"On Borders, Whitespace and Saying the Unsayable: A poem's virtue is in its lament against powerlessness"
"In Oakhurst, we’re driving fast, laughing and singing when a herd of deer gallop wildly, softly across the road before the truck in front of us hits one. We pull over, rush to his slumped body.
The act of his breathing ripples his fur, his eye large and wet, his horns just nubs. Each breath is too slow, too measurable. There is only a small patch of blood under his left shoulder, but he is dying.
Afraid of his kick, I only touch him after, say sorry as I stroke him. In the smallest space in which death cleaves from life, the sound of any word stings."
Poets & Writers
"In the poem ‘He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do,’ Philip Levine says: ‘Fact is, silence is the perfect water: / unlike rain it falls from no clouds….’ I attach to this Denise Levertov’s idea that a poet must be brought to speech—what we write must be felt so intensely, it ‘wakes in [the poet] this demand: the poem.’
Why use words at all if none can do, if silence, unlike temperamental rain is already there, and constant? The things that really matter will likely remain unlettered, unsayable. How painful, for example, when we learned a man so large in his compassion, and in the force of his words as Levine, was dying."
Articles / Reviews
- PBS NewsHour Online: "This poet gives voice to the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border," article by Jennifer Hijazi, featuring the poem "For Want of Water" with audio, (December 18, 2017).
- Washington Independent Review of Books "November Exemplars" review (November 8, 2017).
- The Millions "Must-Read Poetry" review (October 3, 2017).
- Publishers Weekly review (September 18, 2017).
- Library Journal review (with fellow NPS winners, July 10, 2017)
How a Poem Happens
w/ Brian Brodeur
Featuring the poem "Thai Massage," excerpted from For Want of Water: and other poems.
"I’ve developed an aesthetic that doesn’t believe in poetry as experiment, nor poetry as play. I think loss is the necessary bitter half to the poems that end up compassionate, or generous—that the capaciousness of a poem comes from its own understanding of what we risk, how great it is what can be lost. And because a poem’s form is part language, part space or silence, I think if we dare to speak against that whitespace, it ought to have as its engine, necessity."
Barely South Review
"Saying What Can't Be Said" w/ Matthew Larrimore
"So on, and so on. And then the pleasure of the sequence poem becomes the conversation of parts to parts in the sum, how multiple pieces speak to each other and swell, until—and this is the part I love most in a symphonic movement—they allow for the single violin to come through, that aching, clear and singular voice.
In a poem, that might be the moment when the poem is most lyrical, and intimate. When the momentum of the work stops, and pauses…just enough…and then the poem’s momentum takes over again. It’s the point of Roland Barthes’s punctum, or the part that touches Lorca’s duende, and I don’t know that I myself ever get there. But Philip Levine does in “Smoke,” or Arthur Sze in “Archipelago,” or Patricia Smith in “13 Ways of Looking at 13,” or C.D. Wright in the book-length poem Deepstep Come Shining. So I’m trying to build various voices together to earn that one hopeful and pained voice, like when the guitars and the saxophone finally give in to the singer in Peter Gabriel’s “Home Sweet Home,” and nothing, nothing can muddle the humanity, the utterance. It’s the part of song I’m most in love with."