I want to think of the page as a piece of technology that captures the way I would read the poem out loud. The page is a musical score. I set out to format the poem while also thinking about tempo.
If you’ve read your work aloud for many years and can’t tell when an audience is tuning you out or getting bored or restless, then you’re not paying attention. Too many poets (and too many fiction writers) read their work as if they’re alone in a room, performing some burdensome task.
Many years ago, I was looking at the first poem I ever published just after it was published. I walked to my kitchen, opened the trashcan, and pushed the journal through the trash all the way in the bottom; there, I thought. Now there’s one less chance anybody ever sees that. Then it ended up in Best American Poetry ’05.
Visually, I don’t want my poem to look weird. I want it to look totally normal on the page. I want it to appear normal and accessible, so that when weird things start happening people have less of a reason to question things.
My first concern is to create poetry that brims with life and even spills life into the lifeless. That, at its best, poetry is not a thing to perform or read, but rather a way of being and moving through the world.
If I open my inner ear to a particular frequency and tune in often and carefully enough, I can hear the music of the words. Poems come to me as sound first and foremost. The visual element comes second, possibly even third. As the words come to me, I whisper them aloud. I mutter to myself. I write down those quiet mutterings in a continuous longhand scrawl. I say to myself, don’t judge, don’t judge, don’t judge.
I would be most inclined to compare my poetry to some really self-consciously horny gay indie rock. I don’t intend it to come across that way, but it seems like I talk about my genitals a lot more than most poets.
I think now and then I manage to take a piece and rock the mic like a vandal, but one of my favorite forms of collaboration is to write a poem and hand it as a script to a filmmaker.
I haven’t really had to rail against traditional/popular styles, but as a listener, I certainly rail against it. Your poem will, yes, speak for itself on the page. It should. But if I’m watching you read, you better be speaking for your poems. It’s your job to bring me inside of them. It’s your job to make me care.
I suppose there is a certain music in my poetry in that it functions as a story, with high points and low, choruses and verses both predictable and organic—and not. I think my ‘style’ allows me to tell a whole tale, and build a world based not only on linguistics but definitive story, like a lot of music does.