December 18–24, 2017
Francisco Márquez is a Venezuelan poet in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in poets.org, Bennington Review, Narrative, the Offing and elsewhere. He has received honors from organizations including the Academy of American Poets, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. He holds an MFA in poetry from New York University, where he was a Goldwater Fellow, and was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow this fall for study in Jay Deshpande’s workshop on poem endings, Guided by Surprise.
My Father Takes Me to Baseball to Straighten Me Up
So I take him to the drag show at the leather bar after. He learns to turn, work, duck, dive, death drop and sissy that walk. He starts popping his tongue and trying on wigs. A flamboyance of twinks approach him with a leather harness, they hold it up like a laurel crown and strap it on him like a coronation. The bar is cinema, dark red lights and black walls. In the far corner is the bootblack in a leather puppy mask shining the combat boots of someone else’s father. In a dark nook is a metal fence where on occasion people kiss through the diamonds. My father holds his big arms up when the boys ask to see his muscles. He’s never felt such tenderness, adulation. He tries to buy me a drink, but I refuse. I’m there to instruct him. I let him wild himself. I tell him in here we are both welcome. I ask him what it’s like when the world is made for you. I let go of his hand after the instructive practices, popper sniff and head rush, jockstrap and rope. He leads his own life in the chaos. He becomes everyone’s son.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
It originally started out as an assignment for a class I took with Edward Hirsch at NYU. We had been reading Baudelaire. It came out in a rush, with very little editing—one of those little jewels. I think it was because I had a ton of fun building the room where this bacchanalia (with my father at my side) was taking place—I was kinda laughing while writing it. In retrospect, it was also a way for me to reckon with spaces that my book was inhabiting at once: masculinity, family, sex, NYC, etc. It opened up possibilities for fantasy in my poems when most of my poems wrestled with fact.
What are you working on right now?
I have been editing a lot of old poems, poems I wrote in the summer, using revision techniques I’ve learned in order to expand and condense them into their private, complex selves. So, in short: I’m working on assembling pages into a book, and writing into the gaps. It’s been more fun to work this way than to produce poems from inspiration or nothing, which I also do. Additionally, I’m trying to complete a few long poems, sequences, I started and abandoned.
What’s a good day for you?
Realistically, it would be to wake up in the morning, shower, make myself glow. Then, meet up with a person I love (friend, family, etc.), then have breakfast, have drinks, go record shopping, peruse books, eat a donut, get stoned, who knows. I want to have one long conversation that won’t end. If it ends with an artful movie and a kiss, then it would ascend past good!
What brought you to Brooklyn?
Well, technically, graduate school. Then, budget. And then, one of the the reasons I’ve stayed is the love Brooklynites have for their borough, myself included. Brooklyn feels more intimate, definitely messier and shorter in stature than Manhattan. I think of it like the city’s parks. I can get lost in Prospect Park, it could look like a forest, natural and full of babies! More like a poem. Central Park feels a bit more manufactured—I can always see a building. (Even though Central Park is obviously gorgeous.)
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 recently moved to Bushwick, off the DeKalb stop. I love it, and I’ve been here for four or five months. It’s very intimate, I know the people on my block. I can sit on my stoop and watch starlings, and I feel safe. There are also incredible eating and drinking spots like Roberta’s, Birdy’s and Molasses Books near me. I’ve lived in Crown Heights, very briefly in Park Slope, and Flatbush the longest. I love them all, but none has been as warm as Bushwick.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
All my favorite Brooklyn memories involve walking around with a friend (or friends), drinking and looking for books, walking into small, secret stores. I remember walking around Cobble Hill, stopping at BookCourt (when it existed), then finding a hole-in-the-wall record store, a bar in a carriage house with cheap cocktails and a pool table, etc. Brooklyn for me is all-at-once. It’s moody. The film of Brooklyn takes up shifting moods with the seasons, whether I’m in love or not—sometimes ruthless, often exhaustingly beautiful.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Yes! My poetry community for a long time was the NYU creative writing program. Some of the most brilliant minds, musicians, and empaths I have met came from the cohorts I studied with. In fact, I think without them I could not have survived in the city. Why? Because I got to know them as people before poets, and funnily enough, I loved their poetry as much as I loved them. Some of my best poems came from our conversations! I almost listed them, but it would carry on for too long.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Not sure if these people would call themselves Brooklyn poets necessarily, but off the top of my list come Whitman, Biggie, Auden, Nicole Sealey, Meghan O’Rourke, Patrick Rosal—and this question gives me anxiety ’cause I’m sure there are several I’m not including.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Wow, so many incredible parents. Sharon Olds taught me how to feel inside a poem, and how to use that as a compass for the surprise and direction of writing through the most difficult content.
Catherine Barnett taught me about rigor, craft, syntax, revision, keeping the clay wet. Practically, reshaping my commitment to writing.
Yusef Komunyakaa taught me about music guiding your senses.
Barbara Hamby and David Kirby instilled some of my first lessons on image, precision and having fun with your poems, which I still hold close and practice.
I’ve missed a few like Meghan O’Rourke, Carl Phillips, Erin Belieu—the list goes on.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I keep returning to “The Hamptons” by Cate Marvin. Holy shit, what a poem. I recently finished revisiting Carl Phillips’s Silverchest and Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet. I was having a kind of existential crisis with desire, so I prescribed works that directly dealt with that mania and self-splitting want for everything (and nothing) at once. Definitely helped.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
This will be so lame but I have never read Dante’s anything. One of my best friends is almost like a Dante scholar, so I’m sure he’ll be disappointed to read this. Also, I have been wanting to read Lucille Clifton’s The Book of Light because she’s one of my favorites. Patrick Rosal’s Brooklyn Antediluvian is a book I have never finished, even though every one of his poems blows me away.
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?
I tend to dip in and out of books all at once. It’s rare for me, for example, to read a book of poems cover-to-cover. I don’t plan anything ahead, I tend to pick up a book and let the relationship play out. For example, I picked up a dusty copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s El coronel no tiene quien le escriba off my shelf that I stole from my grandma’s house ages ago, before I left Venezuela, that I had never cared to read, and finished it. I had been writing poems about Venezuela then, so gravitating towards that makes sense to me now. Reading for me is very intimate, intense and slow. Also, physical books, forever.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I want to try a formal sonnet crown. Also, I want to try and write a long contrapuntal poem. My biggest goal is probably to write a poem like “The Glass Essay”—an intimate, hybrid and confessional meditation on loss and love. It just lines up with all the things that power me, you know?
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Molasses Books and Dweebs are two faves. I used to go write at the Marlton Hotel for a while, too. Julius’ is still a favorite writing spot if I’m in the village. I love to write in bars, drinking whiskey while I write.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I have mentioned some places already. But I also love Tom’s, Bearded Lady and the Brooklyn Museum, all in Prospect Heights. Peter’s in Williamsburg was a decadent Southern fare spot. Greenpoint for record stores. I love McCarren Park in the summer, too. Why? I have fallen in love or remained content enough in these places to be able to return and feel it all over again.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the winter sky,
And what I see darkening you will see swelling in the golden
For every second lost with me as good brightens with you.
It’s speaking to a particular moment in my history. I want Brooklyn, and sometimes, I feel like it wants me, too. I’m holding out for what we can keep giving each other. I mean, haven’t you ever just walked around in the spring in Brooklyn, with Loveless playing in your headphones, and seen a green parrot fly right over your head?