Paterfamilias; Scrutiny; Fool’s Errand
By: Robert Focht
Pale blue tapered streams frame
the silver maples. Miles on the lam
have stamped feats mapped on film
into psalters. Remit a sample list,
those slim times impelled faster.
Spare pleas marred by fear.
My spirit mate splits into steam
unaltered by trips riled with trifles.
She slams fire when false tears aim
malaise and spite.
The real slate trap ate Mister Primate,
strapped just behind a feral serf.
We aspired apart and took steps
to lift the astral ramp.
Flimflam strafes and frets
while our lips seal the petals
of asters. The tempest leaps seam first,
then melts stars flat.
Failsafe is frail peril,
terse respite from fates past,
a brief smile of mist that rasps,
rises, and aspirates at last.
No more koans about one hand clapping
or why the sky is a turquoise sphinx. Who’s there?
None of your business. But orange you glad I didn’t
say banana? “That,” sniffed Herr Goldbach,
“is mere conjecture.”
The old third degree, good cop/bad cop
grilling you again, your magenta jumpsuit
sugared white by their dream of donuts.
“When did you commence
that heretical regimen?” sneered
the assistant prosecutor, a noxious
miasma of vitriol insinuating itself
from his cratered, blood-red face.
During cross examination,
Darlene’s forehead was stippled
with sweat, her dimples inundated,
her Valentine violated.
Torquemada slowly incanted his wish list:
Pear of Anguish, Brazen Bull, Judas Cradle.
He amassed demonic armament
and stormed Qamar’s mosque.
Did your endless polishing add value
to Grandpa’s rust-ravaged velocipede?
His disciples seek the flush of freedom
that only cartwheels can provide.
A delicate lamina of rime envelops
the dogwood bough, whispering
frail blossoms of blue noise.
Please follow suit.
Remember St. Ives? That Cornwall seaside
fishing town north of Penzance, the one in
the old poser where you think you need to
sum up sevens, but wind up on the road alone?
Not far from near future, we bend
light around corners. Down periscope.
Up and away from you all.
Take me at my word: they’ve outlawed affection.
We lock in, throbbing like old scars. Your breath
makes me bleed: you’ve cornered the market
Aurora sheds her darkness
like a golden cobra molting
blue-black crepe. Her supplicants
offer a hairpin turn, vitiated.
So delightfully girlish in your hot pink
puckered dirndl, you couldn’t help but
flabbergast the incoming minstrel.
The orchestral accompaniment
will be conducted by remote control.
Goldilocks, tearing apart yet another
innocent family, gathers herself to honor
the return of the prodigal, then flashes
a crooked smile like some shifty little nail-tough
wideout with great hands who earns a living
snagging spirals over the middle, getting hammered,
and losing what’s left of his wisdom teeth.
We saw the all-encompassing radiance wane
as we sidled into the panic room. Still plenty left
to celebrate: a box of stick matches, a handful of crumbs,
this frangible Japanese lantern.
Described by his two rescue dogs as a neo-transcendentalist, Robert Focht lives a solitary life in the ghost town of West Hoboken, New Jersey and divides his time between running headlong into fully-involved building fires and working on an unauthorized autobiography. He has had work accepted by Curating Alexandria, The Helix, Metafore, The Esthetic Apostle, Poached Hare, Deathbed Capers, and The Hoboken Terminal.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Although I can’t recall one specific poem from my adolescence, from very early on I was a voracious reader. I read through all of Poe, devoured every type of mythology, and ingested any number of British poets in grammar school, then moved on to a whole bunch of other stuff like Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Jack London, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Salinger, Hemingway, Roth, Updike, Ginsburg, Vonnegut, William Burroughs, etc.
But my love affair with poetry crystallized when I was sixteen years old and my aunt gifted me with my recently deceased uncle’s copy of the New Directions publication of Charles Baudelaire’s "Les Fleurs du Mal". The opening poem, “To the Reader” (in this volume offered in two translations, one by Stanley Kunitz and the other by Robert Lowell) grabbed me hard and still hasn’t let go.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Love Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery ,James Tate, Charles Simic, Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Hacker, Russell Edson, Kim Addonizio, Elaine Equie, so many others.
Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” is one of my all-time favorite poems. Marilyn Hacker is also a consummate sonneteer. See her book “Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons” for many wonderful examples. And no matter how many times I read “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”, it always rings my bell. I love the way Ashbery so deftly juxtaposes high art and pop culture. Again, there are just so many great poems that it would take me forever to name my favorites.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I use not one process, but a multitude of strategies. My philosophy: whatever works, use it!
I sometimes come up with a title that gets me going. Or run across a prompt that’ll kick me off. Maybe I might just put down independent sentences over a period of time, let them gestate, see if any of them want to work together, let the poem invent itself, and then come up with a title. When I studied with Dennis Nurkse, he suggested just writing lots of sentences in iambic pentameter and harvesting the best ones. Or something I’m reading might inspire me. Or an overheard conversation. Since I’m also a musician, the sound and rhythm of phrases and sentences is also very important in guiding my work. If my aim is to write something formal, like a sonnet or villanelle, I might stockpile words I like that rhyme or if for a sestina, words that are multi-functional or have homonyms.
I’m also a big fan of Oulipo, which offers a number of launching pads from which to initiate one’s writing. One oft he founders of Oulipo, Raymond Queneau, researched whether the constraints of the sestina could be applied using other than six end words. And so we have the tritina, the quintina, et alia. Georges Perec, another Oulipian, wrote a 300-page novel “La disparition”, using only words which don’t contain the letter “e”. Another method is called “the beautiful in-law”, which is a homage written to someone by using the letters in their name to generate words that are then used in the poem. I just wrote a tribute to Baudelaire called “Ariel’s Ballad” using that methodology. My poem “Paterfamilias” comprises words generated almost exclusively from the letters in its title. The “Oulipo Companion”, edited by Harry Mathews, is a great source if you enjoy that sort of thing.
And certainly there are those magical moments when a poem, like Athena bursting full-grown from Zeus’s head, comes roaring out in complete regalia, a gift from the muse for all the heavy lifting done as preparation. But for the most part, it’s as Thomas Edison said: one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. It’s the small, hard-won increments of learning one’s craft that have produced results for me. And being a grammar nerd.
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?
I use both methods.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Read a lot, write a lot, and keep looking.
What is your editing process like?
I’m a grammar-fascist, fastidious about line breaks, indefatigable in coming as close as I can to the most appropriate vocabulary for the situation. That said, after all the studying I’ve done, I also trust to just let my instincts assert themselves.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
That depends on the poem. I find that sometimes I go back to early work of mine and tweak it here and there in keeping with the insights into craft I’ve acquired over the intervening time period. And then there are those Athena moments!