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Saturday
Jan182014

"As They Wobble into View": An Interview with Kyle McCord

Kyle McCord is the author of three books of poetry, including Sympathy from the Devil (Gold Wake Press 2013). He has work featured in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Verse and elsewhere. He co-edits iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and he is the co-founder and lead content editor for LitBridge. He teaches at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX.

His poem, "[I may never understand why you purchased the bonnet]," appeared in Issue Fifty-One of The Collagist. 

Here, he speaks with interviewer Elizabeth Deanna Morris about human correlative and the length lines want to be.

Could you tell us about the genesis of [I may never understand why you purchased the bonnet]?

Truth be told, I’m not sure of the genesis, but here are some possible ways I could have written this poem:

1. I was on residency in Latvia. I had recently returned from a visit to Krakow. After the visit to Krakow in which a friendly man with a sword insisted that I take photos with him, then pay him, I wrote this poem.

2. I was on residency in Latvia. I was eating a fancy breakfast at the Hotel Bergs and thought “today I will write a poem that’s fancy.” I’ve had this thought before. I will have this thought again. I ate another plate of baguette and sliced meats. I returned to my room to write.

3. I was on residency in Latvia. I started thinking about my strange form of employment. I thought of my father, who is a law professor, and his years working for a firm in Phoenix. I thought of the sun. Then I remembered that I needed to finish the section of The Odyssey I was planning to teach my students. I went downstairs to get a kiwi, but there were no kiwis. I returned to my room to write.

Some of the details in this poem seem too specific not to be drawn from real life (“the bonnet / embroidered with a nude merman” and the numbering of the evil law firm and evil corporate client.) If these are drawn from real life, how do you go about picking and choosing what will be represented in the poem, while still remaining accessible to outsiders? If I’m totally off base here and they aren’t drawn from real life, how do you pick details that ring true to such a specific feeling?

I don’t have a nude merman bonnet and I have since been asked to resign from Evil Law Firm #5 (the partners found me insufficiently discrete following Evil Convention #7), but these things do have some basis in the real world. When I am picking an image I think: “What can’t be in a poem?” Resistance to an image indicates that a space hasn’t been carved out for how that thing could happen in a poem. It’s one way to “make it new.”

To me, the question is less about whether a poem is accessible and more about what it provides access to. Is a poem an abandoned building? Is it a shrine? Is it a party for ghosts? How does the poem make you access it? Do you feel comfortable accessing it? Does it change when you turn it upside down? Is it two places at the same time? Is it in a duel with itself?

A poem has got to have some emotional resonance, some human correlative. I do my best to bow to that. But I also want to offer an array of ways to access and inhabit a poem. That means letting go of some literal meaning and perhaps changing the means of access.

This poem’s line breaks pace it wonderfully, so that the reader can move easily through the poem. The poem itself is almost entirely “regular” sentences, though, and so I’m curious as to how you came to this line length (as opposed to having a prose poem, having much longer/short lines). Is this something that came with revision and playing with the text, or was it more organic?

It’s kind of you to say. I’ve written very long lines, and I’ve written medium length lines. This piece is from my forthcoming book You Are Indeed an Elk, But This is Not the Forest You Were Born to Graze (Gold Wake, 2015). It’s the first book where I really diced things up.

I demand some leaping on the part of the reader. The linebreaks are my way of shortening the distance. The lines didn’t want to be long anyway. I tried that. The images needed too much space. The winos and the spirograph didn’t want to share. I prefer to let images have their own life on a line when it doesn’t impede meaning or flatten things out too much. The smaller line gave me that permission.

Could you give us some reading suggestions?

Rebecca Gayle Howell’s Render, Hannah Gamble’s Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast, Nick Courtright’s Let There Be Light. Jason Bredle’s Carnival.

Also, check out these journals: Big Lucks, Gulf Coast, and Tin House.

What other projects are you working on right now?

I edit this site: http://www.americanmicroreviews.com/

I co-edit this site with the amazing Wendy Xu: http://iopoetry.org/

I run this reading series: https://www.facebook.com/KrakenReadingSeries?ref=hl

I’m also hammering away on a new manuscript that moves in and around art.

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