Friday, January 25, 2013

On Creativity: Nick Courtright

A writer’s language and cadence can get stuck in your brain. It’s a pleasant thing, and admirable. Nick Courtright’s poems are definitely earworms (brainworms?). After hearing him read at Paging Columbus this past summer, I couldn’t get certain lines out of my head (the final line of “What I Have to Say to You” is a good example, even out of context: “day, night, awake, asleep, dead, alive, alive, alive, alive.”). The poems in his book, Punchline, are memorable and brave in that they explore Big Ideas (philosophy, science, God, the afterlife) in diction that is precise and vivid. But what makes me recommend this book so heartily is Courtright’s voice, which resonates with sincerity, humor, empathy, and curiosity.

(NOTE: After the interview below, read “Regret” and “What I Have to Say to You,” which appear with permission of the author. To purchase Punchline, click here.)  

Q: In so many of your poems in Punchline (such as “Regret”), you address a being/presence that cannot answer you. Your book is full of ghosts. Maybe this is what all poetry does--intimately addresses a reader who can’t talk back. I’m curious--do you envision a reader when you write? Who do you feel you are speaking to, and why? How does communication work in your poems?

A: This is a great and frustrating question, mostly because it makes me reflect on the fact that all writers are shouting “Hello!” into the void, and only sometimes does an echo return. We are forced by the nature of the medium—the phone call made to an answering machine who no one listens to, or, a bit better, listens to but does not return the call—to send out our ideas and hope someone hears, and I suppose the poems in which I address someone, whether it be a “you” or the “ghost” of the poem “Regret,” it is tacit recognition of this. Or maybe it’s a manifestation of the plight of all existential and philosophical inquiry, that wanting to know the truth even though nothing ever comes down to say what the meaning of life is, or where we are from, or what will happen to us in the end. That aloneness is always there in poetry, and in our lives, but it’s our job to be happy with it, because there is no other choice.

See, I told you that was a great and frustrating question!

As for whether I envision a reader, I don’t, necessarily. I do envision what my inspiration would think, though: would Kabir or Rumi or Solomon or Mirabai or insert wise folk here be okay with this? Would they approve of my attempt to be wise like they were wise? Solomon would probably call it “vanity,” so I have to watch out for that. And if there is a modern day reader, I imagine her or him as someone not necessarily looking for entertainment, but looking for enlightenment, for a better way to live, to be shaken up spiritually and come out better for it. Whether they will find it in my work is not for me to decide, but that’s the reader I want, and who I imagine may be on the other side of my creative process.

In the end, I do want to communicate to people, and I hope to help people find beauty. They don’t have to find that beauty in my poems, but I do want my poems to encourage them to seek beauty in their everyday lives. Because beauty is everywhere.  If there’s anything I want to communicate, it’s that.

Two poems from Punchline


To call a fire alive, to call a ghost awake,
to call a ghost asleep, or to call it on the phone,

pressing redial one two three
four twelve twenty-one times
and always being sent to voicemail.  It’s your first love

again, and it lives.

At what point does the fire die, 
does the ghost pick up the phone and whisper

I knew you’d keep calling
until I answered, so now I’ve answered, what is it you
have to say to me?  

What I Have to Say to You

We are bound to this earth, and no matter how
we try to leave

we still are bound.

No rocketship spiraling into the thin openness of time

changes that, no bootstrap shenanigans

hightailing their rubberpeeling
path into history

where the future rests on an old desk

like an apple.

One apple who is just that,

core, seeds, stem, meat, skin, in many ways the apple
is us
causing the fall of us

from the ideal and into this:

day, night, awake, asleep, dead, alive, alive, alive, alive.


  1. Great write for this is much like me. The Ghost I call has yet to answer the phone.

    Thanks for sharing Hannah and I will look into more writing by Nick Courtright

  2. Thanks for the introduction, Hannah! What wonderful poems. Have put Nick's name on my list of writers to read.

  3. Thank you, Hannah! I enjoyed Nick's poems, your interview questions, and his thoughtful responses.


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