Fox; On Crusade; Of Snakes in Glass Tanks
Looked for the fox I saw
in the dark grass when I was
drunk, between bouts of
cemetery sleep observing that the white stones are like
p shoulders, slumped in church, but what
p is being buried if not
p infinite church among worms
so differently formed than
my own flat, loose
amazingly sharp, things can be
in moonlight, when
scent metal in the soil, blood minerals
in the low stone walls that
with real human hands I, too, have hands, if I
could find a thing to build, a real
thing, anything worth
now, at the end of time, which for me means
end of the first dark stretch of night, start of the next
it looked at me, where I hung just above
the ground, a floating mirage
from the bar, a drift
of flesh without purpose
adrift on a drizzling sky
unlike me, a fox could menace
could drive apart the parts of blood
and make the hairs stand up of something small, and still
I, too, am small
how my heart
beats in my hands, my legs
my heart I, too, will be this real, not
now, but later, soon.
Twice the ships were called back, and now the cars and trains shuttered
women standing in the sidewalks shifting
weight, nowhere to end up now but here
stuck in another mundane apocalypse oh what if the children are
orphaned? Too bored to care
ten plagues were tossed off, and we received them without anger, even-handed
dealing to the poor as well as
the more handsome poor
I handed scorpions by the barrel to a man
who talked of leaving:
“it was that pathetic thing where all you see is
white thighs! Marching on, or spilling over
from the edge of chairs, this close to strength, but
I cannot stand a lady's thighs, I cannot
bear the thought of death that softness
Of Snakes in Glass Tanks
We all believe there are no teeth. Surely
there is no more death now.
Green lawns abound between new
or remodeled responsible housing
that is basically affordable if
you speak of things basically, in code.
There are very few serial poisoners, very
few, and we don't know them
very well. Some folks became addicted
to the drugs; it's not their fault, they have
no teeth. Their teeth fell out, because
of drugs, because we tried to pity them.
Naomi Rhema Edwards completed her BFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. She lives and works in Pittsburgh.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I couldn't read until I was eight or nine, so sometime after that. But definitely I was a kid who wrote a lot. I was very taken with the woods, with animals, with the big garden that we had growing up. So I was always writing little comics, little stories, little poems about those things.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Not specifically. Whatever they made us read in 8th grade English---probably something mopey and lyrical. John Keats, T. S. Eliot, Wilfred Owen. I loved all of it.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
There are a lot of poets that I theoretically like, but don't actually want to read very often. My favorite poets are ones who make me want to write something new after I've read them. Paul Celan, George Oppen, John Berryman, Wislawa Szymborska, Michael Dickman, Laura Kasischke, Tom Pickard, Robert Creeley, Paul Zweig, Louise Gluck.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I have no rituals. I've kept notebooks for years--hundreds of pages of poetry fragments, drafts, images, notes---which are also travel journals and records of dreams. Things I remember from childhood, things I see when I'm out walking, conversations I overhear. So when I sit down to write a poem, I'm mostly just processing/rendering from those notes. Condensing, collaging, transposing. Sometimes I'll get two or three poems out of a single page, and other times I get maybe one poem out of twenty-five or thirty pages of what is otherwise trash. And if I'm out of ideas, I'll go through really old notebooks looking for anything interesting or surprising to take up again. I rework the same ideas and phrasings in different combinations. Every poem that's finished has probably 10 or 20 past lives that I crossed out, and every poem that's finished is recycled from 5-10 different poems that I salvaged a little piece of before I crossed them out.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
This is a terrible answer, but I'm terrible about form. I usually write in a big, formless sprawl that's hard to look at. Every few years I try to write in couplets or count syllables as a kind of challenge to myself, but I hate doing that.
The best I can say is that I try to ask myself how a poem would take up space in a room if it was a creature. Whether it would be pulled into itself, withdrawn, or a shambling, dissipating wreck. And then I try to let the work take that kind of shape.
Another construction factor is how many voices or registers I'm trying to use. If I have to arrange things to enact conversation or interruption, then that imposes at least some kind of visual organization.
I think writing in form can be interesting, especially now, because it feels like a counterpoint to the suspicion that we've collapsed and ruined all the forms. But I don't really do it.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
I wouldn't worry about it. I think voice is basically the record and product of the execution of obsessions over time; how your work reads is the natural outcome of the problems you keep returning to and the various influences you bring to bear on them. For me, I'm always trying to decide whether I have a tender, benevolent view of the world or an essentially dark and empty one, and that indecision plays out in all my work; it's my subject matter and my approach.
I would say that writing like other writers is an exercise, not an end. You have to shadow or model other poets to develop your own skillset, but what you don't want to do is become insecure and try to write in the way that seems popular based on what's being published. That's how you end up with everyone trafficking in the same moves, and it's boring. Poetry isn't popular, anyway, not in the way that truly popular things are popular, so it's not worth sacrificing your own impulses to try and fit into a restrictive style for the sake of imagined marketability. There's no payoff.
Instead, acknowledge your own inclinations and idiosyncrasies, and become really, really adept at your own project. And your project is to pursue whatever you find most compelling or necessary, whatever questions or images or musicalities become insistent to you, whatever problems you invent that you then have to solve. You're pursuing the problems, and you're working to advance and clarify the way you confront them. Your voice develops in the course of that pursuit.
What is your editing process like?
I’m not a 'close' editor. I don't want any areas of a poem to feel overworked, so I keep writing/retyping the whole poem in different versions, one after the other down the pages, until I have a version that feels most correct. If I change one word, I might have to change the whole poem, so I just write it again. I'll put two poems together, or cut out the middle. Sometimes I barely edit at all, but that's also because my composing process is already an editing process, since I'm working from my own notes. What I don't do is labor over anything microscopically, though I admire that kind of precision in others.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
Things are not so much finished as stable. When I reach a version of a poem that, to that point, best resolves the initial compulsion or problem, I call it done; it balances. And I'm okay with that because I can revisit the whole question later, in another poem.