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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Awareness; Museum Day

By: Collin Van Son


The telephone timber line spites the fall

of dying leaflets—Missing: White Male

Pomeranian—three-holed plastic sleeves

fogged with condensation, clean sheet reminders

that drawing a blank is the same as erasing.

The signs are now vague and speciesless, possibly

the work of a woman whose husband etched

a map of his marrow cave

and ended up in northwest Poland,

in a studio apartment,

overlooking the Baltic as he counts stone

and record skips. If you’re going to lose

a pet or a father

it’s best if your mom’s a teacher

with access to the laminator, so you can post

waterproof rewards amongst the sidewalk

crack sunflowers,

who cast their curbside shade on what aspires

to be sea glass—collectors

don’t want cuts or clarity, they want the moon

to erode so they can read

broken bottle messages. Pity the beach combers,

the homesick astronomers, limiting

themselves to seven seas while their tranquil, tidal

locked fathers lap nectar and vapor

above. The man who is pushing

a shopping cart cross-country says he’s doing it

to raise awareness. When I ask him for what,

he shrugs

and pushes the cart into oncoming traffic.

Museum Day

today was muffled eggshell

in paper towel fist crunch

today was orange juice

and toothpaste, too much

coffee, cloud and sunny

side: breakfast for dinner

and breakfast for breakfast

today was worrying

about bladder infections

because three roommates

you’ve never seen

are always in the shower

today was fine

print printed on eyelids,

ear holes, ventral scales,

on lettered snakes

and legless lizards

today was why

a man can’t marry

his widow’s sister, how

the smallest number

that cannot be described

in under twelve words

was just described in less

today was mandatory


in which you guessed


and were told to let a guest

call your slow-spoken colleague

a retard

today was new lanyard day

today was laundry day,

rat trap and radon day

today was too cold

with the fan

and too quiet without it

today was your mom

needing three hellos

to recognize your voice


Collin Van Son is a recent graduate of Penn State University. Though he majored in physics, his interests currently revolve around writing and theater. His short fiction has previously appeared in Penn State's Klio and Kalliope, and Hofstra University's Windmill. These are his first poems to appear outside the classroom.

Interview With The Poet

Cathexis Northwest Press:

In your bio it mentions that you majored in Physics. I'm curious how you came to write poetry. Would you care to elaborate on that, for curiosity's sake?

Collin Van Son:

Absolutely. I took my first creative writing class in sophomore year of college, and everything sort of spiraled from there. (Spiraled in a good way.) I ended up minoring in English, doing my senior thesis as a short story collection, and I even got to do some playwriting. Poetry always intimidated me, but senior year I decided to give it a go and enroll in an introductory class. I found I really liked it, and I’ve tried my best to keep at it since graduation, and now we’re here.


Who are some of your favorites poets/favorite poems?


Since it’s been less than a year since I started writing poetry, I’m currently reading from a range of poets to try and figure out who resonates with me and who I can learn the most from. Most recently I read a collection by Matthew Dickman. Next I think I’ll rewind by a hundred years or so.


Do you have a ritual for your writing process? Any tricks that get you in the proper headspace for writing?


Before I write I usually sit down with whatever book I’m reading at the time and read for however long it takes me to finish a cup of coffee. If I’m writing on a workday it definitely helps to change clothes or take a shower after I get home.


You mention in your bio that these poems are the first to appear "outside the classroom"--How does it feel to not only be published, but to have those poems be selected as the feature?


It was a big surprise but a very welcome one. As someone who’s relatively new to poetry it’s very encouraging and provides some good motivation to sit back down and keep at it.


The cascade of images in Museum Day are at once both emotionally striking and full of humor. Can you walk us through the writing process and your intention for this poem?


Sure thing. “Cascade” is a good word to use because that poem was my attempt to distill all the events, emotions, and the physical sensations I was experiencing during a pretty tumultuous couple of weeks. It was a time when I was feeling very powerless and at the mercy of what was going on around me, and writing felt like a way to get myself out on paper. The humor found its way in because that’s always been my front-line coping mechanism.


One of my favorite lines comes from Awareness: "Clean sheet reminders / that drawing a blank is the same as erasing." It feels to me like the whole poem is centered around that line, and the stark ending. What was the writing process like for Awareness?


Most of the imagery from that poem came from this day-long, head-clearing walk I took in an unfamiliar city. It was around the same time I wrote Museum Day, so as I mentioned I was feeling pretty adrift and lost—and then for an hour or so I was geographically lost, too. Among other things, I saw a sunflower growing up out of the sidewalk and this unsettling number of Missing Pet signs. By the time I got home I had the poem’s ending written in my head, and I sort of worked backwards from there, trying to infuse what I’d seen that day with the sense of “unseen-ness” I had felt along the way.


What is your editing process like? When do you know a poem is complete?


Most of my first drafts are written in prose, just this rambling, associative mess. It usually isn’t until the third draft or so that I figure out what I’m actually trying to do with the poem, and from there it’s another draft or two until I’m at the point where I can read it once through without immediately fixing things as I go.


Both these poems take the reader for quite a ride--a lot of several unexpected turns and emotional pulls. Was that surprise also apparent to you in the writing process, or did they come out as full fleshed ideas?


In writing Museum Day, most of my energy was spent cutting, rearranging, and rephrasing. Awareness was a much more surprising process—I had no idea it would take me where it did, but as a result it was also more fun to write.


You have very masterful endings in both of these poems; I'm wondering if your background in physics impacts your pacing, writing, and more specifically, your explosive, crushing ending lines.


Thank you. My physics background definitely impacts my writing, both in terms of content and style, but I’d have to give it more thought before venturing any specifics. As for the ending... So, if you’re solving a physics problem or doing a derivation, it’s not usually the last step that’s the most dramatic—often times the creative leap, the thing that makes it more than just a calculation, occurs at the very beginning, in the way you choose to frame the problem, how you determine your boundary conditions, stuff like that. A good derivation in math or science has a clear logical progression, and I think I try to bring something like that to my poems. I would love to think that my poems follow a “logical” progression—not logic in the strict math or science sense, but in the sense that, even if it’s surprising, the reader can see that the ending was a natural consequence of the poem’s start.


Thank you so much for being with us.


Of course, thank you for having me.


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