Poet Of The Week

Sasha Fletcher

     July 15–21, 2013

Sasha Fletcher is the author of the novella When All Our Days Are Numbered Marching Bands Will Fill the Streets & We Will Not Hear Them Because We Will Be Upstairs in the Clouds and two chapbooks of poetry. He has a blog.

a report from the settlers on their progress

Once I walked for miles on end
and told myself several stories
as a means of getting around a large river,
just standing there in the middle of the road.
I tried asking it to move, but that didn’t work
so I tried something else. I recalled
when all my rivers were rivers
and broke like bones over rocks.
I practiced patience and understanding
and then I hit it with a rock.
That river is still standing here
in the middle of the goddam road
so now everyday I have to ford that river
to find the payphone I use
to say meet me here at dawn
to say that maybe rivers
were not what we thought they were
and to report on all the things I have not done.
I have not memorized the books of the bible
nor the capitals of the states
and I could not spell Monongahela
without looking it up in a book.
And all the books have been set on fire
and thrown in the ocean
where, screaming, they drowned.
After that is anybody’s guess these days.
After that I lay myself down in a field of green grass.
I tell myself a story about rivers.
In this story there are no rivers.
In this story we all have great jobs
and health insurance and we get to bed on time.
We have kept our drinking in check
and eat well-balanced diets. This story
is just a story, though. I am lying
face down in a stubborn river. I can feel it
with my mouth, which is full of trouble,
all the way down to my bones
which are just laughing at all of this
just rolling around on the ground and once
I walked for miles on end only to end up
face down in a river. If this story
appeals to you, I ask that you come on down to the river
and carry me home.

–Originally published in notnostrums 6.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Oh man. I haven’t looked at this one in a bit. I wrote this while I had a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in July of 2010. I was reading a lot of Emily Pettit and listening to a lot of Titus Andronicus and staring out the floor-to-ceiling window at the river and missing my girlfriend, who I hadn’t really spent more than a few days apart from for roughly the whole year we’d been dating. I was writing a ton. This was also back when the manuscript I just finished was called Raise Your Hands, Pilgrims. It fit that book really well. Then the book became something called Not Lonely and a lot of poems didn’t fit that anymore. Then it became something else that ended up being called It Is Going to Be a Good Year. I should really go back over the stuff from Pilgrims. I can tell you that, according to my records, this poem had 16 drafts, of which this was the 7th. I can tell you that it’s first title was “like mountains” and there were 4 drafts of that, then it was called “lead me to water lord i sure am thirsty” and that had about 4 drafts. I can tell you that almost everything in Pilgrims went through at least 6 drafts. I can tell you that I was in grad school. I had no idea what I was doing. I have, these days, probably only a small idea of what I am doing, but a better idea of how to go about doing it.

What are you working on right now?

I’m sending out a manuscript I feel pretty good about called It Is Going to Be a Good Year. I am working on a chapbook right now called Dear Gloria, Dear Madeline, Dear Siobhan, Dear Ethel, Dear Eloise, Dear Wendy, Dear Becky, Dear Lisa, Dear Liza, Dear Michelle, Dear Tamika, Dear Tanya, Tonight and it’s pretty weird. There are these weird epistolary moments, which the title probably gives away. I’m trying hard not to stop myself from writing about anything. I’m writing way less than I used to, quantity-wise, but all the things I’ve been getting done have managed to turn out in a way that feels exciting and scary and full of some kind of possibility. So that’s probably for the best.

What’s a good day for you?

I mean, a good average day is that I go into the office, I maybe steal about 20 minutes to work on a poem, I come home and either cook something and work a bit more on the poem from earlier, or I go next door to my neighbors’ place and we cook dinner and get drunk and watch a movie, and then I go home, and I read for however long it takes for me not to be able to read any more, and I pass out. Maybe I do some laundry, or clean the bathroom, or sweep the floor. A good day is basically any day I can get something done and feel like I am a part of something greater than my own silly bullshit.

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

4 years! I live in Crown Heights and I am pretty into it. I am still getting to know it. I started out a few blocks from Roberta’s in 2009, then moved to Williamsburg in 2010, and I moved here earlier this year, due to feelings. At the moment, I am really into Prospect Park, and the Brooklyn Museum, and my roof, and having most of my friends living about 15 minutes from me by foot. Also Mayfield is delicious. And the sandwiches at Lincoln Station are pretty good, too. I am also really into having more trains than the L. I am really really into not dealing with the morning L commute.

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

My ex and my grad school buddies and I took a train out to Coney Island during this one weekend in May in 2010 when it was maybe 50 degrees, and our beers stayed cold the whole time in those big paper cups from Nathan’s and we just kept walking and walking and at one point we sang “Hungry Heart” under the boarded up Lola Starr’s Dreamland Roller Rink and the clouds were there and so was the sand, and the water. And then my ex and I went to go look at the place near where we ended up moving in Williamsburg, and we went to Fette Sau, and got drunk, and went home. I think that was probably the day I decided I was going to say here till something else happened.

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

If Ben Mirov counts as dead in that he moved to Oakland, then Ben Mirov is my favorite Brooklyn Poet. Otherwise, Monica McClure has this chapbook coming out soon called Mood Swing and I think it’s basically incredible. I think it’s one of the best manuscripts I’ve read this year. Why Ben Mirov, though? He was the first writer I met here I really connected with. We were both finalists for Octopus in 2009. We met up at Roberta’s a few months later and Jen Knox was there and we kept staring at her until we came over and said hi. Also I love Ben’s poems immensely. Ben has this way of talking about his interior and exterior world in a way that allows me to feel like everything is sliding into place. I have probably never not read one of Mirov’s poems and thought I should be trying harder to be better about being a person with a heart in the world.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

I haven’t been to many since moving, but I used to do WORD and Spoonbill & Sugartown all the time. They’re pretty great.

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

I actually won’t really write unless I’m at home. This stubbornness got way easier to justify when I bought a desktop. But I keep a notebook with me, and I use that notepad function on the iPhone. I use that function like whoa. But I like sitting at my desk. Right now I have a big cardboard deer head I made from a kit. When people ask me, I tell them I call it Special Agent Dale Cooper. It’s right there above me the whole time. There’s a window. It looks out onto the backs of other buildings. There are yards, but my air conditioner blocks them. Also there is an air conditioner in my room. It has a good view of the sky, which is at this moment full up with clouds.

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

Brooklyn Museum because art and because the membership is like 50 bucks, Prospect Park because who doesn’t like to get drunk and make out in a park and also there are bodies of water which are things I have got some feelings about, let me tell you, Guero’s because holy shit the fried chicken taco and also the fried shrimp taco, my friends Josh and Nalini’s living room because it’s like five minutes from mine and they have a projector for movies, my roof because it’s a roof and it’s really easy to get to, Crown Inn because beer, Mayfield because it’s delicious, my friends Liz and Mårten’s yard because they have a grill and are also great people, movies at BAM because my student ID still works and they have good movies. I should get a library card probably. That seems like a good life choice, doing that.

Last awesome book(s) you read?

Lindsay Hunter’s Don’t Kiss Me is amazing. I really really loved James Gendron’s Sexual Boat (Sex Boats). Speedboat and, to a slightly lesser extent, Pitch Dark by Renata Adler. The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns, which is so weird and good and sad in a way I did not at all expect. Whenever Josh Bell‘s second book comes out that’ll probably be my favorite book for at least year.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate wonder and, to a slightly greater/more abstract extent, the capacity in each of us for love,

And what I feel about this is that awe and wonder are really the best, they’re basically just a way of looking at the world as being alive with possibility, an awareness that shit is bigger than you, than all of us, and I mean some times things are terrible, really, like the news, good lord the news this summer you guys, but at the same time, we are alive, and all have the capacity for change, and for love, and also Major Garland Briggs, although not a real person, was maybe on to something in terms of “the possibility that love is not enough” being absolutely terrifying, and so maybe all the divisions that exist between people are just imaginary, and invented by unknown parts of us in order to trick us into thinking that the answer in life is anything other than love, and but so you should when possible try to appreciate the fact that we all have this capacity for awe, for wonder, for love, that we can in fact connect with people, it is a matter of trying on both sides, of people being willing to cast aside fear and just say fuck it, to just try to connect to another person, if only for a brief instant, to have that flash of recognition of the self in the other,

For every, well, honestly I’ve never read Whitman, or really probably anyone else in the canon, but whatever, ok so: for every moment, I hope to try to make myself as good as all of 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.

biggie had some pretty good thoughts but mo money mo problems is something i cannot as yet identify with

What this is is it is Brooklyn, and I couldn’t tell you any more than
which is, let’s face it, a lie. Jackie was a Dodger and we’ve all had
We could say we do it harder here but let’s face it: we could say a lot
     of things.
We could steal all of the bases and set all of the records
on fire, leave them broken and dazed in the gutter, wondering what
to the safety of records, to the sanctity of history to remain
unimpeached or untouched by the present, by today of all days,
which, let me tell you, is a goddam day. The sun is out and children
     are running
around setting off fireworks which terrify the birds and explode
all over the low hanging summer sky
because who here wouldn’t want to celebrate being alive?
Plus if you try to answer that they’ll just set off more fireworks
I mean they’ll just drown you
out. And what else is there to say, but the rent is too high
and we don’t make enough money, I mean we get by, but the future
is some terrible idea looming up in the distance that nobody bothers
     to talk about
but the trains, o! the trains!, will take you anywhere,
from That Part Of Town That Broke Your Heart Apart
to That Park You Got Drunk In At 2AM With A Girl From The
to This Is The Last Time I Swear It. We have jobs
and we work them we have hearts and we break them we have some
so we spend it we have got some notions or at least some intentions
and when we rob we steal when we sin we love when we die that’s it
but harder.

Why Brooklyn?

I went to Columbia for grad school. It was the only place I got into. Catherine Lacey was writing for HTML Giant, and so I got her email from Blake Butler, and around the same time Shane Jones introduced me to Rozalia Jovanovic, which is how I ended up getting involved in Gigantic. Anyway I talked to Lacey about where to live and she said something along the lines of fuck it just live in Brooklyn. It was probably better put than that as Lacey can put a sentence in a good way. But so I found a place on craigslist in August of 2009. I’ve been here ever since. Maybe I’ll leave some day, but I don’t see it happening soon.