There is an edge
between the farthest you can hear and not:
before it’s gone, everything
hums some. Here and there—
a curve around a pocked slope,
a grey camel
sky, and an evil feeling—
the hard lean of time itself.
Along the way, trees screen thin roosters , homeless goats,
giant wrens. We had never been so close—
so pressed in by the horizon’s chill mantle. This tiny oyster lip
of the world is only headlight long; so, bones snap,
food rots, and boundlessness
When was this poem composed? How did it start?
I wrote this poem about a year ago when I was—yup—in Nicaragua. The base of the poem was built on the image of the animals, which I paid a lot of attention to while I was there, especially along the roadside while traveling around from Managua to San Juan del Sur, amazing things like volcanoes and crater lakes.
Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?
Gosh, I should hope all poets believe in some inspiration—otherwise it’s, what, a bloodless word game? Some images and phrases are “received” from the world—in this case, particularly the images from driving the Pan-American highway and concepts of distance and edges—and then I spend time arranging them so the feelings and ideas will cohere and evoke the source of inspiration accurately.
How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?
Once the poem is down, I look hard at line breaks and punctuation and think about balance and patterns that have emerged. Each poem is very different, and I suppose my only formula is to try and keep it that way.
How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?
Almost exactly one year after I wrote it.
How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?
I try to make my poems sit, but of course I send poems off too soon—within days or weeks of writing them—and I know that’s not always the best thing to do. This poem I sent off about two months after writing it and it was accepted about a month following that at the Kenyon Review Online, which is all very fast. The only rule I stick to in regards to publishing is to be fervently polite, patient, persistent, and remember that it means absolutely nothing in the end.
Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?
In some ways, this is a very personal question. I know that what is factually accurate about this poem is ultimately unknowable to a reader, and can’t therefore “matter” to anyone but me. One core truth here for me, personally speaking, was a moment of closeness to someone I wanted to be close to while I was on this trip. It charged all of my observations with an intensity that felt both lovely and painfully temporary. In a broader sense, I think there must be something “true” about everything in a poem…otherwise, what’s the point?
Is this a narrative poem?
I don’t personally consider it to be so, as I generally find “plots” boring and unnecessary.
Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?
I was reading American Colonies by Alan Taylor, and had just finished books by Richard Dawkins and Kevin Phillips. When I’m really writing, I read a lot of history and science as it inspires me to be focused, clear, and precise.
Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
I try to write poems I would like to read.
How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?
Normally I write on my laptop, but of course not having it with me in Nicaragua, I wrote this poem in a tiny notepad, which made the process different. As I made changes, I decided to rewrite the poem entirely so in the end I had dozens of different versions of it. The process made me realize how significant the delete button is to my usual process, and I wondered for a while about the total lack of “versions” I normally have of my poems.
What is American about this poem?
Probably its idiotic persistence in being sad over inevitable loss.
Was this poem finished or abandoned?
Finished. I don’t try to publish the abandoned ones.