By Edward S. Garza
A.P.V. Sutton graduated from the University of Houston in December 2012 with his Bachelor’s in English-Creative Writing. He serves as Poetry Editor for the undergraduate literary journal Glass Mountain and is one of the founding editors of Houston and Nomadic Voices. He has published his poems in several publications, including two in the Fall 2012 issue of The Aletheia. In this interview, we speak about those two pieces as well as his approach to poetry. Stay tuned after the conversation to read two of Sutton’s new works.
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What was the first poem that had an impact on you?
The first poem I seriously read was “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” the frequently cited villanelle by Dylan Thomas, though it’s important that I tell you that I was originally lead to that poem by my favorite band, of Montreal. Begin digression: so it was circa 2007, oM had released Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, and in an interview Kevin Barnes said that DT’s poem influenced the album’s last track “We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling.” For me, the language of both the poem and the song sounded like some crazy/wonderful neo-English that I wanted to become fluent in. It was probably because they both have highly idiomatic (and kind of exaggerated) diction that wears the emotional sentiments of their pieces on their sleeves (“Do Not,” “Gentle” “Good,” “Night,” “Born,” “Mutants,” “Leafling”), surely something that many teenagers can relate to.
It’s also weird because writing poetry was still nowhere on my radar (I just wanted to “figure it out”), but looking back, that kind of playing with language was what I really wanted out of life (I just didn’t realize it at the time). Poetry, oddly, was the last genre of writing I tried my hand at (so I’m lucky that this looks like it might actually work out!), but there’s this Auden quote where he said that he could tell if a person was developing into a poet if they were clearly using language based on their ears, and that’s what I think my younger self was semi-doing.
In your opinion, what makes a poem work?
That’s kind of a complicated question! What I might enjoy the most about poems is seeing how they balance the three types of logic that poetry has access to (semantic logic, associative/imaginative logic, and sound sense. So, essentially, a poem can make clear logical sense, gives us a logic that’s based on what our brains infer from images/metaphors/symbols/etc., and/or give us a logic our brains infer from how things sound), and I think that those three logics always need to be in some sort of compromise (even if that compromise means shutting out at least one of them). That, or just seeing how different people rationalize the ambiguous and perhaps inherently anarchic world we live in.
However, there are, by my calculations, at least one-hundred million possible things that could make a poem “work.” I’ve really encountered this at my time with the journals I’ve worked with (particularly, right now, Glass Mountain) where I’ve come to realize that I have an eclectic taste in poetry. In our upcoming issue of GM we may actually have a poem for everyone (or alternatively, a poem to piss everyone off). We have few prose poems that read like they’ve been lifted from a manual, we have a few poems that are so sparse that they require the reader to insert knowledge into them (take that, New Criticism!), we have this fairly traditional poem with this super- exciting handling of syntax, and a pseudo-Ghazal for good measure.
I guess for a poem to work for me, I need to feel that there’s a reflection of how the poet’s mind operates in it. If writing is the way we can transmit thoughts (except, that it requires us to commit to our thoughts) then a certain amount of respect has to be paid to the workings of the mind. On the other side of things, I do feel a bit weary when I hear poems being criticized for being “too X” with “X” being “confessional” “lyrical” “whiney” “romanticist” or any sort of simplistic descriptor. For me, that’s dismissive to the point that you might as well say that the writer’s brain doesn’t work right. I think that if a writer really is a libertarian suburbanite who’s blogs about rewatching Laguna Beach in their soul, then that’s the perspective they use to understand the world, and if they own in their writing, they too can make poems that work.
What were your inspirations for “Pastoral” and “Wisdom,” your two poems included in the Fall 2012 issue of The Aletheia? (Read the poems and the rest of the issue here: http://issuu.com/thealetheia/docs/aletheia_-_fall_2012_issue?mode=window&backgroundColor=%23222222.)
In short, my inspiration was needing to write them for class (What can I say? Almost every poem needs an occasion, and a deadline is a good occasion to get stuff done.
More analytically, I love short poems. I love the type of poem that isn’t even as long as a sonnet but manages to have a sophisticated world in them. Back when I wrote them there was probably a bit of Jean Falloin in my head, (this is a longer one that feels like a short one) Bruce Weigl’s “What Saves Us,” and who knows what else (these poems are 1 year/approx. 100+ poems ago from my perspective).
Those two poems are also kind of interesting together because “Wisdom” is more autobiographical (I’m pleased to say that last December I finally got my wisdom teeth removed after putting it off for five years). Speaking of occasions, I think that for me, having my wisdom teeth ripping my gums apart was a pretty good occasion for a poem. Because of people like Whitman and Sharon Olds, poets are sometimes associated with being interested with the body, but for me, the body is kinda gross. We hope that our bodies are stable enough to keep us alive and smell nice, but a quick search on google images will show you that so many things can go so horribly wrong.
On the other hand, “Pastoral” is much more reflective of how I more often go about writing poems. That one came about from an image that formed in my head and I meditated on it and drove around in my car searching for more images, saying lines aloud to myself, etc, and then wrote an actual poem.
What are you working on now?
No project right now. Just writing poems when they come to me. However, every year around this time I get the idea that I want to put together a chapbook, and I can feel the urge coming back again. Though we’ll see when I have a chapbook amount of poems together!
Who are your favorite poets, alive and otherwise?
Recently people have begun telling me that I sure do read a lot of women poets. And it’s true. And true to that my favorite poet is Laura Kasischke. She kind of has everything. She’s lyrical and narrative. She’s highly imaginative and can create these intricate rhyming patterns. She is so cerebral that her poems might as well just announce that they’re coming from a woman who may have more genius that poetry itself can handle.
Other poets I enjoy are Linda Gregerson, Elizabeth Arnold, Matthew Zapruder, Mathea Harvey, Louise Glück, Marianne Moore, John Ashbery, Bob Hicok, Jon Stallworthy, Sylvia Plath, Jason Bredle, and I’m starting to get into Edna St. Vincent Millay.
What I really look for in poets are people who don’t sound like anything else. Sometimes it’s soul crushing to have the thousands of years of poetic tradition over your shoulder, and in my experience as a writer who is still learning, it’s easy to make poems that sound like someone from the 16th century is speaking. Some of the poetry I gravitate towards is, in some circles considered gimmicky, and maybe rightfully so, but I’m hungry for poems that feel like they’re engaging with the contemporary world in a way that is still poetic. At the last Glass Mountain reading Karyna McGlynn read a poem is used the phrase “Le sigh” and I was so appreciative of that. I can tell you that I probably couldn’t write a poem that could adequately use that phrase. Confession: it used to be that whenever I heard a fiction writer reading a story about the internet I would get super-jealous. It’s OK now because I’m learning on that front!
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Lay on Your Stomach and Shut-up, I’m Making You my Fucking Love-Slave
I want to make you inhale
so many poppers
that you will forget about time
and space, and tell me
why I kept following you.
When I watch your back contort,
the ridges of your spine, your shoulder blades,
I want to pull out every bone
and search through your flesh for the answer:
is it because the glitter of your face and chest
look like the universe has imprinted itself onto you? No,
in the darkness all of our bodies are flares
luring people in, but
you’re the only one
who’s here with me tonight.
Death by Fire
WHEN orange leaves look
like flares scattered from tree limbs
to burn the entire earth,
and the clouds, charred with sunset,
disintegrate into the sky
which itself is a blue flame
the sun casts onto us,
and the aneurism in your brain
gathers blood into a plume of heat
radiating into your skull
there will be another fire in your mind
to engulf your life.
This knowledge hurts you already,
reader. The rage you feel from this page
is a flame burrowing into your eyes.
Now the aneurism has ruptured. And
the heat in your head will grow. And
that flame will soon run down the back of your neck. ♦