Over Drinks, I Offer My 21-Year-Old Self Some Unsolicited Advice; Small Talk; Just A Phase
By: Ed Doerr
Over Drinks, I Offer My 21-Year-Old Self Some Unsolicited Advice
Keep holding grief in your mouth,
you’ll poison flavor.
They say you don’t know sweet
until the first tang of citrus zips
across a clean tongue.
But we don’t acquire every taste—
birth gifts us a palate predisposed
to know loss is sunshine, is laughter.
Let it loose before that, too, spoils,
leeches into the roots of your teeth.
Each bite turns to fire, chars gums.
These things we’re talking about,
they need air—they need height—
to grow. Like you, in a way.
Nudge them from the nest,
but start small: whittle an aperture.
Healing, you’ll learn, is a breeze
sweeping the rooms of the body.
Only then can you impose shape—
crease by careful crease,
fold these like paper doves.
A whisper tickles your eyes,
then release. Crane your neck,
grant them patience & the sky to disappear.
That’s the greatest miracle, you’ll find,
the moment you finally let yourself
feel small, small, small.
hosting corrupts more
than the body.
insist we live
to be hollowed.
into a sun
burning at the heart
of our universe,
& we are —
somehow, always —
grateful for the heat.
Just A Phase
I suppose, measured
against the epochs
of Earth’s existence,
you have a point.
But would you say
the same of Pangaea?
Would you label
its continental divisions
a fleeting proclivity?
Tell me: what
lets you accept
the permanence of geology
but dismiss this so-called
bifurcation in me
as sand passing
through an hourglass,
until I’m whole again?
A self-professed Twitter obsessive, Ed is a teacher and the author of the poetry chapbook 'Sauteing Spinach With My Aunt' (Desert Willow Press, 2018) and a collection of micro-poetry called 'Eulogy For A Former Life' (Rinky Dink Press, 2018). Other individual poems, essays, and fiction can be found most recently in or are forthcoming from publications like Water/Stone Review, Hippocampus Magazine, The American Journal of Poetry, Sky Island Journal, Trampset, One Teen Story, Ember Chasm Review, Dreams Walking, and more. Readers can follow him on Twitter (@EdDoerrWrites), read his TV blog (overstuffeddvr.com), and visit his website (eddoerr.com).
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press: How long have you been writing poetry?
I’ve been an avid reader of poetry for decades, but I’ve been seriously writing it for about five years. Prior to that, I dabbled in poetry, but I never really considered myself much of a poet. Actually, I fancied myself a fiction writer, even though I often felt myself limited by the constraints of narrative at times. My interest in poetry really blossomed thanks to some incredible mentors I had the pleasure of learning from while pursuing my masters in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Now, I proudly call myself a poet. CNP: Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Absolutely! “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson. Her rendering of Death as this courtly gentleman was so surprising to me; it helped me see the unlimited possibilities of poetry, its ability to surprise and transform a reader through a subversion of expectation or an expansion of preconception. CNP: Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
The Tradition by Jericho Brown is, cover to cover, the best collection I’ve ever read, with his poem “Bullet Points” a potent and gut-wrenching distillation of the universal truth that Black Lives Matter. There are so many additional poets I adore and whose work has affected me profoundly. Saeed Jones. Ocean Vuong. Terrance Hayes. Cameron Awkward-Rich. Natasha Trethewey. Malcolm Tariq. Louise Gluck. Joy Harjo. Danez Smith. Kay Ryan. Lucille Clifton. Mary Oliver. Richie Hofmann. Mark Doty (who penned another one of my favorite poems ever, “A Display Of Mackerel”). The array of voices in poetry – those belonging to poets of color, to queer, Black, and female poets – is what makes it such a vital art form. CNP: Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I wish I had something more insightful to say for this! What I can say is that the Notes app on my phone is overflowing with phrases or images that pop into my mind. I usually turn them over in my head for a few days, see if they can be expanded further — and sometimes a larger conceit will result. When I strike on something, I need to write it down immediately – on the computer, on my phone, wherever. I have to get the ideas out so that I can go back later and shape it into a poem through several revision stages. CNP: 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?
Stylistically, I tend to write in free verse with short, clipped lines. Beyond that, I have no expectation for form when I begin, and even those are subject to change. Line breaks and musicality are obviously integral to poetry, but I don’t like to impose them ahead of time. The structure and content of the poem should, in my mind, be married to one another, the structure arising from the content’s meaning.
CNP: Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
For me, it’s both the simplest and hardest thing: be honest. Put your truth, your mind and your heart, into each line. Your convictions, anxieties, triumphs, and traumas are unique. No one’s lived your life but you, so when you’re open to that rawness and realness, your voice will have no choice but to emerge. CNP: What is your editing process like?
ED: I find editing both painstaking and exhilarating. My main issue is that in the first drafts of my poems, I tend to overwrite: too many adjectives, unnecessarily elaborate description. Maybe the best piece of advice I ever received was that if an image doesn’t advance your poem (thematically, emotionally, etc), to cut it. That’s often my first order of business. After that, it comes down to the poem’s lineation. Sometimes, I’ll spend an entire day fiddling around with the line breaks for just a line or two. But, to me, editing and revision are when writing occurs, when you begin to implement craft to shape the raw material of your thoughts into an actual poem. Perhaps it’s an unpopular opinion, but I love editing my work. CNP: When do you know that a poem is finished?
That’s the tricky thing about poetry. Unless you’re a Jericho Brown, or a Mark Doty, or a Lucille Clifton, or any of the exemplary poets I listed above who are masters of their craft, a poem can always be tweaked. For me, I am content to stop tinkering when I feel like my voice, images, and emotions are clear. If these shine through and cohere, I can finally step away – even if I’m still turning over an enjambment or two once a poem is out in the world.