Posts Tagged ‘David Bartone’

A Brief and Casual Self-Interview with Zach Savich

Thermos editor Zach Savich’s fourth book of poetry, Century Swept Brutal, will soon be released from Black Ocean Press. For the next week, the book is available at a discount via this link. Below, Zach talks to himself about the book, illness, death, friendship, marriage, and NPR.

Where could I even have written Century Swept Brutal?

David Bartone rented our cabin in New Hampshire, on a lake. Maybe you know David and/or know that his fantastic first book, Practice on Mountains, recently came out from Ahsahta, winner of the Sawtooth Prize. Although David wrote Mountains before we were at the lake, I like to think he finished it there, while I wrote most of the first draft of Century Swept Brutal. Consider: in some ways David is better at being places than I am. During our stay, I went for one run, one bicycle ride, and one excursion to town; otherwise, I stared at the lake and wrote. David climbed several mountains, swam with vagabonds, met hitchhikers, caught fish, etc. He also bought a horribly loud Casio. Good sunsets, a grill. We read Gustaf Sobin and John Taggart and Alice Notley and James Wright. One night we borrowed a rowboat and entered the lake using fragile branches for oars. We made it back, after a fashion, and so I dedicated my book to him.

I wrote its final section in the San Juan Islands during Jay and Cait’s wedding. If you’ve been there, you might recognize a certain kind of flower that, if you forgot your glasses, appears to be made of a single, circular poem, I mean petal; or else you can find it in my book. I offer that flower, or poem, to Cait and Jay. This was when we stayed in the little house owned by Cassie’s aunt, which Cassie and Jay and Melissa and Andy and I had stayed in about a decade before, being poets.

I wrote the book’s first section in Maryland, when my father first had cancer again, a year or so before he died. He saw me read poems in public one time, at a college near my parents’ house. I was excited, revved up, and spoke incredibly quickly during the reading. I worried afterward that I had spoken too incredibly quickly. He said, “It wasn’t too fast for me.”

I think he’d rather be alive again for a few minutes and talk incredibly quickly with any of us than read an elegy. If I say the first section of this book is “instead of elegy” I don’t mean “instead” is any kind of avoidance.

What are my further thoughts concerning this book and the death of my father?

Several. For example, in the first weeks of his final dying, we read the poignant texts. And then, being so caught up in daily poignancy, its bodily flagging, we turned to texts of comedy, absurdity, joy. Beckett understood. You shit your diaper or take a drug or lament our mortal fate or shift your grotesque swellings and go on reading. It was just like getting an MFA.

I wondered what books would we have needed—after poignancy, after absurdity—if he had lived another month.

And then I found one, after doing a reading in Virginia, in a beautiful apartment I could have stayed in for another life: there was Donald Revell’s Tantivy by the bed. I have since found others.

I needed this information three months after he died, when I was diagnosed with the same cancer. I’ve lived. Much remains complex. I am grateful.

He was 60. I was 30, the year he’d been when I was born. A kind of perfect math.

More about this can be said, another time. For now: I’m remembering everyone who ever, knowing nothing about me, said that my interest in interesting literature would wither once I’d suffered more. As though experience erodes discernment, and weariness is a noble aesthetic, is wisdom. Now, having officially suffered more, being daily more weary than at any of my previous weariest moments, I can confirm that I want even more from writing and art. I am happy to find it. I hope this book stands to that. To both the want and the happiness and the want.

Finally, I’ll note my joy at finding that this book, Century Swept Brutal, written when my father was only first dying, written before my diagnosis, has lines that have offered me more after those experiences. “The dying dog could barely walk but lunged / like nothing had happened,” I wrote. It’s true.

What else can one say about a book of poetry, like if I was on NPR?

When I said I wrote Century Swept Brutal staring at the lake, I lied. I wrote some of it that way, but I wrote most of it at a McDonald’s nearby, drinking McDonald’s coffee, eavesdropping, looking across a parking lot at a Walmart. My writing required a professional setting, David said, and he’d know—he used to work at McDonald’s. When I submitted the book to Black Ocean, I had the idea that it was about that kind of interstitial landscape, of sprawl, that I’ve known in Coralville, IA, and Lacey, WA, and Hadley, MA, and throughout MD and PA and so forth. Not quite of any region, and yet, one must conclude (because of heavy usage patterns), also intently expressive of each region. Places made of passing through, outside most stories one would tell about one’s life, and yet—here’s a life. Purgatorial, which is another mode, and also not. I wanted to sit there, be comparable to the harmonic hum sometimes achieved by the air conditioner. Thinking of everyone hearing such a tone—is that sound less present than the passing-through place itself, even less a part of consciousness/official experience? But now I think the book is less of those places, more of the harmonic ping.

I also said I imagined that these poems, more than others I have written, were written for my friends who do not read poetry but are hip to other arts. I am grateful to Black Ocean, as for so many things, for understanding or overlooking whatever I meant by that. I hope it is true, but, clearly, it must be a matter of spirit within the poems, not of any concessions to preemptive, condescending weariness, or trying for a type of communication other than the type I believe poems are best at giving (that only poems can offer, and so should). I have written elsewhere about how offensive I find it when people talk about writing poems for “the people” as though “the people” can’t read; they really mean they are writing poems that justify their own impoverished imaginations, their own uninteresting relationships to language. When anyone who has worked with children or whatever population knows anybody can discuss the strangest art and also remember it.

At another point I thought that this book, compared to my other books, was equivalent to The Muppet Show, but with crystals in place of puppets. I love how, in the early seasons of The Muppet Show, the Muppets are all played by poets and are fairly grungy. But I trust them.

Beautiful to have lost anxiety about intelligence, its calculated remainders. If I say I believe in Poetry, now, more than in poetry, I understand myself; whereas in the past I would have been suspicious. I have read as much as possible for long enough not to mind.

At another point I said that this book re-applied my earliest poetic influences, poets of the Pacific Northwest, my formative home, many first found in Copper Canyon’s excellent anthology The Gift of Tongues, which was my gateway. A mood of mists and ponderous passivity that I think has something to it, but that I wanted to approach without its (to my ears, now, when I remember the poetry scene in Olympia, WA, in the 1990s) elements of self-satisfaction, self-mythologizing, simple-mindedness, suspicion of modernity, indulgences…instead supplying my own indulgences.

Hilary, my wife, was at the lake, as well. We would be married in a few months, standing in the Fort River outside Amherst, MA, our friends reading poems from the bank. David read a wedding poem that was published in the latest jubilat, Pam read, Kyle read a poem about watching us do pilates in Jeff’s old room just that morning, we swam, and then we went to Jensen’s going away party. Paid the justice of the peace with the proceeds of a scrapped car: a kind of perfect math. There’s at least one day a week I can’t sleep for the luck of it, astonished at how much better life can be than I would have known to imagine, I say this still healing, I say this grieving, I say this pained. But before that, on our way home from New Hampshire, we stopped at an Indian restaurant in, let’s say, Concord. It reminded me of this Indian restaurant I went to once (alone, with a book of poems) in Seattle, a decade earlier. Where, in my memory, I found a large metal staple in my curry. And I pulled it out, set it on the napkin, and continued eating, paid, tipped, left. I don’t think I was proud or thrilled at the adventure of finding a staple in my curry or that I enjoyed witnessing myself being the type of person who found one, did that. Rather, I think I found it, ate, paid, tipped, left. I remember also that the sauce was fairly salty. Could a poem be such a meal.

The book is in interwoven sections, each a distinct sequence.

Themes include: water, the senses.

Two sections are written in a form of dialogue between a “he” and a “she” that may be of particular interest.

What about the publishing side of things?

People sometimes worry about what will happen with publishing. Don’t worry. Black Ocean is happening with publishing.

Anything else I want to say?

When I was sickest with and after my cancer, I had many friends—poets, many of them—who offered to do anything they could to help, and they meant it. Many would have left their lives and come to where we lived and done anything. Many more whom I know, and probably many I don’t, would have also, had we asked, and many, many more said things (knowing my state or not) that meant a world. Let’s yawn at those who clearly write mostly from an anxious hope for prestige or a particular success or hoping to replicate parts of celebrity culture and media cycle and commerical renown that don’t matter, that aren’t what any intelligent fourteen-year-old or cancerous person or ardent reader of Sobin and Taggart and Notley could care about, and let’s yawn at those who say that’s all contemporary writing is. I have a thousand friends who prove that what we are doing is advancing better values, in complicating opposition, or caring, in art.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t always reply when you wrote or called. I hope to call you or help some way if you are ever in similar days. Because it meant a world to come to and hear your messages. If this new book can say thanks for that, I hope it will, or I hope I will.


THERMOS 5: David Bartone

David Bartone’s first book of poems, Practice on the Mountains, will be published next year by Ahsahta Press, as the winner of their Sawtooth Poetry Prize. I’m pretty sure these poems, originally printed in our fifth issue, aren’t in that book. But please enjoy them anyway! — AS



I know we are loving the love that is the childhood
Of the love we ought to

I know we resist the body like I know I need
To tell you about Lavallette, New Jersey:

When the bay is separated from the sea by
An isthmus as in my birthplace
The only way to know it as a link between the two
Impressive bodies is to climb out of the water
Walk the noticeable strip
And rinse off in the teeming of the ocean

And feeling pride only if concussed

Or else we are the lonely Beirut doing some other separating

Go ahead       be cavalier with my belief of you, L

There’s the need for alchemy to have existed
Or else how were we supposed to have taken our
Positions on it

There’s the want for sport and dressing
Right in front of the one small evening

What’s to make
Of all this trying to get to you
The question having only sat there
With angelic patience
The searcher having no memory of behavior

I am drinking from your coffee again today

I know it’s rude to keep craving poems for you, L
On and on I’m so sorry for bringing you
Up to pace

About singing in the kitchen is the safest I get

Of all the reasons I carry my beard as so
The double-take factor I beg for
Is most becoming of mind

Dropping my sigh with a shove
I hold your whole finger with my whole hand
For you to lead me into the forest

After the one flower without a Latin name
And we’ll have all the tools to safely poach it
Back to civilization       without even asking

We will know to move on in the direction of the seasons
How to prepare the ruin       to dismount one measly scree
How to dismantle each of our cairns along the way


Crush Upended Like Crash

I have been so afraid I don’t even know your smell

Beg you notch me on your loss-board

Make the siding brick red across the farmhouses
here in the Pennsylvanian absences
(there are many) of the heart

I am talking about one intersection with you
missed slightly, abruptly

How it seems we crashed into our own trees thinking
of each other’s body

How the thigh burns when we’re catching each other
let it next time
it’s the way we land


Song: Pink Fray of the Spray Mum

Across western horizon to be here.
You, Nebraska coated and up rooted to be east
with me.

Long natured satin scripture.

How you love bring me flowers
at our pennilessness.
Eileen, thank you.

Talking the spray mum, talking ripening
beyond to its end. Last night the thought:

first farmers experimenting, dropping
pink droplets on the petals, hands
coated in boron lush soil, men

with strong hats/straw hands/
strong hats. Aches and aches
of acres.

David Bartone: from Slippage Is a Privilege Theme

that's a flash of insight you see on David's face

This week, THERMOS presents this rolling prose avalanche excerpt from David Bartone. How he describes himself:

Bartone grew up in Toms River, NJ. He has some poems in or coming at Handsome, Denver Quarterly, The Laurel Review. Teaches writing, takes walks, does an MFA at UMass Amherst, lives in Amherst, has cat. He was in Thermos Volume 1 Issue 5.

from Slippage Is a Privilege Theme

The low hollow-like note that indicates the size of the stone.

The bridegroom’s stone, the widower’s stone, the pseudo-scientific stone, the nature writer’s stone, the á outrance stone.

I, the sub-sub librarian of the stone.

The stone merchant, who leaves no stone unthrown.

The one scene that navigates all the literary impulses back to it is, I would have you believe now, not made of stone, but a billowy gray day filled with quacking gray flecks.

About one year ago. Like a Beatrice moment.

Strange, how, briefly but frequently, I then for months believed I did not have the ability to focus on one line at a time.

Strange I did not believe I could write at all if the epic stroke wasn’t in each stroke.

And this is a good thought if it lingers, for it points ambition upward as well as out.

That I was taking in too much on the walks to the pond with her last November when the geese when the pond when the cool on the marble bench made us think of each other naked and single and oh how exact our ages to our desires: all thoughts, all perfections.

This is the closest I will come, in this manner, to narrating the scene.

That you may extinguish hope of finding parable or symbol in some thing that has gripped me because it is now gone and all we have here together is this one pet on this short lead.

A new name for faith: trust that to wander along would be enough to satisfy.

The thin spare between calm claim and calamity.

Given the relief of her company to what I had considered much damage of prior solitude, strange how boldly and with half humor, half pity, I performed all of my tasks.

I perfumed at any task I was handed; and called it flirt.

Call this that ancient want, that old time anxiety.

The self-contradiction man permits upon such aesthetic pleasures.

As if charitable at last, it took months at first to realize: I could not stop writing the scene.

I could not stop the V to the geese.

Forthrightness to the one disobedient.

Salt to his style, to the renegade.

Longing to the migrant.

Days pass and I’m still writing the scene. Months of it appearing to me.

An American Revolution to a war historian.

Thoreau to Ghandi.

Students ask ceaselessly about the ceaseless nature of language and they do it in phrasings they are comfortable with.

How often do you have to write to be great at it?

I believe it is important to answer the question with a response that is true.

As ever, I always am when answering avoiding the emptiest thought I have.

This I call the truth.

I call it also dignity and can afford at least this much of it: that if I don’t mean what I say when I say it, I will mean it later when I am alone, or recounting the events of the conversation to a lover.

When I am alone I am repossessing the second best thought I could be having, as when with a lover.

The best thought is off somewhere, dragging on the stitch of another long skirt, this is called longing and is what I am most practiced at.

I hymn what I am aware of.

Do you have to believe in or just be vulnerable to, to make a good poem?

I hymn them for their singing.

I hymn them for preserving, for the upcoming exhibition.

For being shoal shored.

I hymn about and feel therefore grounded.

My house was always dark and empty growing up (—by this upbringing, entirely average), now I write one poem per day, at sunrise or sunset, most often, and it doesn’t seem to matter which.

Like scheduled insulin shots into dad’s belly.

By this upbringing, I have always understood the V to the geese.

This is a true response.

Though without being asked I could not have felt compelled to assert it.

But this, the cause to assertion, is not what the students are ceaselessly interested in.

I therefore wonder where my interests are going with them, therefore remember.

I answer questions with a pause, they know all of my tricks by now.

It is November 17, 2010.

The point in the semester where by now we have terrific rapport.

The point they all point to the laughter moment in every teachable moment, and having perhaps dumbly encouraged it for two months, I am now beginning to show my discomfort with their mirth, I invent an obnoxious assignment for them to perform, the most beautiful person in the room is the one who seems to notice what I’m up to, I am always surprised to discover who it is this time.

This too is how love’s fallen into.

The person that is most looking at you.

This in the affair is what compels me to make love to her pinning to a brick building at dusk on campus.

That she is looking at me.

How can you refuse him now, I say to the student who couldn’t do the reading last night; the sonnets.

Because he found out his girlfriend had cheated on him.

(I am becoming this teacher.)

No no you don’t understand. With my roommate.

(I too know how to teach his way out of this, I tell him.)

You don’t understand. In my bed.

(It was good when the world was on fire, I say to him.) (But at this I am losing him, his scorn eyes are now fixed away from me on nothing or on some happy campus couple walking in the direction of the dining hall.)

He asks why we always end up walking out of the classroom together.

I tell him how bees swarm up for fear of becoming sediment.

He offers me his daily cigarette. I do not.

One of these days he will sense the mourning period coming to a close.

I must say thinking about it now I am becoming very attracted to his girlfriend I’ve never met.

I am slipping into this old self.

This old self we lug around with the pride of genetic banner.

Slippage the privilege.

I am slipping the pride of banter into this old self.

The reasons for this, upon closer inspection, are not readily available.

In the desperate clasp (the sweaty hold on the telephone)(the sweaty waiting for) I am shy here to accept that I am still without meaningful faith.

The elevation of song: I hymn to him.

And the reasons for her departure are made a bit more available.

The Ohio soil of speech, and his voice is like a brown church bell.

But the reasons she left stay sealed from him.

Remembering the still backyards and listening to an ex-lover’s family speak about community colleges and the rotary, etc; I thought of a paradise constructed.

Though this is not paradise made more available, the fair homestead.

I accept it as a construction, therefore a clue.

Discreet pride in driving past the megachurches.

Slipping from the pursuit, (which I have better before been able to name than now, I admit.)

This the privilege.

Slipping from the pursuit, and I want to call it digression, but it seems more stationary than that.

I want to call it beginning but it feels less like a point.

What if all I do is write the prologue to the epic.

What if the epic I sense never satisfies the pre-inhalation.

What if the ever-expanding lung capacity continues and I don’t.

What if anxiety and modesty have everything in common.

If the search yields more results than I can handle should I call that loneliness.

Or lucidity.

If yields no results, modesty?

The moral anthropology in me dictates: I am mostly looking around outside.

But then there is the question: WHAT IS SLIPPING AWAY FROM WHAT.

(If I slip at least let me be indulgent. Let me look around inside.)

The crooked caw of first person present.