long poem “The Prelude,” and the first line of my poem actually emulates Wordsworth’s first line, which is, Wordsworth’s is, “Oh, there is blessing in this gentle breeze …” and then it goes on to talk a lot about the natural world and landscape and perception.

I’ll just say quickly that Wordsworth in contemporary poetry is less balladized (?) than his compatriot Coleridge. Coleridge is sort of the original of the more personal poem, the more familiar, you know, kind of “I-centered” psychological experience poem that resembles more closely contemporary American free verse. So I thought that I would try to spend a little time with Wordsworth and when I did I realized that he has his own incredible virtues, his music and intelligence and syntax. So, anyway, this poem is written after spending some serious time with “The Prelude” and there are quotes from Wordsworth in it.

So, OK, “The Prelude.”

Oh, this Diet Coke is really good,
though, come to think of it tastes
like nothing plus the idea of chocolate,
or an acquaintance of chocolate
speaking fondly of certain times
it and chocolate had spoken of nothing,
or nothing remembering a field
in which it once ate the most wondrous
sandwich of ham and rustic chambered cheese
yet still wished for a piece of chocolate
before the lone walk back through
the corn then the darkening forest
to the disappointing village and its
super creepy bed and breakfast. With secret despair
I returned to the city. Something
seemed to be waiting for me.  
Maybe the “chosen guide” Wordsworth
wrote he would even were it “nothing
better than a wandering cloud”
have followed which of course to me
and everyone sounds amazing.
All I follow is my own desire,
sometimes to feel, sometimes to be
at least a little more than intermittently
at ease with being loved. I am never
at ease. Not with hours I can read or walk
and look at the brightly colored
houses filled with lives, not with night
when I lie on my back and listen,
not with the hallway, definitely
not with baseball, definitely
not with time. Poor Coleridge, son
of a vicar and a lake, he could not feel
the energy. No present joy, no cheerful
confidence, just love of friends and the wind
taking his arrow away. Come to the edge
the edge beckoned softly. Take
this cup full of darkness and stay as long
as you want and maybe a little longer.

TT: Thank you. So, it’s so interesting that you began your prelude to this prelude by talking about many of the literary references that we may or may not get, depending on how well we are steeped in, you know, Wordsworth and Coleridge. But, I wanted to ask you about beginning the poem with the Diet Coke, because a Diet Coke is kind of a, well, very ordinary object, you could say. And maybe it’s a transmogrification or translation of something ordinary that Wordsworth or Coleridge might themselves have been drinking. But, does it feel strange for you to start a poem with something like a Diet Coke, I mean something you can order at McDonald’s or that maybe Amherst students are drinking right now to study for finals?

MZ: I’m sure they are. No, it doesn’t feel strange to me. It definitely feels like a noticeable decision. It’s obviously just a kind of initial sort of humorous aspect to, you know, redoing Wordsworth’s line, but instead of “breeze,” talking about Diet Coke.

But I actually wasn’t trying to be funny when I wrote it. What I was thinking about was when you read a lot of the romantic poets, and you don’t have to know a lot about poetry to know this. Poets of that time, 19th century poets wrote a lot about nature, and for them nature was an everyday presence in their lives and for them to look at a lake or a mountain or fields or a forest or whatever, those things were sublime to them and wondrous and full of mystery, but they were also very present in their every day.

And for me, I live in the middle of the city. There are trees around, but I don’t have the same relationship to nature that those poets did. So I was trying to think about what for me would be an ordinary object that, when contemplated, might lead me deeper into my own life and our lives and, you know, what we actually experience instead of writing about natural things that are important to me but aren’t exactly important to me or present to me in the same way they would have been for those poets, if that makes any sense.

So, when I’m working at my desk and thinking about writing a poem, my eyes alight upon a can of Diet Coke and I think, wow, that’s something that I see all the time and it is a kind of amazing object. That substance is an extraordinarily weird and interesting substance that we put in our bodies and the can itself is kind of amazing and all the effort and technology that’s gone into making it and getting it to us is very, I think, worthy of contemplation, and I decided to try to get my mind in that state, in relation to that object.

So, that just may be a complicated way of saying I just wanted to write for my own experience. And then you write the line and you think, oh, that’s kind of funny, but it wasn’t just to be funny, if that makes sense.

TT: Well, I actually couldn’t keep from laughing when you read the line about the super creepy bed and breakfast. That seems like it probably was designed to be funny.

MZ: Yeah, I mean, I do find bed and breakfasts super creepy. I think for some reason my mind thought again about, for Wordsworth and Coleridge, they would go on long walks. They would walk for 10 or 20 miles. They would go on walks for days and days and days, and for them, going on a walk was a major part of their lives. For me, when I might go for a walk in the countryside, that might be something I do as part of a vacation.

So I think I was trying again to think about how these things function or appear in our own lives. So it was just easy for me to imagine, you know, that you would go on some kind of rustic, country walk and then go back to your bed and breakfast and, I mean, I myself have done that, so I just think that just sort of happened and then my general reaction to bed and breakfasts is, wow, I mean, the whole experience is a little bit odd at best and creepy at worst. So, yeah, it’s funny, I mean the words “super creepy” are funny, and it’s fun to say.

TT: The words “super creepy” are funny.  In a really actually genuinely positive review for The New York Times, David Orr said something about that very few poets are willing to dare banality, and it was a review of you and you were the poet who was willing to dare to be banal. He said that you dared to be banal in a way that was successful. How did that feel, I mean, what did you think of that comment?

MZ: You know, I think actually I know what he means. I think what he means and I think that actually, well, let me back up for a second and say that, you know, poetry has a reputation for being a highfalutin art, a fine art. You need expert training to understand it. You know, it’s all about finding feelings and epiphanies, and I think whatever, there’s some truth to that.

But, I think that for me, I’m interested in how poetry is part of and interacts with and deepens and complicates our everyday lives. So, that I’m not so interested in the banal in the sense that every day, the things that we encounter. So I take that as a, I think it was a compliment in the sense that I don’t feel the need to prove that I’m a cultured, intelligent person at the expense of writing about things like Diet Coke. And if people want to call me not a real poet or something or not cultured enough or whatever, than I will accept that as the price I pay for writing poems for everybody, including myself. You know, I’m willing to accept that. So in that sense, I believe that was a compliment in the review and I took it as one.

TT: Or, you may think also it was a sense that it’s kind of, at least from David Orr’s perspective, that it can be hard to put a Diet Coke in the beginning of a poem that’s sort of a tribute to Wordsworth and have it come off. So, I think maybe it was a compliment that it’s something, I think, people try to do, you know, to speak.

I mean, the whole history of poetry is a little about speaking in common speech. Dryden was trying to speak in common speech and William Carlos Williams was trying to speak in common speech, and the question is, do you do it in a way that somehow works because we can definitely have a good poem with a Diet Coke in it or a bad poem with a Diet Coke in it.

MZ: Well, you’re right. As I was giving my answer to your last question, I was thinking to myself that I really don’t want to make this sound as if I came up with this big idea of writing about the everyday life of the real world or using common language. Certainly, Wordsworth and Coleridge were doing that in lyrical ballads. In that sense, I find myself very much in the tradition.

You know, I think that right now we’re in a period of time when a lot of people are trying to do this in different ways, bring all sorts of different language into poetry in different ways and that’s what makes it an exciting time. I think part of it is, the more you write, the more words, different types of words, you can use in poems.

It’s funny how like with poetry, this is somehow still an issue when it isn’t an issue in painting or in music or other forms of art. It’s just taken for granted that the whole world can be brought into a painting or into a piece of music or song lyrics or all sorts of other things. Yet, poetry, it stands with needing respect, I guess I would say, fighting old battles.

I was telling a little story about that when I was teaching at NYU and my students, who were wonderful and they were, you know, 15 years younger than I was and really cool, you know, dressed great and going out every night in New York and were these hip kids. Someone brought in a poem that used the word “YouTube” in it and most of the students reacted with a kind of horror, like you can’t use that word in poetry. That word doesn’t belong in poetry, and I looked at them, and I thought, I should be saying that and you should be laughing at me. You know, I should be the old fuddy-duddy. And I said you have to stop writing like 80-year-old men who live, like, in the forest. You live in New York. Write about the things you see; write about the things that happen to you. You know, and that’s what I try to do and I think that’s what people should do.   

TT: So, I’m going to keep talking about William Carlos Williams because I happen to be reading tons of him lately, like devotedly, and one of the lines that he came up with, and I think in one of his earlier and arguably less good poems, was “How shall I be a mirror to this modernity” and that kind of project that, well I have to say what’s in front of me in the words that are useful to me and my landscape now. And, you know, for him it was the poor and the people he was being doctor to and the New Jersey suburbs that were getting slightly ruined by that exact turn-away from nature that you were just discussing. And I’m just wondering if you feel in your poems that there’s a kind of a moment that you need to address and you were sort of getting at that with the Diet Coke. But, what is it that you think we need to let in most importantly? I mean, is this a special moment for letting things into poems?

MZ: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I would say that there’s anything particularly different about this moment, except in this way. Stevens, Wallace Stevens talked in his great essay, “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” about one of the things that poets do in their poems is they resist the pressure of the real. And I’ve been talking about how important it is to me to get everyday life and everyday language into poems. That I think in equal part of what poems do is to create a space for dreaming, contemplation. Whitman would call it loafing, looking at clouds, contradiction, all these things.

And I think that our public discourse has really gone in the direction of really a rhetoric that is extreme, one-sided, not related to the actual feelings that people have on an everyday level, which creates a big space for all kinds of art that have to do with language. You know, but particularly poetry, because our language is regularly violated in public discourse. So, there is a space for poetry not to stand up and say, oh, Republicans are bad or Democrats need to do this or whatever, but just say this is life as we know it and as we live it.

What John Boehner or Barrack Obama say, agree or disagree, that doesn’t feel connected to my experience of life and in that sense, I think a public space has opened up. I don’t know, you know I’m alive at this time. I wasn’t alive before, 50 or 100 years ago, so I don’t know whether it’s worse or better now. But, for one thing the language is so public because of the Internet and all the availability of media constantly in our lives, so I think that it’s harder, I know for a fact that it’s harder to find a space where you’re not being assaulted by whatever’s happening in the media. So, a book of poems is an even more precious thing right now.

TT: I wonder if that kind of relates to a certain uncertainty I wanted to ask you about in your poems. I wanted to quote a few lines from various poems, one is “You were born to feel the way you don’t have a word for” and “All they really know is it was dirty and that’s describing the past” and “Today the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, I have no idea what that means” and “Each of the fates of our various fathers helps us only partly.” And, of course, in “The Prelude,” there’s this line that says, “All I follow is my own desire.” So, it seems like in this “Come On All You Ghosts,” which is a great book – congratulations – there’s a lot of, sort of, relinquishing of public fear or saying, “There’s a fact that I don’t understand or I don’t relate to it that way.” Is that sort of what you were talking about just now?

MZ: All those quotes, I think they feel like very honest admissions of the possibility of knowing certain things, and when I say “the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, I have no idea what that means,” what I mean is, I can’t imagine what connection that figure has to the actual reality of the human experiences behind that number. Even if you told me how many people that stood for the 9.4 percent, it’s so beyond, I feel, beyond the comprehension of one individual to be able to even understand what tens of millions of people’s uncertainty and suffering, and whatever it is, sadness, despair, you know, frustration, whatever, are.

And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I mean the people who are in our constant public discourse, you know, whether they’re politicians or people commenting on politics or all those just trying to make sense of what’s going on. We constantly have to talk in these shorthand ways, and one thing poems can do is they can open back up our sense of, our respect for the hugeness of experience and the mystery of experience. I feel that is a public utterance that is important to say. I feel it’s important to speak that way. I wish that politicians would say more that “I don’t understand what it means to be unemployed.” And, you know, some of them do maybe, and I think that’s one thing poems can do, if we’re just talking about the relationship to public discourse at this point.

TT: Is to leave a little bit of space for, sort of, a querulous human experience that’s …

MZ: A lot of space for it. And the longer I live, the more I realize how hard it is to understand, to really understand things, and I have a respect for other people’s experiences and their lives and I look at people walking around the street sometimes and I think, inside each one of these people is a giant galaxy of thoughts and emotions, ideas, feelings, and private thoughts that are private to others and private even to themselves. The world of the poem is that.

I also write other types of things. I write critical essays and if I want to make a point about something, convince somebody of some point or whatever, I’ll be much more likely to write it in an essay than in a poem. A poem for me is opening myself up to the mysteries.

TT: Well put. I think I wanted to ask you actually on that note to read “Lamp Day,” which is a poem that has a lot of space in it, a lot of that kind of imaginative space. Would you be willing to read that one?

MZ: Yeah, sure, of course. So, interestingly, this poem, it begins with me remembering I went to graduate school for creative writing eventually at UMass Amherst. I came back to the Amherst area and lived in Northampton. And this memory of when I mention “Summer Street,” Summer Street is a street in Northampton and then I start thinking of more of a city environment. OK, “Lamp Day.”

 
All day I’ve felt today is a holiday,
but the calendar is blank.
Maybe it’s Lamp Day. There is
one very small one I love
so much I have taken it everywhere,
even with its loose switch.
On its porcelain shade are painted
tiny red flowers, clearly
by someone whose careful
hand we will never know.
Because it’s Lamp Day I’m trying
to remember where I got it,
maybe it was waiting for me
in the house on Summer Street
I moved into almost exactly
17 years ago.  I think
without thinking I just picked it
up from the floor and put it
on my desk and plugged
it into the socket and already
I was working. So much
since that moment has happened.
On Lamp Day we try
not dreamily but systematically
to remember it all.  I do it
by thinking about the hidden
reasons I love something
small. When you take
a series of careful steps
to solve a complex problem,
mathematicians call it an algorithm.
It’s like moving through
a series of rooms, each with
two doors, you must choose one,
you can’t go back. I begin
by sitting on a bench in the sun
on September 21st thinking
all the walks I have taken
in all the cities I have chosen
to live in or visit with loved ones
and alone make a sunlit
and rainy map no one
will ever be able to hold.
Is this important? Yes and no.
Now I am staring
at clean metal girders.
People keep walking past
a hotel, its bright
glass calmly reflecting
everything bad and good.
Blue boots. Bright glass.
Guests in this moment. A child
through the puddles steps
exuberant, clearly feeling the power.
I am plugged in. I am calm.
Lamp Day has a name.
Just like this cup
that has somehow drifted
into my life, and towards which
sometimes for its own reasons
my hand drifts in turn.
Upon it is written the single
word Omaha.                

TT: That’s a poem that seems to have a lot of internal space and illumination and room for fantasy. I wanted to pick up on that topic that you just brought up about the place where the lamp was, which is Northampton, and ask you, you know, about your, kind of, your two visits to the Pioneer Valley. First, as an undergraduate where you were a Russian major, which is very cool, and then your return when you decided much later, I mean not at Amherst, years after Amherst, that you were going to pursue, not Russian, but poetry in English. Can you talk a little bit about studying Russian and how you did and didn’t connect to poetry at Amherst and then what changed?

MZ: What happened basically is that when I went to Amherst, I think … I was born in Washington, D.C., and I grew up in the D.C. area and my father was a tax lawyer and my mother, she works at the Smithsonian now. My parents were part of this, sort of, political class that’s very much a big part of the industry of Washington, D.C.

So, I grew up in politics, around politics and business, and so I went to Amherst and I think my instinct was that I should study politics, political science, history, something in that area. There wasn’t any, you know, explicit pressure from my parents. You know, I just felt that that’s the milieu that I came from.

So my freshman year I took different classes, and it’s also important to remember that I came in 1985, which is the height of the Cold War and we were all very afraid of nuclear war, and the Soviet Union was a looming presence for everyone and it seems so old now to say that, but at the time it was a present and everyday fear. And so I decided I was going to study Russian and study politics and try to maybe be a diplomat or some kind of person that would maybe be able to mitigate this situation. You know, it’s a kind of idea you have when you’re 18, and you know, it’s a nice idea.

So, I started studying Russian and over the time I was at Amherst I realized, in fact, I was even going to write my thesis on politics, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I switched to literature and I had wonderful Russian professors – Taubman and Stephanie Sandler – but mostly Stanley Rabinowitz was my main person there. So, he, of course, was happy when I decided I wanted to study literature instead and so I ended up doing that.

And my relationship to Russian was mainly through the language and culture eventually in Russian literature, so I studied that and to make a long story very short, the year after I graduated from Amherst, I lived in Moscow for a year on what was essentially the equivalent of a Fulbright scholarship. I had been nominated by the Amherst Russian department and got this fellowship. I lived there and then after a few years of messing around, went back to graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Russian and Slavic languages and literature at UC Berkley.

But again, I just realized that what I really wanted to do was write and so I ended up eventually back getting my graduate degree in poetry from UMass Amherst, which has a very fine program. And I was thrilled to be back in the Amherst area. I love the landscape and I feel very connected to it and close to it, so I felt like I was coming home in a lot of ways. So that’s the short and hopefully not too long version of what happened.

TT: Well, you were saying when we talked the other day on the phone that if anybody had told you that you would have been a poet while you were at Amherst, you would have been baffled by that notion. How did you think about poetry then, I mean, say as a 20 year old?

MZ: I mean, I liked it. I took some pretty good courses with David Sofield when I was there. Those were the only English courses I took. And I read some Russian poetry. I think that I liked it, but I was much more into music and songs like most people my age. In fact, I wrote my senior thesis on a Russian folksinger who is sort of the Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits/Bob Dylan-esque figure in 1970s and 80s Soviet Union, and so I was more interested in song and music.

I’m also a musician; I play music. So I think that was to the extent to which I was interested in what words could do in that area, it was through music. I just wasn’t a player of contemporary poetry very much, just wasn’t something I knew anything about. I mean, I suppose I knew intellectually that there were poets, but I didn’t really know them or think about it as something I would do.

TT: When you started to write poems of your own, did you feel as if you pulled back on that Russian inheritance at all? Where did you go to figure out to craft your own way in the world of making poems?

MZ: Really, I didn’t really write poems. I mean, I had written here and there a little bit and tried poems a few times. I don’t even know why really. I think I was just drawn to it almost instinctively. But I never really seriously tried until I was in my first year of graduate school and I was at UC Berkeley studying Russian literature, and as I said, I realized pretty fast that I wasn’t cut out to be a scholar and I had always really wanted to write and be an artist, but I didn’t know what kind of writing I would do, so I made myself sit down and write every day. And then what I started to write were poems, to my great amazement. They could have been stories or essays or I don’t know what, they could have been anything. But they were poems. I think that was close to my heart without me knowing it, and, of course, I knew nothing, I didn’t understand anything, so the only poems I had ever spent any real time reading and studying were Russian poems.

And so the language of Russian, its syntax is so different from the English language. Without getting too technical, because English doesn’t have cases for its nouns, it only has them for pronouns – I versus me or whatever. So, you take “Tom hit Harry” or “Harry hit Tom” and the only way you know who hit whom is by the word order. But that’s not true in Russian. Russian has cases, so you know who hit whom regardless of what the order of the words is. So, Russian is much more flexible in terms of its word order and syntax, and that word order and syntax can be used to convey emotional nuance.

I was very interested in that and to what extent that was possible in English, and so my earlier poems, my poems from my first and second books are more interested in the material of language and what sort of uses it can be pushed towards. I think that’s a great, worthwhile, interesting experiment that came out of a genuine place, but I think it was a long apprenticeship of learning and understanding my material like any artist, sculptor, or musician, you know, photographer, whatever, would learn to use his or her material. I was doing the same thing with words and with language.

TT: Right. I notice that a lot of those poems that are now in “Come On All You Ghosts” actually have a really simple syntax. It’s interesting that they begin with “I’m staring” or “I did this” or “I did that,” kind of the Franco-Harem (??) mode, a little bit of almost deceptively simple – “I’m staring out the window at an aluminum shed,” “I remember the house where I first lived” and “This morning I rode my gray metal bike through the city.” What is that person that’s doing these sort of simple objects, is that an autobiography? Who is that “I” accounting for there?

MZ: I mean, a lot of the time it’s autobiographical, it starts out autobiographically. I mean, it’ll come as no surprise to you, Tess, as a poet, it’s more interesting or better or more exciting to change the facts of what I was actually looking at or actually doing. I will gladly change them. I’m not writing an autobiography or a memoir, but, yes, basically that’s a guy in his 40s living in the city, you know, trying to be attentive.

But, just going back to your question about simplicity, I notice that’s true from musicians. When you’re learning to play your instrument, you can get, as you should, really into your instrument, playing and seeing what the possibilities are. But then the more mature you get, I guess, as an artist, the more likely you are to be able to convey powerful things in a much simpler, more direct, more subtle way, I guess, and so I think that probably this book is to some extent the product of a lot of hard work, many years of hard work with my material. It’s easier for me, or I can see the possibilities more, in a simple bent and making slight adjustments or slight strangenesses.  

TT: Slight strangenesses. That’s a great phrase. I really like it. Slight strangenesses. This is really great. Since because you have so graciously been explaining your poetry to us, I wondered if you would read the poem in “Come On All You Ghosts” that begins “Dear sociologist, I’ve been asked to explain poetry to you” and I thought we could finish there.

MZ: Sure.

TT: Thank you so much.

MZ: Oh, thanks, Tess. You’re great and you have great questions and it’s an honor to talk to the Amherst community. I owe a big debt of gratitude to Amherst and to the professors I had and to my fellow students there, and Amherst is very often in my thoughts in the most positive of ways.

This poem, actually, a friend of mine is a poet and is married to a sociologist and she actually was writing about poetry and sociology in some kind of way and she asked me if I would write something for this sociology conference I was going to. As I’m telling this story, it sounds so preposterous, but it was in fact true.     

TT: (Laughs) I thought it was going to be like a stance, but that really is autobiography. Check it out.

MZ: No, it’s true. I thought I would try and the poem begins in that way, but then it quickly …

TT: Wanders, just like Wordsworth.

MZ: Well, I’ll say just one other thing about it. I was talking earlier about the Cold War and our consciousness in the 80s of the possibility of mass destruction, and in the poem I talk about the air raid sirens going off. And when I was a kid in elementary school, we had an air raid siren in our schoolyard or whatever and it would go off once a month, I guess, and we would all get under our desks, you know, in case of nuclear attack. I mean, that’s how old I am. I mean I’m not that old, but I mean even in to the 70s and 80s people were doing these things, so that actually pops up in the poem. But, OK, so this poem is called “You Have Astounding Cosmic News.”  

Dear sociologists, I have been asked to explain poetry to you. Thus
in the offices of Dazed Lute Press the clicking begins. Lately
we’ve been conducting field experiments into our private thoughts. One
faction next to the soul-shaped water cooler wonders whether
there’s any reason at all to remember the feeling of being a child. Is
it best to imagine one’s self again beneath the desk as the rusted
air raid siren explodes with its bi-monthly ritual Wednesday afternoon
fear distribution? Like you, I was always holding particular crayons
in the dimness of certain morning assemblies. I have been told
some of you think the only constant is constant observation. I know
city planners design the city and still there are diffusionists who pace
the deep blue edge of do you know you can never try to discover
why why flowers in the cubicles. Between you and me the buildings
also have a space for the sparrow named never who does not sing
yes the cities die when you leave them, yes no one cares what you do.
The glass-covered-in-dust windows of the thrift store display
a mirror from the 1920s. If you take it it will no longer regard young
lovers with important thoughts pushed towards the mighty river. I
will fall in love exactly about a million times and then I will die. Clouds
playing dominoes agree. At Everest on Grand someone eats yak discussing
the endless undeclared war among the neutral provinces. Long
metallic articulated girders cast thin shadows over thousands of windows.
A photograph of a pacifist smiles. He wore a white suit, was a friend
to the poor and worked for the union of unemployed telegraph workers
who listened for signals pulsing as Joni Mitchell never said from the heart of
a distant star. He was like my grandfather, after he died the city fathers
did not know what there were building when they built a museum
to encase a window in a wall brought from a faraway country where
it once overlooked the sea. Evenings through giant speakers people listen
to troubled sounds whales bounce off continental shelves. Go tell
everyone everything is related, the rich own the clouds, and you can
always locate yourself with so many shadows to instruct you.

TT: That’s a lovely piece of daydreaming. Thanks very much. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and I’m really glad that we can share this with Amherst.

MZ: Thank you, Tess, and thanks to everyone for listening.

 
AmherstReadsLogoFinal.png