Category: Education

American Pandemic, a poem by David Garyan, published in Interlitq

«American Pandemic» was first published in Volume 12 of The American Journal of Poetry (January 1st, 2022). Volume 12 was the final issue of The AJP before it ceased publication. The archive remained available for some months, until early 2023, after which the website disappeared completely.

Please click here read the story behind the initiative to republish all my work.


 

American Pandemic (The President’s Prayer)

For although you may have absolutely no choice in some matters, this does not mean the things you must do in these moments are absolutely right.
—Wilde 3:16

Dear Lord, today we give
thanks for no longer
having to fear the rapists
living next door to us—
at least those who,
out of their own volition,
did trust in the miracles
of science and go down
to the nearest vaccination center,
where shots
of AstraZeneca are done—
approved, of course, by the CDC and EU,
for its benefits
lie precisely in the fact
that it has killed
a trivial amount
of people,
and was made
by a British-Swedish company,
unlike Sputnik,
which, regrettably,
also, did ice
a similarly trivial amount,
but was, of course,
made by the Russians—
a dilemma, indeed,
for if the rapist
had simply chosen
Slavic vaccination,
it would’ve prevented
him from entering indoor
venues like movie theaters and schools,
much less having access to Europe,
where this vaccine,
along with the Chinese Sinovac,
are still under rolling review,
all for your own safety, of course.
Dear Lord, though we must keep walking
through the valley of the shadow of death,
we will fear no evil;
for Thy Protestant and Catholic
vaccines will protect us,
while the heathens of the East—
Orthodox Slavs and Chinese communists, that is,
will be barred from entering
the Schengen Area
for having disobeyed Thy command,
and taken jabs
from the forbidden list of vaccines.
For we know that your only
begotten Son, Jesus,
cares not whatsoever about all Christians,
nor even those recognized
by the United Nations,
but only those G-7 (formerly G-8) Christians,
who by their burden of upholding
democracy, human rights,
and women’s rights,
(two different things altogether,
as women aren’t humans),
did follow the true path of Thy Son
when they expelled Russia
from this hallowed community
after its illegal annexation of Crimea.
Lord, we ask that you give us
patience and strength
in this time of uncertainty—
for our other neighbor, Bill,
living with his lovely family
just four houses down,
are followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
despite having frequently made generous
donations to charities fighting poverty
in Sub-Saharan Africa,
they remain unvaccinated due to their beliefs—
thus posing bigger threats
than the very rapist living next door,
who, in fact, holds a bachelor’s degree
in pharmacology,
and this he received from Tufts,
meaning he has rightly
been ordained as a monk of science,
with fervent faith in all the hottest biology.
Indeed, our dear Lord,
it helps neither Bill,
who once rescued two children
from a burning building,
nor his pleasant family
that often volunteers
to pick up trash in their neighborhood,
to be good, yet unvaccinated Christians.
For the Lord so commanded:
Thou must let all vaccinated
fornicators into heaven,
for if they present
the Green Pass,
and it is valid,
every sin and transgression henceforth
shall be forgiven by the glory of God.
Let us rejoice, sweet Jesus,
and let the miscreants inside!
For it is at once righteous to do so,
but, alas, also legally necessary,
for Lord Fauci,
in all his infinite
scientific glory
and wisdom,
hath ordained that full
vaccination bestows
full immunity
against any sexual misdemeanor,
and perhaps even felony,
but only so long as blood
tests can show
the presence of antibodies;
heathen Bill, however,
can neither be allowed
to keep his job,
nor attend any community functions,
and his satanic family
shall have to wear medieval
masks of shame wherever they go.
Let us pray, dear Lord,
that blasphemous Bill
and his infernal ménage
continue being good Christians,
for their donations
and community service are important,
but let us, nevertheless,
wholly distance ourselves socially,
for they cannot be spoken
to until they receive the sacrament of vaccine.
But let us all the while, dear Lord,
invite the rapist—
provided he agrees to wear a mask
and continues, like before, observing
social distancing rules,
because, indeed, the sacrament of vaccine
works not miracles every time,
something the pharmacologist offender,
or more aptly, offender pharmacologist,
knows very well;
and so, in the name of Jesus, our Savior,
let us pray for that gentle predator,
for he has become
the epitome
of responsibility,
and a shining example
of good fellowship
towards Woman (and also Man,
but only in rare homosexual cases—
for let us not, dear God, tolerate
those who discriminate
against a misfit
that prefers chasing men),
for he knows not only
all the hip sciences,
but also totally trusts
every hip doctor and science,
even when they say
opposite things.
Let us hence rejoice
and place our faith
in that rapist,
for he truly cares
about the safety of others,
even when he’s raping them,
for he will not lay hands
on any unvaccinated souls—
no matter how strong
his urge to do so may be,
and in this way, our heavenly Father,
we didst finally see
a prominent drop
in not only COVID infections,
but also cases of sexual assault;
these latter numbers, howbeit,
are neither relevant nor crucial,
for we’re not so concerned
with them these days,
mostly because developing
vaccines against battery,
even the sexual type,
is scientifically impossible.
And so Lord, we ask that you bless
and watch over
the sexual deviants,
(but only the inoculated)
for before Johnson and Johnson
they were blind,
but now they can see,
and protect also those who took
Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca,
and especially young women
who took AstraZeneca,
since they are most at risk
of dying from it,
but let us, oh Lord, have faith
and renounce our fright—
for these fair maidens
are now vaccinated
and no longer need Thou;
truly, they hath nothing
left to fear,
for we know
that all the world’s problems
disappear after full vaccination,
two weeks after the second dose, that is.
Have no mercy, howbeit, on those who took Sputnik,
for pride, tyranny, and wickedness cannot last,
but the righteous shall live by Western-approved
jabs and that holy democracy worthy of us all—
the one which accidentally bombs
civilian targets in Afghanistan,
but only under a Democratic administration;
a Republican democracy where civilian
targets are accidentally hit,
can, absolutely, not be tolerated.
Our Father who art in heaven,
we need good, honest democratic
leaders who blow up churches and schools
in the name of Saint Schumer,
of whom the public does approve
no matter what he commands,
and if there be doubt,
it shall excuse his failures
as honest blunders;
the same mistakes
just across the aisle, however,
must properly and justly incur the wrath
of all left-leaning news networks out there,
because that is what it means to be fair,
balanced, and objective, in the name of Christ Almighty.
We ask, also, in this time of uncertainty, dear Lord,
that you promptly hear the grievances aired
by the LGBTQIA+E=mc2@admissions.caltech.edu community—
for on numerous occasions
they’ve demanded that bombs
dropped on civilian targets
proudly display Pride flags on them,
otherwise protests will erupt
across the whole country.
We pray, as well, that all who deny
the scientific thrust behind
these rockets be labeled
provocateurs and Republicans—
meaning anyone from Afghanistan
must display proof of bombing,
preferably with QR codes,
before we can consider them refugees,
much less admit them to this country,
which, supposedly, isn’t a Christian one,
but whose presidents have all been Christian.
And so, in the name of all that’s holy, dear Lord,
please forgive us for putting
sanitizer dispensers
inside your churches,
and wearing masks,
for it’s nothing personal
against you or the miracles
you’ve worked on this earth;
it’s just that washing your hands
frequently absolves us of all sins—
for if Pontius Pilate only had some Purrell
that day he was to condemn
your only begotten Son,
there would be nothing
he would need to answer for today.
Dear Jesus, please know
that if and when you decide
to have your Second Coming,
all the vaccinated rapists,
murderers, and pillagers
will be free to attend the event,
which is scheduled to be held
at the LA Convention Center,
or perhaps Madison Square Garden,
depending on parking—
strictly observing, of course,
all the social distancing
protocols recommended by the CDC.
And if the people
ever decide to crucify
you once more,
something they are bound
to do sooner or later,
proof of vaccination
will no longer suffice;
given the more exciting nature
of this particular spectacle,
negative PCR tests (valid for 48 hours)
and cavity searches will be required
to access the crucifixion site,
for when it comes to safety,
no right or freedom
is sacred enough to uphold.
Oh, hallelujah, dear Lord,
we pray that the planet
and every hallowed
thing you created,
in the name of the Father,
the Son, and Holy Spirit,
simply go to shit
while our chosen leaders
sit there and figure out
how to save us from COVID;
for there are maps, statistics,
and analysis, sweet Jesus—
so much scientific scripture
capable of showing us all,
and very precisely at that,
how fucked up things have become.
Do you not see, my brethren,
that the US registered
148,202 new cases today,
which, on a fourteen day spectrum,
represents a twenty-nine percent increase?
Have the numbers and colorful graphs
not made an impression, my dear brothers?
For if we can’t quantify something,
the problem isn’t worth solving.
And is it not such a tragedy
that we have more vaccines
than anyone knows what to do with?
For in Pelosi 2:3-4 it is so written:
When Moderna ran out,
Fauci’s mother turned and said to him—
“They have no more Western vaccines.”
But that Son of Science so replied:
“Woman, why do you involve me?
My hour has not come yet.”
And after having ordered the syringes
to be filled with Sputnik,
the patients were given those injections
and all were then amazed
they had turned into Pfizer.
The Son of Science did this—
the first of his many signs,
in Cana of America,
and it revealed his glory,
and his disciples believed in him.
So now we must jab them all,
starting with dead people
and unborn fetuses
that can no longer be aborted,
for if daily quotas are not met,
the UN will come raining down
on our asses like a goddamn fucking
firestorm with their resolutions
that have never been legally binding
anyways, hence why be afraid?
And so, feel free to keep committing
your war crimes, my fellow African dictators,
for though they might say
and even shout a lot at the UN,
fear not, I command, fear not—
for everyone sitting
in those plush chairs
will be much content
to have heard the pretty sounds
of their own voices,
only to have done nothing at all
about the problems
they so enjoyed discussing;
at most, they shall show
“deep concern about the rising
tensions in the Middle East and Africa,”
but this too shall pass,
and with some persistence,
you’ll be free to plunder again,
without those pesky
colonizers (Europeans, that is)
scolding you for being colonizers.
And so, my brothers,
forget the rising levels of racism,
greed, and unhappiness,
for there’s no science
behind them anyways—
no graphs, maps, or tables
to show us the daily increase
in anti-Semitism, apartheid,
or even xenophobia,
for all the lab rats
working in democratic countries
have yet to develop vaccines
against these pandemics,
but if there’s no jab
to solve the problem,
then there’s no problem
to begin with—
nothing worth inspecting
any longer.
Just to be safe, howbeit,
keep distancing yourself
from Blacks, Asians,
Latinos, and anyone who isn’t White,
including Arabs and Persians
with American passports,
some of whom may look
and act “Caucasian,”
but don’t be deceived, my brothers,
and remember the famous Bible passage,
Shakespeare 3:16, Act I, Scene III:
Libyans and Iranians
can cite US passports
for their own purpose.
Also never forget
the Civil Rights Movement,
and which color of skin
was then barred
from entering buildings
and using facilities,
even before the Green Pass;
but let us, dear Lord,
remain vigilant as ever,
for unvaccinated Whites,
especially the poor ones,
now pose the same threat
as vaccinated Iraqis
and Afghans with US passports;
alas, should the unjabbed
Whitey, however,
happen to be quite wealthy,
then we must consider
this proof of vaccination,
because gaining COVID
from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
then dying from it
bestows both status
and upward mobility
upon the dead one,
while catching COVID
from a homeless drunk
then dying from that
is simply a tragedy—
upward mobility
without any fame.
Oh, dear Lord, we pray to heaven
that you get with the program at last
and allow just fully vaccinated
souls into your kingdom;
it would also be nice, sweet Jesus,
if you could demand
that the certificates be shown
in digital form,
with QR codes and cavity checks
and the whole nine yards, really,
for so many have already
been tempted by Satan,
and bought fake certificates
on Telegram and WhatsApp—
a clever business model
with great revenue streams,
something deeply upsetting
for the bureaucrats of Big Pharma.
On the other hand, dear Lord,
Big Tobacco may have cause
for celebration, as some studies
have shown that smoking
may help prevent COVID—
indeed, it doth appear as if nicotine
interferes with ACE2 receptors,
thereby preventing the virus
from entering cells.
Hallelujah, our Father in heaven!
We pray in the name
of your only begotten Son
that all the smokers in Kentucky
will now rise up and initiate
protests demanding mandatory puffing
measures at work, schools,
and hospitals,
but especially hospitals,
for no freedom,
and this we swear,
is sacred enough
to give up in the name of safety,
even the freedom to breathe.
Starting next week,
mandatory proof
of smoking shall
be presented
at the entrance
of every gym, restaurant,
and nursing home.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, fellow brethren!
And as with vaccines,
connoisseurs of Russian cigarettes
will absolutely
be prohibited from entering
any indoor venues,
until the proper clinical trials
can be carried out;
the CDC has already
scheduled rolling reviews
to see if cancer sticks
made by former communist heathens
pose the same health risks
as those made in the free world,
because only the cancerous kinds—
the ones with arsenic,
liberty, and lead inside them
have been known to interfere
with the aforementioned ACE2 receptors.
So far, the CDC has only approved
the democratic cigarettes of Marlboro,
Newport, and Camel against the coronavirus—
in clinical trials, they’ve shown
a smashing 99 percent effectiveness
in killing people before they contract COVID,
much lower than the despotic
brands of Russia,
which have far less additives
and kill only 89 percent of subjects,
but these are just the results
of one medical study funded by Republicans;
the very same study funded by Democrats
showed that Russian cigarettes
kill people on contact,
with vaccinated Americans
from ages 0 to 100 being most at risk;
the State Department hence recommends
that anyone holding a US passport
avoid traveling to places
where this tobacco is sold—
if you absolutely must travel,
buy forty packs of Marlboro
and smoke two a day while wearing
a mask fully covering nose and mouth.
Our dear Lord, we ask in the name of Jesus
that you please forgive
all the fornicators,
thieves, and lawyers,
but especially lawyers,
for any wrongs
they may have committed,
be they sleeping with monkeys,
stealing relics from your churches,
and, naturally, defending
those who slept with monkeys
and stole relics from churches,
but solely if said miscreants
who’ve lived total lives of sin
agree to accept Science
as their only true Savior,
and receive the holy
communion of antibiotics,
and when, with glory, those sins
have been thoroughly cleansed,
shall they proceed, at last,
with the deathbed vaccination,
for the Church of Democratic Science
teaches that only sincere deathbed inoculations
can prevent the spread of COVID at funerals,
while the Church of Republican Science
asserts that COVID was manufactured in a Chinese lab
and hence can threaten only Chinese funerals—
ever since the Great Schism of Science in 2020,
questions surrounding the afterlife
remain a disputed issue in both disciplines,
all because the Church of Democratic Science
and the Church of Republican Science
couldn’t agree on the issue
of whether it was acceptable
to use unleavened jabs
for the sacrament of full vaccination;
other disputes revolved around the fact
of whether scientists could marry
or had to remain celibate,
devoting their whole lives
to the study of reproduction,
rather than reproducing themselves.
And so, it looks as though the teachings
of Democratic Science
and Republican Science
will remain at odds forever.
Dear Lord, we ask that you punish
those scholars who sell indulgences—
fake vaccination certificates, that is,
for it will take a Reformation of Science,
initiated by the one and only
Martin Luther, MD, PhD, PsyD,
with no relation to the former
Augustinian monk,
to create yet another split,
and this time in the Church of Republican Science—
it shall come to pass that doctors
will have no right
to exercise power over people
in jab purgatory,
that is those who may qualify
for vaccination exemptions,
but must show extra proof
of valid medical contraindications
to receive that holy Green Pass.
The Church of Democratic Science
sees all this as heresy,
arguing that patients
must prostrate themselves
before doctors and ask
for vaccination penance—
only this way can they be
admitted to the Stanley Cup Finals,
and also Super Bowl LVI.
The World Series, however,
is a totally different ballgame—
being America’s Pastime,
it does, unfortunately,
require not only prescribed
vaccination penance,
but also a full baptism
with either Olay or L’Oréal—
also known as a “shower”
in scientific literature;
any rituals conducted
with Russian water
and their heathen
communist products
will not be recognized as democratic,
and may result in excommunication,
but also being burnt at the stake.
For we know, dear Lord,
that Psalm 51:7
tells us to purify our sins
strictly with Purell, but perhaps also Lysol—
only, however, if there’s a shortage of Purrell,
for that is surely the superior product,
and then we will be clean;
wash us, our heavenly Father,
but just with brands
approved by American
board-certified dermatologists,
and we shall be whiter
than Russian snow.
Let us pray, dear brothers,
that neither the ACLU,
nor the Woke Apparatus
of Twitter bring
charges of racism
against the Old Testament,
and perhaps even the whole Bible,
for, certainly, African-Americans,
along with darker skinned Latinos
and Asians, have no way of cleansing
themselves to the level
of Scripture-approved
shades of White—
at most, they shall be known
as “Two or More Races,”
or “Some Other Race,”
with the US Census Bureau
very much highlighting “Other,”
for that is how powerful
and prestigious
American body washes
remain on the world stage,
so help us God.
And let us remember,
today and for all times,
Fauci 3:5, where it is so written:
Trust in the Science
with all thy heart,
and do not depend
on your own understanding—
something, dear Lord,
which is good and true,
but certainly contradicted
by Biden and Harris 14:15,
which doth proclaim:
“The simple believe anything,
but the prudent give thought
to their steps.”
For it is the spiritually unvaccinated
who remain separated from Science,
and thus tempted by Satan himself—
for, today, that devil
is not really the Devil,
but rather the embodiment
of the Christian religion,
for in Buttigieg 16:23
it is so written:
Fauci turned and said to Jesus,
“Get behind me, Satan!”
You are a stumbling block
to my Science;
you do not have in mind
the concerns of vaccination,
but merely human concerns.
And so, from this day on,
Christianity became the Devil,
for it was not concerned
with just biology and the body,
but merely human concerns.
For yes, we all know, dear brothers,
that only the communion of vaccination
can absolve us from our sins.
And as the disciples
gathered for the Last Supper
at the White House,
Fauci said: “Take these masks
and wear them, for they are my body—
made in China, of course,
and though America
is on the brink of total collapse,
we can be sure these masks
will protect us from every economic,
social, and natural danger.
He then gave thanks to China
and offered his disciples
the syringes, saying:
“Each of you inject,
for this is my blood,
which seals the covenant
between the President
and his people,”
thus it was written
in Biden and Harris 26:27-8.
And so Washington
did truly rise again
from death,
and took its vaccinated
body—with PCR tests and everything—
that which appertained
to the perfection
of Man’s American nature,
wherewith it ascended into Heaven,
and there will sitteth, until the government
returns to judge all unvaccinated Men
(and also Women, of course,
for we must certainly discriminate
against unvaccinated Women as well)
on the last day.
In the name of the Father,
Uncle Sam, and American Spirit.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Brendan Constantine, Poet, Educator, and Performer, interviewed by David G...


(photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)
source: www.brendanconstantine.com

September 6th, 2022

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Brendan Constantine, Poet, Educator, and Performer

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Brendan Constantine’s poems appear in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: Your poems remain imaginative on the page, but the performative nature adds an extra dimension to the content. Why, in your view, is it just as important to develop presentation as much as craft?

BC: Being able to perform one’s poetry certainly isn’t a ‘rule.’ Indeed many poets write specifically because they’d rather not say these things aloud. Further, some contend that poetry is at its purest when left unvoiced, thus allowing the reader to make their own associations.

Personally, I love to listen to poetry, and I believe that if I’ve been invited to read, this makes me a guest of the listener. It’s simply good manners to make my recital as expressive as possible, without of course, upstaging the text.

I try to make eye contact with my audience, annunciate clearly, and offer at least as much emotion as I would if we were old friends catching up.

DG: Let’s stay with presentation and craft for a moment: “The Opposites Game,” was first published in The American Journal of Poetry. The piece begins with Emily Dickinson’s famous gun metaphor, then concludes just as resoundingly. The animated film published on the Ted-Ed platform adds yet another visceral element. Can you talk about the development of the film—more specifically how the process of creation and viewing it changed your perception of the poem on the page?

BC: Credit where credit is due—the first adaptation was done by filmmaker Mike Gioia for his Blank Verse Films project and I encourage folks to check it out.

The Ted Ed version is entirely to the credit of poet Sarah Kay. She has been such a steadfast supporter of my work and, indeed, the work of many other poets. A true sister for ‘the cause.’ It was she who helped to promote the poem online and then suggest it as a candidate for her collaborative project with Ted Ed, ‘There’s a Poem for That.’ Thus, ‘The Opposites Game’ is now part of an online anthology of poems, all adapted by different artists and animators.

When I was first introduced to my interpreters, filmmakers Lisa LaBracio and Anna Samo, I assured them that I wouldn’t ‘helicopter’ their efforts. “Run with it,” I said, “This is your poem now.” I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good deal of my work adapted by other artists and this is always my policy: stay out of their way, let them do whatever they need to do.

In this case, Anna and Lisa insisted on sharing their notes and sending me ‘dailies’ as the film evolved. Only once, I think, did they ask if I found an image forced or too “on the nose.” Needless to say, they nailed it. And yes, my understanding of the work changed, as it always does after passing through another mind. The experience is always humbling.

DG: For many years you’ve been a key figure in bringing verse to the so-called “real world.” You’ve worked with the homeless and those affected by traumatic brain injuries. Indeed, not just poets, but all of us rely on the mind’s imaginative power to solve problems. How has the effort of bringing poetry’s creative force into larger society helped you better understand the community in which you write?

BC: I think once you’ve decided to make a career of art, it’s very easy to lose sight of why you started in the first place. Whatever your medium, be it painting or dance or acting or making poems, you’ll find that your most conspicuous and immediate audience will be—or at least appear to be—other artists in the same discipline. When I began to seek out poetry readings, I quickly became accustomed to seeing only poets there and this resulted in a kind of myopia.

But the whole reason poetry ever occurs in most cultures is to have higher communion with the world. Yes, every artist should be working for themselves, but we’re also supposed to be contributing to a greater community, to promote an emotional vocabulary. I won’t say ‘dialogue’ because so much art is clearly declarative, not inquisitive. But, ultimately, once you go public with your art, it’s for everybody. And that means everybody gets to make their own, too.

I know some would insist that art be “left to the professionals,” but who exactly are the professionals? We could argue endlessly over that one. People are doing it now, loudly. But can you imagine going to a party, separating all the couples, and saying, “I’m afraid you aren’t qualified to dance.”

Let me add, emphatically, that when I’m working with the writers you specified in your question, my admiration for their work is totally unqualified. I’m never thinking, “Not bad for an amateur.” Some of the most compelling and urgent poetry I have ever experienced has been the work of people who have no desire to make careers of it. The “real world” is full of poets.

DG: Let’s return to opposites in a slightly different way: You organized a very interesting online workshop for Beyond Baroque in 2020, titled “The Art of Getting It Wrong.” Your philosophy: “Sometimes, in order to strike gold, you must dig through lots of mud. You must accept that no matter how skilled and experienced you may be, your worst writing always lies ahead of you.» In addition, you state that “any job worth doing, is worth doing badly.” With so much success behind you now, has this process of creative destruction become easier or more difficult over the years, when there’s arguably more to lose?

BC: Thank you so much for asking this. I’m actually about to offer the workshop again, this time for the Fine Arts Work Center and 24 Pearl Street. It will start on Halloween and run daily for a week online!

OK, end of shameless promotion. Ahem …

I believe all art is imprecise. A perfect poem would be unreadable and make no sound. A perfect painting would explode its gallery. And the only perfect dancer is fire itself. A fellow artist says it another way, “Failure is not an option. It is, in fact, always the result.”

I often tell my students that the measure of poetry is akin to the measure of diamonds. On a jeweler’s scale, the ultimate diamond is a thing comprised entirely of light. It is therefore unattainable. Likewise, the great joke played upon every poet is that no matter the size of one’s language, mortal self-consciousness cannot be described. Too much is lost in the expression, no matter how deft or prescient. The best we will ever achieve is a poem that produces a brief (indeed fleeting) physical understanding. What is a physical understanding? A feeling—the poem that speaks to you has embodied something ineffable.

If that sounds fantastic, it is. In my opinion, poetry is the art of saying something unsayable. Perhaps more remarkable is that even after the poet has had their say, it remains unsaid.

So, has it become easier or harder to recognize my limitations as a poet? Depends on when you ask me. Today, it’s no problem at all. I’ve spent the morning looking at poems by Francesca Bell, Patricia Smith, and Kaveh Akbar. I’m not even born yet.

DG: Risk is something inherent to your work—even the risk to be light-hearted. In your 2009 collection, Letters to Guns, published by Red Hen Press, there’s a poem called “Unsung Cheeses.” Yet, upon first reading, what appears to be something light is really a serious reflection on the state of our society: “O cheeses that languish in books like the lyrics of lost empires, / this mercy, this forgiveness, these hands describing love.” Can you talk about how the poem came about, perhaps in relation to the context in which it was composed?

BC: The poem is actually an homage to the great Donald Hall, former Laureate of the US. He has a wonderful poem called ‘O Cheese’ in which he lavishes praise on his subject, confessing both love and a sense of unworthiness. The poem was rather cathartic for me, a permission giver as it were, so I crafted a response. I later sent the piece to him and received a kind letter encouraging me to share it.

The catharsis I mentioned is one I continue to experience and it is given, or perhaps detonated is a better word, by anyone who reminds me how young poetry is. That is to say, as old as it may be in years, it’s still quite fresh with possibility. This is because languages are always growing, always expanding. And so long as we keep making new words (and technological means/contexts in which to share them), there will always be new poetry, new forms, fresh light.

DG: Along with your creative efforts and work in the community, you’re also a well-known educator. How have your endeavors in teaching, specifically at the Windward School, affected your development as a writer?

BC: I‘ve been teaching for a little over twenty years and I think I’m almost prepared for it. Teaching scares the hell out of me and it always has. I’m terrified of wasting anyone’s time, especially the young.

In many ways, my previous answer to your question about my work with people in recovery also applies here. Teaching is vital to me precisely because it keeps me guessing, frightened, fascinated, teachable. And it reminds me that everyone’s reason for making art isn’t the same. I forget that, too. Despite a routine of caution and (I hope) humility, I can still make broad assumptions about what a poem is, what it should do. So, I work in many different classrooms, with emerging writers, returning writers, people living with various constraints, even people who deplore my ideals. I teach because everyone has something to teach me.

If I may linger on this point just a bit longer, I’d like to share a story: A friend and colleague once gave me a book of poems, describing it as “brilliant” and “essential.” I trusted my friend and was truly curious what had provoked the endorsement. In the end, it sucked. It wasn’t just bad, it sucked, sucked in a literal sense: it drew air from the room, depleted reality. At least, that was my first impression.

But then it was also my second and third response, my fifth and tenth. Why, I wondered, why on earth would anyone bother with these poems? What could possibly have induced someone to actually write them when there were so many other pursuits—breaking your knees with a hammer, setting fire to your money, screaming into a box and mailing it to yourself—all of them equally deserving of effort.

My disdain became almost erotic in that it caused me to move and make things. I’d deliberately grab the book from time to time, open to a random page, be appalled again, and then race to write a refuting poem, a poem that contradicted this poet. I played the Opposites Game with a vengeance.

And then one day something hit me. Who, I asked myself, had caused me to write more poems—my heroes or this one supervillain? Suddenly I saw the experience in a new way—I thought I was angry, but I was actually inspired. This poet got me thinking, kept me off balance, made me work. The next time I looked at this person’s poetry, it made sense, it was beautiful, in fact. It wasn’t my style, didn’t confirm my tastes, and sought a grail I still couldn’t perceive. But it was beautiful. I now look for this author and share their work in my classrooms.

Nope, I’m not naming names and it doesn’t matter.

DG: The unmasked man in the room—if I may use the image to substitute the elephant—is COVID, which has impacted us all. And yet, writing, for better or worse, has always been a rather solitary pursuit. Being a poet who cherishes performance, how did the pandemic affect you, both personally and creatively? Did you produce more or less work, and did, perhaps, your approach to the craft change in any way?

BC: I wrote quite a bit during the first year of the pandemic, and then recovered my non-rhythm! Certainly, the isolation and new inducements (Zoom, etc.) to spend more time at the keyboard were useful. I also taught a good deal more. Happily, that trend continues. The experience has indeed informed my approach to both writing and teaching. I’ve gotten a little more patient with both. Perhaps incidentally, I began listening to music while working. I never did that before. I either did one or the other, but not both. In particular, I discovered the work of Marcus Fjellström, a Swedish composer and artist who passed away five years ago this month. I’ve found that if I play his music at low volume, I can get into a ‘zone’ and work for long stretches.

I missed performing terribly, and while I was grateful for the work-arounds, there was just no substitute. Only in the last month have I started getting anything like the regular invitations I used to receive. I have something on the order of twenty live readings booked between now and the spring.

DG: Los Angeles has been your home since birth, and you’ve committed to helping the arts thrive here. What are some of your favorite poems about the city, places you love to go for inspiration—or perhaps just a cup of coffee? Any reflections about the city are welcome.

Los Angeles truly is a city like no other. For one thing, it can often seem isolated from itself. Because of its terrific size, there are innumerable scenes, seemingly in the same cultural orbit but totally unaware of each other.

San Francisco, Manhattan, London, Paris, Rome can all be crossed cheaply and quickly. But no one seems to know where Los Angeles ends. We’re pretty sure it starts at the sea and then vanishes somewhere outside Kansas. That may sound like a dig, but I delight in the hugeness of my city. There is always more of it, and it’s positively crackling with artists.

Just now I’m living on the West Side, about three miles from the water. There’s a coffeehouse nearby, a Black Owned Business called Good People, where I like to meet friends and even do some writing. It feels like a hangout from my youth. It has that charge. It’s also on a tight stretch of Santa Monica Blvd. where one often sees courier robots on their rounds. Sawtelle Village is a short walk, and there’re art theaters like the Nuart and the Laemmle Royal.

DG: What are you reading or working on at the moment?

Reading:

Catherine Lacy’s 2018 collection of stories ‘Certain American States’
UK poet Rachael Allen’s 2019 book ‘Kingdomland’
Poet Donika Kelly’s ‘The Renunciations’ – 2021
Joyce Cary’s 1944 novel ‘The Horse’s Mouth’


Waiting for
:

Poet Betsy Sholl’s new collection ‘As If a Song Could Save You’ – October 2022
Claire Dederer’s forthcoming critique ‘Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma’ April 2023


Working on
:

Just finished a new and limited chapbook called ‘Close Call’ in honor of my friend, LA poet Gail Gauldin Moore who passed away last May. “Everything,” she once wrote, “is a close call.”

I’m looong in the throes of publishing my fifth collection of poems, which as it happens, is called ‘The Opposites Game.’

Finally, a bunch of new poems showed up in the last couple months. They’re rough and I’m not yet sure what they want. So far, they seem friendly. They’ve asked to sleep in my office. Just now I’m trying to see what they’ll eat.

DG: This sounds wonderful and interesting, Brendan. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions!

BC: Thank you so much for inviting me to participate. And thank you for celebrating California poets.

 

 

About Brendan Constantine

Brendan Constantine is a poet based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in many standards, including Poetry, The Nation, Best American Poetry, Tin House, Ploughshares, and Poem-a-Day. He is the author of four collections of poetry and a fifth, ‘The Opposites Game,’ is forthcoming. A popular performer, Brendan has presented his work to audiences throughout the U.S. and Europe, also appearing on NPR’s All Things Considered, TED ED, numerous podcasts, and YouTube. He currently teaches at the Windward School and, since 2017, has been working with speech pathologists across the country to develop poetry workshops for people with Aphasia and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).