So Far, So Stupid
All those selfies I posted
look really great. So spontaneous. Arm
tentacled through bad light past the frame,
an umbilical toward my ego.
Freud, meet Descartes. Intentions,
like airports, look deceptively the same,
then you get a security pass
for the doors just off the escalators.
Inside my mind, there’s another mind,
like a prop warehouse,
dramatically cluttered at times.
I go there, for the wind machine
and free-standing door
I just slam and slam.
How I Wrote
You must change your life, but first,
wait a few minutes. After all, Rilke couch-surfed
from castle to château for a decade before
his internal mood ring shifted to purple
and signalled the muse. He finessed this later
as creative possession: an impulse so focused
he’s said to forget the time of day,
though Wikipedia claims he never missed
a meal at Duino. Big deal. Whatever
it was, he could direct the spirit’s surges
and knew how to work a crowd in its wake.
Imagine him on Facebook. LOL.
Precious, yes, but how not to be
when you’re born in Prague and write
about angels. In any case, you won’t catch me
mooning along parapets and sea walls;
not because I wouldn’t, but so far
there’ve been no offers. I booked a week
at Banff in a forest studio,
ate scones, startled a ground squirrel,
kept forgetting to bring a jacket,
and one night heard blues harmonica
drift from the aboriginal arts lodge nearby.
I texted a friend who’s Ojibwa. WTF?
He wrote back ‘Why don’t you go
over there and ask them what they’ve got
to be blue about?’ Touché.
So I managed some edits, and through
the skylight watched yellow leaves
parachute the branched heights to amass
as ground cover. No thought-fox
raised its rusty snout, or gifted prints
across the page, though a few fingers
of cask-strength Scotch made
the waiting a little easier. Paradox:
to be perfectly here, you must
stop thinking about it, then it’s on.
Most days I leaf around trying to sidle
out of the peripheral sight of myself,
so when I focus again, I might
be astonished, do something real, feel
like Jarrett at Köln, overtired
and saddled with the wrong piano,
forced to work the corners we get
backed into. It might be a thunderbolt,
but mostly a mule I keep thinking of
when I picture myself in the grind between
the start of some work and its end result,
but like an apprentice before the koan,
I’m afflicted by the absent revelation,
never sure if it’s better to change the light bulb
or stare into the dark.
Home-grown for extra income,
they’re warmed in the watts
of a standard light bulb
till the egg forms a worm, small
like a hair. Each one feasts
on mulberry, a month-long course
of shiny leaves, chubbing themselves
into a pale, lazy wiggle.
They wish to be a kimono cloud,
ball of fog, white
shrouds spun for their own ghosts
as they nod off to a creaking dream
of legs and wings. They wish
they were metaphor.
To let them stretch would tear
sleek work, so each cocoon
is dropped in a rolling boil, their
lives pinched out like fingers
on a match head.
The strands are reeled on a row
and the cocoons jig and iridesce
until the corpse is undressed.
There was little time left to be young
and stupid, so I hitched due west
on the 17, cold thumb to autumn.
Outside Sault Ste. Marie, ground mist
and the turned-up collar.
I slept in a ditch.
A man from Provence waved
me toward a camper van; we traded
goals of getting to the coast,
though he talked of Fresno, Oaxaca,
and the way south to Chile.
North of Superior, the going
was rough on gear and brake, flashes
of lake between terraces of the Seven’s
granite and pine. Past dark,
we found a side road, parked, ate
sandwiches, bet almonds on cards,
talked origins of Mad Hatter
and Winnie the Pooh. Inside
my sleeping bag, with no bleed
from the usual streetlights,
it was an inkwell cave.
It was medieval night
and I ceased feeling any links
to what was real, just a stinging
trust at being in the middle of nothing
but my life. It was like that for days,
until I was dropped off near Golden,
the boot knife velcroed to my ankle,
symbol of how luck and stupidity
ride the same edge.
(Poems from A Pretty Sight by David O’Meara, copyright 2013 by Coach House Books)
Brecken Hancock: Many aspects of your work remain with me after sitting with your books—philosophical attention to listening, interrogation of the function of art, close attentiveness to what’s gained in visiting foreign countries, the rise and fall and rise of intimacy in relationships—but I most want to ask you about time travel. In a recent interview with rob mclennan, you assert, “Any artist is responsible for addressing the age he/she lives in, making connections to the past, and imagining the future.” In your work, I’m interested in the places where your attention to time becomes literal: in “Occasional” we’re addressed by the Poet Laureate of the Moon; in “Vicious” Socrates and Sid Vicious speak to one another as citizens of an imagined afterlife; in “Arriving Early” two versions of yourself co-exist, one who caught his bus and one who took a taxi; in “Letter to Auden” you use the medium of poetry to communicate directly with the deceased; and I could go on. I’m a science fiction fan at heart, and I find something nerdily satisfying about this co-option of the genre of poetry to speculate wildly across time and space, connecting disparate characters and having them take up your philosophical obsessions. What is it for you that makes poetry particularly appropriate for this speculative approach to time and philosophy? What role do past and future play as you address the age we live in? And, if you really could time travel, what would be your first stop?
David O’Meara: I think we time-travel every day. We live in a future tense as much as we inhabit our past actions. How else could we plan and imagine? We spend months planning a trip that lasts a week. Even before a simple walk to the corner store, we have projected ourselves into the next hour, imagining the route we’ll take, buying the milk, etc. An afternoon nap is pure speculation. Tuesday’s dinner is just starting to be conceived. Likewise, there are several theories disputing the idea that time is an arrow. Multiverse theories and branch points raise haunting questions. If we can remember into the past, why not into the future? If time isn’t causal, then something that’s already happened is still happening; we just don’t know how to access the route to get there again. A passage from Tomas Transtromer’s prose-poem “Answers to Letters,” reads in translation, “Sometimes an abyss opens between Tuesday and Wednesday but twenty-six years may be passed in a moment. Time is not a straight line, it’s more of a labyrinth, and if you press close to the wall at the right place you can hear the hurrying steps and the voices, you can hear yourself walking past there on the other side.” Poetry, particularly lyric poetry, can take temporal leaps through association. With the use of a central image we can cross great swaths of time and space, we can traverse them in a single line. By imagining, we form a mental picture of some other place, real or ventured, and travel there. “At the end of my suffering / there was a door,” Louise Gluck writes. Or James Wright: “Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, / Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.” Do these places exist? Yes, and no. But I think poetry can, and should, speculate in this way for the sake of perspective and juxtaposition. Perspective: the view with distance from a fixed point, as juxtaposition is placing two things near each other for comparison. When we have Greek myth and small-town Ontario in an Anne Carson book, or the tension between the miraculous and the mundane in Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” we can inhabit both worlds. Poetry, through metaphor, is equipped for this. We can take something out of its own context and verify its emotional/philosophical consistency on an unfamiliar plane. Which is probably the ridiculous purpose of giving Socrates and Sid Vicious a scene together. And I think verification is the impetus for most science fiction and time-travel literature. What can we change with a second chance? How will we act with breadth and scale? What is fundamental?
What would be my first stop? A few historical periods come immediately to mind—Tang Dynasty China or nineteen-twenties Paris—but it would probably be most fascinating to travel forward, spend a few weeks in 3000 CE. And very sobering, no doubt. Either way, the photos might change a few current policies.
Brecken Hancock’s poetry, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in Riddle Fence, Event, CV2, Grain, The Fiddlehead, and Studies in Canadian Literature. She is Reviews Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and Interviews Editor for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. The Art of Plumbing, her most recent chapbook, is out with above/ground press and her first full-length manuscript of poems, Broom Broom, is forthcoming with Coach House Books this spring. She lives and walks dogs in Ottawa.
David O’Meara lives in Ottawa, Ontario. He is the author of three collections of poetry and a play, Disaster, nominated for four Rideau Awards. His poetry has been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, the ReLit Prize, the Trillium Book Award, a National Magazine Award and he won the Archibald Lampman Award twice. His most recent book is A Pretty Sight (Coach House Press, 2013). He is director of the Plan 99 Reading Series and was the Canadian judge for the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize.