Poet Of The Week

Chris Roberts

     December 12–18, 2016

Chris Roberts grew up in backwater Pennsylvania, where he learned to pronounce his Korean birth name as “Die Young.” His work has appeared in Blue Lyra Review and is forthcoming in the inaugural Brooklyn Poets Anthology from Brooklyn Arts Press & Brooklyn Poets. In the fall of 2016, Roberts received a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship for Joanna C. Valente’s workshop on narrative poetry. He currently lives in the Bronx.

Author photo by James Embry

The Agreement

 
They watch the news reports. They do not talk
about their days. It helps them stay in love.

They’d leave each other, but they’d have to leave
their old routines, their meals, their bed, their home.

These days, surprise is their arch-enemy,
a common foe against whom they ally.

They do not look for things that they don’t like
in one another. They don’t have to look.

They know. They know. They know. They know. They know.
They watch the news reports. They do not talk.

 

Tell us about the making of this poem.

The inspiration for the piece came from real life. I’d gotten into a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere. The piece itself came out of a freewriting exercise, particularly the first stanza. After I had the first stanza, it was just a matter of filling out the rest of the poem.

What are you working on right now?

I’m trying to get enough poems together for a first book. I see it taking about ten more years.

What’s a good day for you?

Any day that I take my meds.

What brought you to New York?

School. I went to NYU Stern and hated the whole “business school” thing. It was a lot of haves, and I was a have-not. I gradually found myself having more friends at the Tisch School of the Arts, and none at Stern. It was a stressful time that I am glad is over.

So you live in the Bronx. Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I’ve been living in the Bronx for less than a year now. My area is mostly families and retirees. Initially, I had wanted to leave Brooklyn because of a bad experience. I was living in a small house with five units, where I could hear my neighbor on the phone next door and two of the other people were constantly going through drug psychosis. My pushcart was stolen twice. Nowadays I miss the Brooklyn scene in some ways, especially the poetry scene.

How often do you come to Brooklyn? What neighborhoods do you go to? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

I try to make it out to Brooklyn once a month, mostly for Brooklyn Poets events in Cobble Hill or for workshops. I also go to Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bushwick to visit with friends. In my experience, Brooklyn is a magical land of culture and nightlife, but also a bunch of people living on top of one another.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

For me a poetry community is exchanging poems for critique with peers, usually via email, and getting advice from elder poets, also usually through email. I have found a poetry community with Brooklyn Poets and the Bridge.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Hands down, my “big three” are Joshua Mehigan, Jason Koo and Joanna C. Valente. I’ve had the honor of taking workshops with them. They are bright, shining beacons. I’ve definitely become a better poet as a result of studying with them via Brooklyn Poets workshops.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

Joshua Mehigan taught me both meter and how to write intelligibly. For that, I am forever grateful. Jason Koo taught me how to get better in touch with myself and my Asian-ness through the subjects that I choose to tackle. Joanna C. Valente taught me free verse line breaks and how to line-edit myself.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I always try to read before I write, and the book that I keep coming back to is Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan. Some poems that have stood out to me recently are “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” by Coleridge and “Fra Lippo Lippi” by Browning.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Paradise Regained. Also, The Canterbury Tales (I need to learn Middle English first).

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?

Unless I’m going back into a poem that I’ve already read, I tend to dip in and out of multiple books at random. I don’t mind whether the medium is physical or digital, although I do have a soft spot for physical books.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’d like to learn to write quality free verse.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I actually prefer to write at home, but any place quiet will do. I can’t write in public because I tend to talk to myself and count beats on my hand. Can you imagine being in a café counting beats on your hand and mumbling to yourself?

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

My friends’ apartments. They have quiet, cozy places. It’s easy to get lost in a book or writing exercise.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate myself and do a dance
And what I did you do when your turn comes,
For every time it’s me as good as you.

Why Brooklyn?

Because it’s original.