Archive | January 2015
“To Jane Apreece Davy” emerged from a workshop exercise to write a “persona poem.” I chose to write a sonnet from the perspective of Michael Faraday, an English physicist who has always fascinated me. At the time I was also sitting in on a post-graduate Electricity and Magnetism course, in which the lecturer would often offer pieces of biography about the physicists whose laws we were studying. Faraday achieved an astounding level of understanding of electric and magnetic forces without having ever been classically trained in mathematics. This poem works through my own ideas on the power of determination and intuition; Faraday, self-taught and always experimenting, was able to “see” invisible, electromagnetic forces at work in the world in a way no one else could at that time. I wonder also about the invisible social forces that allowed Faraday to rise so quickly through the academic hierarchy, and yet, like the principle in Faraday’s law, resisted his rise when he moved too fast.
“Nucleators,” is a part of a long, semi-autobiographical narrative sequence, titled “Astropoetica: A Space Opera.” “Nucleators” is placed about a quarter of the way into the narrative, at which point the protagonist’s mother has been commissioned to design a room for snow inside the first colonizing spaceship. The protagonist will eventually leave a slowly deteriorating Earth on this very same spaceship. The poem resulted from a need for a piece of pre-departure narrative, a RadioLab segment (http://www.radiolab.org/story/super-cool/) I had recently listened to, and last year’s fairly late snow-storms in New York. In this poem, bacteria adapt to their environments by harassing the properties of frozen water, while humans design Earth-like reminders for interstellar travel. Tens of thousands of miles from home, I was also wondering about natural surroundings and adaptation, and the way organisms change and are changed by new geographies.
“Fall” is from is a sequence of poems about the harbor near where my family lives in Mamaroneck, New York. These poems include deep image poems from things I’ve seen on my many walks there, but there are also several strands of poems that complicate such simple appropriations of images from nature, ranging in tone from comic to reverent to existentially austere. In keeping with the harbor as a liminal space, many of them deal with the permeable boundaries between consciousness and the unconscious, temporal and eternal — or archetypal — nature and civilization. My process of writing the poem was similar to many in the sequence: I walk and collect impressions until various levels cohere, connections form, and then I try to capture a draft as quickly as I can. I usually type them up as prose blocks, and then experiment with different formal structures until I find one that seems to click. In the case of “Fall,” the formal structure was the word clusters separated by blank space and their tension with the syntax. I then did further revisions according to the rules the poem had presented to me, allowing its rules to guide me in deepening dualities and complexities and honing its music.
1. When did you first get the idea for this story? What was the very first “seed” that started this story in your mind?
As with so many of my stories, the idea came from real life. There was a time when throwing eggs from an overpass seemed like a good way to pass the time. Of course, we never actually hit any cars. But we tried like hell. So, I asked myself – what would have happened if we had? My imagination took off from there.
2. Could you speak to the process of writing the story – did it all come to you at once, or in bits and pieces?
I’m envious of writers whose stories come all at once. That never happens to me. This story slowly leaked out of my brain over the course of several months. The story originally started on the bridge, but once I wrote the ending, I knew I needed to set up Mr. Grayson earlier. I wrote the opening – the egg-heist section – last and hoped to create a procedural-style excitement before reaching the more deliberate pacing of the scene on the bridge.
3. Can you talk about writing the moment when the narrator throws the egg?
Sure. The paragraph just before Jake makes the decision to throw it gets the prize for most rewrites. In early drafts, Jake dropped the egg and it hit the car accidentally. But when I started to understand that the story was really about the power that parents exert over children, I wanted Jake to own the decision. I wanted him to have a real moment of defiance before being brought back to the reality of his situation.
4. Do you have any comments on the narrator?
The narrator stands on the threshold between childhood and adulthood. Jake is both a kid throwing eggs with his friend and an adult resigned to his fate in a world where he lacks agency. The narration and language are meant to reflect that.
5. Could you speak to the role that anger plays in the story?
Anger is how the men in this story respond to a loss of control. Mr. Grayson is angry when the mastery of his domain is challenged in both large (a rival appears at the door) and small (noise) ways. Grayson is meant to be an echo of Jake’s father as well. The man in the car snaps when an egg unexpectedly hits his windshield. Most people in his position would be angry, but they wouldn’t spend thirty minutes hunting down kids. The boys face this anger in a very real way in the story. Paul is literally beaten into submission. Jake vows to have a different response.