© Barbara Hamby.
The House on Boulevard St.
Louisiana State University
by Craig Morgan
CMT: How do you feel
about being a National Book Award finalist?
Very happy, but I’m
a pretty happy guy by disposition. All the other emotions
are kind of a waste of time.
CMT: Let’s talk
about the book. You call these poems “memory poems”:
they’re conversational, far reaching, witty, referencing
all kinds of things, from Dante to whatever happens
to be going on at the moment. How did you start writing
this kind of poem?
I used to write what I called
“2 by 4 look-out-the-window-poems”: you
look out the window and see something and give your
thoughts on it. That amused me for a while, but I knew
I wanted to change. Meanwhile I’d grown up on
a farm in south Louisiana, and my mother, who was born
in 1902, was an old school farm girl in a rough part
of the world. There were actually people on her family
farm who had been born into slavery and were emancipated.
There were voodoo elements and conjure people in the
woods, people who could talk the warts off your hands
for a nickel and that kind of thing. My mother was always
a great story teller, and she passed on a love of stories
to me. In addition to writing these “2 by 4”
poems, I liked to tell stories and my wife, the poet
Barbara Hamby, said, “you should turn these stories
into nonfiction essays.” I kept thinking about
that, then one day a light bulb ignited. I said, “ooh,
why not combine the two, cut out the middle genre, nonfiction,
and make the stories directly into poems.” Then
I ran out of stories, and I realized I could either
hold up liquor stores and have more stories or do something
else. That’s when the poems became more braided,
referring to high and pop culture and something I had
about the relationship between nonfiction and imagination
in your poems. What kind of a reporter is a poet?
One thing that I want to do
in the poems is to portray the mind as it actually works.
You know that statistic that when you’re in a
college economics class, 30% of the students are thinking
about sex. Actually, 90% of the students are thinking
about sex, the economics lecture, regretting that they
didn’t have breakfast that morning, the pleasure
they’re going to have text messaging their girlfriend
as soon as the idiot at the front of the class shuts
up, and some song that they’re working on on their
guitar, and it makes sense to me to write poems that
way, with a lot of editing, of course to take out the
static and screen saving functions that the brain performs.
CMT: Frank Zappa—arguably
a very funny musician—has an album called
Does Humor Belong in Music? Your poems are often
very funny. How would you answer the same question about
That’s one of the things
that people ask about, and often it seems like an accusation:
people say, “I noticed your poems are funny—why?”
I say if it’s good enough for Chaucer and Shakespeare
and Mark Twain and Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch,
it’s good enough for me. I think the presence
of humor in poetry is a problem only for those who think
that a mature poem is a relative of teenage angst poems,
where you talk about how much you hate your mother and
want to shoot up your classroom, but grown up poetry
doesn’t have to be that way. And also, if I need
to, I’ll rise up on my toes and observe to my
questioner that I am not—repeat, not—a light
versifier. I love Ogden Nash, but I don’t write
that kind of poetry.
Morgan Teicher's poems, essays, and reviews have appeared
in many publications, including, The Paris Review,
The Yale Review, Bookforum, and Poets &
Writers. His first book, Brenda Is In The Room
And Other Poems won the 2007 Colorado Prize for
Poetry and is due out this November. He works as an
editor at Publishers Weekly.