Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball is a fabulist of the latter part of the twentieth and early twenty-first century. His many prizewinning works run through the fields of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and art. Most recently he is the author of The Curfew (novel) and The Village on Horseback (omnibus). He teaches lucid dreaming and general practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

For J.Z.
Lester and Burma were speaking gaily. He had encountered her in the hallway. Hello, he said, you certainly are a sight for sore eyes. They proceeded to a room adjoining that hall, where a large window opened onto the street. I would like to have you for supper, said Burma, and took off her dress.

I am appalled, said the doorman to the coachman, and the coachman to the gardener, at the way the young lady dosports herself. You would think she had been brought up better than that.

Burma was wearing no underwear, and her slender body looked very nice on Lester's sofa. He said so. Thank you, said Burma. I swim each day, and use fine oils. Of course you do, said Lester.

What will happen, said Lester's father to Lester's mother, when that boy gets to the big city? Who will he fall in with? Will he return in ten years' time and shower us with gifts and rememberance? Or will he, said Lester's father to Lester's sickly uncle, die from the plague like all his cousins? Perhaps he will take to the sea and become a privateer, with a letter of marque. I would like that, said the uncle. I would like that also, said Lester's father.

A cloud of bees overtook the window and screened the room for a minute. Do you think they'll harm us? asked Lester. Why, no, said Burma, they're just curious. Aren't you ever curious? Yes, quite, said Lester, laying his hand upon her thigh.

The beekeeper paused by his hives. A cloud of bees is missing, he said, to no one in particular. I hpe the little creatures aren't up to any mischief. I hope they return by dark so I can tuck them in their little beds and read them fairy tales.

At any rate, said Lester, we might at least have a look in the bedroom and see what's going on in there. Yes, said Burma, we might at least do that. Just to know for sure. The bedroom door closed softly behind them.

And when the bees returned to their hive, the beekeeper was there with glad tears and an admonishing word. He read them a story from a fine book he'd just bought, in which a boy and girl go to bed together with no other reason than that it is nice to be in bed with a boy and it is nice to be in bed with a girl and it is nice to wake up midway through a life in early evening to the buzzing of bees in an adjoining room.

When was this poem composed? How did it start?

In the spring of two thousand and three. In a basement room with a glimmer of light through some sort of absurd duct poking up onto 125th street in Manhattan. I was attending graduate school at Columbia at that time.

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


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

The mind runs on particular courses. Should such a course be presentable, perhaps it is a poem.

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

Delight. All labor, all love in useless, ample delight.

Was there anything unusual about the way in which you wrote this poem?

I did more of this sort of thing before March Book, and more after. Prose that isn't anything, that doesn't believe it has to be anything. It is an arrow approaching its target on foot, unannounced.

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

I believe the book appeared a year later, from Grove Press.

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 most often write in volumes, so it is a matter of the publisher's will to action.

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

Poetry is non-fiction. Poems are battle-reports fresh from the field. You must wipe the blood off them to read the hastily written words. Also, poems are inventions, having nothing to do with anything. They are like the kisses girls give to imaginary crocodiles, if such crocodiles, if such girls exist.

Is this a narrative poem?

Some would say so. But not very much happens. Do things need to happen?

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

Well, then I was mad about Proust.

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

That person who is always walking back and forth to the mailbox to see if the mail has arrived.

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?

Once things are done, I tend to show my wife. But in two thousand and three, I hadn't heard of her yet.

How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?

It ends happily.

What is American about this poem?

It continues the continent's true heritage: that arrival must extinguish something. Somewhere another poem has been snuffed out. No, I suppose, I don't find that I am particularly American. Do you have to be, just because you were born here? I like the American transcendentalist tradition. I like free thought. I like Paul Morphy and Henri Darger. That's my America.

Was this poem finished or abandoned?

Abandoned into print.


  1. thanks for this - it seemed worth reading. Isn't the web just full of things!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Does it have to be poetry just because it appears in a blog about poetry? (I wrote that at Oxford while swinging under a furnace pipe wrapped with asbestos. Or was it in the south of Antarctica where my wife, a princess of the penguin clan, first invented the arrow with feet?) Geez, what a pretensious little twit.

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