National Poetry Month: Matthew Gavin Frank

Life Sciences
When the corn is painted with the most
exotic thing we can imagine—
a goat, perhaps, or
the blood of the goat—clench your fists
to your chest, mimic
the chambers of the heart.
In this, you show your fear
at being the object of another’s
initiation into the patch-worthy,
a symbol to carry us
from these copper roofs going green,
all the first edition textbooks stinking
like steampipes.
Your knees, of course, will pull
to your chest—brain, this time.
Anything with a lobe.
Between them, you see all the other girls,
their skinny ribs draped
as if in documentary, all those things
behind glass in Life Sciences
and you realize something about protection,
that you don’t have to be an embryo
to be amphibious, to be young
and crumpled by the side of the train tracks
with the rest of them, found
out past the diner, their bodies covered
in fine moss.
Shame on this earth for being fertile
for giving us food that never rejects
the sun.  The pack animals here
run on diesel, and bring the air
down to our level, where we can breathe it.
If I wasn’t so far away, I would
offer you my hand, call us
what we are:
a species that finds
even our own blood
Q: What is your writing process?
A: These days, my process involves, during the warm weather months, sitting at a fold-out table in my front yard in Marquette, Michigan, combing through my old spiral notebooks, searching for orphaned lines and, longhand, cobbling a poem together around one of them.  I’ll watch my next-door neighbors—a scantily clad elderly couple—gardening in their bathing suits, cinching up their tomato plants.  Then, I’ll revise, and type.  During the winter months, the process is the same, except that I peer into the neighbor’s yard through my living room window, and they’ll be wearing snowsuits, and chasing their obnoxious Pomeranian, Rudy, through the drifts.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: Christina Olson’s book, Before I Came Home Naked (Spire Press), blew my doors off.  There’s such a velocity to the book.  Such swagger and fragility.  Reading it is like driving really fast through Death Valley with the windows down, listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, and you feel like a teenager again—all moony and fluttery—until, about ¾ of the way through, adulthood catches up to you (around Barstow), and slaps you across the face, and all of this prior exhilaration has gathered, like static electricity, this emotional weight that’s almost too much to bear.  By the book’s end you realize that you were never really in California at all, but a place more like Minnesota or something.  It’s the funniest, saddest book of poems I’ve read in a long time.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: If I hadn’t been traveling so much lately, I’d say Sicily.  I’d love to write some poems while digesting fresh sardines with orange and pistachio and chile flake and olive oil, drinking some Etna Rosso wine, tasting in it the volcanic soil.  But I have been traveling a lot lately, and it’s good to be home now, so I’ll say: upstairs, to my bedroom.  It’s where most of my stuff is.
Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of Pot Farm (The University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books), Barolo (The University of Nebraska Press), Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), Sagittarius Agitprop (Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), and the chapbooks Four Hours to Mpumalanga (Pudding House Publications), and Aardvark (West Town Press).  Recent work appears in The New Republic, The Huffington Post, Field, Epoch, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Seneca Review, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. He was born and raised in Illinois, and currently teaches Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction Editor of Passages North.  This winter, he prepared his first batch of whitefish-thimbleberry ice cream.