01 September 2011

Poet Q & A: Trey Moody on Climate Reply

Moody, Trey. Climate Reply. Tuscon, AZ: New Michigan Press, 2010.

I've asked the authors of each collection we will read this semester to answer a few general questions about their books in an effort to introduce us to their writing. Our first book, Climate Reply, was written by Trey Moody who, in addition to this collection, is the author of the forthcoming Once Was a Weather (Greying Ghost Press). His poetry has appeared in Best New Poets 2009, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and Washington Square; his fiction is forthcoming in Sonora Review. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he co-curates The Clean Part Reading Series.

1) Tell us about when you first became interested in poetry. Who were your first poetic influences? When did you begin writing poetry? What do you think poetry does or can do for us today and does this differ from your earliest conceptions of what poetry is/does? etc.

I was in college, about 20, in my first creative writing workshop when I realized I enjoyed writing poetry—at that time much more than fiction or nonfiction. That year I remember being introduced to T. S. Eliot (particularly “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land”) and Ezra Pound (“In a Station of the Metro”), which were very different from my pre-conceived notions of poetry, as I hated reading anything, including poetry, before my second year of college. Thus the love story began, and continues. Although I couldn’t have articulated this then (I got a “B” in my first workshop), what first drew me to poetry such as this was how it taxed my imagination, forcing me to feel like I had never felt—that is to say, uncomfortable, wary, unsure of everything I had convinced myself I believed in. This isn’t so much specific to poetry but rather to all art, and for me it still holds true. As Emily Dickinson remarked: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

2) Give us some background on the creation, development, and gestation of Climate Reply. How does this collection differ from your previous collections or current projects? etc.

I don’t write book-length projects, which is to say I write mainly individual lyrics or shorter sequences. So Climate Reply really began to take shape after looking through some of my favorite poems I had written during MFA school and my first semester of PhD school. After messing with about six other sequences of the same manuscript for a year or two, I finally began recognizing some consistent themes in certain poems, culminating in the final version of the chapbook. So far, this process hasn’t changed in any significant way with other projects.

3) What is your favorite or most memorable poem from the collection we're reading? What about the poem, its process, or its inspiration makes it particularly remarkable for you?

My favorite poem is probably “We Use Spoons Mostly,” mostly because composing that poem—first a notebook entry, then multiple revisions on the computer—taught me many of the things I value in the poetry I’m still writing (and in the poetry I admire). Namely, letting what happens during the act of revision—literally or imaginatively—become a part of the poem.

The most memorable poem is “Climate Reply,” because it was the first time I felt like I had written a poem I would want to read. Here’s the original paragraph from which “Climate Reply” grew and took shape, in a tiny notebook of mine: “Weather as if to recite a speech. Weather as if to read a name. To ask a question, weather to ride the train, to feed the cats, to sleep. Weather to go inside, to weep.” In isolation, kind of awful, right? But like “We Use Spoons Mostly,” this poem, written years earlier, taught me more basic, yet valuable, lessons in regard to revision and the poem’s life.

4) What was the most difficult poem for you to write? Why? How did you overcome or think through these challenges?

Probably “A Feather Protruding from the Mouth.” This thing began as a prose poem, was revised and revised, then lineated, revised, revised, etc. I’m still not entirely happy with it, so I haven’t overcome any challenges, really. I like the “idea” in the poem more than I like the “experience” of the poem—to my mind, a sure recipe for a horrible poem. Hopefully the poem at least works in the context of its surrounding neighbors.

5) What, to your mind, is the overriding concern of Climate Reply? How do specific craft or poetic elements contribute to, intensify, or complicate to this concern?

In an email from a couple of years ago, your gifted teacher, Mr. Ware, put it better than I could have: “this manuscript explores the nature/culture binary and ways in which that binary crumbles when interrogated thoroughly.” The funny—and not-so-funny—thing about that email exchange is that at the time I hadn’t thought about Climate Reply in terms anywhere near as complex or well said as his. As for the second part of the question, I’d say precision—of the word, the line, the sentence, the image, everything—is the element that contributes most to this concern, for me. I want potential readers to be able to comprehend and enter the poem. I don’t want to scare them off right away. But honestly, no matter what I’m writing, I’m obsessed with precision (though, like anything, “precision” is problematic because it’s relative).

UPDATE: 09.01.11

As the previous post mentions, you will need to write a review of Trey Moody's Climate Reply for our next class session, which will be on September 12th. While you will want to address elements of craft and technique for the entire collection, I want all of you to particularly focus on individual poems. Below, I've created a list that assigns specific poems for each of you:
Miranada: "What We First Said"
Kelly: "The Listener, The Land"
Matthew Carter: "Climate Reply"
Matthew Chanlynn: "Dear, Ghosts (1 and 2)"
Kimberly: "Dear,Ghosts (3 and 4)"
Katlin: "This Forest Isn't a Room"
Samual and Alyssa: "The Book of Flattened Hands"
David: "One Question"
Taylor: "The Seating"
Jennifer: "Dear, Ghosts (5 and 6)"
Jessica: "Dear, Ghosts (7 and 8)"
Ashley: "We Didn't Believe"
Rachel: "Birdsong"
Hailey: "A Feather Protruding from the Mouth"
Lindsay: "Dear, Ghosts (9 and 10)"
Hanna: "Island of Sanity"
Luke: "We Used Spoons Mostly"
Joseph: "Remembering the Original"
Also, I want you all to come up with three questions about Trey Moody's Climate Reply, at least one of which addresses some element of poetics that we've read in Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry. While the other two can also derive from this source, you can ask more general questions about the his writing, if you wish, as well. Please, email me your question on or before Thursday, September 8th.

Finally, I'm adding an additional caveat to the composition process of your new poem for our upcoming class. Not only do I want you to write your first-draft as a 250 to 300 word prose meditation (although, if you'll remember, the revised and lineated second-draft is the version you'll be emailing to me), I want your poems to be composed in "the style of Trey Moody." Why, you may ask? As Kinzie writes, as a writer learning how to create poems, "Your goal should be to sound like others rather than create a completely original composition" (4); this need to create a poem that "sounds" like someone else's poetry derives from the fact that, especially as novice writers/poets, you need understand that a poem is not "a mere wildcat product of will, but rather a rescue, within the horizon suggested by convention, of a sequence of new turnings" (2). Or, as Kinzie states elsewhere: "Without tradition, there can be no sense of what the outer limit" (26). As such, think about the images you find within Climate Reply, as well as the line breaks, diction (i.e. word choice), and half-meanings.

29 August 2011

UPDATE: 08.29.11

Now that we've read the introduction and first section in Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry, you should have some sense of what it takes to both begin a poem and think through some of the concepts behind line breaks, etc.

At this juncture, then, I want you to focus on four specific elements while you're composing your poems. First, as I mentioned during our first class session, you should be mindful of the fact that poetry uses "language--words and sentences," to the extent that "plots and ideas are produced by and constantly dependent on language" (8). As such, I want you to focus on the language that you employ within your poems, always placing primacy upon the sounds your piece makes instead of what it actually says. This does not mean that you should ignore aspects such as "plot and idea," but they should always be subservient to the auditory capacities of your poem.

Second, as Kinzie mentions, your poem's "mental and emotional content must depend on objective counters and local embodiments" (17). Stated differently, whatever abstract feelings or ideas your poem conveys should manifest themselves, primarily, within concrete language and images. To this extent, attempt, as much as possible, to ground your reader in sensory perceptions that are highly detailed and specific. The often employed example of image-use in modern poetry, one you may have read before, is William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow":
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
This is not to say that your writing has to be as sparse as Williams' poem, but your work should, first and foremost, deal directly with images. Another well-cited example is Ezra Pound's "In a station of the Metro":
The apparition of these faces in a crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The third consideration I want you to keep at the forefront of your minds while you compose your poems during the first portion of the semester is the manner in which line breaks function within your work, specifically with relation to half-meaning. How does the "radical splitting apart of phrases create provisional meanings in the orphaned line"(59)? Moreover, remember that "An enjambed lines always creates half-meaning in addition to the 'whole' meaning of the sentence." To this extent, you'll want to develop a nuanced system of tension and release with regard to line and syntax. Take, for example, the opening to "Right of Assembly (New Mexico, 1939)" by John Chavez, the entirety of which can be found online at the Notre Dame Review. Notice tension builds, then is released as line and syntax work with and against one another:
A pointillist canvas of waving grass,
each leaf, each man is a black, brown, or damp colored

overcoat, a flannel shirt
or double breasted suit, an indifferent

skyward or trained stare. From afar the crowd
of men shift to mimic a fist of clouds,

reveal Stalin, Roosevelt or Churchill’s steadfast bust,
the apparent disassembly of women.

Of the twelve in the crowd of hundreds,
I imagine one is the mother of two soon to be killed sons,

another becoming more and more spouseless
with the passing days. Still another,
What is important to remember, of course, is that "half-meaning, which introduces such an interesting threshold of uncertainty at which we waver, depends on a solid background of lines that assert more or less whole meanings. Constant use of tension leads in time to no tension" (61). Simply put: don't over use the enjambed line; let some lines end-stop so as to keep the poem most dynamic. Kinzie later refers to this technique (not just with line breaks, but with every aspect of the poem) as "juxtaposition" (65).

And finally, as both Kinzie states in her text, and I mentioned in the previous class session: "You are moving through uncertainties," or a text that is "not yet finished, still growing" (6). In other words, if you "know" what you're going to write before you start writing, your poem will necessarily be worse off for it. Make sure that the poem, both in its construction and in its final form, offers writer and reader alike an intensely surprising, uncertain, and mysterious experience.

I would also like you to pay close attention to the way Kinzie writes about poems. When writing about Trey Moody's Climate Reply for next class period, I want you to mimic Kinzie's engagement with other poets' poems. While there are a plethora of examples that can be found within the 75 pages we've already read, check out her analysis of Robert Frost's "On a Bird Singing in Its Sleep" on pages 21-23 and Robert Lowell's "Mr. Edwards and the Spider" on pages 60-62.

HOMEWORK: For next class (09.12.11), please have the rough draft of your second poem. From here on out, the first draft of every poem you write should be as follows: draft "a preliminary 250- to 300-word creative meditation in prose" (8), then revise, edit, pare-down, and lineate your writing into a second draft. While you should keep a record of every draft, it's just the second draft you'll need to send me the night before class. Additionally, you'll need to write a single-spaced, one-page response to Trey Moody's Climate Reply. I will assign each of you a specific poem for your response. When writing this piece, make sure you are engaging the poem with concepts we've read in Kinzie, quoting both the poem and Kinzie when appropriate.