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
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,
and pushes the cart into oncoming traffic.
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
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.