Sunday, August 7, 2011

David Hernandez

David Hernandez is the recipient of a 2011 NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry. His recent collection, Hoodwinked (Sarabande Books, 2011), won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. His other collections include Always Danger (SIU Press), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, and A House Waiting for Music (Tupelo Press). His poems have appeared in FIELD, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, The Missouri Review, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, and Poetry Daily. He is also the author of two YA novels, No More Us for You and Suckerpunch, both published by HarperCollins. David lives in Long Beach and is married to writer Lisa Glatt.


What’s left of his silver hair he wants
cut so his wife would stop calling him
Mr. Cumulus. He tells his hairstylist
how short with a forefinger and thumb
centimeters apart as if showing her
an invisible pill, one of the dozen he takes
daily to keep the channels of his heart
unclogged, the blood thin, joints
without fire, the great icebergs of ache
from colliding into his body.
She turns for her scissors and turns
again to see his head shuddering
like a dandelion in an earthquake,
the cape Velcroed to his neck going up
down up down above his crotch.
She’s thinking what you’re thinking.
He’s thinking, I should clean my glasses
with a handkerchief instead
In the mirror he squints at her reflection,
pink cloud of face, orange haze
of flowerpot she raises like a trophy
before shattering it against his head.
True story, unless the hairstylist
who told the hairstylist who told
the hairstylist who’s now clipping my hair
lied. Or the hairstylist twice removed
loves embellishment. This is how
every story telephoned from person
to person becomes after each telling
distorted, the way these parallel
barbershop mirrors repeat themselves
to make an endless green tunnel
I can see myself walking through.

When was this poem composed? How did it start?

I keep a log of every poem I’ve written, so I can tell you definitively that I worked on this poem from May 17th-19th of 2004. And I’m pretty sure I started this poem shortly after getting my haircut and hearing the story that the poem dramatizes.

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

I’m constantly revising as I write, rewriting what was already rewritten, and tinkering with line breaks and punctuation marks until my vision blurs, so it’s hard to say how many revisions this particular poem went through. Fifty drafts is about my average.

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

I think inspiration is given too much credit. It can only do so much—never any of the heavy lifting that’s required when crafting a poem. Inspiration is a lazy architect who gives you a blueprint with only the front door drawn, then snoozes on a hammock while you build the entire house.

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 depends on the poem. Sometimes I’ll let it sit on my hard drive for a few weeks, then look at it again with a fresh pair of eyes. I’ll inevitably make more changes before submitting it to a magazine. Occasionally I’ll send it off a day or two after it was written it, but I understand that impulse has more to do with wanting to get published and less with wanting to write well.

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

There’s a presumption that a poem is more meaningful if the poet describes an experience exactly as it happened, and if he were to fiddle with the facts, then the poem is somehow inauthentic. As if simply sticking to the facts will prevent one from sounding disingenuous. I’m more concerned that the poem sounds emotionally true, which is to say I haven’t answered your question yet. In short: I didn’t allow factual events to meddle with the writing process of "Trompe L’Oeil." But I did get a haircut.

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

I don’t remember who I was reading May of last year, let alone May of 2004. However, I can tell you my two biggest influences: Charles Simic (especially his early poems) and FIELD magazine.

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

That would make me nervous. Like having someone standing behind me while I write, staring at the monitor. I have about seventy-three other things in mind when I write. How are the line breaks working? The verb choices? Tone? The character of the speaker? What’ll I have for lunch? When are the Wrens going to put out another album? My mind wanders.

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 showed Lisa, my wife. She’s the only one I share working drafts with.

How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?

It’s the only one with muttonchops.

What is American about this poem?

There’s something very American about hairstylists swapping stories. Also, Velcro makes an appearance—a company whose headquarters are located in Manchester, NH.

Was this poem finished or abandoned?



  1. Sweet, David Hernandez rocks! I just finished writing a review of "Always Danger" after nearly all my poetry students cited it as their favorite book of the semester.

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