Poet Of The Week

Michael Morse

     May 11–17, 2015

Michael Morse has published poems in various journals—including A Public Space, American Poetry Review, Field, jubilat, Ploughshares, Spinning Jenny and Tin House—and in the anthologies Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn; Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days; and Best American Poetry 2012. A recipient of fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the MacDowell Colony, he lives in Brooklyn and teaches at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Summer Program Workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center. His first book, Void and Compensation, is out from Canarium Books.

(Stephon Marbury)

Ideal: to drive the lane and look for dishes,
to see the open man, give him his bucket.

The one-on-one for which we are now counseled
blueprints a perfect symmetry that’s hard to hold.

Like my friend who dreams of his ex
and wakes to find a moonlit lawn of deer.

In our nightly houses
the dolls insist that we are faithful to ourselves.

When I wake up in a bad mood,
I wonder why my point ignores my shooting guard.

This realm of giving, this realm of reciprocity:
I need a Mr. Make-It-Happen,

a deus ex machina, an all-star
down among us who deigns to fix our gears.

Until then, these reuptake inhibitors are splendid,
as when I find myself a deer on some strange lawn,

my garden-party head a promiscuity of maps
with toll-free grassy lanes and cul de sacs.

—From Void and Compensation, Canarium Books, 2015 (originally published in A Public Space)

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I was writing this poem in the late stages of my marriage, reflecting on our difficulties and how we were consciously engaged with presenting ourselves and our interactions to a third party, a counselor. The idea of a point guard, whose primary job is to run the floor, to distribute the ball and assist (literally) others, to execute and initiate the game plan … well, that whole realm—of reciprocity, of giving—seemed to accrue meaning in the relationship realm as well. Stephon Marbury, the Knicks’ point guard at the time, was an extremely talented offensive player, but he struggled as a point guard in part due to a shoot-first, pass-second mentality. There’s an intriguing tension between a scorer’s mentality and a distributor’s responsibility, not unfamiliar territory for anyone in a relationship and the tensions of individual need and collective success. The poem took off from there. And I’m happy to report that Marbury has found success in the Chinese Basketball Association, where he is the star of the Bejing Ducks. And thanks to my friend Chris for the dream with the deer.

What are you working on right now?

Not much! I’m on a leave of absence from my teaching job and in the middle of a reading tour—I’ve given about 25 readings in the last two months, traveling about and doing an excellent job of draining my savings. It’s been great fun to read in lots of good places and meet (and reunite) with lots of good people. When I’m done with the tour, I’m hoping to get back to some new poems started last winter and an essay on oblivion, memory and forgetting.

What’s a good day for you?

When spring comes and the warblers migrate through New York and the Rangers are still playing playoff hockey and I can watch them with good beer and good barbecue. As for other and all seasons, some quiet reflection and writing time in the morning is always a treat, along with some time to slow down and simply be in/witness whatever landscape I’m in.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

I’ve been in Brooklyn for 21 years … first in Cobble Hill, then in Boerum Hill, then in Carroll Gardens, and now, for the last decade, in Red Hook. I love Red Hook because it’s by the water—I love to walk out to Valentino Pier and stare at the harbor and the lights of ships and Staten Island and New Jersey, at the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. The sky in Red Hook is amazing—you can see lots of it because there’s only one building that’s over a dozen stories tall. There are a few good restaurants, some good bars, a big grocery—it feels peripheral to the grind of the rest of the city, even as it engages with emerging issues around growth and change and gentrification.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

Always a mix. The first weekend I moved to Brooklyn, I took the subway down to Coney Island to go to Nathan’s and then ride the Cyclone. As I approached Nathan’s there was a (presumably) homeless man standing about three feet from the doors with his pants around his ankles and diarrhea streaming down his legs. Did I stop and help or did I walk on through and buy lunch? I did the latter, which I’m not entirely happy about, but it was a vivid inaugural to the city’s continual landscape of bustle and social need and small, selfish-yet-understandable acts of self-preservation that we all bump up against. A more recent seminal event: I’m very proud of how Red Hookers helped each other out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy—helping neighbors clean out their flooded basements and store-rooms was incredibly sad, moving and fulfilling. After a day of clean-up, it was exceedingly strange to walk 15 minutes north into my old neighborhood where it seemed as though nothing had happened, where Halloween went on normally, etc.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Walt. Marianne. Phil Levine when he was here. Can I put down Richie Havens and Gil Hodges, poets at what they did? Contemporaries? Too many good ones to name. Let’s start with Regan Good, John Murillo, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Matthew Rohrer, Debora Kuan, Meghan O’Rourke, Cathy Park Hong, Tyehimba Jess, Farnoosh Fathi. Let’s end there because this list could get huge.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)

BookCourt has been my local bookstore since the early 90s; the love runs deep. Berl’s Poetry Shop is amazing, too—a real gift.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I take lots of notes when I ride the B61 bus.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

Valentino Pier in Red Hook. The food trucks by the ball fields in Red Hook. Hometown BBQ. Sunny’s Bar. And, since September, Kao Soy, crazy-good Thai food on Van Brunt Street.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Picasso’s Tears (poems 1978-2013) by Wong May; The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink; Gun Dealers’ Daughter by Gina Apostol; Red Epic by Joshua Clover; My Famous Evening: Nova Scotia Sojourns, Diaries, and Preoccupations by Howard Norman.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate feeling cerebral
And what I’m feeling you might think,
For every spring in me as good springs you.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

Brooklyn Go Hard Redux”

Some relatives, over time, left Brooklyn
for some lawns and a Levittown pen—
Roebuck and Labine no longer Dodgers,
memory flush with Campanella and Jackie-love.
Departure’s looking-forward might rob
us of who stays and sings: flash-forward to Biggie
versus Cali and other tales of leaving and sin.
Songs re-sing themselves. Ask any father:
You “Want That Old Thing Back”? You sure, Jack?

Why Brooklyn?

If you have to ask … / you gotta problem with that?