Friday, April 4, 2014
On Creativity: Kyle McCord
Many of my favorite poems do an interesting dance between funny and sad, cavalier and earnestly wounded. In Sympathy from the Devil, Kyle McCord has mastered this ha-ha/ouch, swing-yer-partner-round-and-round sound. One moment, he’s talking about the Quikstop and werewolves; just a moment (well, a page) before, he drops this bombshell of a line: “Did you know that the best translation of Adam is earthling?” Full of deviousness, mischief, joy, and honesty, McCord’s poems will make themselves at home in your memory.
Note: After the interview below, read “Lycanthropy and You” and “I’m Concerned You Will be Reincarnated as Office Supplies,” both of which appear with permission from the author. Order your copy of Sympathy from the Devil here.
Q: Sympathy from the Devil is well-stocked with names of places, people/characters, and brands: Hello Kitty, Perseus, Nancy Drew, Sydney, Arkansas, Jenny Holden, Pikachu, Old Man Wilson, Robert, Sarah, even Kyle McCord. What is the power of names, for you (in poetry, or outside of poetry)? What is the magic of the inside joke that the reader can’t know?
A: I was about to start this by mentioning how Nick Courtright and I were just chatting about this the other day. I immediately realized that I would be falling into the exact phenomena you're describing! I revised much of this book while I was studying Hebrew and Ancient Greek at Bethany Theological Seminary. In the Bible, names are powerful. They invoke, provoke, and even kill (as in the case of God's name, which one can't even pronounce safely). And while no one can will be smote for uttering the name of Hello Kitty, I'd been thinking about names, and I wanted to harness that power that names have to capture and to characterize.
I think poetry can't develop characters in the same way that fiction can, but I've found that the presence of recurring characters can bind a book together in the same way a voice can. I think about Jason Bredle's book Carnival or Peter Davis's TINA as excellent examples of this. There's something charming about assembling a cast for a book too. I've really come to like many of those folks wandering around in Sympathy.
I know as a fellow jokester that you appreciate the power of the comic in a poem. There's something intimate and inviting about a joke, even one you don't get. I want to invite a reader into my poems, but I still want the poems to be mine. It's like wandering into a conversation at a party. You won't know the full topic up front, but hang around long enough and it'll become clear. Sometimes I'm mid-conversation with some other idea when the poem starts rolling, and I just let the reader see that. Every poem is a type of production, but who says one has to start from the beginning?
Lycanthropy and You
I’m unprepared to push you through muscle and digit, inkwell
and out among the general populace of words. In Hebrew,
to write is easily confused with to sever, but then to seize
sounds like a werewolf; so I trust only these nerve endings ignited
because language means what it can’t possibly.
Your caress rings even in the Quikstop where everything is built to spill
into the eye with a reckless animation: chips from the Spanish city of gold,
a man-sized, monocled peanut. It’s important to get this right.
Quick, list all the synonyms you know for abandon and then all you know
of loyalty. We don’t stand a chance in our own vocabulary.
The possums covered in young could be mistaken for a metaphor,
for strands of flax in the lamplight of suburban Des Moines
where you to attempt to ignite the moon with a clove over an unfinished
squabble from a previous existence. You were two fugitives on the run
from a common fate, much as you and I are now. And I’m not ready to sever
by mute calculation you from the lunar landscape (from me)
via loaded pen—whatever we are smeared across a page.
Let the werewolves seize this city. Let the record show
there is no record. That all is bleak beside the body, beside where the sky
climaxes into twilight behind me. Beside the wind chimes happening
into each other, it is the dead of winter.
I’m Concerned You Will be Reincarnated as Office Supplies
If you do enough evil, maybe you come back as a tennis racket or a rhubarb pie.
If you do enough mediocrity, you come back as Rory the HP Office Deskjet.
And that will be the end of kite flying and no more visits to Red Robin, Kylie.
Now is the hour to make some endearing and life-changing errors
like mislabeling salt as sugar or breaking your home exercise equipment
in an effort to outpace a gazelle’s reported land speed. One night hammered
in your bungalow in the Rocks, your husband and I agreed we must crash through
this world like bats blind from an attic. Yowling and colliding with vases
until caught. A falafel fell to the floor coating the carpet in iridescent baubles,
and I almost lost my place in the book of virtuous avians. You and Dana
drained a bottle of ill-considered choices in the ladies’ room. Maybe
you drank away memories of your lives as staplers. Maybe somewhere
a grandfather steps in as a syringe to save his son from a peanut allergy.
We hollow out without utility. It’s true. Even if you have to do life
round two as a shaker of thumb tacks, maybe you will hold a preschooler’s
Venus in its elliptical orbit on the board. You always loved that sound of that: