Back in April I dreamed that I was in my high school cafeteria and my friends were all gushing over Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s Shy Green Fields. They were asking how did I do it. I said I loved all the books I published and then realized I showed up to the wrong lunch period. Reflexively I somersaulted high into the air to avoid talking to another poet walking down the aisle towards me. I was embarrassed because I felt like I was showing off, then I became incredibly sad. I knew nobody would ever write a beautiful book of love poems like Shy Green Fields for me.
Hugh Behm-Steinberg lives in Berkeley. In addition to Shy Green Fields, he’s also the author of Sorcery (Dusie). He teaches in the graduate writing program at California College of the Arts, where he is the faculty editor of Eleven Eleven. With Caroline Goodwin and Mary Behm-Steinberg, he is the publisher of MaCaHu Press.
Reb: Shy Green Fields. What's so freaking shy about them?
Hugh: A number of the poems in the book began as attempts to write an essay about gardens (my friend Denise Newman was editing a section on Gardens for Five Fingers Review and she asked me to submit) and the phrase "shy green fields" emerged as a line in one of them. It resonates for me because of what each word means:
"Fields": spaces; sites
"Green": verdency; generativeness; newness
"Shy": modesty; a way of starting/being; the lingering around just before; a mode of eroticism
That's essentially the thematic action of the series, and so that's how it became the title.
But then Meghan Punschke started working with me on the cover, and (unlike Jill Alexander Essbaum’s book Harlot, which only has one giant penis on the cover, or maybe it's a mushroom), we wound up squeezing hundreds of thousands of tiny penises into each of those floating green blocks. If you contained so many tiny penises you'd be a little shy too, but we're all working really hard to overcome our modesty. More penises=more value! People will just need to get a copy and a magnifying glass.
Reb: My husband's birthday is approaching and in this economy I can't afford any fancy gifts. Write a love poem for him that I can sign my name to. Explain your love poem writing process.
Hugh: So here's a stab at a love poem for your husband. Doesn't have a title, so you can personalize it by using his name, or if you want to, schmaltz it up with whatever gross name you call him like "pookie" or "destroyer of my dreams."
* * *
What if you went to theology school, with your
"I love Satan" shirt showing
and you thought they would make you a lecturer
but you’d be too nervous
then remember who gave you that shirt.
Count to a hundred, and do something
different each time.
* * *
Technique? The erotic is about noticing something intensely, then putting it into the wrong context with some ambiguous perversity. Notice your confident husband, put him somewhere where he ain't so confident. The fifth line is perverse because it leaves open the question of who got him that shirt -- you (how sweet!), or Satan (uh oh!), or both (uh huh). The last couplet takes you home, all nice and expansive and wide open -- do what different each time? The dishes? Taxes? Foreplay? Lastly, be brief. Two short love poems are always better than one long poem. Who wouldn't rather be lovemaking than lovereading?
Reb: When are you going to ditch poetry and write something people want to read?
Hugh: I'm currently working with composer Guillermo Galindo on an opera about the Donner Party. By the time we're done, people will be BEGGING me to go back to writing poetry