I first heard of Anthony Madrid when we were on the same "local poets" bill at the University of Chicago in May of 2009. I read before he did. When I got to a line that riffs on Roethke, I noticed a tall goofy-looking guy in his late thirties or early forties nodding with recognition and pleasure. A few poets later, that goofy-looking guy stood up and read some poems that shook my confidence but good. I emailed him the next day, he wrote back immediately, and thus began one of the most important friendships of my life.
After a few disastrous title misfires, Anthony's book I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say will be published by Canarium Books this summer. It's the book of your dreams, if you know how to dream.
Here's "Rhymes," the poem that made me want to go back in time and publish it under my own name before he could write it. Our interview begins after the jump.
Many a maiden has come between | a gentleman and his luck.
You live, you die, and then you’re dead—so go ahead and be evil.
Ready or not, it’s time we do | away with all this uplift.
Your kid can try with all his might, he’ll never do long division.
It could have been me and yet instead | they set the controls for tragic.
Oh orange, orange, yellow, black. A passionate fuck to patch the crack.
Most of these citizens aren’t really mean, just reckless with people’s feelings.
Jebus, the Jolly Ghost, and He | put a razor blade in the apple. Now,
It’s only with certain groups of friends | you dare undermine the uplift.
I order demand and require that you | tear it, little parrot.
Dirty Bomb and Laser Beam | are here to collect the rent.
MR: In our preparatory talks for this interview you sent me the following text: "i love talking abt my process. the memory test. the thing w/ the car. i'm proud of all that + i think it's interesting in itself." Care to elaborate?
AM: The “Memory Test.” THAT is where I memorize the poem I’ve supposedly just finished, and say it to myself like a thousand billion times in the car. The idea is to listen for any part in the poem where I experience a dip in enthusiasm while I’m reciting it. And then to take that dip seriously. Gotta get in there and fix that shit.
It’s not easy. I write a poem and then I con myself into thinking it’s all swell. Most of it is. But there’s a weak spot, a transition or some “interesting” move I’ve rigged up. Maybe the lack of merit is camouflaged, maybe even well camouflaged, but the couplet is nothingness and I know it. Except I don’t know it.
The Memory Test reveals everything. It makes me face the crap and the con. The lines that’ll merely pass for poetry.I believe we’re all like this. We are scum. We say, “Oh, it’s all right. Every poem gotta have some filler ...” I don't want that. My poems might be bad and useless to other people. Other people might think the whole thing is crap and con. But at least let me be able to say of my own works that I don't think so.
Just seems absurd to send poems into the world that don't even answer our own requirements.
MR: Many of your poems are written in a form I think of as the pseudo-ghazal:
And now I have a home-school Ph.D. in Scheming and
Self-Restraint. Yesterday, I
unrolled my prayer rug and listened for a voice from the Unseen. It
Be not ashamed of the male gaze, MARDUD. Defend it from these
saintly persons who
believe that no one should ever be allowed to look at anyone else.
What is it that attracted you to the ghazal, and what sort of work does it allow you to do?
AM: Ghazals. What do I think I’m doing. Yes. They’re not really ghazals. I mean, they are and they aren’t. They crackle like real ghazals. That part—yes. But real ghazals are all love love love, with a little bit of cosmic zibzib thrown in. I have more variety. Plus I don’t do the mono-rhyme.
Why am I so into it. I’ll tell you. You know the first-line index, back of the anthology? You scan those first lines—tons of promise. You think Oh, man! And then you turn to the poems. So much disappointment. Everyone knows this. First lines, beginnings—they’re good. Whatever energy was required to make the thing jump out of the water in the first place pretty much ensures a good first line. But then it turns out the rest of the poem is just the poet struggling to make that first line make sense…
The ghazal solves this problem. You start over, every two lines. The poem itself is almost a first-line index.
MR: That can’t be the whole reason you’re into ghazals.
AM: No. Right. There’s also the liberation thing. You write a ghazal, you get to deploy the kind of tone that’s typical of ghazals. The King Kong thing. Also the “loving, perverted sweetness.” This is also the secret reason sonnets were such a hit at the end of the sixteenth century. It wasn’t just that form. It was getting to say what one says in a sonnet. The heaving bosom. The fixation on the golden genitals of the beloved.
Petrarch knew what he was doing, absolutely. He had invented the atom bomb, destined to fuck up all of Europe.
MR: Talk about this Mardud persona—he seems almost novelistic, a little man in a cave drinking cheap Rioja. His voice is remarkably consistent across the poems. He cracks wise, he feints as if he might dispense some wisdom, he curses the world and himself. Who is this guy? Where did he come from?
AM: This thing is a problem. But I am starting to develop a standard response to this line of questioning. It’s this. The MADRID and the MARDUD of the poems are not not me. They say stuff that I definitely think—but I think all kinds of stuff. Basically? My temperament is such that in order to think anything at all, I commonly have to frame the thought as a kind of whip-crack aphorism, one that patently “goes too far.” I hardly ever begin by being fair. I throw out a pungent saying and see how I feel about it. I let the storm rage and then I see what’s left standing. This is my way. I’m hot-blooded. Check it and see. I got a fever of 103.
Listen, doesn’t everyone feel that it’s B.S., what Berryman famously says at the beginning of the Dream Songs—? Quote: “The poem, then, whatever its wide cast of characters, is essentially about an imaginary character (not the poet, not me) named Henry, a white American in early middle age sometimes in blackface, who has suffered an irreversible loss…” I mean, c’mon. I’ve read the biography. Henry’s not Berryman? OK, but he’s not not Berryman either. Henry is a dramatization of Berryman’s inner climate, that’s all. Racy, irresponsible, and so on. It’s the same thing with me and my MADRID.
MR: Are there other poets writing now with whom you feel an affinity? And what about their work sparks your plug?
Common denominator: iggskwizzit memorable lines. Lines one can use. One takes ’em out into the world and applies them. This, to me, is The Thing.
I’m embarrassed to talk about what I think I have in common with them and with you. But I’ll supply a few hints. With Schiff—the busyness. With Minnis—the fangs. With Simonds—the rhymes. With you—the shamelessness.