Zachary Schomburg was born in 1977. He is the author of The Man Suit (Black Ocean 2007), Scary, No Scary (Black Ocean 2009), and a dvd of poem-films, Little Blind Thing (Poor Claudia 2010). He is also the author of several chapbooks including two that are forthcoming: From the Fjords (Spork Press), and Feelings Using Wolves (Small Fires Press), a collaboration with Emily Kendal Frey. His poetry translations from the Russian of Andrei Sen-Senkov are in The Agriculture Reader, Aufgabe, Harp & Altar, Circumference and others. He has co-edited Octopus Books and Octopus Magazine since 2003. He lives in Portland, OR. For more information, please visit his blog.
SCARY, NO SCARY
to your childhood
after a lifetime away
to find it
red paint will be
It will have
a significant westward lean.
There will be
a hole in its roof
that bats fly
The old man
at the front door
will be prepared
to give you a tour,
but first he’ll ask
scary, or no scary?
You should say
When was this poem composed? How did it start? How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?
I wrote "Scary, No Scary" in June of 2006. I was working in a cornfield in Nebraska at the time, breeding corn hybrids, digging irrigation troughs, and was constantly overheated and burned and bored. This is an ideal environment to write a poem. I was hallucinating these little nightmarish narrative moments most of the time, listening to Godspeed! You Black Emperor on my new pollen-dusted iPod, tying silks off with brown paper bags of pollen. When I got home I would transfer the poems from my head onto the word processor. I dreamt this poem more than wrote it. This poem in particular still appears exactly as it was first written. So each line is as it spilled out of me. I guess I wrote it in about two minutes. After I wrote this poem, it felt so pure to me, so unmanipulated and unmanipulative, that I began to write an entire manuscript from this world. I wanted to live for a year or two in this dark nightmarish journey through the woods. And so I did.
Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?
My favorite poems of mine feel more "received" than worked. "Scary, No Scary" feels entirely received. Sometimes I find myself in this place where my brain and my heart are talking to each other, and I have nothing to do with it. I'm dead. And those two parts of me have forgotten about me. This is when I'm at my happiest, when I'm dead in this exact way.
How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?
It was published in Typo #8 that summer. Adam Clay and Matt Henriksen heard me read it and they asked me for it. Typo had rejected my poems a few times before that, so I was pretty sure I was taking a break from submitting to them. So, it was pretty nice to be asked. Typo is solid.
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?
It never sits. I don't have the patience for that. Usually, the poem I just finished writing feels like the best poem I've ever written and the world needs it before the morning comes. I don't want to wait until I see all its flaws in the morning. Why does this sound like I met the poem in a bar?
Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?
There is a very emotional sincerity at the heart of this poem (and others in the manuscript) despite a clear logical insincerity. This poem, like the rest of the poems in that manuscript are about loneliness, self-discovery, choice in the context of a search for home, whatever home might mean. Its of a dream, and as an admirer of Breton, I would argue that that doesn't negate it from being non-fiction. I have hardly written a poem any truer.
Is this a narrative poem?
Is what a narrative poem?
Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?
I think I was just starting to read some French poets, Breton, Eluard, Reverdy, Char. And I was reading Graham Foust. It looks like a Foust poem, if you blur your eyes a bit. And Simic and Tate and Mary Ruefle. And I remember listening to a lot of Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut, Magnetic Fields, Smiths, and Richard Buckner (and Godspeed, like I said earlier) that summer.
Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
No, not exactly. This is kind of like asking do you think about an ideal writer as you read? I think about writing as a slow reading, the kind of reading you can get just right. I want to read the best poem. I want my life to bounce off of it just a little, send my path askew if only a fraction. I want it to put its fingers in my eyes.
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 did actually, yes. Look at what I did, I said.
How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?
Well, many of my poems are prose poems. "Scary, No Scary" is a departure from that. I like to tell stories. I like the poem to be about the sentence and not the line. But when this one spilled out, it came in lines. Each line told a story. It wouldn't work as a prose poem. This poem inspired me to write that entire first section of SNS just like it. I've now returned to the prose poem and feel quite comfortable and happy there.
What is American about this poem?
Nothing. There's nothing American about it.
Was this poem finished or abandoned?