This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in America, from Ugly Duckling Presse (fall 2012). Hix loves the interview form as a way of thinking together (itself a condition of democracy, justice, philosophy and other ideals and practices he values) and as one element in a community poetics. The subject of this interview is Abraham Smith’s Whim Man Mammon (Action Books, 2007).
H. L. Hix: A reader from a certain educational background [read: a background like mine, may Miss Wilson rest in peace] would not be able to read a short poem called “Eagles” (24) without thinking of Tennyson’s much-anthologized short poem called “The Eagle.” May I ask you to take that juxtaposition (which I take as more contrast than comparison) as an occasion for saying something about what you are trying to resist in your poetry?
Abraham Smith: Ah yups the tennyson eagle poem / i read it in a lawnchair whilst cousins batted a badminton birdie, perhaps 14 years ago / lilac bleeding into the mosquito whinnying wind / have no ms wilson to nod skyward to / thats a bit of a half bit brineless pickle / ways in which poetry is not there for us in the lions share of pub education / in one class we memorized one frost poem / snowy harness bells / some years later we “read” the iliad / this “reading” worked thusly: we were handed a xerox with 25 questions / read, then answer the questions / the answers to the xerox were stapled to the wall / and so, we loitered / donning the faux mask of faux earnestness / count 25 faux glances down at sundry clanking aegises / then sashay over to the wall, write down the answers / then sit back down / then wait to be handed 25 more questions / then loiter, then etc. / anon / talk about a yawning lion wortha education / i hope the whim book, the poetics stamped in there / i hope the whim jig does not resist / i hope it’s that abandoned barn there with vines going in at the windows / i hope bats and broken baseballs and bad breath coyotes and mice and foxes all do the buffalo shuffle in there / i s’pose the ink pot is not poetry so much as the ink black flambeau river and my early yearning haunting feeling thereabouts / the book is pretty much one adolescent pinch with screaming eyes pretty much / i guess it’s a roethke trampoline / i guess it’s roethke and dylan thomas hoboing across a frozen lake / call it rousseau with a musky fish for a walkin stick / if the book resists something it’s the unsurprised fellas who laugh back in the back of their throat and think of the wild as something to kill or to tamp back down or to tame / fence that in there / i hope i am tattling on them / i hope each word feels endangered / hope i am letting the birds in through the windows without the glassy neck / let me hobo on the peaked back of an emily d bird / let me go to heaven all along / mr. bobolink link up / how haunted i am by eagles / by rivers / i love that a young boy can bring the river home in his ears / that that can be painful / i love that a thick young man with a barrel chest and eight ten guns back home can be casually talking about this or that win or gun or winsome wind brought down the shot that woulda dropped the buck / i love that just then back deep in the woods where a little clearing opens / an eagle will swoop down and lift a fawn right off the ground and it’s adios humdrum barrel chest dude / i hope the book stands as preachment to my sundry hauntings / i love how hushed i was in that lawnchair / i love my totems: birds, wolves, and bears / i have spent most of my life trying to eye them / maybe even more than poetry they are my reading life / they the three who tear my mouth off and take it away / i hope whim works as my lost ramble, asking this: you seen my mouth? of every other pine birch and maple . . .