October 1–7, 2018
Bill Rasmovicz is the author of Idiopaths (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2014), Gross Ardor (42 Miles Press, 2013) and The World in Place of Itself (Alice James Books, 2007). His poems have appeared in Hotel Amerika, Hunger Mountain, Nimrod, Mid-American Review, Third Coast, Gulf Coast, BODY and other publications. Rasmovicz has served as a workshop coleader and literary excursion leader throughout much of Europe. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program and Temple University’s School of Pharmacy, he currently lives in Portland, Maine. “The Loveliest Cities” appears in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, released last spring.
The Loveliest Cities
A tree hides in the shiver of its leaves
while vines take to its scaffolding to suffocate it.
The dead offer us their sympathy, which is to say
their silence. The dead are a lot like the living
except they don’t say much. And what is
the heart but a telephone fluttering with a bomb
threat, love being if you carry the cross of my affection
I’ll carry yours.
I recall shouting down into the mine’s air shaft
to hear myself. What rose was exponential
in size and someone else entirely.
There were days whose sweet musk was the warm body
of a violin’s, the wind
a girl whispering through the parish yards for her cat.
Now it’s consecration by hail, the beaming effrontery
of the wrecking ball.
At the core of the mind is an obelisk dreaming you
into being. Jumping off the roof, I still think an open
umbrella would save me. And we wonder:
whose shoes were found behind
the rest stop? Murk, the barrel of a rifle—
to peer where you can’t see bottom, witness something
solid as earth liquefy. There is no discerning
a sparrow from sky really, each of which
without the other would fall. While the loveliest cities
have civilizations compounded into geologic strata
topped with screaming police lights and children
separated from their parents.
Which is to say we are phantoms of each other,
that the end is always happening.
—From Gross Ardor, 42 Miles Press, 2013.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I can’t recall the specifics around the genesis of this particular poem, but like the rest of the poems from this body of work (Gross Ardor), they somewhat pulled themselves into existence, individually, by the straps of their own two boots. I work mainly with bits and pieces, scraps, notes, compressed memories, associations. Not by choice necessarily, but I’m not much of a storyteller per se. I find it very difficult to think linearly during the creative process. I get bogged down with intent, so I tend to let the text take its own course and come together on its own. I find the elements very naturally arrange themselves up to a certain point where I suppose I transition into more of an editorial mode, trimming and shaping the narrative. It’s a very sculptural and alchemical endeavor. It’s a Frankensteinian process of construction, assembling truths, literal and/or emotional, albeit out of order sometimes. If I can just make it walk and talk … which is not to say I leave a lot to chance, by any means. The sentiments must be accurate.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I’ve been very loosely shopping a manuscript entitled Future Erstwhile Century, which is largely in the vein of the poem featured here, and I’m finishing another manuscript, Black Dove, which I intend to send out this fall. Black Dove is a bit more linear and narrative in its structure and is thematically focused on our current, and historical, culture of violence.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me involves surfing, some time with friends and loved ones, a bit of inspired writing or reading, and cooking. Or at least eating a good meal. Basic stuff.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
It was a practical decision: having spent the prior year or so in the East Village, Brooklyn came about as a result of cheaper rent and more space, and only one more stop on the train. I didn’t have the desire for it or fondness beforehand. I actually didn’t see myself living there at first, but that was something that developed soon after arriving. After about a year there, I realized I’d probably never go back to Manhattan.
Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long did you live there? What did you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
My partner and I spent eight years in Williamsburg. We lived on Wythe and 3rd for a year, then North 4th and Bedford for the remainder of our time there. If I’m recalling correctly, we landed in our neighborhood in 2007. The exponential development hadn’t quite started yet. To be certain, there was development, but it was very gradual. The financial crisis slowed things to a halt for a short while and there was a lot of uncertainty about the neighborhood and its stalled projects. It wasn’t long after that Williamsburg changed almost overnight into a kind of SoHo West. New York is a dynamic city. By default, change is to be expected, I suppose. I can’t say that all the commotion and neighborhood alterations were absolutely enjoyable, but much of it was. It really did feel like the center of the cultural universe. It wasn’t so much that I busied myself with every available offering around me; it was more about the vibe and feel of being in a place where any and all facets of activity creative, entrepreneurial or otherwise can and do happen. It’s difficult to find places that are as arresting in that capacity. And it’s almost impossible to compare with anywhere else. Its neighborhoods are uniquely different, yet they’re all collectively, distinctly Brooklyn. Right now though, home is Portland, Maine, for its proximity to water, its walkability/pedestrian friendly nature, and a bit of what Brooklyn has in terms of its food and culture.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Someone pulling congas from the trunk of their car to drum on the sidewalk at 4 AM. Nowhere else …
What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?
A poetry/writing community I find to be essential. To be honest, I thought I’d find more of a community in Brooklyn than I did, though. There are of course countless writers, events and readings all the time, but I never felt that I really tapped into a community while I was there. Even so, that creative energy is a palpable thing there. It’s in the air, so I didn’t necessarily feel alone in that regard. My particular writing community is fairly spread across the country. We don’t always talk that often, but its substantive when we do. Talking shop is a basic requirement to achieving more clarity in your work and expanding your process and experience of saying and meaning. Plus, good friends are important.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I palled around mostly with Jean-Paul Pecqueur. We had fairly lengthy conversations on writing and everything that subject brings with it. He’s an incredibly well-studied, informed and articulate Brooklyn poet. For a brief period, Tony Mancus, Sommer Browning, Jean-Paul and myself would exchange work.
Joe Pan, as well. Joe is responsible for publishing Idiopaths, my third collection of poems. This fact aside, Joe is a really good human being, and a hardworking, fine and prolific writer/poet as well.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Early on, my mentors were the authors of whatever I was reading at the time. The work of James Tate and Sylvia Plath were probably two of the earliest influences on me that prompted me to write. Later, and after reading on my own for a long time, and after entering the Vermont College MFA program, I met Richard Jackson. He is probably most responsible for cracking me open and allowing for the understanding that I have today. We got to know each other pretty well. He was fantastically resourceful with sharing what he knew, providing reading material and suggestions, theory and structural insights. He challenged me to stretch my work, especially by way of revision. He really helped me to realize a greater artistic sensibility and to understand the parameters consciously or unconsciously set forth in my work—what I could get away with and what I couldn’t, and if I couldn’t, how I might find a workaround. Of course, approaches and processes change over time, but his influence was the most profound in terms of mentorship.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Right now I’m in the middle of Justice by Tomaž Šalamun. He’s someone I’ve always had great respect for. He lays it bare. Sometimes his poems miss the mark, but the ones that hit I find tremendously impactful. In much of his work there’s a running internal dialogue and disparate external one as well. There are multiple personalities at play, a thought process akin to simultaneously thinking in different languages. Latitudes are given to surface context, but the emotional acuities are razor sharp. I love that tension. They’re vulnerable, yet available, sentimental, yet not sanctimoniously so. Though stylistically very different, I find his work Stevensian in its layering. His work feels very real to me, not overly polished, and relatively undaunted with the autonomy of the creative process. There’s something masterful about that.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I’ve always been fairly lax or arbitrary about my reading. I’m a slow reader as well. I often buy books three, four or five at a time and work my way through whatever stack I have. I’m not overly concerned about what I should read, or overly deliberate about my choices/reading list. I simply need to be enticed. If that happens, I’ll spend some time with a book, otherwise I retain very little. My reading needs to somehow corroborate with or inform what’s going on experientially for me. I can’t just read to check off titles.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
More often than not, I read one book at a time, cover to cover. I’ll have leafed through and sampled some pieces at first, at which point I’ll typically read it cover to cover if it’s in my stack. With a larger anthology-type book or collected works I often dip in and out with something smaller. I hardly ever plan it out, except of course if I’m taking books on my travels. I’m fairly whimsical about the whole reading and selection process, but they’re always physical books. However, I have been writing notes digitally very often—on my phone—as of late. I’ll later copy and paste the text into my computer. I spend some extended periods of time away from home, so I’ve found this to be very convenient.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I don’t know that there is any one thing I’d specifically want to try at this point in a poem. I’m more concerned that I continue to discover new modes of saying in my writing, that my sensibilities evolve and my writing in turn follows suit. I would at some point like to complete something in prose. That would be a greater challenge. Writing prose just kind of eludes me, at least in terms of fiction.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I don’t have a very disciplined writing schedule. It does mostly occur at home, or homes away from home. I’m not that picky about it, I’ll take it where and when it’s available to me. I’ll tend to take notes in my travels, but I never really compose. I like to digest the experience and let the notes/recollections/stray phrases breathe their way into what I’m working on when I’m home and in the composing phase. Serious composition and/or structural work occurs at home. I have not taken to a laptop yet. Perhaps in the future…
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Kent Ave underneath the Williamsburg Bridge for an architectural moment.
The intersection of Broadway and Bedford for the bridge view and Manhattan view.
That travel via the JMZ almost feels exotic for the perspective it offers.
Not the Bedford L platform. But sometimes for the music.
Just walking through any of the different neighborhoods. It’s not necessarily the specificity of the sights, it’s more so the feeling.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate science, data, facts,
And what I weather you weather,
For every bit of evidence you dismiss as opinion, cloak in the
haze of belief, every untruth that came as good from your
mouth, will by default and as nature,
It can’t be quantified. It must be felt.