Lock the doors, turn off Facebook, and put on your dinosaur slippers because this month’s Poetry Feature includes five pieces by Bruce Covey. Covey’s sixth book of poetry, Change Machine, was published by Noemi Press in 2014. He lives in Atlanta, GA, where he publishes and edits Coconut magazine and Coconut Books, curates the What’s New in Poetry reading series, and probably does all kinds of other things that are equally awesome.
Before we get to that, though, Bruce was kind enough to answer a few interview questions on everything from his influences and his writing process to how he feels about T-rexes. Feel free to take a look—unless you’re like me and you prefer to read interviews after you read the poems, in which case… glad to see you again! Great poems, huh?
Michael: Welcome, Bruce, and thanks for sharing your work with us. I love the energy and range in your work! For instance, the humor and surrealism in A True Account of Talking to the Moon in Atlanta, GA really drew me in, but I sense a deeper, underlying meaning exemplified by that little Red Bull twist at the end. I also like the form. Tell me, what do you see as the difference (if any) between flash fiction and prose-poetry?
Bruce: Thanks so much, Michael! I’m thrilled to be included in Atticus Review. I love what you do!
A True Account of Talking to the Moon in Atlanta, GA, is an homage to Frank O’Hara, whose poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island” is, in turn, an homage to Mayakovsky. Except in mine, the moon doesn’t seem to like much of anything, including me, my misguided “healthy lifestyle,” or poetry in general.
I do like it when we, as poets, name a prose block as a poem. Poems converge and diverge with readers’ expectations—a block of prose labeled as a poem reads very differently than a block of prose labeled as prose. In this case, it was fun to play with narrative (something I rarely do), while knowing all along that my intentions were purely for poetry. I don’t think this piece would work as flash fiction, but I’m happy with it as a poem.
M: Your poem, Delta, got me thinking about the ongoing debate over what is and isn’t admissible in poetry, as far as contemporary references go. Do you have a stance on this?
B: I think part of our work as poets is to push against and extend the existing possibilities for poetry, whether in content or form or concept or process. I hope this sales pitch to Delta is something that readers find to be unexpected and fun. Maybe the airline will indeed notice and give me a free ticket voucher! It’s pretty joyful to think of a corporation taking notice of a poem.
I do think anything—including cultural references—can be admissible in poetry, as long as the poem and its context are true to the current moment of poetry.
M: In Arctangent, I love how you balance elevated, philosophical musings with an undercurrent of humor and self-deprecation. I’m curious what inspired this poem and/or this particular approach.
B: Oftentimes it’s combinations of different things that provide a spark for my poems. In this case, I was thinking about the mathematics of arctangents, which are bounded on the y-axis but extend infinitely on the x. I think that notion—I guess I had the image of the curve in my head more than anything—coupled with the more common use of the word “tangent,” which I go on all the time, was in my mind when I started writing the poem. Then mini-golfing came along, which makes sense in retrospect, given its focus on points and trajectories and continuous sequences.
M: I’m really intrigued by the energy and ambition in Double Sonnet: Dew. Can you talk a little about your writing process and/or inspiration for that poem?
B: Sure! I’ve been writing a lot of sonnets lately—I think of them as sonnets that don’t necessarily want to be sonnets. The sparks for these came on two consecutive mornings, when I was in different but overlapping moods. I started writing each of them as independent sonnets, but soon realized they’d work far better in parallel. In writing—and in their brief revisions—I wanted to be true to the moment of each morning, and the moments of writing each morning. Like with Arctangent and so many of my poems, I had an image or some images in my head—dots, bubbles, the cardinal. But as restless as these poems are, I wanted them to keep coming back to emotions.
M: There’s a great energy to Sonnet: Ice, as well. I noticed that you have a knack for lines that can be read as separate, snappy one-liners but also contribute to the poem’s bigger picture. When it comes to your personal aesthetic, do you have any “rules” that you’re willing or unwilling to break?
B: Thank you! I always remember an interview with Ted Berrigan in which he said something like, “One way to write a terrific poem is to make every line terrific.” Along with the sonnets I’ve been writing a bunch of what I consider to be paratactic poems with really long, prosaic lines. The two styles seem to come together in Sonnet: Ice.
I think each of my poems has strict rules with regards to process and/or form (and/or sometimes content), but I’m willing—and sometimes need—to change those rules from book to book or sequence to sequence or poem to poem. I definitely love to find ways to break the rules, but I do so, I think, by establishing new rules, and by following those new rules until I can’t follow them anymore.
M: Any great, new projects in the works?
B: I’m really excited that my new book, Change Machine, has just come out from Noemi Press! I’m going to do a bunch of readings to celebrate! I’m also pretty certain that the sonnets and paratactic poems will continue to build into a manuscript.
M: What’s one book by another contemporary poet that you’d like to recommend to our audience?
B: One book? It’s so difficult to choose just one! If I narrow it down to a non-Coconut Books book that was very recently published on a small press and isn’t yet getting the attention it deserves, I’d have to go with Paige Taggart’s Want for Lion and/or Megan Volpert’s Only Ride.
M: Last but not least, what’s your favorite dinosaur, and why?
B: If the Tyrannosaurus rex did indeed have feathers, it would immediately become my favorite! The thought of a giant, angry chicken is terrifying!
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