Poet Of The Week

Roger Reeves

     March 31–April 6, 2014

Roger Reeves’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review and Tin House, among others. Kim Addonizio selected his “Kletic of Walt Whitman” for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology, and he has been awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, a 2013 Pushcart Prize, a 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and two Cave Canem Fellowships. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois–Chicago. His first book, King Me, is just out from Copper Canyon Press. He will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series on Friday, April 4, at Dumbo Sky with Kamilah Aisha Moon and Tina Chang.

The Mare of Money

                    —for Emmett Till
Another dead mare waits
in the shoals of some body
of water, waits to be burden,
borne into a foaming ocean,
where it might become food
for whales, or, simply empty
signifier—hair latched
to the sea’s undulation
like Absalom’s beauty caught
in the branches of a tree desiring union
entanglement, thick confusion—
but not this mare;
she does not get the luxury
of a lyric—a song that makes
our own undoing or killing sweet
even as we go down
into the fire to rise as smoke.
This horse lies, eyes open,
among the stones and fresh water
crawfish in Money, Mississippi.
She listens to the men’s boots break
the water when they drop a black boy’s body
near her head, then pick him up,
only to let him fall—again,
there: bent and eye-to-eye with her
as though decaying is something
that requires a witness
—as though the mare might say:
on Tuesday after the rain fell,
the boy’s neck finally snapped
from the weight of the mill fan;
he never looked at me again.
Or the boy might say:
No more. They part
here: the boy’s body
carried back to town by another,
as the horse stays, says nothing
because horses don’t speak, besides
this one’s dead.

—From King Me, Copper Canyon Press, 2013.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

“The Mare of Money” began as a thought and image experiment. Quite simply, the poem began with questions. What animals, other than humans, are made unwilling witnesses to something like lynching? What are the ethics of lyricizing, making beautiful, something like the lynching of Emmett Till? The poem began with imagining a horse rotting in a creek or river. And as I began to look around the image and the poem, I saw another body there, that of a black boy. At the time of the writing of this poem, I had been reading about lynching and viewing images and photographs about lynching (via the Without Sanctuary exhibition). I had a lot of questions. And I find that poetry is a great place to turn a question over and over until it becomes something else—maybe not an answer, but something akin to knowing.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m generating new poems. More so, over the last few months I have been working on two longer / longish poems. We’ll see how that goes.

What’s a good day for you?

I can’t help but think of this question in terms of Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day.” So I guess a good day starts with breakfast and no hog. No, just playing; I love bacon. But back to the question. A good day would begin with writing for several hours, then breakfast, then a run, then eating and a nap, then reading, then another run, then writing some more, dinner, and some type of jazz or performance to round out the night. If it’s an ideal day, Miguel Zenón, the jazz saxophonist, will be in town, and I would fall back into some uncomfortable chair at the Jazz Showcase listening him drive the night into madness with his solos. That would be a good day. A good day must also have a bit of discovery.

So you don’t live in Brooklyn. Where’s home for you? What’s it like being a poet there? As Jay Z might ask, Can you live?

Chicago is where I live. The South, the dirty South, is home, though I was born and raised in southern New Jersey right outside Philadelphia. To answer the question “what’s it like being a poet” in Chicago, I would need several years. Being a poet in Chicago is nothing like being a poet in Austin, Texas. While my declaration about being a poet in Chicago versus being a poet in Austin, Texas might seem banal or trite, it is not. Moving from Atlanta to Austin, writing in Atlanta and writing in Austin were not terribly different. However, the Midwest, Chicago specifically, is like writing on an alien planet. I used to allow landscape, nature to guide the work. Often, it was something observed that sent me into the writing room to fumble with ink and image. Since I don’t find the landscape (or I should say city-scape) of Chicago suggestive in that same manner, my writing practice, how I think about writing, how I think about the lyric, how I meditate has changed dramatically. I find that I am in conversation with poets like Berryman, Li Ch’ing-chao, Dante and Mahmoud Darwish, which is to say I talk to the dead much more. I don’t know if it is because I know more dead people now (friends are dying now in a way that they didn’t in my 20s) or there’s something about Chicago that makes me feel closer to the dead than to the living. However, I do have a cadre of poet friends that I talk to regularly that has made Chicago feel a bit warmer. Can I live? Jay, I don’t know. I’m trying. But I don’t have stacks on stacks on stacks.

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

I have spent time in Brooklyn. I have stayed with friends in Brooklyn several times. One of my favorite moments was running from Fort Greene to Manhattan. A friend, Moses, and I ran across the Brooklyn Bridge. I will never forget that run. Thanks, Moses.

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

Favorite place in Brooklyn—this is going to sound cliché. But it’s the Bridge. I like the liminality of that thing—being betwixt and between.

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

Favorite Brooklyn Poet. Now that’s hard. Brooklyn poets, I love you all. But I’m going to have to go with Tracy K. Smith and Timothy Donnelly. I love their work and am constantly turning towards it and am in conversation with their work in my own poems.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

The Guide Signs: Book One and Two, Jay Wright; Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss; The Good Lord Bird, James McBride.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate tongues and stones,
And what I break you should break,
For every rib and clavicle severed trembling and belonging
     to me as good will eventually belong to you.

Why Brooklyn?

Why Chicago?