straw hat.jpg


Five New Poems (and My Thoughts on the Unknown) in Chariton Review 38.1 (Spring 2015) - June 28, 2015

Pick up a copy of the new Chariton Review–brought to you by the good folks at Truman State University Press–to find five new poem by yours truly, written over the course of, well, five or six years? So by “new” I mean “old,” in a way. The oldest among them, appropriately enough, is titled ”A Time Machine in 60 Years of Less or Your Money Back” and dates back to June of 2007 when I was the Peter Taylor Fellow at The Kenyon Review Summer Writers’ Workshop. It’s an exercise in syllabic attrition. “Fool’s Literature” is similarly dated, riffing on the aptness of a forgotten literary genre for the Bush-era, though it’s rhetorical points still hold for today. “Convinced My Speech is Unreliable” muses on syntax, linguistics, and cotton. I’m thankful to Nathan Sanders, a bona fide linguist, for the poem’s inspiration and opening sentence.

Two other poems–”Theory of the Afterlife” and  ”An Invitation to Mr. Eric Parrish”–are a little more recent. The latter was written to my college roommate and friend: the inestimable Eric Parrish. My thanks to James D’Agostino and Jen Creer for accepting the work and for doing such a beautiful job with its tricky lineations. In issue 38.1 you’ll also poems by Daniel Bourne and Andrew Kozma, and an essay by Jo de Waal.

One final note: Chariton Review asks all their contributors to write a paragraph or two on a particular topic of writerly interest. In this case, they chose the “unknown.” It’s a lovely way to poll a diverse pool of individuals and then share their views with readers at large. My contribution follows below.


END TABLE NOTE for Chariton Review:

Form is a known in a minefield of unknowns. To find a poem’s form—whether structural (syllabics) or rhetorical (the aubade)—is to free one’s self to face the other unknowns that make writing hard: what’s this about, who does it speak to, does this or that metaphor work? This, of course, is the paradox that formalists speak of with pride: their restrictions give them the freedom to feel around in the dark. In my poems printed in this issue, form plays something of that role. The syllabic attrition in “A Time Machine in 60 Years or Less” was its raison d’etre. “Fool’s Literature” riffs on a literary definition (its rhetorical form) in rhyming couplets (its sonic form). “An Invitation to Mr. Eric Parrish” imitates Bishop’s famous epistle to Moore.

And yet even the most formal poets must admit to the role that the unpredictable plays. Figurative language, I’ve found, is almost always an excursion into the aleatory and the unknown. I’ll stop mid-sentence, my tenor on the page, then wait for whatever vehicle comes skidding down the road. Will the image be sufficiently unlike the tenor to make the comparison startle? Will the process take a moment or a year? If Yeats’s lines about revision come to mind at such moments—“A line will take us hours maybe, / Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught”—so too does the following from Ronald Johnson’s Radi os: “Chance governs all.”

Derek Mong