January 23–29, 2017
Robert C.L. Crawford’s poems can be found in Nat. Brut, Flag+Void, Foundry Journal, Pith, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Reality Beach, ’Pider, Ladowich, Powder Keg, Golden Handcuffs Review, White Wall Review, Quiet Lunch and others. He is a founding editor of the poetry journal Prelude (2016 Pushcart Prize), and his writing has been recognized as among Flavorwire’s Best Literary Criticism of the Year. Currently he is studying in the MFA program at Columbia University.
leukemia drapes the guest house lime
sliced in a co-op freezer tadpole
panicked at displays pedestrians
congregating through a caramelized diary
at not a sapling of the tomato bed
skylight crib shirt over we go back in
baseball and magnolia for a saliva trail
at the spa castle writ on a luxury margin
an ice cream destroyed by pervs
every upgraded wedge a villa of you
is every arbitrage of a kaleidoscope
marbling its verdigris and sienna
a sensation the myelin tried to relay
and indigoes with the attendance record
like the sorrow of the ball bearing
alighting on thy muddy dais
conveyed to a putty knife with toothbrush
like bread positioned on eccentric silver
at the pool room of the Four Seasons
long impersonal legs on a mattress pad
with closing credits on a block
to be the regurgitation of a website
presidents can’t tell the whole of it anymore
in the rush behind our ears
what they like intrigues me, faithful reader
meeting the sticky middle before dark
I would say eighty percent are disasters
dousing a segmented platelet
a voyeured embassy and country manse
a bargain luxe hotel with alpine views
the foreign secretary hers to grease
pizza lady knows your mom and age
he used to come to teach our plumbing class
with bologna packets in a creaking fridge
filched behind an Eastern Parkway lot
baccalaureate with spangled pepper set
the 9/11 recap before the games
To spritz a field with castor oil and soap
The shooter clouds a metal folding ramp
The default butter pad distributes joy
The figurines of jays become the fir
And flecked uncanny hues of clanging leaves
–“Annexing” originally appeared in ’Pider (V).
Tell us about the making of these poems.
“Annexing” is from last spring, when my wife Kimi and I went to France while she was training for a new job, so there is some flotsam from the Old World in there. I wrote “Carton” soon after that, in a small apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles, during the AWP conference. The Four Seasons had just announced it was closing after 57 years, so my dad invited me to lunch there for the first time. They had a few different rooms, I guess, one of which was the pool room, with a water pool in the middle, and four trees at its corners. They changed the trees based on the season, then with cherry blossoms since spring had begun, in a kind of physical calendar. Presidents never tell the whole; they intrigue like teenagers beyond understanding.
While imprisoned in a Soviet gulag, Léon Theremin, inventor of the musical instrument, was driven to invent another brilliant device of a very different sort. In the last days of World War II, a group of Russian schoolchildren presented the American ambassador, Averell Harriman, with a large wooden seal of the United States, which he duly displayed on the wall of his official residence in Moscow. Hidden inside the Great Seal was a nonelectronic spy device—no cords or batteries. The Soviets would drive up and point a radio frequency at the building, causing the device to vibrate, and secretly transmit any ambient sound, like diplomatic conversations, back for them to intercept. The Americans discovered and smashed the device, but after seven years! Following his release and despite such contributions, Theremin remained closely watched thereafter, dying in 1993.
What are you working on right now?
As you can see from the third poem here, I’ve begun writing in iambic pentameter, so different approaches within that form.
What’s a good day for you?
I’m currently enrolled in the MFA at Columbia, so going to a thought-provoking class, catching up with friends on campus or at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, and getting a few pages down, say at the East Asian studies, architecture, or Union theological libraries. Maybe see something surprising or memorable, or hear something funny to spur a few ideas. Spend the evening with Kimi and Mina, our Maine Coon cat.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
So much of the arts and publishing world—I’ve worked as an editor at HarperCollins and elsewhere—is based in New York, it’s like that thing Ashbery said, it’s almost more interesting for someone to decide to live anywhere but New York. In terms of the boroughs, Brooklyn has become a sort of symbol for creative activity worldwide, and yet retains a nice, comparatively low-key pitch.
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 in the same Carroll Gardens apartment since 2008. Today the neighborhood is a mix of Italian roots, creative professionals and writers, and, as prices continue to climb, perhaps more business-minded people. All of those elements are in play. Two prominent poets are nearby neighbors; I caught up with one while on the way to Rite Aid. In some ways the neighborhood is doing better than ever, although I couldn’t afford to move within it.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
After spending the afternoon reading in a spacious community garden on the Columbia Street Waterfront, a history of free verse in fact, I noticed the guy tending his gardenias was long gone—and I’d been locked in! With the help of a fortunate tree, I climbed the chain-link fence, up and over, watched by the passing cars. Hazards of reading!
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Most importantly, one needs a few trusted friends for sharing new work and exchanging ideas. Besides that, it’s great to be friends with a lot of different poets, hanging out at events and readings, and keeping each other in the loop. If you go to readings you start to meet people. Like a lot of things in the poetry world, it can take some time, but it works out pretty well.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Chris Hosea, Stu Watson, Armando Jaramillo Garcia, Jana Prikryl, Angel Nafis, Walt Whitman, Wendy Lotterman, Eric Amling, Catherine Blauvelt, Timothy Donnelly, W.H. Auden, Hyun Cho, Callie Garnett, Alan Gilbert, Jay Deshpande, Marianne Moore and many more.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
In college, I did an independent study on John Ashbery with Harold Bloom, but mostly just trying to read and enjoy, forget and sort of ruminate. In the MFA program at Columbia, I’m thrilled to be studying with several admired poets, including Richard Howard and Timothy Donnelly.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Last fall, I picked up the new edition of Marianne Moore’s Observations, and her poem “An Octopus” was a total rush, “news that stays news.” I’m also struck by Jana Prikryl’s recent book, The After Party, as well as two books we’re publishing very soon at Prelude, The Portable Man by Armando Jaramillo Garcia and Here High Note, High Note by Catherine Blauvelt.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Probably some bits of The Bridge, maybe after the Indiana stuff?
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 read a lot for Prelude, the poetry magazine I edit with Stu Watson, and I read other journals too, finding work that catches my eye and then seeking out the books. Other journals include the Poetry Project Newsletter, Chicago Review, Fence, Lana Turner, Iowa Review, jubilat, Sixth Finch, Inter|rupture, American Poetry Review, Poetry, Reality Beach, BOMB, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Powder Keg, Boston Review, Flag + Void, Nat. Brut, Pith, Bone Bouquet, Posit and Foundry Journal.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Formal poems with unusual stanzaic shapes; short four-beat (tetrameter) poems.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I recently spent a few hours walking around SoHo with a pocket notebook, madly scribbling a line every ten feet or so.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
It’s always changing, but slowly. A café closes, so you find a new café. Actually, seeing the way things change is what’s really interesting to me.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the Red Hook Star-Revue,
And what I suppose H.P. Lovecraft meant by “The Horror of Red
Hook” was mostly sour grapes, as you appear on no certain
For every step and reconsideration one takes, nearly, with a
moveable tea cart strikes me as good, a superabundance by
the laundromat, and in the window, a flopped copy of you.
A place of the moment. Salted fresh mozzarella.