Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (Norton, 2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, was shortlisted for France’s Prix Femina, and has been translated into thirteen languages. He is also the author of two books of poetry, Some Ether (Graywolf, 2000), and Blind Huber (Graywolf, 2002), for which he received fellowships from, among other organizations, The Guggenheim Foundation and The Library of Congress. Some of the venues his poems, essays and non-fiction have appeared in include The New Yorker, The Paris Review, National Public Radio’s “This American Life,” and The New York Times Book Review. His film credits include “field poet” and artistic collaborator on the film “Darwin’s Nightmare,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for best feature documentary in 2006. One semester a year he teaches at the University of Houston, and he then spends the rest of the year elsewhere.


I want to erase your footprints
from my walls. Each pillow
is thick with your reasons. Omens

fill the sidewalk below my window: a woman
in a party hat, clinging
to a tin-foil balloon. Shadows

creep slowly across the tar, someone yells, "Stop!"
and I close my eyes. I can't watch

as this town slowly empties, leaving me
strung between bon-voyages, like so many clothes
on a line, the white handkerchief

stuck in my throat. You know the way Jesus

rips open his shirt
to show us his heart, all flaming and thorny,
the way he points to it. I'm afraid

the way I'll miss you will be this obvious.

I have a friend who everyone warns me
is dangerous, he hides
bloody images of Jesus
around my house, for me to find

when I come home; Jesus
behind the cupboard door, Jesus tucked

into the mirror. He wants to save me
but we disagree from what. My version of hell
is someone ripping open his shirt

and saying, Look what I did for you. . .

When was this poem composed? How did it start?

It was begun sometime in the early 1990s, when I was a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It was the first full winter I spent in that town, which can get pretty desolate, wonderfully desolate, strangely empty, by February.

How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?

It’s hard for me to say at this point, but I usually go through many revisions, especially with a poem such as this, which is basically a collage of three different failed poems.

Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?

I think there is such a thing as inspiration, yet without the work it won’t come to much, except in very rare instances, the occasional gift. I try to maintain the initial spark in a poem, and then build a structure around it, if that’s what is called for.

How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?

I use a collage technique, the principles of which had to be found (unlike, say, a given form, like a sonnet).

How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?

I don’t remember.

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?

Usually I’d never send anything out for at least a year, just to make sure it had actually found its final form. Found itself.

Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?

It’s all based on actual incidents from my life at that time, some of which took place in the “real” world, some of which took place inside of me. I hate to break it apart, but here goes: It begins with an evocation of a scene, then moves into a retelling of a troubled friend (he’d probably thought I was the troubled one) who tried to convert me to jesus, then ends with a meditation on a central tenet of Christianity, that of sacrifice being equated with love. If my friend hadn’t left all those images of jesus around my house, with him pointing at his heart, which made their way into the deep caves of my subconscious, connecting to other violent images from my life, the poem likely wouldn’t have found me.

Is this a narrative poem?

It has narrative flashes.

Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?

The title, of course, comes from Richard Hugo’s great book, Triggering Town.

Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?

I try not to think of any reader until fairly late in the game, but I would like my friends who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves poets, though every word they utter is poetry, to be able to enter into my work.

Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?

I was part of a writing group for years, which was amazingly helpful. I don’t think anything gets created by one individual.

How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?

The ending is almost didactic, which isn’t something I’m usually comfortable with.

What is American about this poem?

American? I don’t know, the scene it evokes might happen anywhere, yet it did happen in a particular place, which was America, which was the threshold into my subconscious, at that moment.

Was this poem finished or abandoned?

I think it found itself, by the end.


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