June 19–25, 2017
Seth Landman is the author of the poetry collections Confidence (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2015) and Sign You Were Mistaken (Factory Hollow Press, 2013). His work can be found in Boston Review, iO, Jellyfish, Lit, jubilat and elsewhere. He received his PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Denver (2013) and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts (2008). He lives in Vermont and teaches at the Putney School. On Wednesday, June 21, he will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series with Sarah Jean Grimm and Debora Kuan.
I might not be able to be the way I am.
Even now, I feel my grip loosening.
Like arriving to the front of your face
in the middle of a meal
with all of your close friends around the table
and thinking why be more and more obscure.
I can’t believe I’m here,
and these people are fucking fantastic,
and how can I tell them all about it.
How can I freeze like the ground did.
How can I thaw and sink into the steaming middle of whatever season
I might not be any good at communication,
but what does that mean about what I manage to get across.
I might not be real or be able to stay very long. I feel obscure thinking
coming to get me, like my whole life
is a long arrival. I forgot something
at my apartment this morning and the day goes on stuttering.
I might be on the verge of choosing an explosion over
any semblance of rhythm,
and I’m sorry for all the words it takes
to arrive here at the good meat. I might not be
able to put it in front of your face, but somewhere
in there I think you remember talking
on the phone while the waves kept killing
the tiniest edge of your city. I might not meet you
until I’ve already known you for far too long.
How can I tell you I love you
if there’s no starting over.
I did not love you, and now I do.
Even now, there’s no explaining it.
In the beginning, I’ll say hello,
this is a communication. I’ll say dear,
and then I’ll pause, and then
your name will come to me. Hey,
it’s November, it’s December, it’s January.
This will all be over before you know it,
like arriving only to hear someone older explain
that the force with which you love
what you love over time might dissipate. They might say it
as fact, no getting around it. I don’t care
what they say. I don’t care what might be gleaned
from that experience. I might not be able to be
the way I am, but I know that much.
I know it’s my life, and I feel like I’m living it
most of the time. I know I don’t know what
I can manage, but that’s something.
I know I had to look it up to know for sure what it was.
I knew when I didn’t find it that I had something.
—Originally published in Jellyfish 13.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
What I remember is that after a long period during which writing poetry felt like the easiest thing in the world, I was struggling to make poems. I was writing these huge, messy prose blocks. I was thinking as little as possible; I was just trying to get text on a page. Eventually, I ended up looking back at these messes months later and chiseling them into poems. It was this exhilarating feeling, to discover that I had been making poems without exactly realizing it. I was going through a difficult period emotionally, feeling very low and unloved, and finding the poem in this big mess felt hopeful, even though the poem that resulted is in many ways about the impossibility of really knowing anything.
What are you working on right now?
I suppose this is a question about writing, so I should admit that I’m not working on anything. In the last year, I’ve been falling in love and starting a new job. Right now I’m having trouble accessing the possibility of making a poem. I have some faith it will come back. One preoccupation I have has to do with poetry’s relationship to contingency. Is poetry a way of exploring uncertainty? Of interpreting the world anagogically? Through poetry, are we accessing a kind of knowledge that doesn’t exist yet? Am I making any sense? Most likely not.
What’s a good day for you?
Hanging around with loved ones, seeing some water, watching some basketball, momentarily transcending the limits of my physical form, etc.
So you don’t live in Brooklyn. Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
At the moment, home is Putney, VT. I teach a ninth-grade class integrating English, history and science, and twelfth-grade classes in creative writing and short fiction. I’ve been there a year, and I really like it, though working at a boarding school is often overwhelming. It’s a beautiful place. I’m sure it’s changing, but I can’t say how.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I’ve spent time in Brooklyn over the years mostly visiting friends. I do not generally do well in cities, but I do like friends.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
I immediately think of a kind of unwieldy calendar of events and obligations. To be honest, the phrase “poetry community” feels sort of poisoned to me. What is wonderful is to find people who help you find poetry everywhere in your daily, lived experience. I don’t think it is in one place. My poetry community is scattered around.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
In the interest of keeping this short, I’ll just mention two: Marisa Crawford and Walt Whitman.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Gillian Conoley, Dara Wier, James Tate and Peter Gizzi were all teachers who influenced me deeply in ways I can’t really articulate, but my first friends in poetry—Marisa Crawford, Seth Parker and Natalie Lyalin especially—were the people who made me love poetry. Because of them, poetry became a part of my constant experience of living.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Recently I’ve been reading lots of short fiction, and the story that blew me away the most was Helen Oyeyemi’s “Books and Roses,” which is the first story in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. I love the way storytelling becomes this force that holds people together in the world of the story. As for poems, I’ve been rereading lots of Joanne Kyger’s work since she passed away back in March. I think she’s my favorite poet. Her work just feels entirely devoid of bullshit artifice. She’s the greatest.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I am obsessed with Herman Melville, but I still haven’t made it all the way through Clarel, and I’d like to do that before I kick the bucket.
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 prefer books. I’m a wildly undisciplined reader, though I am a bit of a note-taker. Lots of stars and exclamation points in the margins. I’m a pretty lazy reader. I wish I was more rigorous about it.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I hope I someday find a way to write poems about basketball that are actually good and not contrived and stupid.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
In the last year, I’ve only written one poem I think is any good, and it happened in the National Gallery of Art in front of Winslow Homer’s Right and Left, which was the cover of my first book, Sign You Were Mistaken. Sitting with that painting for an hour while people shuffled by felt pretty great.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I recently had the pleasure of strolling through Green-Wood Cemetery, which was amazing. I love cemeteries for all the obvious reasons.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate point guards who fight through screens on defense,
And what I love is that you can feel the effort through the TV,
For every invisible string connecting me as good connects you.