Tercets. Confession/culpability. Does anybody get out? What does poetry change or does it? Drink. History vs. Memory. Five interview prompts for Samuel Amadon, inspired by his remarkable second book of poetry, The Hartford Book (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2012).
I finished my first draft of The Hartford Book in 2005, after beginning to work on it the year before. (This book, incidentally, now has the kind of story that pissed me off when I was writing this book.) The poems came flooding out, once I learned, from Richard Howard, that I could write them (poems about crackheads and hockey players, about my friends). Richard guided me into how to do that, showed me what to hold the poems with. In the first draft, the poems came out in ten-line stanzas of even lines. I called them “slabs.” And they were the first stanzas I used where I really understood what a stanza was for: not for holding separate ideas apart, but for holding up something wild and inseparable. I think before I thought the shift in content had to be hard from stanza to stanza.
Tercets felt right. Uneven. Unsettled. Falling down. But the shift from slab to tercet was about revision: formal shifts, for me, are the only way to revise, the only way to crack the poems back open. Some of these poems went through other forms, syllabic patterns, and then came back to tercets. Others I left in alternating lines. As a reader, I want shifts–or need them–to keep me paying attention.
It’s about performance. Being the voice, and looking at it, all at once. I feel a little guilty every time I read these poems. Like they’re stolen. I also must want that feeling. Hartford’s a small city. There aren’t that many places to go, and it’s tough to leave. Everybody’s always around everybody. If you owe a couple thousand dollars to your friend, you’re going to have to see them for the next thirty years. That doesn’t stop anybody.
Does anybody get out?
Well, if you don’t go back, then yes. Of my oldest friends, none of them are in Hartford. They went to college, left, and stayed away. Now their parents have all moved, and it’s pretty lonely over the holidays. Other friends of mine are still there. It’s a hard place to leave once you’re an adult. I mean you can be a barista in Hartford and have a decent apartment, go on fishing trips. You can be an adult working at the Mac Store. My friends paid $550 for a two-bedroom apartment, with two porches, a kitchen, and a dining room. In the nice end.
What does poetry change or does it?
It changed me. I mean what else was I going to do? What else could I do? There’s a point to it. You make poems and you get poems. You read poems and you get poems. Poets and books, it’s enough to fill a life up with. I don’t feel the same way about my Wii.
When I was a bar back in Hartford, my friends were bar backs. There were five of us who all worked at different bars downtown. Every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, I had to pick them all up and drop them off at the bars they worked at, because each of them had either lost their license or totaled their car (or both) from drinking in the last year. I moved to New York City and everybody looked sober to me.
History vs. Memory
In this book, they’re both for shit. I mean they’re both bent, faulty, and serving my purposes. I want to get where I’m going in the poem, and over time everything seems like it’s always been that way. Though, I always thought I’d messed up the Wells story—discoverer of anesthesia, died by slicing his groin vein open—but now there’s a play in Houston that tells that story that way. My dad thinks I should stand out front and read the poem.
You can hear Samuel read “Wells” here.