Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Brian Oliu reads “[asking]” by Barbara Jane Reyes.
Brian, this is a damn beautiful poem you’ve read for us today. Before we get to “[asking]” could speak more generally about Reyes’s poetry and how you came to be familiar with her work?
Brian: Yes! So, I was a graduate student at Alabama when the University brought her in for a visiting writer’s series. My good friend Jeremy Hawkins was extremely excited about her coming to read & so he sent me a bunch of her work. I went to her reading & was really blown away by not only how phenomenal her work was, but how good of a reader she was. I think the thing that I enjoy most about her work is the earnestness of it all; how it is completely unapologetic in how it is crafted. It is something that I always try to strive for in my own writing—this notion of saying exactly what needs to be said without any reservation.
Chris: What elements of “[asking]” make it essential to you as a writer? I’m moved by the imagery in the poem, particularly “…water and rock contain verse and metaphor, even wild grasses reply in rhyme” and the bit that follows, “moment of lucidity; summer lightning bugs, sun’s rays in a jelly jar.” Is it the imagery that does it, or is there another quality that resonates with you?
Brian: I would say the imagery too! I really love how Elizabeth Bishop talks about how poems should have more “things” in them & I totally agree—I think strong imagery is what brings energy to a piece. We can talk about our feelings & higher level concepts in a work, but all writing is a confession of some sort—therefore we have to find creative ways to put our emotions into a piece, & for me, it’s the concrete that helps me latch onto the more ephemeral beauty.
Chris: We’ve totally nerded out about Bishop on Lyric Essentials before—definitely one of my favorite poets. What imagery in “[asking]” brings energy to the poem for you? What are your favorite “things” in this poem?
Brian: “some mythic angel” just makes me want to fist pump in the air. “a cove to escape the flux” is a line I wish I wrote. I just keep finding my head bobbing along to it.
Chris: How have you used these ideas and concepts in your own writing? Are there particular things you like to write about and explore, or anything specific you’re writing about now?
Brian: I think a favorite trick that I love to use is negation—to define something by what it is not, & I love that is how the piece ends; there’s so much that the poem “is” that exists just beyond the constraints of what we have. I always like to imagine that each thing that I write is a sneak peek into what is actually going on—it is here, and then it is gone. I was a kid who constantly found myself not wanting stories or poems to end & imagining new endings or moments where I’d ask “where does everything go from here?” & I feel like this does this beautifully. I’ve been writing a lot about running as well as professional wrestling—both are two things that never truly end; there is always more to run in the same way there is always a new show & universe that needs to be explained.
Chris: Where can our readers get more of Reyes’s poetry? Any books or poems you can recommend?
Brian: Well, first & foremost, she has a KILLER blog (http://www.barbarajanereyes.com/blog/). To Love As Aswang is phenomenal. & as for individual pieces, [the siren’s story] hits all the fabulous notes for me.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games, Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015), essays on NBA Jam, and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. Current projects include two books on professional wrestling, a memoir about translating his grandfather’s book on long distance running, and a nonfiction book about the history of the track jacket.
Chris Petruccelli is still in Northeast Tennessee, but planning–and hoping–to be in Kentucky over the summer. His Rowlet is now a Decidueye. He also has a Metang and a Salazzle. Things are lookin’ pretty good. Chris’s poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Still: The Journal, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and elsewhere. He is also the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). He runs his first half marathon in two weeks.