Marie Buck and Caleb Beckwith in conversation

Images above courtesy of the authors.

Note: In her recent post for the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet site, “Pleasure & Political Despondence,” Marie Buck explores the tension between leftist utopian ideals and the apparent hopelessness of post-Occupy American politics. “Poetry,” she says, “has a role here, though I find it hard to articulate. The feeling of intimacy that one gets through art seems especially important. It’s compensatory without being a distraction.” If poetry can, in fact, be a salve for the crises of capitalism without diminishing the drive to overturn it — and Marie’s essay seems ambivalent about that possibility — interviews and conversations like this one will ideally contribute something to that drive. 

I started emailing with Marie shortly after reading Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul (Roof, 2017). Though I’d recently seen her read at a friend’s house in Berkeley, our paths hadn’t crossed in conversation. In a social scene dominated by the party atmosphere of house readings or, on the other end, the hierarchical feel of many institutionally sponsored events, it’s refreshing to cold call someone with questions about their work, dive right in to the closest of readings, and come out the other side with a mutually fulfilling dialogue. 

As poets on the left, we seem to do a good job maintaining our closest connections. The history of coterie is rich, after all. But the history of correspondence in poetry is equally rich, and it’s this sort of secondary (or tertiary) social bond that you share with someone simply emailing about their work, for example, that feels more and more like solidarity these days. This isn’t to say that conversation is revolutionary, like the all-caps LEFTIST poetry that Marie discusses might desire. Rather, if there is a social good in poetry, maybe it’s in these extended social networks among the left that poetry helps to stimulate. 

In this conversation, we talk about poetry and its relation to leftist politics, read the work of mutual friends, and look closely at what Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul has to say on these and other subjects. — Caleb Beckwith 

Caleb Beckwith: In his review of your first book Portrait of Doom, Aaron Winslow situates your work between various contemporary modes. Political, but not the “politics of revelation” held by conceptualism and the “political lyric of the radical left.” Critical of MFA preciousness, but “not interested in the total negation of the lyric form.” And lyric, but playing with the form in a way that “doubles-down on it, opens it up, and recharges it.”

The poetry world has changed a lot since that review appeared in the midst of 2015’s conversations surrounding the politics of contemporary experimental poetry, and I want to use Aaron’s very helpful delineation of terms as a frame for our conversation some two years later. His positioning of your work as a sort of liminal lyric certainly resonates with my reading, both of Portrait of Doom and your new book, Goodnight Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul. Both texts suffuse with the music and enrapturement of the lyric form, only to drop the reader into the depths of a disorienting shadow world as soon as any sense of stability in the speaking “I” begins to emerge.

Would you describe the poems in Goodnight Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul as “lyric,” loaded as that term is? What landmarks would you use to situate your work in the landscape of contemporary poetry today? And how has poetry’s sustained focus on the politics of different compositional methods — not to mention the obvious changes in US electoral politics — informed the way you think about your own work over the past two years?  

Marie Buck: I usually describe the poems as lyric, mostly just because “lyric” seems like an accurate descriptive word. I’m not super invested in the term or anything. And it might be relevant that while the finished form is pretty traditionally lyrical, a lot of the poems are collaged. I like finding text that interests me and using it, even though mixing things up and letting the original text dissipate into the new work has always come much more naturally to me than making something more conceptual.

In general, though, I’d say that I don’t think any compositional method maps onto any particular politics. Conceptual writing — which I feel like isn’t really a distinct thing anymore, maybe, and is instead something that at this point a lot of people have incorporated into a variety of writing practices — has been accused of having bad politics.

On the other hand, there’s also a lineage that cuts across Language writing, conceptual writing, and possibly Flarf that has thought of the lyric as a form that is solely personal and therefore apolitical, as well as kind of precious. I think plenty of lyric poetry does operate like that, for sure. But I’m really interested in things that thread affect together with larger historical context — that draw out the relationship between one’s individual life and one’s context in history, in a certain political and historical moment. I think that can happen in conceptual poetry or in lyric poetry.

I’m really more interested in subject matter, I guess. As far as work I’m really excited about: Joey Yearous-Algozin’s JJ’s Kids is a super bizarro transcript of “children in Jonestown debating capitalism vs. socialism before their parents killed them,” as Joey tells us at the beginning of the text. It’s a pretty fantastic poem and is properly “conceptual” — it’s a transcript. It does a lot of things that intrigue me. The kids’ ideas about capitalism and communism are a weird mix of accurate and inaccurate things, and the children sound very much like children — Disney and waterfalls and candy are all part of the debate, along with the atomic bomb. I don’t want to get into citing the poem at length here, just because so much of it is in the switching back and forth and the ground that the kids cover really quickly. But basically: in reading it, I had an overwhelming sense of history — of these kids existing in a deeply foreign moment, despite that this was 1978 and just four years before I was born. I also had a sense of these larger historical trajectories and of the struggle for socialism, but with the weird little bubble of Jim Jones’s cult within it, the strange fabric of 1960s and ’70s counterculture. And then there is the tragedy of all these people’s deaths, within the larger and more coherent and familiar tragedy: the repression of the social movements of the 1960s. To cite a really old idea: I’m interested in estrangement effects that let you see yourself within history.

I think Wendy Trevino’s pop poems — I don’t think these are out yet, but I’ve heard her read some of them and also publish a few — are really intriguing for similar reasons. Mainstream nostalgia for the past seems to have the opposite of an estrangement effect — we really can’t see history at all. But these poems kind of estrange popular culture, I think. I’m very into these last lines in the link about the episode of the Wonder Years where Winnie’s brother is killed in Vietnam:

This really puts that episode of the
Wonder Years where Winnie finds out that her
Brother’s been killed in Vietnam into
Perspective. Violent death at a young age
Was starting to make sense in the suburbs.

It’s a super weird glance at history and affect happening through this 1990s TV show — i.e., how do we process the ’90s processing the ’60s?

I recently finished a dissertation about the Black Power and Women’s Liberation movements, so it’s fair to say my brain is really in that period. And in my book, I collage a whole lot from 1980s shows that process the ’60s, since I wanted a sort of subtle undercurrent marking out time. I’m also interested in the way that sitcoms and cartoons operate entirely in shorthand: a character mocks another character for eating tofu, and we derive a whole set of ideas about countercultures, values, the passing of time, rebellion, lifestylism, and so on. The shows end up crystallizing quite a lot, in ways that are sometimes obfuscating and sometimes revealing.

But my interest in this work is also about the current political moment. It seems super important to remember that not very long ago, people imagined the world getting much better very quickly. They imagined an end to capitalism, racism, war. Prison abolition seemed within reach, for instance, and instead we have mass incarceration at an unfathomable scale. I’m writing this as fascists gather in Charlottesville. So — to get back to your question — I’m very interested in work that positions us in history and reminds us of larger trajectories, and that also incorporates affect and a sense of individuality and isolation as well, since I think that isolation is part of the larger social mood for many people right now.

Brandon Brown’s poem “For My Future Children” really does this for me too. I texted it to a friend when I first read it, a friend who’s new to poetry, who wrote back, “how does it do that … that thing at the end?” My poetry mentor in undergrad, the poet Carol Ann Davis, used to talk a lot about the “lyric moment,” which is, as far as I remember, just kind of a moment toward the end of a poem that evokes sudden, giant feelings. I don’t know — maybe lots of people talk about “lyric moments,” but I don’t hear the term really ever now, I feel like? I don’t get excited about lyric moments about some totally isolated version of the self — what I associate with lyric poems I don’t like. But this version in Brandon’s poem, situated within the larger horrific social world, had such an effect on me:

and we hated the
obsequy we were
forced to perform and
couldn’t overthrow
unless maybe by
the time you read
this we did? I dunno
you tell me

If the lyric moment is fundamental to lyric poetry: I am always happy to have writing evoke intense feelings of connection, all the better to gird oneself for the difficulty of activist work or just being alive. I guess I want lyric moments that are about historical contingency. The thing that gives me feelings is thinking that what happens next isn’t predetermined and might not be totally shitty.

Beckwith: I’m interested in the family resemblance that emerges between yourself, Joey, Brandon, and Wendy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen these three talked about in context with one another, but you’re absolutely right that a distinguishing quality of all their work is that each of them very effectively combines the affective force of the reading experience with the larger historical context in which they exist and seek to intervene — including but not limited to the writer’s own class consciousness. And this necessarily means utilizing vastly different poetic forms.

In Joey’s case, a straightforward transcript works as an appropriate container. It avoids compounding the violence already contained in the text and its historical frame by refraining from the writerly impulse to “massage” the dialog, which would make the fact of the book’s violences  more palatable for consumption. While this lack of palatability purposefully occludes a sense of resolution or epiphany traditionally associated with lyric poems, it achieves the giant feels of the “lyric moment” you describe precisely because of its yuckiness.

Though fundamentally different from one another in scope, both Wendy’s and Brandon’s work draw on the historical weight of prosody and verse for their, as you say, “lyric moments.” If I’m reading Wendy’s poems in Social Text Online correctly, they are a part of her larger sequence of sonnets, fourteen-line poems that play off many of the sonnet’s other formal conventions to better highlight the fact of political content. In this case, line breaks separating the speaker’s reflections on The Wonder Years transpose the scrutiny reserved for scansion and rhyme onto the starkness of the poem’s multilayered anti-epiphany: that violent death at a young age was always already a fact for black and brown families, that the Vietnam War introduced a similar threat into suburban white families, and that it took a sitcom some twenty years later, coupled with the balm of nostalgia, for white audiences to actually process this temporary and partial change of station. Brandon’s poem, on the other hand, hinges on a profound “aha” moment at the end — a moment that transposes the subjective transformation of poetic epiphany onto the historical/material conditions that also concern Wendy’s and Joey’s work. 

If the common thread between these works are the “lyric moments about historical contingency,” I’d wager there’s also a formal contingency — by that I mean a flexing of compositional models to suit the political exigencies of the work. In the frame of individual poems, this sense of formal contingency might mean nothing more than Creeley’s famous dictum, “form is never more than an extension of content,” but the organizing principle among the group feels much more like Brian Ang’s sense of Post Crisis Poetics — which groups work according to their engagement with the political fallout of the 2008 financial crisis — than the formal rubrics that composed the genre formerly known as conceptual writing.

I’m curious to hear how you envision your work as part of this family portrait. I see aspects of Joey, Brandon, and Wendy in the formal decisions made throughout Goodnight Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul: from Joey’s use of transcription to Wendy’s explicitly “nonexperimental” lyrics to Brandon’s charming, politically engaged speech. Is this confluence of friends’ writings a case of what Josef Kaplan describes as “a general atmosphere of purpose or collective belief, and sometimes even lacking that, simply the fact of some of these writers being close to one another, and supporting each other, and making space in that support for whatever styles of writing might be useful for someone at whatever point in time for whatever reasons”? And regardless, what draws you to lyricized collage as a form for addressing the particular concerns of this book (other than, you know, your adeptness with it)? 

This might also be a good place to address your “process” in general. Throughout my reading, I found myself tracking various figures and turns of phrase across poems, wondering whether they were collaged from the same source. And if so, whether these correspondences made this book more a serial poem than a series of self-contained lyrics.

Buck: Thinking about affinity and family resemblance, one of the things I admire about Wendy’s and Joey’s and Brandon’s work is that in the work political events happen, and the worlds that the work creates are worlds that are created by political conditions. Life is explicitly political in the poems — these are worlds with racism, with poverty, with all the weird conditions that led to Jonestown, even — but the plot or the meditative focus of the poem is not LEFTIST THINKING in capital letters. All this other stuff happens, and the political is just part of that. There’s also space for life to just be shitty — in ways created by political conditions, but the emphasis in the poems is sometimes just on tragic shittiness, and then again at other times on the political. Amy Winehouse and “but they’ll all be dead” in proximity to the LA riots just after; parents giving their kids poisoned Kool-Aid in Jonestown in proximity to the larger explosion of radical politics and counterculture that were the context for Jim Jones’s cult; the quotidian pleasures Brandon describes in his work generally. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, a unifying thread might be that all of these writers have political sensibilities that don’t feel crystallized into, say, an academic stance or an aesthetic agenda, really. Like: one gets a sense with all of them that life can be so good — just looking at the poems we’re talking about: enjoying Oasis, ice cream, more ice cream! And other humans, love, friendship — we’re not talking about leftism as a set of ideas; we’re running up against the original problem, instead: life could be so good, there is so much good there that is disrupted, cut short, turned to tragedy, turned to long boring work days, otherwise fucked up by exploitation and oppression; how do we get out of it?

And I like that: that these poets are able to retain a sense of what’s at stake. I don’t always get that sense from poetry or especially academic work about lefty ideas. And I do feel like that sense of what’s at stake — of mainly just wanting the world to be better, but hey, it’s not, so we have to put the labor and the risk and the energy into changing it — is very much rooted in class consciousness.

I hope that’s in my poetry as well, and it does make me feel a sense of “general atmosphere of purpose or collective belief.” Wendy I’ve only recently met in person after being interested in her work for a long time. Brandon I’ve known for many years, though I rarely get to see him in person. At the moment, I just got back from taking a super long walk around Brooklyn and talking about life, politics, art, etc., with Joey, and I get to see him pretty regularly. So, I mean, it’s not like that set of writers feels like a friend-clique to me, and I know them in different ways. But they’re all people whose brains I will pretty much always be interested in, I think, in exactly the way Josef describes in that piece.

With regard to your question, though, about my writing process — I think taking language from elsewhere helps me create worlds. These are lyric poems, but they do take place within a sort of fantasy world that exists across the book. I do think of the book more as a serial poem than a series of self-contained lyrics. There’s not much by way of a plot; it’s more little vignettes that occur in the same universe. And that universe has some elements of our own, but is not our own.

I generally want to hold onto a sense of fantasy mixed in with the familiarities of our world. And in this book, yes, I was super fascinated with sitcoms and the ways they shorthanded the ’60s moment, as well as the way they shorthand things in general. (Sitcoms are formulaic, but the formula is pretty interesting in hindsight, I think.) Lots from Family Ties here; also some stuff from The Wonder Years and Roseanne. Plus a lot of She-Ra and He-Man, language from classes at the gym, language overheard on buses and trains, weird things friends have said to me, descriptions that I wrote out of scenes I was watching on YouTube or elsewhere on the internet.

And things that recur: vomit, a lot of t-shirts and other items with phrases on them, a creature named Grox. The vomit trope pulls at a few associative threads I think. Something internal becomes external — so a sort of physical corollary to a larger theme about the awkward interpenetration of the self and the larger world. And also the idea of something being undigestible — try to swallow the conditions of the world, one’s life as it’s been determined by neoliberalism and the financial crisis, for instance — and it comes back up; we’re unable to totally contain our nervousness and anxiety; sometimes it spills out of us.

The book’s something of a meditation on the pressure to renarrativize this particular moment in neoliberalization at the personal level. Virtually everyone I know is somewhat disappointed with where they are in life. It’s hard not to have an affective relationship to the disappointments of millennial and slightly-older-than-millennial life, even if your vision of your future was never a suburban nuclear family type situation. Even if you’re not financially precarious, you probably work way more than is really healthy, with less of a sense of job security than in previous generations.

Plus the lack of affordable housing in cities, lack of jobs outside of cities, student loan debt, and on and on — I think many of us feel a sense of personal failure as well as anxiety. The getting-through-daily-life solution is to normalize precarity, be calm about it, talk about politics in the abstract and not focus on one’s exhaustion from working too much, exhaustion from long commutes on underfunded public transit, exhaustion from living with housemates in relatively small spaces when you are relatively old, and so on. The book depicts all of that erupting as awkward, often public vomiting experiences. Plus the pressure to shore up various identities by declaring one’s intentions and desires. In the book, this shoring up is in the form of slightly surreal slogans on t-shirts, keychains, lanyards. We have to create narratives of ourselves that we project to the world in order to get by, and also because dwelling on one’s stresses and disappointments isn’t particularly fun. At the level of just feeling generally happy, it’s better to wear a lanyard with a weird phrase on it — project a version of yourself that you choose — and not focus on work stress, housemate stress, that sort of thing. Talking about social media feels really pretty tired, but I have to say that in some ways it’s a total gift that we can document the hell out of every pleasant experience we have with friends, keep a public diary of our good outfits and cutenesses and jokes, show the world the funny expressions our cats make. Obviously, I think Mark Zuckerberg et al. are totally evil. But the urge to have control over one’s persona, if not one’s actual life — it makes sense. There’s one style of academic Marxist critique that would hold that these kinds of pleasures act as a pressure release and therefore are antileft, antirevolutionary in some way. I don’t think so. I’m all for us having as many pleasures as we can and getting through it and trying to picture what it might feel like to actually have some more meaningful agency.

Beckwith: I wonder if Grox might be a helpful way to explore the sci-fi elements of your writing. Grox appears throughout the book as a scaled, reptilian figure with whom the speaker and her friends share some degree of intimacy, from arms to fall into to hand holding to wound licking. Throughout his many appearances, Grox also seems to function as a symbol or guardian of intimacy within economies of scarcity. This is at least how I read him.  

In “The Public’s Century,” which I’d argue is Grox’s close-up, the shape, structure, and privilege underpinning this intimacy are called into question — seemingly by Grox himself: “But Grox, my liege, is marked on this earth by a book and a tooth. // You slay me, someone giggles. / That’s right. Someone is slain.”[1] For every giggle, a life; if the book keeps the ledger, we might presume that the tooth exacts its toll. If this is the case and Grox is the judge, jury, and executioner, it seems that one must endear oneself to him or else become the slain fueling someone else’s giggles, right? Might this explain the speaker’s devotion to her “liege”? Then again, earlier in the book we’re told that “Grox is a lover, not a fighter,” so maybe he’s less Judge Dredd and more Terminator, an otherworldly guardian protecting his charge from subjective manifestations of the political violence that both surrounds and awaits her in the near future. In either case, the universe of the poem feels like a logical extrapolation upon the dystopian prospects of our shared present. 

I wonder if you wouldn’t mind telling me more about this (Grox’s) world. Does Grox play a consistent role throughout the universe of these poems? Is a clarity of Grox’s function within this universe important in the first place? And, if “The Public’s Century” asks us to imagine a neoliberal endgame wherein one’s slightest pleasure equals someone else’s death, what ethical questions does Grox raise for us throughout the book with regard to the speaker? Or would a definitive character profile, like the anticlimax of this one, squash the reader’s necessary implication in the political and narrative ambiguity of the poem?

Buck: I like that reading. I generally think of Grox as an alien/lizard-esque protector and intimate who can also at times be scary, or an unwelcome presence. He dives in as a force for good, but is also mysterious, intimidating, powerful.

Grox has an intimacy with the speaker and her friends, but is also outside of the family structure. He’s a protector who’s distinct from parents and other normal authority figures. One of the things that I want his presence in the book to reference is just a sort of open question of what functional, liberationist models of intimacy, care, friendship might look like.

Neoliberal forces, and capitalist forces more generally, often simultaneously shore up the traditional family structures while also making care (for children, for partners) more and more difficult. E.g., the fact that there is now no real model of how children are cared for in our society, beyond the often unrealistic imperative to make enough money to either pay someone else to take care of your kids or to have a partner stay home with them. The liberal feminist model in which women work and make a lot of money to then pay other, less wealthy women to take care of their kids is the worst kind of feminism; the stay-at-home model, beyond being unaffordable for most people, has all the obvious problems that occasioned various iterations of feminist movements in the first place. And a lot of people are invested in thinking through other arrangements of chosen families, different models of intimacy, and so forth. But I guess what I want Grox to reference is just potentiality of care outside of the family structure coupled with the fact that all the other power structures that one winds up relying on are also potentially frightening. We don’t have and can’t picture a state-“socialist” type situation wherein some of the work of the family structure might be transferred to the state (state-run daycare, etc.). Activist and arts communities attempt to create spaces that do some of that work sometimes, but it’s very nearly impossible to do. There’s just sort of a blank space when I think of alternatives, anyway.

I guess I’m kind of conflating intimacy with care work and precarity here, but they seem related. So many of us are relatively economically on the edge; so many of us seek various kinds of intimate relationships that operate differently than those dictated by traditional gender roles (femmes doing emotional labor, etc.); so many of us work a ton and try to maintain intense friendships and family-like ties while we spend most of our time working. There just seem to be incredible levels of social isolation alongside attempts for something better. But it’s hard to see the contours of what that better thing might look like, since the left has so little power right now. This is sort of roundabout: but, yes, I think of Grox as the protector-thing outside the family, but what that actually looks like is unclear, whether it can be relied on is unclear.

Beckwith: I wonder if the question of clarity might be a good opportunity to circle back to our earlier discussion of writing process and recurrent themes. I notice a number of images, figures, and even scenes that appear across the manuscript, almost as leitmotifs, of which Grox is only the most notable. In addition to vomit, there’s a dream of “cats multiplying” that appears in two separate poems (27, 66), both of which also contain discussions of the wealth gap separating the families of childhood friends (27, 66, 102). Similarly, “creamed corn” appears three times in the manuscript, twice in the repeated line, “I took pictures of creamed corn” (48, 78, 97); and “whip” appears seven times, also no repeating lines (20, 35, 37–38, 85–86). This is just to name a few. 

Given that you’re working with the unit of the serial poem, I wonder how you see these recurrences interacting with one another? Do they? And to what extent do you consider the sources from which these poems are collaged relevant in their interpretation — that is, beyond the language that they lend to the poems themselves? 

Buck: I use the repetitions for some consistency, hopefully to help build a world rather than just have a world that is implicitly our own as the backdrop for the poems. I think that the shared references across poems situate the speaker in a space that is not necessarily the default everyday world. It’s a way of creating a sort of parallax and therefore some sense of perspective and depth, so that the speaker is situated in relation to other repeated ideas and images. I hope that it results in a sort of spatial sense, so that we’re seeing the speaker exist in a world, rather than having a speaker who isn’t located anywhere, or who is located in a sort of void, or only in relation to the reader. As much as I aligned myself with lyric poetry above, I guess I do find it really important to create a sense of social, if not literal, geographical space in my work. You’re not reading about a speaker, you’re reading about a speaker who is located somewhere, and the poem is about the larger structure of social relations. I think the themes throughout the book get at social relations — at power, at class, at capitalism — but the nitty-gritty “craft” corollary at the level of word choice and so on involves situating the speaker, so that the “I” isn’t the lone thing anchoring the book. There are other consistent, recurring things.

And I like the idea of building a world, so that the poems are located somewhere. I’m thinking a little bit of Paolo Pasolini’s films here, especially Teorema or Hawks and Sparrows. Or Dušan Makavejev’s W. R.: Mysteries of the Organism. They’re some of my favorite political films, and the explicit political content exists in the world that’s created, the backdrop, rather than — or at times in addition to — in the plot points. As opposed to another one of my favorite films, Soy Cuba, or any of the proletarian literature (Mike Gold, for instance) from the ’30s, which I also really love — in all of these instances, the plot consists of political events happening, political awakenings, etc. In the Pasolini and to some extent the Makavejev, you have a surreal world, where the social relations of the real world are sort of cut up, estranged, recombined, and then a plot occurs within that world. (In classic avant-garde or experimental fashion; not really saying anything new here.)

My earlier book, Portrait of Doom, was to some extent about how we conceptualize narratives about good and evil and how they integrate with the mundane of daily life. (I talk a bit about that here.) Right now I’m thinking about something related, but a bit different: how we figure out how to negotiate the demands of survival — and even the urge to have a pleasant life, where you enjoy things — with the tremendous sense of political urgency. And how one’s sense of self factors into that. I mean, especially right now, this fall, where there have been climate-related disasters on a weekly basis alongside threats to DACA recipients, Las Vegas, all manner of horrors, really. Everything is dire, and yet most of us can only act on it in the most minor of ways, since we’re also at a point in history where people have very little free time and very few job protections. I really believe that the relatively high living standards of the postwar period set the stage for the social movements of the ’60s. It’s harder to organize in places where there’s the most need for it; easier to organize in places where people have more security and luxury and free time. It’s a sort of fundamental problem that is currently exacerbated by neoliberal precarity. But anyway: I think Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul is to some extent about integrating a sense of one’s political self with all the rest of one’s sense of self. I have often wished in recent months that I could sort of pull a PissPigGrandad move and just go all in for revolutionary everything. But generally, most of us can’t figure out how to do that and survive. And this book is to some extent about swimming around in a surreal world that nonetheless is defined by having similar social relations and a similar political economy to our own — moving through life, swimming around in a politically inflected space without feeling much ability to change things, without feeling the ability to make narratives like those depicted in proletarian literature, to have an inward political epiphany or an outward, collective political revolution.

With regard to your question about source material: I don’t think the poems depend on the readers knowing sources at all; I don’t actually even want information about the sources to be available on a first impression. (So, I won’t talk about the sources if I’m giving a reading; they’re not listed in the book, etc.)

I do think that the register of language in the book subtly references the ’80s and ’80s takes on the ’60s/’70s. I want the feel of historical depth, of time passing, and people forming narratives around the passing of time. I’m very into the way that sitcoms from that period referenced a lot of super intense subject matter and also just various histories that were contemporaneous and in the cultural lexicon with a really light, goofy tone — for me that tone really gets at something of the tension between the urgency that I was just referring to — the urgency around the large-scale crises that we’re living through and mundane aspects of daily life, inability to act on the urgency in meaningful ways. And here that’s sort of refracted through that moment in the aftermaths of the ’60s and early ’70s social movements — the early ’80s into the ’90s, when things were very rapidly getting shittier, neoliberalism was full steam ahead, and those of us now in our mid-thirties were super young and forming worldviews, consciousness, etc. I always feel — hmm — almost a sense of the sublime when I feel like I get a flash of seeing myself as tiny within the larger historical trajectory.

1. Marie Buck, Goodnight Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul (Roof Books, 2017).