December 22–28, 2014
Joe Pan is the author of the poetry collection Autobiomythography & Gallery (BAP), as well as the forthcoming book Hiccups (Augury Books) & the pamphlet The Poem (Greying Ghost Press). He is the publisher and managing editor of Brooklyn Arts Press and serves as the poetry editor for the arts magazine Hyperallergic. His piece “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper,” a hybrid work on drones, was excerpted and praised in the New York Times. Joe attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, grew up along the Space Coast of Florida and now lives in Williamsburg.
One of the things I like about acting is that,
in a funny way, I come back to myself.
amore, I can
I can revive & re-love
you. & rejoice & re-
vivisect your joie de vivre.
put it all on video.
I can enclose you
closely in mind
but not altogether clearly.
Americana, you are
a smattering of light insults, a slathering of lathe.
Please forgive my form.
I fit you
fitfully, & fearful form myself
from our forced embrace.
I forget myself in you
at times at times
I confront you curious
of a cure for you
Originally I wanted nothing from you.
Then nothing but a wedding
a weekend in your warmer climates
a breakout scene
a body full of bubbles.
Bur went the bitter cold.
Ping went the pipes.
Originally I was born & bred.
& read, to be an original
in short appeased to be aborted
by ambition or merely
applauded, then weakened
in the familiar way
awaiting the final pause.
But things don’t much align
with the imagined seductive
Why is every dinner with you lately
me staring at my fists?
Now a peace between us
is my preference.
But peace is not the pleasant
settling into we hear in the hopeful
& vaguely compassionate voices is it—
it’s a mesa
a plateau, a stabilization
formed from warring elementals
with what they’ve been educated
to suppress, or contain
or influence others to accept
There’s a word I’d like to have with you
by which I mean share.
By which I mean a word or two.
With an undercarriage double-thump
that might be mass transit
or mass exodus
my heart goes
to you, with you, like
a phantom light
in a coffee can…
I need a way back in-
this so-little human voice a living
to our relationship
let this be part of my cumulative
of snow falling
But not just yet.
I’ve brought you a pocket
full of pleases. A thank you.
A think tank. A thunk trunk.
A picnic basket of preamble
a play on our precious
Let’s devise in this short time
together a systematic operation
catching what falls between
thump-thump heart in erasure & recovery
hump-dump heart in loving & loss
bump-lump heart in fear & facing finality
thump-slump heart in pivotal arrest & arraignment
etc., & between each, our stories
Amour, I submit to our
to our miscarriages of maybes.
But I cannot complete the circle
of whatever vows—hand over heart—
I took by being born to you.
I love that you are more
than a compilation of life’s
comprised of trans-
sexual, national, lingual, trans-
circuitries of cohabitation—
commerce to intercourse—
from benign to being generous
so often— you yourself perhaps
of too simple
a belief system
by which I mean a high belief
in your own accumulative
But this behavior cannot stand.
Because this believer
cannot himself stand
by you as himself
wanting neither to be
or have you as my dieu
(adieu d’eux deux).
amoureux, I cannot
accept you (in full)
except to accept
I am you in whatever ways I am
& will change
what I can about myself
what I can about you
to make you a better us.
Like the slow drift
I respectfully decline your borders.
But like the lover
I keep you
–Originally published in Sink Review, Issue 13 (2014).
Tell us about the making of this poem.
My first impulse was to play with the music of a few words, pulling other words from those words, testing the homophonic structures, which I kept playing with throughout. When my mind began grabbing hold of subjects, I let the poem run out a bit, like a fishing line. When you fish, you leave one finger on the line, to see if that bit of tension causing the pole to bend is a wave or a real fish, a nibble or a bite, or just a rock that snagged your hook. I grew up in Florida—you’re going to get some fishing metaphors. There was a lot of political shit going through my mind when I wrote this, stuff I wanted to engage, stuff I wanted to feel out, question, prod, provoke. Like many people then, & now, I found myself at odds with aspects of my culture, & so wanted to distance myself from those aspects, while simultaneously accounting within myself, within my own body & thoughts, the fermentation of those aspects, those ideas, those impulses—latent, unexamined, or right there at the surface. To be an American means what? It’s different for those embodying the experience personally than those who look at us from elsewhere, perhaps seeing us as militants parading our forces around the globe. It’s different for us in relation to each other, too, racially, economically, sexually, you know. America is a place but more so it’s how we fit into each others’ minds. So in the poem a few antagonisms pop up, tug at me, so I run with them. America as a united entity, the us as I. How do you approach that I, as a citizen who feels both connected & disconnected? You want some kind of peace, but what is peace? Stillness? Acquiescence? Forgetful of our failures & prejudices? No. It’s warring ideas, tensions—we have to keep going back into the muck & deciding what is right & wrong at that moment or else we lose the peace; one faction will rise & take it away. So what do we fight that with? With interaction, with communication. The past is brought into relief as a living archive called history; we make sure our history stays vulnerable, keep it open to discussion, so suppressed or underrepresented voices once locked out can accumulate. It’s also about finding out what you love & promoting those ideas. Promoting love, promoting the good things we do, finding solutions. It’s about community building. It’s about not accepting the easy if the easy is wrong. That’s the political part that came in—me mad at America, staring at my fists, but loving that idea sitting across the table from me. The us-ness, the better angels & so on. It’s about reconciliation, which means changing oneself, so some small aspect of the whole changes for the better. & I think you get that tension in the poem. It’s a relationship poem. I love you but we have to talk. But the music is important to me, also. The line breaks that dictate where the brain should jump, like a video game, a little Mario bouncing from one island to the next—I love that. I wanted to write a poem tight & close, with a little sway, kind of an elongated dress. Like something Swoon might glue to a wall, histories accumulating in the patterned folds. The myth of self-created personal identity, our voice in speaking, the autobiomythographies we create. That’s in there in spirit as well.
What are you working on right now?
Well, I’m working on a novel that takes place in the swamps of central Florida. It involves three soothsayers & the death of a man foretold. It’s fun & otherworldy. Another project is my third book of poems, which is off to contests now but which I still work on, & a fourth book that’s a secret. A children’s picture book is also in the works. I always have a bunch of projects going at the same time.
What’s a good day for you?
Any day I can fit in my writing, BAP work & a solid nightlife outing with Wendy or friends, then wrap it up with a film or some TV show around midnight.
How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?
I moved to Park Slope in 2003. Then to Williamsburg in 2005. Then to the West Village in 2006, with my wife, then back to Williamsburg in 2009. I liked the Slope for its self-containment. It has everything you need in a few square blocks. But the Slope makes you soft. I liked Williamsburg the first time because it was an anything-goes kind of adventureland & I needed a post-break-up adventure. The art activity in the old warehouse spaces near the water was at its peak. I like it now, still, for the most part, because it represents the edge of a lot of worlds pushing against each other. All these economic & cultural forces at play. I’ve researched more of the history & have begun writing about it. Now you’ve got great bars & restaurants & you’re five minutes from Manhattan, but it’s a changed neighborhood. It’s more like a mall.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.
For a year I lived in a tree fort inside a thirty-six hundred square foot loft with a full view of the Empire State Building. 66 N 6th. It was the entire top floor & bar of what is now the Music Hall of Williamsburg. My tree fort was on a poorly built second story platform that looked down on the living room. My roommates—a Swedish Israeli & a Kiwi—& I used to host parties to pay for rent. We’d have DJs downstairs & on the roof, before The Edge & all those glass buildings blocked the view of Manhattan. My buddy Adam Courtney, the photographer, ran an enormous monthly art-dance-music-readings salon called Collision Machine out of a loft in Bushwick & we’d invite the folks on our lists to each other’s gatherings. I met a great deal of people that way, from all walks of life. The owners of the music venue downstairs used to try to get us kicked out, but couldn’t, because nobody knew who actually owned the building. We rented from someone who rented from someone who rented from a guy on an island who owned the property. One of my roommates stopped paying rent & nothing happened; the landlord got irked & said he’d be paid back in “karma.” We had a fern that traversed the length of the ceiling & a photographer’s workshop built into a small room. Death metal rose through the floorboards at 4 AM. It was everything I thought I needed at the time.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
Whitman, who is living. Hart Crane, who is not dead. There’s a bunch of living Brooklyn poets whose work I’m awed by, way too many to name.
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I used to ride the train to Coney Island to hit baseballs at the batting cage. It was an hour and fifteen minutes each way, riding aboveground, overlooking all those neighborhoods & parks & cemeteries. Often times I was alone for long stretches, & I couldn’t stop scribbling. Now I write anywhere, with earplugs.
Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
I’m not going to tell you my secret places. Some are bars & I’m nervous about giving out solid information that could ruin a joint. I love Cameo on Wednesday nights for the comedy show in back. Or playing bocce at Union Hall. The Nitehawk for dinner & a movie. The park at N 9th, hanging out along the East River in the summer, grabbing some food at the Smorgasburg market on the weekend, but it’s gotten too crowded to really enjoy yourself. Better to jump on the ferry & head to Governor’s Island for some art fest. Best is riding your bike through the old neighborhoods & finding a café you’ve never seen before, dropping in for an Americano. Okay, here’s two places: Suzume on Lorimer Street for ramen. Soft Spot on N 10th & Bedford, which you’d think would be packed, but usually isn’t, & the back garden is great.
Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?
This is kind of a sad statement, but I just finished reading between 500-600 manuscripts from the BAP open reading period that may or may not see the light of day, & there were a lot of great publishable books in that pile. My readers & editors had tough choices this year. Outside of that, like everyone else, I’m currently reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, which I believe will be read for a very long time. If any book’s worth a mention, especially in this current climate of insensitivity & violence, it’s that one.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate mondegreen,
And what I multigrain you should Montauk rain,
For every Montey that groans me as good might chagrin
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.
Robed in robber bee brocade a brother robber Rob
Dodges others like the other Dodger
Farther for each other father
Jacks the jumbled car off Jack
Synched-up synesthetic pinchers is a stereoscopic sin
Penelope a pen
Loved a glover living simple as a sample love
Brooklynesque as Brooklyn
Biggie isn’t with me is he but he’s still as big as Biggie
There will never be a place with as big a heart on this planet again. Soak it in.