Featured Interview: Jennifer Still

 

Ordinary Magic, An Interview With Jennifer Still

By Sharon Caseburg

jennifer_still_21

Sharon Caseburg: Do you believe in magic?

Jennifer Still: Yes! Let’s just say it’s within my sense of the “possible” to
be awestruck quite regularly!

SC: How do you define “magic”?

JS: I think of magic as any form of surprising connection. It’s that resonant,
sparking encounter which seems to be the result of some heightened state
of openness. It is what happens when I am most engaged, alert, or play-
fully attentive. It is that sense of the world becoming something more, or,
to borrow a term from Alice in Wonderland, “curiouser and curiouser.”

SC: How does poetry operate within this definition? What’s so magical
about it?

JS: I think the magic in poetry, in any art form really, is in its making. The
open state I mention above is the space where poetry becomes possible.
I think of poetry as linguistic divination—a two-way bending of meaning
and words. So the poet wanders out, dowsing for the poem that is both
a leaning towards and a drawing up. A following and an attracting. The
magic is in finding this pose, the most intense arc between the words and
the current of meaning by which they are drawn.

This past summer I spent a lot of time at our cabin near Lake Winnipeg.
One day as I was swimming I found myself recalling one of the first poems
I had written many years before, and remembering quite specifically a sin-
gle line from that poem as if I were just beginning to understand, all these
years later, what it was working toward. The poem was called “Swimming
Lessons” and the line was “fresh from chrysalis.” As I swam with this line
in my mind a flutter caught my eye. A pale pink, palm-sized moth flapped
on the water’s surface, drowning likely, quite far from the shore. I caught
it in my hands and carried it back, placing it on my notebook to dry. As I
carried it, I had this feeling that I had encountered my poem, right there in
the lake, saved it in fact, momentarily, from being washed away. The moth,
that I later learned to be an oakworm, eventually died on the page as I
thought the poem I’d written years before had. But the poem comes back.
I’m trying now for the words around this encounter. To cast out towards
the poem as the moth’s ripple on the water cast out to me. It is moments
like this—when the imaginative and the material converge—that I consi-
der charmed. That sense of recognition where the world and my place in it
becomes more poignant and strange.

SC: Do you find when you are in the “zone,” working on a particular piece,
that you are more open to these types of “charmed” experiences, than say
in the regular day to day?

JS: Oh for sure. It can be overwhelming actually, the connections that
present themselves. When I’m really focused on my writing, my poem will
begin to speak to me through odd and wondrous ways. If I’m interested in
prescribed forest burning say, I will learn in the planting of a tree that the
uppermost roots on a sapling are called a “flare.” Later, my son will insist
on lighting birthday candles and snuffing them out with a brass bell. I will
become hyper-sensitive to the scent of smoke, from burnt electrical wires
to a cigar lit across a park. A dental procedure will involve the melted sap
of a tree. Language, image, and associations will begin to present them-
selves all around me and it will be as if I am living inside my poem, as if it
has chosen me and now I must listen and write my way out!

SC: You believe in the transformative nature of poetry. In which ways do
these transformative properties of poetry work?

JS: The transformative nature of poetry for me is in its seemingly bound-
less potential to say something new through a medium that on one level is
as accessible, utilitarian and as ordinary as our thumbs! It’s astounding to
me that the same material that comprises a grocery list and game board
rules can be twisted into a poem! It is in language’s flexibility—the sticky
web of poetry’s footings—that words transform.

For instance, if we try to isolate a word as sound, purely, or rhythm, we
still can’t quite separate it from its meaning, or association within us.
Words are filled with so many threads of their own, they are webs unto
themselves. Place one word beside another and poof, we have meaning!
Neruda’s hat of night flying full of holes offers up a new idea of the stars—
what is perceived to be in multiples could perhaps be one blinding light. So
metaphor becomes a kind of alchemy. A particle is smashed and recon-
figured. Our perception is transformed. The poem is not the words unto
themselves, but the elixir of their combined presence.

Much resides in a poem’s betwixt location, that significant stretch be-
tween language as we know it and everything we haven’t said, what we
may understand at some level but hold away from ourselves, just outside
of words. It is when we encounter language for our speechlessness that we
transform our thinking and ways of experiencing the world.

SC: Are you superstitious?

JS: Just a bit (knock on wood).

SC: Are there any particular charms or talismans you hold dear?

JS: There are two parts to this for me. The first is the conceptual charm:
the charm of words and the images I’ve tied to them. As I create through
language I am trying to make words more tangible, to hear through them
the way one would with a shell held to the ear, listening for the larger con-
text from which they are a part. And so it is that the most concrete charac-
ter form of a word, its smallest, hardest, seed-like state, that has become,
increasingly, a touchstone for me.

However, I’m also very fond of objects. This is the second part for me.
There’s always a question for me whether or not I’m writing a poem or
creating an object, something meant to exist more spherical than textual.
I always have an extreme object version of my poems in mind when I’m
working on them. I like to imagine what my poem would look like if I could
lift it off the page and hold it in my hands. I am interested in the poem with-
out words, if that makes any sense. What is its elemental form? Which
of course isn’t anything likely to simply be found. To think of the poem as
charm, as a physical shape helps me to see what I’m creating. As a result,
in writing, I often encounter objects that seem to have fallen right out of
my poems.

SC: Has any particular object or talisman sparked the creation of a poem?

JS: Very clearly, yes, many and actually all my projects have a central
material-world figure. A central image is very useful to me in locating my
writing. If something tangible, say, as a hummingbird sits at the center of
large conceptual ideas such as “beauty” or “capture” or “being seen,” then
I have a counterweight to anchor the line as I cast out for the poem. Even
if the bird flits away, the pendant center of the poem is clear to me, the
bronze cast around which the words were formed remains suspended on
some level.

Right now the image of a rose bowl is at the center of my next work. You
know, those glass water bowls from the fifties that preserved flowers? I’m
fascinated by the concept of “eternal bloom” or what was meant to be!
My great-grandmother had one that I spent many hours gazing into like a
crystal ball, as if the rose blossom was the dress of a dancer that might be
caught in there. I haven’t held one for years but I can still sense the weight
and gloss of it.

SC: Do the transformative or magical properties of poetry change when
poetry is spoken or read out loud?

JS: They can—for better or for worse, I think. Reading one’s poetry to an
audience is an opportunity for the poem to live anew really. It’s a chance
to enter that open field yet again with the work! Mostly I am interested in
chance, improvisation, spontaneity, and how this intimate, lived, embo-
died version of the work can recast the poem, both for the reader and for
the audience.

With my last book I felt it necessary to recite a sequence of poems I call
“Tracks” because they were far more alive under my skin than they were
on the page. They were composed more as chant, written with speed and
rhythm and not necessarily for the page at all. It’s funny, but every time I
recite one of these pieces my nerves momentarily dissolve. The reading
is not about me suddenly. I am not this fraud-feeling poet looking embar-
rassingly down at a page in public. Instead, I am completely untethered
from the book. I am back in that place between heart and poem I guess. I
am the poem, for those 90 seconds, perhaps in the same way a musician
might become her song. I never have post-reading remorse after a recita-
tion the way I often do after a straight-ahead reading.

SC: How does the incantation of poetry affect you?

JS: Incantatory work calls for a listening, a spine of presence, that is far
more visceral than it is intellectual. The rhythms of the incantatory or
recited poem are as important as the words. It is a form that lives more
in the air, in its act or ritual, than on the page. It is more intimate and
internal than a poem simply read. In incantation, the page is stripped away.
The poem is immediate, imperative, on a level more akin to original com-
position than refined document. The heaviness of song in incantation is
more rhythm than lyric. The poet more conjurer than orator. A secret text
is evoked.

Perhaps it is this secret text we are holding out for, what we believe words
might contain for us, that gives poetry its magic: this potential to be turned
toward something new, to reveal ourselves back to ourselves, to be spelled
out to our desires.

1 Neruda, Pablo, The Book of Questions, trans. William O’Daly, Copper-Canyon Press, 2nd edition, 2001.

 

Jennifer Still is the recipient of the 2012 John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. Her second collection of poems, Girlwood (Brick Books, 2011), was nominated for the 2012 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. A faculty member of the 2013 Banff Centre of the Arts Wired Writing Studio and a poetry editor for the literary journal CV2, Jennifer lives within hopeful proximity of Philip’s Magical Paradise, the only magic museum in Western Canada.

This interview is featured in 10:1 “Magic”. To view other work published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is available as a digital feature with additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Ratatosk” by Kyla Neufeld

kyla-neufeld-photo

 

In the Old Norse,
“Bore-tooth.”
Family: scuridae,
from the ancient Greek: skiourous,
meaning “shadow-tailed.”

He is a streak of red
zigzagging down that grey ash,
hind legs outstretched as he runs
away from the Eagle.

he has new words for Nídhögg,
and can easily leap
onto that scaly head,
whisper them into his ear,
brown ear-tufts tickling
dragon ear drums.

And the dragon will
rear his head and send
him flying with a message
for the Eagle, and Ratatosk
will zigzag up this time,
thinking of ways
to embellish Nídhögg’s words,
sow even more dissent.

At night he will curl up
in the moss and leaves
of his nest, tucked away
in Yggdrasil’s branches,
and snicker as he closes
his almond eyes. Tomorrow
he will begin again.

Kyla Neufeld is a poet, writer, and an editor at Geez magazine. Her work has appeared in The Winnipeg ReviewPrairie Books NOW!, and Area of Effect magazine. “Ratatosk” is from her series of poems, “A Field Guide to Norse Mythology.” She lives in Winnipeg.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

 

 

Vallum Poem of the Week: “There’s No Peace in My Campfire” by Rocco Di Giacomo

rocco-de-giacomo-poetrynow-11-photo-by-linda-kooluris-dobbs_dsc0214-1

 

There’s No Peace in My Campfire

I’m white, male, middle-aged and alone.
Instead of thinking I’m a serial killer,
as I’d hoped, my neighbours are convinced
I’m a widower, and keep inviting me over
for hot dogs.

Teenage employers are patrolling the area
in starched khakis, hating the world.
Right now, they would kill to be hanging out at
the Mr. Sub and I’m nervous. I hear them
plotting in the dark, prattling on their devices like
North Korean spies.

Even the stars are busy, a sky-full of chic Ikea lamps,
illuminating my dusty corners. Once inspiring, they are now
annoyingly successful friends who just can’t take
the hint; showing up when you haven’t cleaned.
I, too, am a scattering of particles born in the big bang,
I want to tell them. So don’t be so smug.

There’s no peace at my campfire tonight.
I envy the teens; the simplicity of their hatreds:
the brand of one’s shoes, the music
one listens to. I am jealous of the families,
their sprawling episodes: there is air to breathe
behind childproof locks, the crises that
contain them.

In limbo, where I come from,
ask the question where do I belong?
and you risk drowning.

Rocco de Giacomo is a widely published poet whose work has appeared in literary journals in Canada, Australia, England, Hong Kong and the US. His work has recently been accepted for publication in Arc Poetry and Event, and has most recently been published in Existere. Rocco’s poetry has also been featured on the CBC. He is the author of numerous chapbooks including, in 2008, Catching Dawn’s Breath. In 2009, his first full-length poetry collection, Ten Thousand Miles Between Us, was launched through Quattro Books. His forthcoming collection, Every Night of Our Lives, will be published with Guernica Editions. In 2010, Ten Thousand Miles was longlisted for the ReLit Poetry Award. In 2011, it was selected for Poetry NOW’s 3rd Annual Battle of the Bards. From 2008 to 2014, Rocco volunteered on the committee for the Art Bar Poetry Series, Canada’s longest running weekly series. Rocco lives in Toronto with his wife, Lisa Keophila, a fabric artist, and his daughters, Ava and Matilda. He is currently working on his third poetry manuscript.

Also, check out Rocco’s poetry book Every Night of Our Lives, available here.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Dandelion Snow” by Ilona Martonfi

image001

 

Dandelion Snow

How little did you know as a child,
when you blew away seeds of dandelion
security of a locked psychiatric ward
against black-and-white
flower growing out of asphalt
sit close, Daughter,
diminish the distance

How did you become homeless?

Barren and beautiful
on a rainy Saturday
don’t just look at it
look through it
underclass:
who possess nothing
that matters
the street marginality
away from your house
aimless wandering
and familiar faces
dandelion
“Isn’t that a weed?”
you will see,
not just those who now crowd
the asylums

Ilona Martonfi is the author of three poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules, 2012), and The Snow Kimono (Inanna, 2015.) Her work has published in chapbooks and numerous journals. Founder / artistic director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. Recipient Quebec Writers’ Federation 2010 Community Award.

Also check out Ilona’s poetry book The Snow Kimono, available here.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “It Was a Golden Age of Monsters” by John Sibley Williams

unnamed

It Was a Golden Age of Monsters

The sickle moon bobs like a child’s paper boat
between silhouettes of paper mountains. I am watching

steam swell off a herd of bison in a black and white
book about the American West. Too young to read

much into what I’m reading. The world is all image,
unfinished rail track and Douglas fir, level saw cuts, rings

tracing back to the beginning. The dozen spears projecting
from a felled paper beast are replaced the next chapter

by rifles and iron and the same falling. Tomorrow
it will snow and my father will drive me down

to the hospital again. Snowflakes crazing
about our headlights. Paper moon between

the mountains. I will be thinking about bison,
blood on the page, the pillow. The road

that curls home always seems to erase itself.
And the steam coming off it, frail as breath.

John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors' Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Midwest Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, NimrodRHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Also check out John’s new poetry book Disinheritance, available here.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “Ivy League Graduation Speech” by Adam Scheffler

adam9

Ivy League Graduation Speech

Though you graduated from here,
you have only dragged things out:
eventually you will be spared nothing.
After so much has been
done for you, you will know what it is
to be a means for others’ ends, your time
a commodity, your life something to sell.
They’ve told you to believe in yourself,
to take chances, dream bigbut
these are uninspired lies useful to
keep your energy up, which is not
nothing, but amoral as caffeine.
Know, though, there are small moments in
which you can choose over and over
again your life: restraining yourself
from saying something knee-jerk,
speaking up in a silent meeting about
an obvious but unpopular reform.
Now come forth and shake our hands,
firmly, pose for a few snapshots, then
make room for those who are next,
a long, endless line waiting behind you.

Adam Scheffler is a poet and graduate student. He grew up in California, received his MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is currently finishing his PhD in English at Harvard. His first book of poems – A Dog’s Life– was selected by Denise Duhamel as the winner of the Jacar Press Full-Length Poetry Book Contest. His dissertation is about what other people or characters are like in lyric poems, and focuses on the poetry of James Wright, Thom Gunn, Adrienne Rich, and Frank O’Hara.

Also check out Adam’s new poetry book “A Dog’s Life”, available here.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “flowers on europa” by Yusuf Saadi

yusuf-saadi

flowers on europa

Autumn leaves don’t crackle; skylarks
never sing; a touch of rainfall breaks
the bed. Our daffodils dissolve in your
unpractised inner eye — the tulip spoor
clichéd, the orchids picked and roses dead.
Tonight I grow a darkness in my head.
Imagine frozen plumes above Europa:
The creaking ice is musical. The sun’s iotas
feed extremophiles. And undiscovered flowers
flare within the doldrums. Glowing
petals shock the frost, and sepals hug
themselves for warmth. The anthers drug
the moon with blanchéd light — imagined
from our window while we waste the night.    

YUSUF SAADI’s writing has appeared in magazines including The Malahat Review, Grain, Prairie Fire, PRISM, and Vallum. He also won The Malahat Review’s 2016 Far Horizons Poetry Award. He recently completed his MA at the University of Victoria.

VALLUM: Contemporary Poetry magazine is launching its new “The Wild” themed issue 13:2 and also launching Yusuf Saadi’s Chapbook “Sonnets on a Night without Love”. Come join us in Toronto, Montreal, or both!

Toronto Launch

Montreal Launch

To view poems published in our current issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Vallum Poem of the Week: “A Subtle Blindness” by Vincent Toro

_dsf7781


A Subtle Blindness

A subtle blindness
Has enveloped
The pedestrians of the world

They wander in precise
Configurations
Plotted precariously by a
Cybernetic
Big bad wolf

Their footsteps script futuristic alphabets
Across the surface of the planet

A distress signal to wraithlike tourists
Light years away

The message goes unread

The walkers are led
By the sounds of a digital drum
Off the nearest possible
Bluff

Tumbling into a
Turquoise wilderness

Bones like
A Braille cipher etched along
Parapets in a
Pyramid misplaced
On the tip of a razorblade

Tracing the path of Ants with astigmatism
Back to an anthill
Lined with a barb-wire fence

At its base
A signpost that
Reads
“No trespassing”
Goes eternally unnoticed

Vincent Toro is the author of “Stereo.Island.Mosaic.,” which was awarded the 2015 Sawtooth Poetry Prize. He is also recipient of a Poet’s House Emerging Poets Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and a Metlife Nuestras Voces Playwriting Award. Vincent has an MFA in poetry from Rutgers University, and is a contributing editor for Kweli Literary Journal. His poems have been published in The Buenos Aires Review, Codex, The Acentos Review, The Caribbean Writer, Rattle, The Cortland Review, Vinyl, Saul Williams’ CHORUS, and Best American Experimental Writing 2015. He teaches at Bronx Community College and is a poet in the schools for The Dreamyard Project.

To view other poems published in this issue please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITION for your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.

Featured Review: “Mission Creep” by Joshua Trotter. A review by Bill Neumire

Mission Creep by Joshua Trotter

missioncreep

Review by Bill Neumire

No poetry book or work of art will last long without beginning ambitiously, and Joshua Trotter’s second collection, Mission Creep, is loaded with dynamic scope. It’s a caffeinated spill of cultural criticism newsfeed running on an engine of repetitious wordplay, humor, irony, and wit. Though broken into separate poems with sly titles like ‘Life Is Hard and Full of Miniseries,’ the book is really one long, somewhat narrative poem peopled with characters like Iron Wind, The Oracle, and Evel Knievel. As a long poem, it employs numerous and varied strategies of propulsion, from Whitmanian anaphoras and catalogs, to Homeric repetition of phrase. The acknowledgments section explains that the book makes use of the CIA Human Exploitation Manual, but it’s also  fairly classical in many of its references, alluding to Daedalus (which brilliantly becomes “data loss”), Icarus, The Phoenix (which becomes The River Phoenix, pointing its allusion backward to ancient Egypt and simultaneously to pop culture), and the minotaur. The major character of this mythical book, though, is the “professional life risker” Evel Knievel, an American daredevil who attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps and holds a Guinness Book of World Records entry for survivor of the most broken bones in a lifetime at 433.

Much of the excitement of the book comes from its grabbag of novel and quirky conventions: it employs the use of words stricken from official documents (“<unintelligible>”), but also Megahertz frequency numbers, mysterious page references, and seemingly random capitalizations of phrases such as “MAXIMUM DENSITY” and “THE BANALITY OF EVEL KNIEVEL.” Mission Creep’s words often disassemble and reform into other, similar-sounding words and phrases with drastically different meanings; for instance, the speaker in ‘A Growing Group of Concerned Citizens’  says, “The Oracle grew appendages. Penned adages. Adagios” (9). The book is also so full of allusions and erasures that a set of footnotes might be longer than the text itself, and at times it alters the language of those allusions ever so slightly, as in its nod to Cummings that removes the h from “hands”: ““Nobody, not even the rain, had such small ands” (32). In fact, the book constantly sets up predictable patterns of language only to veer away at the last moment, sometimes even heaping together cliches to imbue them with new meaning via new context; “a word repeated is another word” (60) the speaker claims, and later, “Each word is newfangled, unique, crisscrossing morning with a flashy trunket in its beak” (69). It is an inter-referential text that hinges on sentence-level and more overarching repetitions, such as the anaphoric “Let us” at the beginning of clauses throughout all of these poems. Without the breathing room of white space, the poems appear as prose in one thick block down the page, and they are long, multi-page pieces for the most part. As a result, the form makes it feel like a newsfeed deluge, like a stream of infinite data. There’s one section that even employs the language of an online Q&A: “<<Is the Iron Wind called the Iron Wind because of its colour/texture (iron-like), because it whips the victim like iron flails (whilts mutilating it of course) or because of something else entirely? Thanks!>>” (48). The book can, after a while, seem to become too complacent, too entertained by its own cleverness, such that a line like “Beware the Pacific Rimbjob” (21) struck too many times isn’t funny so much as groan-provoking. The speaker revels in the danger of such mutable language, though, and in ‘Transmission Creep,’ one of the last poems, that language quickly breaks down into nonsense: “Late summer remainder silence. Pwallowuime silence. Oovo-Bonarch butterfly silence. Ptanch-the lawking-Bannheim silence (…) uhese’p a flaph, apqark, pqou-telding” (87): Initially, the wordplay is fun and incisive, but tortured enough, it finally becomes fruitless.

Despite any minor flaws, Mission Creep is inventive, quirky, allusive, trendy, and clever. It wallows in pop culture with lines like “I once was lost in the mountains of Brad Pitt” (56) and “Don’t believe me, believe my status updates” (90). It’s deeply submerged in a complicated (and implicated) criticism of government, of war, of culture and capitalism; and its sense of the speaker’s own culpability, of any armchair critic’s culpability, is palpable as well, as the speaker asks,

if you think the name of her weapon is beautiful, are you implicated in the crime? What kind of gun did Annie Oakley use? What kind of gun did George Zimmerman use? What kind of gun did Walter White use? What kind of gun did Patrick Swayze use? See Red Dawn, Patrick and Jennifer grunting in the sun. The kids grunt in the sun because they’re hungry [masculine] and they’re hungry [feminine]. The kids aren’t lost, rather, crazed with lust, loosed among foothills with endless ammunition (60).

The voice possesses a commercial quality, as if it’s a critique that can’t escape being part of what is critiqued: it’s a voice that’s willing and thrilled to be lewd, obscene, comically dark.  It’s also a voice that presents a complex sense of identity, a sense that the “I” is created by a public, that an individual consciousness is a construct of a society. Consequently, there’s a distancing from the self that happens, for example, in ‘A Growing Group of Concerned Citizens’:

I watched my myself dig a

hole and drop my myself in. I covered my myself.

Watered my myself. I watched my myself bloom. It

grew a penis. It grew a beard and glasses. It looked

familiar. The ghost is clear, it told me (31).

But there is still an other, a “you,” and the speaker yearns to be one with the public “you,” striving to thrust himself into the public consciousness: “All I ever wanted was to drift at a great height, forever gracious, soaring through local argots in my Bell Magnum, dissembling my myselves” (97). This is a self in love with pop culture and the public in many ways but also swallowed by it to the point where “The only way to travel, now, is travel by proxy, copying and pasting my myselves over vast distances” (57).

In Mission Creep, Trotter solders classical myths, epic ambition, and Whitmanian parallelism and repetition to a sardonic, twenty-first-century voice drowning in a capitalistic, voyeuristic, pop culture war machine; it’s a voice roiling with irony, puns, sexual innuendo, witty linguistic jokes, and an ambiguous, self-implicating criticism. To this, he adds a surreal and disorienting narrative in which Evel Knievel, a man who made his living by creating arbitrary obstacles and leaping them for public entertainment–maybe not so different than a poet’s work–takes center stage in a ridiculous epic of the age of memes and torture manuals.

Bill Neumire‘s first book, Estrus, was a semi-finalist for the 42 Miles Press Award. His poems appear in the Harvard Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and West Branch.