National Poetry Month Spotlight: Brad Ricca

The frizzy-haired senior
gets a blue Chinese character
on her right upper hip so
“only people I want to”
can see it.
I am clearly not one of them
but I spy it anyway
as she tugs down her jeans
to show the guy in the corner
with the baseball hat.
He smiles his whole life.
The dumpy girl with short hair
writes of putting the plastic cap
of her cheap blue pen
in a dark, lower place.
This is trotted out as brilliant.
Her words appear on the board.
Their adjectives unease us.
The cute, no
girl with long black hair writes on the tender subject of
and succeeds beyond anyone’s dreams.
She reads:
the white light of the drugstore absorbs me
or something similar. We stare
at her bottom.
I write my first poem
(this is not it): a
long multi-stanzaic affair
(this is not it)
about the girl down the street
who killed herself
in the eighth grade.
It is my magnum opus
my Collossus at Rhodes.
Beginning at the pool
and her green bikini
“stuck to her skin.”
Ending in the close garage
with the hum of the motor
like a secret.
The teacher of poetry,
from Washington Heights, NY
displaced into tiny, red
Oxford, Ohio
is enormously tall
and told us on the first day
that if there was a Woody Allen movie at The Princess,
he did not want to see us there.
He puts his hand to his chin
and deflates me.
My poem spins out and wrecks,
glass is everywhere.
An airlift is summoned.
Strangers hold hands.
Weeks later,
I am in his office
and his tune changes:
he is drawn to the fact
that my father sells windows.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: No idea. But it is based around the first poem I wrote in my only writing workshop, which I was lucky enough to have with James Reiss when I was in college.  So when it was time to read my poem aloud (which I found out was the payback for the self-absorption of writing poetry in the first place), it was really shattering that my big, personal epic about this tragic moment was not very, um, well-received. So this was me trying to rescue (or avenge?) it years later by focusing on the other poems (and people) instead.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Final Crisis by Grant Morrison: “Seal the crime scene at 20,000 miles above sea level. No one must leave or enter the gravity well.”  This is an absolutely unacceptable sentence on many levels, so it is funny, powerful, even dangerous.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A:  I think “sublime” should involve an element of strangeness to it, even absurdity. This will make me sound way cooler than I actually am, but a few years ago I was in Kyoto and ate dinner in a temple on the top of a giant mountain (no, seriously). We were served an incredible, almost unrecognizable meal in dark wooden boxes by smiling monks who looked like Marines. It was unbelievably hot outside and I remember looking up from the floor and this monk poured me (disheveled, gaijin, far from home) a tall glass of golden Asahi beer in slow motion. It was a big, bizarre scene that was too big for my Midwestern brain, but the tastes not only tethered it all to reality, but to everyone in the room.

Brad Ricca is the winner of the 2009 St. Lawrence Book Award for his manuscript American Mastadon, forthcoming in 2011 from Black Lawrence Press.