Poet Of The Week

Jeff Simpson

     April 15–21, 2013

Jeff Simpson is the author of Vertical Hold (Steel Toe Books, 2011), a finalist for The National Poetry Series, and The Morrill Hall Sessions, a free audio chapbook. In 2010, he founded The Fiddleback, an online journal of literature and art for which he currently serves as Editor-In-Chief. His work has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Forklift, Ohio; Prairie Schooner; Copper Nickel; Poet Lore and Harpur Palate, among others. He holds an MFA in poetry from Oklahoma State University, where he was twice awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. He has taught creative writing and literature courses at Oklahoma State University, Old Westbury – SUNY and Queens College – CUNY and currently works for Poets & Writers Magazine. He lives in South Slope.

Ode to Love Handles

Pencil You look like the Michelin Man
onto a list of things not to say during sex,

as well as the ill-conceived reply that she is,
and always has been, a goddamn bore in the sack.

Understand when she confiscates your DQ Blizzard,
skims your milk, takes away your peanut butter

cookies, she wants you to grab a jog, eyeball
Oprah, comb Men’s Health so you can solve

all of life’s waddle problems. And, no, she won’t
count Playboy articles as productive reading,

like the one explaining the best way to organize
a mini bar you quoted one night at a party

even though you’ve never owned a mini bar,
unless you count the kitchen cabinet with the half

bottle of Crown, plastic cups, birthday napkins,
and a blender you’ve used on two occasions.

You have to stand your ground. You have to say,
I will have potatoes mashed in gravy, spare ribs

and apple pie because I got a meat tooth
and a sweet tooth and room for all the sides.

When she pinches your manos de amor,
when she slaps your tummy and says you’re

an image spit from your father—stretched at the lake
in his blue dolphin trunks, cold beer in one hand,

chicken leg in the other—you have to say,
I am the walrus, and I contain fucking multitudes.

Install handlebars if you want utility.
Ditch the spare tire if you want love without judgment.

And don’t believe what they say, that women hold
on to them lovingly while you thrash around in the dark.

Know there are only so many ways to get from
point A to point B without extra baggage,

that none of us, no matter how round or monstrous
we become, can ever offer anything to hold.

–From Vertical Hold, Steel Toe Books, 2011.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

It was sort of a perfect storm of happenstance. Years ago, I went through a spell of writing odes to weird, fucked-up things that I felt would never have odes written about them if I didn’t do it. At the same time I was also writing a lot of poems in the form of letters the speaker addresses to himself. These two forms merged one day when I had the urge to write a revenge poem to a comment my wife once made about my love handles. (Writers should hold grudges.) This poem also owes a debt of thanks to my blood-brother, Daniel Long. I knocked out the first draft in a day or two, but something felt off. I had all the parts and images, the beginning and the end, but it wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Daniel looked at the poem and suggested I rework some of the static nouns into verbal forms: “I will have potatoes mashed in gravy; eyeball Oprah,” etc. Once I did that, the poem shifted into a whole ‘nother gear.

What are you working on right now?

Two poetry manuscripts. One is a run-of-the-mill type manuscript, and the other is an unwieldy book-length poem.

What’s a good day for you?

I spend a little time writing—just enough so I don’t feel like killing myself for not writing—and then celebrate my reaffirmation of life with a home-cooked meal and a whiskey while Robert Johnson plays “Love in Vain” on the stereo.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I moved to Brooklyn two years ago this August. The realtors call my neighborhood “Greenwood Heights,” but I say South Slope. My favorite thing is that I live right across from Greenwood Cemetery, which is stunning, especially in the spring and summer. It’s also nice to live across the street from thousands of corpses, as it reminds you to get shit done.

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

At my local R stop a few weeks ago, two guys stood outside shouting at each other in what I hoped would turn into a street brawl. The smaller guy was pretty vocal, kept shouting things like, “You gonna die, homie! Touching me is suicide!” (Some of his shit even rhymed.) The bigger guy mostly stood there. He occasionally inched closer while smoking a cigarette and hissing, “Step on. What? Step on.” The little guy wore ragged Timberlands and cargo pants and had one of those hand-held fans—all ornament and delicate folds—that would fly open as he moved around, flashing the black and maroon pattern of an old saloon dress. Not a switchblade, a fan. Nothing happened. No punches or broken jaws. Only the b-grade pantomime of Hollywood fight scenes they’d seen as kids. They rope-a-doped themselves into a stalemate while I stood there loving how everything in New York is wrapped in grandiose theatrics and verbal swordplay.

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

I’m gonna stick with the dead so I don’t break any beating hearts: Hart Crane and Walt Whitman. But I will say that all my favorite living New York poets kick it in Brooklyn.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

BookCourt. I love hanging around the Cobble Hill area.

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

I pretty much write exclusively at home, though I’ve had some luck recently while riding the G. My favorite place to read is Couleaur Cafe on 7th Ave. It’s a nice, quiet café with excellent coffee, great staff, and the best French bistro food in the South Slope/Park Slope area.

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

I love to walk down 3rd Street between 7th and 8th Ave in the late evening. There’s something about the wide sidewalks and gorgeous brownstones that feels exactly like how I imagined living in New York would feel. It’s like you’re walking inside of a movie.

Last awesome book(s) you read?

Dean Young’s Bender (great to see all those poems in one place); David Dodd Lee’s Orphan, Indiana; Danielle Pafunda’s Manhater; Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia; Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great; Ashbery’s translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations. I also just finished William Matthews’s Foreseeable Futures. I read all the poems years ago in his Selected, but I found a signed copy in Boston for $8 last summer and finally got around to reading the poems as a single-collection. Amazing.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate my idleness,
my stillness, and what I falter you should falter too,
for every missed spark that strikes against me as good
     strikes against 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.

My mother still has pom-poms and a father,
a one-armed land man, a black jack
dealer of sermons and statistics. His NASCAR love
wrecks my afternoon, his pen
the crossword. He named her for a Dodger—
Sandy, as in Koufax, as in unrequited, like the Brooklyn
Bridge erupting with crowds and cameras that rob
us of our moments. “Sin,” he tells me. “Sin
is doing exactly what we want like it ain’t no biggie.”

Why Brooklyn?

Because the pizza’s better here than in Oklahoma City.