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Guest Interview: Indie Lit Award Nominated Poet Edward Nudelman Interviews Poet Aaron Belz

Indie Lit Award Nominated and Runner-Up Poet Edward Nudelman, author of What Looks Like an Elephant, offered to help celebrate National Poetry Month with an interview of poet Aaron Belz.

What follows is part one of Nudelman’s discussion with Belz about his two books of poetry, The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010).

Please give both poets a warm welcome and stay tuned for part two of the interview tomorrow, April 3, 2012.

Aaron Belz is a poet who has forged a considerable niche in the American poetry scene. Where similarities and knock-offs are the rule of the day, Belz’s poetry is a recognizable entity highlighted by layers of irony and contemporary idiom, always punctuated with some deeper purpose lurking below the upbeat flow. His poetry has been likened to Ashbery and Brautigan, but really stands alone in authenticity.

I first read an Aaron Belz poem while staying at my niece’s in Brooklyn, in their somewhat dank basement with low ceilings and low light. There, neatly placed by my bed stand, was a well-used copy of The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007), no doubt placed there to appease my celebrated tendencies toward insomnia. I read it straight through, quite taken in by its accessibility and metaphor, how he used humor as an instrument for relief and also a device to uncover a weightier mood.

From “Canaries:”

The jackknife you filched
with etchings of boxing gloves on it
reminded me of the metal fruit
in the center of the table at Canaries Street,

for both were perfectly round
and gave off an inaudible hum
like that of a remote dishwasher.
When Susan came bounding down the stairs

with her arms full of teen magazines
and hollered something to Rudy
about your new jackknife,
I came in from the field where

I had been sitting in a lather
about my cracked telescope case.
I said, Rudy’s not in earshot, sister,
he ran out for decorative pomegranates;

Aaron was kind enough to answer in detail several questions I posed which provide a little more background and understanding into this poet’s wonderful world of poetry.

After reading through your first book, The Bird Hoverer, then scanning and reading selected poems from Lovely, Raspberry, I’m struck by the similarity of tone in both books, but what appears to me a departure in the second book to broader themes and perhaps a more contemplative mood behind the counterpoint of humor. Can you walk us through your evolution of thought as your poetry develops through these two books? In Lovely, Raspberry, have you found a place you want to be, or are there new and wild transitions to come?

Thanks for reading the books. I’m not aware of a change in the humor, but I can tell you that much of Lovely, Raspberry was written earlier in time than most of The Bird Hoverer, which was my second manuscript. So to answer your question, maybe the humor is brightening up a bit, at least chronologically? My newer poems (of the past three years) are less intent on whipping the reader with wit. I’m finding myself enjoying the language more now, letting it roll beneath my boat and steady as she goes. The third book’s manuscript has been accepted by Persea and its title has been decided—it’s taken a lot of conversation to finalize—but I’m afraid I can’t share it for fear someone else will use it! It’s a great title! The next collection will feature some shorter poems, one and two liners. I always hate finding those in other poets’ collections, because I feel like I wasted energy turning the page. But they’re in mine, I guess.

What I like about your poetry is how naturally your humor flows from experience. However, with all the wild and wooly situations and outcomes we find ourselves led into, it begs the question how much of this stuff is honestly from your experience, and to what extent to allow yourself license to depart from what really has occurred?

All of my poetry comes from my own experience. I have a hard time imagining it coming from someone else’s and then ending up on my page. Whether it comes from my experience honestly is another question—perhaps it comes from it artfully. Psychologically and emotionally. Writing poetry, for me, feels like spitting back stuff I’ve been chewing on for a long time. Finally, it’s out, and it feels so good to have done with it. What sticks most in my craw is certain manners of speaking. “In a manner of speaking” is a common disclaimer. I’ve gotten to the point where each word seems like a wheel rut in a long road toward meaning. I feel like meaning will never be reached, but we keep driving whatever car God’s given us down the road toward meaning. There, a second transportation analogy. I hope you’re happy.

In the opening poem to Lovely, Raspberry entitled “direction,” you spend three stanzas (out of five) equivocating what the you in the poem should or should not do with respect to communicating feelings, ending with this superb mini-conclusion:

In this way perhaps we can accurately triangulate

brief but nearly photographic images of each other’s

Mothers when they were first married, in veils,

and of their driving down the street with tin-can trails. . .

and then a remarkable personal reference, deftly rendered:

You expect me to tell you about the spite in my loin
Which is the sad hail of commas in the professor’s paragraph

is followed by a very self-effacing remark which seems to further separate you from the central character in the poem. I want to ask you if this poem is about the speaker’s inadequacy to articulate, or more broadly, a commentary on the difficulties and pitfalls of dealing with extraneous baggage in a relationship. The sardonic tone only adds to the poem’s success in conveying a kind of futility in resolving conflict. Would you agree? Has this been your experience?

I don’t think of “Direction” as being about interpersonal conflict as much as it’s about the way readers expect a poem to be framed. Like, I’m supposed to architect something, and the reader is supposed to inhabit it. That’s what I learned in school, basically. But in my poems I like to unpack those assumptions and assemble them into something new, like Ikea furniture for the literary home in which we live. The goal of any text is to create a sympathetic connection between writer and reader, but the means by which that goal is achieved vary widely. Like my favorite recent poets (Ashbery, O’Hara, et al) I enjoy discussing the framing method somewhat lightheartedly, following the logic where it happens to go. I feel my way toward the end. In “Direction” I felt like I was really trying to explain the relationship between writer and reader. It seemed funny to me to attempt to reinvent the reader’s way of interpreting.

I love the poem, “my best wand”, because it does what so many of your poems do, yet so seamlessly, in one small burst. And that is convey a paradox or a twist in a culminating line. Whereas one often finds too big a buildup, (the reader is often numbed as a result), in so many of your poems, the setup is masterful and succinct:

my best wand

Of all the magic wands

I’ve bought over the years,

only the steel one with the sharp tip

really works- you point it

into someone and say

ABRACADABRA

and the person magically

becomes wounded.

Humorists often come from anguished pasts, dropped when they were infants, had bamboo pressed into nails, etc. Do you have marks from your childhood or something dark and sinister tailing you? If so (or if not), how have you handled adversity? Does this poem speak to a method you’ve dabbled in? Can you tell us ways you’ve adapted, how you’ve learned to put down your magic wands?

That’s a good question. I think that’s exactly what I described near the middle of the first answer above: I’ve become less intent on whipping the reader with wit. Wit is fun, at first, but then can lead to bad places, such as resentment. It can be a show of power. Rather than my poems be barbed and have readers lose sympathy, I’d rather they be little verbal masseuses, working their readers’ backs and necks. There can be a kind of deliriousness or spectacle that achieves that effect. In future poems I want my phrases and lines, transitions and images, to be a little bit more swimmy, delicious, and ongoingly re-readable. Oh, and yes, I do have a lot of sinister stuff tailing me, from childhood till the present. And I’ve handled adversity poorly. I can’t imagine having written the things I’ve written without being so troubled. I do try to hide the fact that I’m troubled, but it doesn’t always work. There’s a powerful darkness at work in my poems that I think a lot of readers—maybe they think, I’ll just pop this poem in the microwave and eat it—miss on first reading. But not everybody misses it. But then again, I’m a Christian, which means I believe that there’s eternal hope in Christ’s love for me. I suppose poetry, like all of my other work, has to span competing senses of failure and hope.

Thanks, Ed and Aaron. Please come back tomorrow for part two of the interview.

About Interviewer and Poet Edward Nudelman:

Edward Nudelman is a poet, scientist and literary critic from Seattle.  He has two poetry books and his latest collection was runner-up for book of the year.  Check out his Website.

About Poet Aaron Belz:

Aaron Belz has a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University (1995), a Ph.D. in English from Saint Louis University, and has taught English and Creative Writing at several Universities.  His books include: The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010). A third is due out from Persea very soon.  Check out his Website or follow him on Twitter.

***For today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop head over to Wordy Evidence of the Fact.***

***Also, I’ve been interviewed at Curiosity Quills***

  • I really enjoyed reading this! Very insightful. I love the excerpts, too. I’ll definitely have to order some stuff by Nudelman and Belz. Granted, my “to read” pile is reaching critical mass, but there’s always room for a few more!

    • Ah, there is always a way to make more room for poets….at least I think so.

  • Pingback: Guest Interview, Part 2: Edward Nudelman and Aaron Belz Talk Inspiration and Creative Process()

  • Thanks Serena for letting me host this interview with Aaron Belz on your great site. I hope lots of folks tune in for the final session. Best regards, Ed

    • You are welcome. It has been good to see the response.

  • These are great questions and answers. I am fascinated with those who can handle wit and humor in poetry, because it’s so difficult. One time when I was working on it, my teacher, Stanley Plumly, told me to go read a volume by Edward Field. “Well, what did you think?” he demanded the next week. “After a while,” I said tentatively, “it gets a bit old.” “Exactly!” he boomed. Still, there’s nothing I admire more than a moment in which pathos and humor mix inextricably.

    • I really enjoy humor in poetry, but you’re right it is tough to do. I had no idea that my state’s poet laureate was your teacher! WOW. I’ve met him a couple of times in passing….

  • Great interview, love the line ” like all of my other work, has to span competing senses of failure and hope.” also some of the lines reminded me of a favourite poet of mine, Brian Patten.

    • I will have to check out this Brian Patten of whom you speak!

  • Looking forward to the rest of the interview. Belz sounds like a poet I should be reading!

    • I really enjoyed the excerpts that Edward Nudelman included.