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Interview by Leigh Kotsilidis

Joe_NeubertJoe Neubert cover_FINAL
Joe Neubert
was born in Georgia and is currently living in Washington, DC.

In DC Poems, the sublime is all around. Joe Neubert’s new chapbook is a collection of snapshots from everyday life, where the poet is the observer, watching and wondering from a distance. With sparse language and precise images, Neubert records the seconds of the day before they’re gone: “early March the sun / the streetlights the people / the afternoon men / playing checkers on a trashcan.” Time and space are reconfigured – we are in D.C., but also Siberia, and also rural Spain, and also the southern pole. Neubert charts these moments in a circular relation to each other. “Does the view from the roof on a monday in march / stir the cells of their unknowable individual / private universes,” he asks.

Leigh Kotsilidis (LK):
How did this collection come together—were most of the poems written in the same time period? What was the writing process like?

Joe Neubert (JN): My wife and I moved to DC in 2017 after living abroad for a couple years. The decision to move here was slightly more thought out than throwing a dart at a map, but only slightly. We booked an Airbnb for ten nights, found an apartment we could just barely afford within those ten nights and now it’s 2020 and we’re still here. Most of these poems were written in the past few years. “A bus full” was written on the megabus ride from Atlanta to DC. And the one about the Trans-Siberian Railroad was written in early 2017 in Moscow. That was a trip. There were nesting dolls in the tourist shops with little Trumps that went inside of Putins.

LK: The collection references many different places, despite being titled DC Poems. Do you see this as a collection about one specific place? Or, how do you conceptualize themes of place and transit in the collection?

JN: Well, I saw an ad for this contest in the back of the April issue of Poetry Magazine and I thought, “Hey, I got some poems that would look neat in a chapbook… nah.” And then I saw an ad for this contest in the back of the May issue of Poetry Magazine and thought, “Okay, I’ll do it.” My cat peed all over the June issue, so I don’t know if there was a Vallum ad in that one. Plus, you know, COVID-19 and unemployment meant I was home with my typewriter. So then I picked out some poems from my journal, typed them up and looked at them all typed up together in one set and thought, “I wrote most of these in DC. I’ll call it DC Poems.”

LK: There are several religious references in the poems, too, to God and pilgrims and, especially, the Tao. Do you see this collection as a spiritual work?

JN: These poems, like their author, place their faith in humanity. Or at least they try to. Humanity is making it pretty damn difficult this year. But I’m trying. The sun is always shining, right?

2020 ChapbooksThis interview has been edited for length and clarity.

DC Poems is now available through the Vallum website.