Poet Of The Week

Edgar Kunz

     August 28–September 3, 2023

Edgar Kunz is the author of Fixer (Ecco, 2023) and Tap Out (Ecco, 2019). He has been an NEA Fellow, a MacDowell Fellow and a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. New poems appear in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Poetry, the American Poetry Review and the Oxford American. He lives in Baltimore and teaches at Goucher College. On Thursday, August 31, Kunz will read at Brooklyn Poets for the launch of his latest collection.

Author photo by Ariana Mygatt

Night Heron


What now? You’d flown in

from a Midwest city named

for its rowdy summertime

abundance lying saying you

were coming to visit friends

in San Francisco and I had taken

the train from chilly Oakland

to meet you and we rode north

carefully not touching I took you

to the tiny one-room apartment

I had escaped to after the

divorce and fried us nervously

some potatoes in a cast-iron

pan a little rosemary which we

did not eat because you kissed

me hard and we went in a rush

to the mattress I bought off a guy

in a semi-famous band and had only

the day before gotten off

the floor and onto the pinewood

bed frame I’d found and hoisted

on my back and carried

down out of North Berkeley arms

wide weaving through the side

streets toeing the centerline to avoid

snagging the buckeyes leaning out

it was about suffering

in public it was dramatic

sure but the dramas of my life

those days were pitched

as high as I could stand higher

sometimes I said breathless I want

to taste you and you said please

yes and later out at the edge

of the lake huddled against

the damp wind hot grease

soaking through a paper bag

licking salt from each

other’s fingers obscenely a night

heron peered up at us from

the reeds small hunched dipping

its shining beak in the shallows not

particularly beautiful but a heron

nevertheless the same one

we were sure we saw perched

on the awning outside the theater

whose marquee shouted slogans





BALLOTS and later the cabin

we rented with friends

in Calaveras snowmelt vaulting

the redwoods to magnificent

heights drinking rye and each

of us practicing our best

wolf howl at the waning

moon which was ridiculous yes

but once we started it became impossible

to stop waking up next morning

hoarse and happy and you moved west

and we lived together in a studio

overlooking the café dumpster

and then back east on a dream

of a house and a garden and then

my father died and at almost

the same age yours did and both

from drink and an unnameable

sadness I went back to Connecticut

alone three and a half days

my mother said before anyone

had found him in his apartment

on the far side of town and going

with my brother which we

should not have done and dragging

the mattress out and clearing

the maggots off the ceiling

with a shop vac and so on and later

you came and we walked through

the basement of my mother’s house

I wanted to show you where for

a while he lived and how and you

slung your arm around my waist

and we moved slowly together bare

fluorescent bulb shining

on the Budweiser ashtray

the carpentry tools I would

inherit the ratty couch he crashed

on for years you held up

an old calypso record he loved

and sang out softly Jump in the line

rock your body in time and I

sang back softly Okay I believe you

and after a while mom at the top

of the stairs shouting What

are you kids doing down there

and climbing the steps you pinch

my elbow and ask if I’m

okay and I hear myself

say yes which is not a lie though

I’m not listening I’m letting

myself feel how astonishing how

astonishing what our love can make

of a place like that


—From Fixer, Ecco, 2023.

Brooklyn Poets · Edgar Kunz, "Night Heron"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This was one of the first poems I wrote after my first book, Tap Out. I wanted to switch up my style, try to be freer and write with less control, less of an idea about where I was heading. John Murillo’s “Upon Reading That Eric Dolphy Transcribed Even the Calls of Certain Species of Birds,” and Ellen Bryant Voigt’s “Sleep” were two big influences on me at the time. And Larry Levis, especially The Widening Spell of the Leaves. And Merwin’s unpunctuated stuff, like The Shadow of Sirius. Maybe most importantly, I wanted the poem to be tonally various—funny and desperate and deadly serious and grateful. At the end of the day, it’s a love poem, the poem the whole book is building toward.

What are you working on right now?

I’m in that weird period between projects. I’m allegedly working on a novel—I have some pages but it’s too early to tell if it’s any good. I wrote an essay I’m proud of that just came out with Lit Hub about the limitations of hustle culture. I start out telling you about how I scammed my landlord in Oakland and I end up talking about what I think poetry is all about, and what it’s not about. I say some things I really believe in that one.

What’s a good day for you?

Today’s pretty good! Khruangbin on the speakers, burning some incense we got in Iceland, an afternoon coffee and a little yogurt smoothie on deck. Anticipating the book tour and relieved the book is finally out. Just did a radio interview this morning that was laid back and fun. I’m feeling alright.

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?

I live in Baltimore, “The Greatest City in America”! At least that’s what it says on our bus stop benches—we had a run of mayors that each tried to rebrand the city. “The City That Reads” was another good one. My sweetheart and I moved here four years ago from California, but I went to college here. It was a kind of homecoming for me. It’s good to be back on the East Coast. I’m closer to my family, for one thing. My mom and brothers.

People sleep on Baltimore, but it has a great arts scene, a vibrant and countercultural energy, and it’s still relatively cheap to live. And it’s an hour from DC, two hours from Philly, three hours from NYC on the train. We’re two writers and we have a house and a garden in a great neighborhood. Every time New York friends come to visit, we’re like, “This life could be yours!”

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

I love Brooklyn. I’ve got friends all over—Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens—and now that I live in Baltimore, I take the train up often. I’ll be real, though: it’s hard to get around in Brooklyn on the train! You’re going back into the city a lot to catch a connecting train. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I’m having to take a lot of Ubers.

Seriously, though, I’m crazy about the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, especially when I can sneak in on a friend’s membership! Doris and Dick & Jane’s for drinks. There’s this beautiful little coffee shop on Flatbush across from the park called Loud Baby. My friend’s sister just opened a restaurant in Fort Greene called Margot. It’s a special spot.

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

I’m still finding my community in Baltimore, but so far, so good! Lots of committed poets here making cool work. And it’s not just professors and grad students—there’s a vibrant spoken-word scene, a hilarious and cutting alt-lit scene. It keeps you on your toes. Nobody here seems to care that much about what you’ve accomplished or where you went to school or whatever—what’s most real is what you can make happen at the mic.

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

I love Tina Chang’s work, and John Murillo’s. Sam Ross is a wonderful poet—he and John are reading at my launch at Brooklyn Poets along with the brilliant homie Megan Fernandes. Hafizah Geter, Maggie Millner, Angel Nafis, Jameson Fitzpatrick, Shira Erlichman … I could go on and on. Brooklyn must have the greatest density of poetic talent on the planet. For every name I mention, there are a hundred more that would blow your mind.

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

I’ve had the good luck to study under some truly generous and gifted writers. Eavan Boland, Louise Glück and Ken Fields at Stanford. Mark Jarman, Rick Hilles and Beth Bachmann at Vanderbilt. Elizabeth Spires and A. V. Christie at Goucher, where I went and where I now teach. And shout out to my very first poetry professor, Steve Straight, at my local community college. He changed my life.

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

I’m reading Eula Biss’s Having and Being Had right now and it’s stunning. It’s my favorite kind of stuff: simple materials, complex thinking and feeling. She’s wrestling with class, work, consumption culture, the demands and costs of participating in our twenty-first-century brand of American capitalism. And without being the least bit sanctimonious or knowing. It’s a real exploration and it’s done on the human level: every essay centers on a conversation she has with another human being. So good.

I’m finally working my way through some of the great twentieth-century fiction writers: Magda Szabó, Natalia Ginzburg, W. G. Sebald, Kazuo Ishiguro. I’m trying to read fewer Americans. It helps me get outside myself and my assumptions.

I know I didn’t mention any poets! I’m going through a prose phase, but a handful of recent poetry favorites (aside from the poets I name in the previous question): Diane Seuss’s frank: sonnets, Natasha Rao’s Latitude, Ryann Stevenson’s Human Resources, Solmaz Sharif’s Customs.

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

I want to read more Mark Strand, more Gwendolyn Brooks, Wallace Stevens, Denise Levertov, Gerald Stern, Langston Hughes. Every generation has its big poets, and some excellent poets somehow get a little lost—I’d like to dig into the writers who influenced the poets I love, especially folks who have been kind of overlooked.

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?

My reading life is a mess. I’m all over the place. I start a book, put it down, forget about it, come back a year later, read a little more, put it down, forget about it maybe forever. There’s so much to read! The books that are closest to my heart are the ones that gripped me right away and haven’t let go. They ring in my body like a bell. I’ll read the same book a hundred times if I like its resonance. Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires is a book like that for me. I’ll never get tired of it.

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

I’ve never been an especially formal poet, meaning a writer of strict forms. Could be fun to write more in meter or write a series of ghazals or villanelles. These old forms are always waiting to be made new.

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

I’ll shout out a few coffee shops in Baltimore I work at sometimes. Artifact Coffee is number one if you look at the stats, but I also love Good Neighbor and Vent, as well as Ceremony down in Mount Vernon. A coffee-shop atmosphere is good for me—I think it’s the white noise.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Besides the places I name above, I love wandering around Prospect Park with nothing to do, nowhere to be. People going about their days, jogging, sprawling out with friends, playing music, smoking weed, kicking a soccer ball around. It’s hard not to fall in love with a city when you’re in a place like that. It’s beautiful.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate Brooklyn and Baltimore, the real twin cities.

And what I love about my dive you love about your dive.

For every bummed cig savored on the sidewalk outside

by me as good was savored by you.