SR71 Contributor Interviews: Joseph Zaccardi

JoeZaccardi1What is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

My journey to the prose poem took many years to develop. When I was in the seventh grade I wrote a 200-word essay on poetry using alliteration throughout the piece. My teacher, Sister Mary Francesca, impressed with my effort, said to me that I should try to write poetry, she said, “And Joseph, in a poem you don’t have to punctuate”; she knew I had a fear of punctuation. So I began there, and for a few years wrote a few poems, and because of the freedom of not having to use commas, periods, and that monstrous semi-colon, I sort of self-taught myself how to line break. Later in my twenties I embraced punctuation, found that it really was a valuable tool. It was in 2012, when I started work on a poem about the lynchings of African-Americans that I found that an unpunctuated approach gave me more freedom. Here are the first few words from that poem titled “Little,” which is the name of a soldier, Private William Little, who had just returned from serving in WW1 and was beaten up and murdered for wearing his uniform, the only clothes he owned:

“If he had the sense he was born with but he did if he’d taken off his doughboy

uniform that a hostile band of whites demanded but he didn’t …”

I quickly saw that with that freedom came a need to find the right transitions so that the reader wouldn’t get frustrated and give up. As you can feel in my poem in the Sonora Review, “What’s Wrong with That Boy,” there’s a tension that, I think, wouldn’t work as well in a more structured form. So I now think of my style as a prose poem in a poem-box, something both contained and free to bounce off the walls

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Blade Lineage: An Interview with Laura McCullough

unnamedLaura McCullough’s The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series, was published  by University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Her other books  of poems include Jersey Mercy, Black Lawrence Press, Rigger Death & Hoist Another (BLP),  Panic (winner of the Kinereth Genseler Award, Alice James Books), Speech Acts (BLP), What Men Want (XOXOX Press), and The Dancing Bear (Open Book Press). She conceived of and curated two anthologies of essays on poetry,  A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, University of Georgia Press and The Room and the World: Essays on the Poet Stephen Dunn, University of Syracuse Press. Her prose and poetry have appeared widely in places such as Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer’s Chronicle, Best American Poetry, and others. She has had fellowships or scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, the Virginia Center for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, Marble House, and the New Jersey State Arts Council, among others. She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey and is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA and has taught for Ramapo College and the Stockton University Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway. She is the founding editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations.

 Jon Riccio: Two Bladerunner-infused poems—“Soliloquy with Honey: Time to Die” and “Saved from the Fall by Roy Batty”—usher us in and out of The Wild Night Dress. You juxtapose Batty’s essence: “Intelligent, handsome, struggling with emerging emotion, / he is real, yet temporary, despised,” with the properties that define his existence:

What a strange love story, Batty and Deckard,

and the writer, director, actor, co-creators of Batty,

making me think of sparticles, superpartners

in physics, bosons and fermions, the way

relationship forms a kind of supersymmetry.

 

How is Bladerunner a mirror for your writing process?

 

Laura McCullough: I love that you gave such attention to these two poems and their placement. One of them will appear in an anthology on film and poetry next year, and I’m really excited about that anthology since the new Bladerunner will be out, but also because I love cinematic ekphrasis. Yet your question is leading: does the film mirror my process? A film is a confluence of the creative, interpretive, and a variety of executed craft and skill. The idea must be ignited, the writers—screenplay requires both creativity and a technical skill set—the actors interpret and make manifest, the varieties of crews before, during, and post filming, editors, makeup, lighting, set design, costume, sound, and so on and on: I almost always stay for the credits after a film, which usually amount to hundreds of names, right?

 

In one sense, then, the poet is not like that at all—we work in often very deep solitude (I’ve wondered at times whether the solitude of poetry was an escape, a defense, or a necessary state, maybe all three)—yet the poet might also represent a mind in relation to and refracting many other beings and knowings. When I sit to write, maybe everyone I’ve ever known, everything I’ve read, experienced, and so on, is present and colluding. I love the DH Lawrence quote, “Not I, not I, but the wind that moves through me.”

 

But I am waffling, Jon. Here’s what I really think: increasingly I think less and feel more, and when I “think” of Bladerunner, it is about feelings: Roy and Deckard’s existential aloneness and sorrows, their struggle toward ethics and internal moral agency. They make me weep with tenderness and curiosity and admiration. Those three things are how I come to poetry, as well, as a reader and as a writer.

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