CGB: Poetry, like a fancy car, still has this kind of protective poem-sized cover draping over it when not in use that seems to say, "This will be difficult to understand, proceed with caution." The diction in these poems, however, struck me as diverging from the vernacular just enough to make one stop and think, without drawing attention to its opacity. I'm tempted to compare it to CGI or robots or something, except that you're not using language to make people fight with dragons or jump off of burning buildings. At least, not that I could tell. Anyway, are you conscious of writing in a way that relates to the reader without forgoing privacy, by which I mean the mind's first and potentially least well organized thought? DG: I don’t believe your first statement is true. Genres aren’t monoliths. Poetry can’t “say” anything to readers before or until they choose to engage with a text. At that point, as the teacherly cliché goes, each poem asks different things of different readers. Am I conscious of the ways my own poetry travels back and forth along a continuum of transparency and opacity? Absolutely, but often that tension is a generative force, which for a poet is obviously the preferrable relationship to have to the plasticity of language.
I want to quote a stanza from the poem "Beauty Supply": The other day, when I drove Tony down Lake Street/and pointed to the hospital where I was born,/he said, "Your Life is one of shocking continuity,"/and I wondered whether I was being given/a compliment or a warning. And then ask a question that might be another way of asking the question I just asked: Are lines like this continuous of that which came before them and what follows? Is the ideal poem a baton, in other words, handed off from word to word? Or are they a surprise? And if so, how do you (quite well, I might add) refrain from conspiring to play the part of a poet, in your poems, speaking at a distance, rather than a person who has to change seats on airplanes and drive friends down Lake Street?
Well, the second you begin writing a poem, you begin to play the role of a poet, so I’m not sure it’s possible to sidestep that conundrum. But if you’re suggesting that a poem can be (and maybe even should be) more than a construct, I totally agree. You seem to be identifying things I’m interested in exploring as a poet, such as the line between intimacy and claustrophobia, or the one between association and disjunction. But the less I stay conscious of these things, and the more I approach the page as a space for play, the better my results. I’m terrified of my own intentions, which have ruined more poems than anything else I can think of, outside of Spandeau Ballet on the coffee shop sound system.
While we're on the subject, it's a weird luxury to read poems about the streets and beards and record stores you call home. There's a saying that goes, "Careful, or I'll put you in my novel." But poems, typically, are too abstract for anyone to take the bad stuff personally. Have you ever thought of selling slots, or "appearances," in poems for a little extra cash? Or have I grossly misunderstood the role of poetry in a culture driven by commercial gain?
You’re being facetious, I hope. I will say this: I commute to work inside light-rail cars wrapped in vinyl, dot-matrix advertising panels. So when I awaken to the world, I see it through backwards Best Buy and Target promotions. I have no idea what the role of poetry should be in consumer culture, other than to reveal the world while also revealing the lenses through which we see the world.
Muppets, appendectomy, snowman: the longer a list grows, the more suspicious its lacunae: I'm pretty sure I feel this way about cleaning. It's a tired question, but at what point do you stop making a list? When is the poem or title or book done?
There are no tired questions, only tired answers. None of my books are done. Nearly every time I pick up one of my books to do a bookstore reading, I tweak a word or two. Some individual poems feel more done than others. But “doneness” doesn’t measure much. I can look at a poem and think “done” while also thinking “meh.” It could be said that our inherent need to imagine finality is one of poetry’s great subjects. It’s also impossible. If you’ve experienced “done,” you’re not in this world to tell us about it. So we can only move forward while trying to avoid looking backward. Orpheus teaches us that. Adrian Peterson, too.