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Song

By Anton Yakovlev

Poem

I will move into a dream home to enhance my image.
I will furnish it with an elephant, build an extra loft and a hearth.
After I shop, the coziness aisle in the department store will be empty.
But at night, I will dream that we’ve never properly said goodbye.

I will put a stuffed bear in a microwave, make him toasty
and hold him to my heart, imagining his affection.
I will floor passersby with space-age flower shows in my windows.
But at night, I will dream that we’ve never properly said goodbye.

jericho_5

In your most recent collection, The New Testament, you wrote in one of your poems, “Hustle”: “I eat with humans who think any book full of black characters is about race.” Overall, your work seems to revolve around issues of sexuality, love, violence, masculinity, family, spirituality, mortality, and race (among other things, of course). When someone attempts to categorize you exclusively as a “homosexual” or a “gym rat” or a “Southern black man” or a “’religious’ poet,” etc (while misrepresenting or failing to acknowledge the other parts of your identity), how do you resist such curtailment or oversimplification of your identity? 

Well, I don’t exactly “resist” any identifiers because I don’t automatically think of it as “curtailment” or “oversimplification.”  So yes, the parenthetical phase in your question is of utmost importance.

You come with a little
Black string tied
Around your tongue,
Knotted to remind
Where you came from
And why you left
Behind photographs
Of people whose
Names need no
Pronouncing. How

Your signature scent is the apple pie
Yankee Candle on the toilet in your grandmother’s
powder room in La Jolla, which I light
just after I finally shit for the first time in a week
full of casseroles, cobbs and clubs, plus
the hours of sitting in your grandfather’s Lincoln
driving through desert hills decked out in
ranch-style manses, old money, oil and gold,
a wheeling and dealing history as he tells it,
feeling something acidic push up in my throat
as we cruise and swerve through what should be just desert.

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When did you write your first poem?

I wrote my first poem in 1967 when I was a freshman at the University of Southern California. It was my first time away from home, the war in Viet Nam was going full force and I was a confused, angst-filled adolescent who didn’t know what I thought about anything. I had a huge crush on my French professor, Dr. Robin Blake, and one day — I usually sat in the front row of class — he saw that I had scribbled the beginnings of a poem on my notebook. He stopped and picked the poem up off the notebook and said to the class that Ms. Bogen had written a poem and that it was pretty good. For the rest of the semester, I would strategically leave poems on the side of my notebook although he never singled me out again. I probably would have stopped writing but at the end of my freshman year I became the first freshman to ever win the (college) award from the Academy of American Poets at USC.

1.
I tell you the skin alone cannot contain
the brawl of a generation —
we burned flags before the helmets
and the dogs rabid with our parents’ teeth.
Then we locked arms, swaying
and cheered when the match struck.
We watched, swore the jelly of napalm
would not silence the corpses
pulled from rice paddies in another world.

AlexusErin1

 

When did you start writing poetry?

I was drawn to poetry quite young. In the first grade I wrote a ‘poetry collection’- think rhyming couplets and magic marker drawings. When my teacher caught onto how I was spending my time, she allowed me to go ‘on tour’ to all the other first grade classes to present my work. This was my first poetry reading. I continued to read poetry throughout childhood and into adolescence, where I got simultaneously got very into sonnets (penning a few on the kitchen floor of my childhood in cleaning solution) and pop punk lyrics (Fall Out Boy, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday). Even a few years away from its general angst, I’m still a big fan of the genre- there is something piercing, illuminating and revealing (from a cultural standpoint) about a lot of pop punk and emo’s lyrical themes and qualities. More recently, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the poetry of hip hop- hip hop is doing a lot of important work right now. I would be remiss to not mention the lyrical and performative prowess of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper.

For a moment, we captured all possible danger with flypaper,
speaking frankly about desire as though it was the charred remains of a forest, reset.
Lightning dashed, flame rose and fell and we were left

only with the evidence
that we were a doing a good job,
a kind thing by telling the truth. Our walking culled doubt,

eased the strain
of hand-in-glove disease that warps
the kissing corner and locks

If you laugh at some sacred object you change it. Useful onerosity.

Disbelieving and drinking are always present tense. I mean
what is hard and what responds—my horse and her water. I can be
anywhere, I used to think, happy.

Why would anyone travel when you could be in a field
with one person?

When you left, I swallowed a lemon whole.
I didn’t know what else to do. I knew
to bless but how among the swanky,
dishonest slobs! I do not say these things about you. “I
am the auto salesman and lóve you.” Dear!

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford

 

What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?

No one will ever remember how clean I kept my toilets; use your time for something else.

I. Alive in Naked Earth

Holding shovel is a boy—not boy so much as a body growing.
How his skin—patch of ground—is like a bed. What can’t be
sown in youth? Clean well mouth—spring of throat. New. My

skin’s a stained sheet tied to a dry-line. I’ve asked him, to fold &
bury me? He’ll do as instructed. Spade corner to garden corner.
Hands of earth against my mouth—there was a time I believed

in the all consuming. I want to believe again. Holding a shovel,
is a boy. Buried alive, I reclaim something:
                                            remember when love smelled like rain?

 

It’s so good to get a chance to talk to you about your first book of poems, Trouble the Water. So I wanna try something a bit different. I’m not that interested in asking the usual questions and just talking about writing. Let’s talk about your influences outside of literature as a way to frame the conversation.

Yes! Thank God. Haha.

I look for you on the storm-smoothed shore,
               glittering where the moon tows itself
across the bay. Cool air fills my lungs with mint

as I walk past sea oats, past sea grapes
               in tidal pools. Waves spread
like playing cards—a flush the land can’t beat—

and the sea keeps upping the ante: first,
               quartz and crysolite, then breakwaters
and wooden weirs, then the land itself,

an erosion so ceaseless I too want to give
               my body, wholly, to something else.
Camped by a fire, you call to me.

jane's pic of liz

 

Why Chaos Theories? What is the significance of the title?

Many tenets from chaos theory appear in these poems. After reading a little bit about it, I became obsessed with the way in which chaos is actually a type of order. This contradiction continues to fascinate me and seems an apt metaphor for human emotions and relationships, and maybe even a metaphor for the writing process – or at least my process: through my poems I attempt to force order onto the disorder of the world. Plus I love all of the scientific language: strange attractors, bifurcations, butterfly effect, turbulence, dynamic systems, sensitivity to initial conditions, and on and on… There is so much gorgeous language to mine.

One can’t predict what happens next, yet even
chaos breeds patterns of a sort: sly singles

at the bar, nocturnal creatures stalking shadows,
cars cruising for motion’s sake. I’m speaking out

of turn again. We all are sensitive
to first impressions, but initial conditions

shift swiftly and with little impetus.
I found him digging ditches in summer heat,

and soon we’d made declarations, smiled broadly
for photographs. It wasn’t meant to be