National Poetry Month Spotlight: Matthew Gavin Frank

The Morrow Plots
You sit on the roof
of the Biology Building, against
such a color green,
you don’t know if it once
was copper, capable of boiling
or freezing
an egg.  The book opening
to your knees
explodes with border scenes—
skeletal fish becoming women
with piñata faces.
When skin is cut
into strips like this, it can,
from a distance, be a beard,
a chapter about the half-life
of food.  Below you,
one vegetable huddles
against another, evolving,
these incredible skins
unchewable, the worm
who finds its way in,
to fruit.
We must be peeled
to be eaten, under a roof
to find heat.  And the jarred gods
of reptile and rock,
they way that, in the formaldehyde
suspension, we are all missing
links.  That sound below you
is the corn talking,
to the cows, the agronomists,
the piñatas filled
with endless huitlacoche.
Up here, you can’t tell
exactly who experiments and who
is experimented on.
When you wake on the roof
of a biology building, the stars
will be so affectionate
that you can’t muster enough anxiety,
the temperature required
to boil water, to make more than
half of this life
(Poem originally published in Third Coast, Spring 2009.)
Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
A: I like writing, weather-permitting, in my backyard in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  There, I am easily distracted from the computer screen by cool things like birds and stray cats and bamboo clacking in the wind.  So when I snap myself back to task, I find that I inadvertently gravitate toward birdy, mewling, perennial themes.  What I’m trying to say is: the backyard takes my work-in-progress in unexpected directions, breaks it in essential ways, ways that surprise me and lard the process with a whole lot of fun.  The only problem is that I feel compelled to grab the laptop and hide inside when the landlord’s lawnmower guy comes, because that guy has diarrhea of the mouth.
Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?
A: As a young guy, smaller and shorter than most young guys my age, I appreciated poems that allowed me, via their unbuttoned-shirt and big-ass belt-buckle voices to swagger along with them, to feel, from stanza to stanza, more like a man. I remember reading James Dickey’s “The Sheep Child” in my early teens and it melted my face off.  I recited it to anyone who would listen—fucked-up so many first dates with it, delayed my first-kiss by at least two years.  But it first showed me that poems can cull from those dark, ecstatic places in the brain, or barn.
Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?
A: My wife and I were stranded for a night and a day in an awful, doorless (front wall-less, actually) restaurant in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India when the skies opened up and city flooded.  We ate delicious unwarmed food from banana leaves.  When the rain stopped, we waded through sternum-deep waters back toward our hotel and mutually fell into an open sewer.  We clawed our way out and emerged coated in shit.  A real Slumdog Millionaire moment.  Back at the hotel, we cried, then laughed, then showered thrice each.  We were later told that we were lucky to be alive.  Folks drown that way all the time in India.
Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of the nonfiction books, Barolo (The University of Nebraska Press) and Pot Farm (forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press), the poetry books, Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), and 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, 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’s on a silent mission to rescue the delicious, but challenging green pepper from the shadows of the easy red and slutty yellow.