National Poetry Month Spotlight: James Reidel

My toes unevenly pinched and spaced
As though trained with thick dowels since birth to hold the
…..golden rose
By its stem and thorn,
The crushed serpent by its throes and coils.
The sores of this battle are worn into the green bread of
… flip-flops.
My first foot over the shower sill leaves a little pool
Under its Carrara marble white—correct, but not
…..anatomically correct,
No glass slipper for my verse foot to which I add
…..the other and leave a set,
Wet fossil prints crossing the dry lakebed of a bamboo mat.

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

A: The “day” on which I write a poem doesn’t exist in the way you mean, which I take to be linear time. I prefer sidereal time, that is, I keep an eye on the day of composition but as I move away from it and revise the poem over and over again, I find myself standing on many days, indeed, like shifting sand. This is a nice way to begin, since this poem is inspired by my own wet footprints on a bamboo mat. I turned around and noticed these prints when I left the shower. The germ for this poem came to me then, an impression that I liken to the archaeologist who sifts and brushes away the dust and finds a set of hominid prints on some ancient African lakeshore. Of course, that is not what is happening—what is happening is rather commonplace and its significance is just as much its insignificance. That is where a lot of my poems start and end. Poems are plastic things to me (as well as being sand), more like sculptures, pinch pots, that air dry, that are friable, that easily break or blow apart. Other days start to inform “the day,” the actor might change, there might be a sex change, a change of heart, a change of horses, who knows, and the starting point becomes fainter. Other poets are more “loyal” or “honest” about the starting point. I try to free myself from it. You know, those ancient footprints that they find in places like Africa, often lead to where they suddenly end, as though the creature that made them could fly.

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

A: I can barely read my own handwriting, so I don’t use a pen. I have to use a keyboard. If the end of the world came and we were suddenly unplugged, I have an old portable Adler typewriter and dry ribbon. When that becomes a chore, I could relearn how to write. What book would I read? Well, that might be the same book I would take with me if I was allowed just one: Pavese’s Dialogues with Leuco. They found that book resting on his chest. I can see why. It has all of the most essential myths, stories between the gods and man, and you can infer from that all the literature to come. So, if you wanted to start over, which is what Pavese was trying to do, suicide being a kind of existential reboot that may, indeed, work, but I’m not the one to prove it. I see it more as a book that restarts a culture, a civilization. As you can see, we need to do that. My inability to just grab a pen, the way Poe or Rilke could, is symptomatic.

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

A: A licorice Necco wafer dissolved in a fine Meritage, almost as good as absinthe with a morel slice soaked in walnut oil.

James Reidel’s poetry collection My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg is available for purchase at Black Lawrence Press.