10+ Questions! with David Bartone

by Laurin Macios | August 2016

David Bartone was featured at Mass Poetry's U35 reading in August 2014. // 10+ Questions! is a new series in which we catch up with poets who have been featured in our programming.

It's been two years. What's new in life?
Well, I guess a little bit of everything has changed. The garden is bigger, more natural. I finished the drafting of a manuscript, which follows a calendar, a poet’s almanac during a growing year. We bought land and got a dog, my wife got pregnant—these things brought a return to perception, after spending too many decades in my own head, and I was thankful to be chronicling the transformation, gradual as it was. I’m curious to see how this manuscript will compare to my first book, “Practice on Mountains,” which had just come out when I read at U35 two years ago. Both are book-length poems in their own distinct modes. They seem very separate to me. We shall see.

What are you working on these days?
Frankly, the garden. This morning it was patchy fog, and I thought I should take a painting class, and I stood among yesterday’s neatly planted sweet potato slips, and I thought of that page where Papa Berenstain plays his violin to the garden—nothing else to do!—and I thought of this line from Keith Waldrop’s poem “Intervals”, which I recently read in his “Selected Poems” out by Omnidawn, 2016: “Gradually to compose / you, I think against my / thought,” as my thought in the intoxicating fog was to annihilate the garden. I thought how fun to tear out all those starts, make a filthy mess. In this way, the garden is, sure, just a metaphor for poetry, for an idea I am not good enough to represent with words. Who doesn’t want to make something beautiful and then destroy it? And this morning (the point is), I wanted to send in the pigs. I suspect my daughter would approve. She probably gave me the idea.

Is your poetry different now than it was then, and if so, in what ways?
Absolutely. I used to write all the time. Now I hone my writerly self all the time, and the sitting down to the page happens less so, that is, more meaningfully. I believe that what is getting set to page is decidedly gentler. Except for a nasty poem I wrote a couple weeks ago. Trump had just become the presumptive GOP nominee, and my thinking was sent into fits. I got cynical in ways I usually don't. It was rolling. About all kinds of things. For example, about fellowships, of all things, which I don't really care about: “You can take some new muscles that’s mystical // You could really be an act of courage // You have this great act of idea courage // Always what was brilliant before // A certain music in your head // So you fail // First, you write something over and over you wanted // That perfect thing in your head and to most people // Applying for a fellowship // So you fail”

Who/what are you reading lately?
Masanobu Fukuoaka’s “One Straw Revolution”
Jensen Beach’s “Swallowed by the Cold,” (Graywolf, 2016)
“The Soul of Soil” – a textbook, really.
“The Birds of America,” John James Audobon – a picture book, really         

I’m going to teach a course in the fall called “Election Year Poetry” and so I’m interested to see what poets have to say about the upcoming months. I am most looking forward to discovering the ways poets will make political acts of language, not just in their positions. I’ve been revisiting George Oppen and Eileen Myles as a primer.   

Any major publications, readings, etc. we should know about?
I haven’t been giving many readings lately, but I would like to plug Unbuttoned: Spoken Word, which hosts monthly readings with open mics at Luthier’s in Easthampton. I like that combo: featured readers and an open mic. The community shows up for it, and the variety is authentic and gives meaning. I have a lot of respect for that series. Tip of hat to organizer, Alison Murchie.  

Some sections from “Loudville,” the long poem I recently drafted are starting to come out in Pleiades, Mead, Hotel Amerika, and some such.


What’s your favorite animal & why?

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the owls that nested in our woods two summers ago. They are away now, or else not in earshot. And now that we are sleeping with the windows open again, I am so sad for the loss.

What are your current top 5 favorite books of any genre?

Damn. I seriously just read that question as, “What are your current top 5 favorite book genres?”

What’s the longest you’ve gone without sleep?

Just yesterday, I went 16 hours without a wink!

What’s a word you hate?

I don’t really have that sort of relationship to language, but I know what you mean.

What’s a habit you’re proud of breaking?

I spoke to this a little bit above, but, you know, I quit smoking and all those other killers, but if I’m answering honestly, I’m most proud of when I quit the nag of needing to write every day to be a writer, and my relationship to writing and my relationship to relationships has become so much healthier and more meaningful. The mechanic got me going, sure, but breaking that pesky habit has liberated me in a way I really didn’t see coming. I have discovered new ways to authorize myself as a writer. It’s not so bad, growing up.

A New Poem:

Here’s a poem called “Poem for Louisa.” I wrote it a while ago, but it has gained in meaning now that my daughter is more than idea. When I first shared this poem with some readers, they asked about the processional of in-laws at the end. At the time I didn’t have anything of a response, but now I see how if a father is going to accept that he has some hand in the making of a baby, that if I’m going to take any claims away from what my wife has done in bringing little Louisa to life, then I have to acknowledge the other people that have also walked alongside her. It worked out nicely that our boy Oliver and my wife’s family figured into poem.

Poem for Louisa

To wake. To wake at the end of the day
And to know what one has awakened to.
To rest, without text, without theme
And then to wake. Little infant, this is the
Dream. I am waking from a little nap
On the channel beside Head of the Meadow
Beach reading a few lines: 
“Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.”
Ahead to Jove’s inhuman birth because
I don’t know that wonder. I live in my lover’s heart.
Today her dream comes true. And you are there
Little periwinkle, little pail. In sun that tampers
With old moods, it renders us glossy annunciations
Of the mind’s foolish work. What we see
We say we see. What we want we work to give.
Today she wanted to float down the channel
North the half-mile on boogie boards, all of us,

To where the seals haul out.
The mouths want nothing more than to make you
Their sounds, giant round ort they must
Be making. The eye is a mistake-maker.

The song is silence. Quiet is all that becomes
When—Marissa—she laughs. It is too much to want
Symbols and we know this, little girl,
And so we may never really take
To taking seals into our lives but as we
Walk back, Dylan dragging Oli on
An iguana boogie board, Emily tusking
Beside her, Pepe with his barking foot,
A razor clam from some two or three
Days ago, Dyane a far-behind silhouette
Snapping shots of horizon, of her feet,
Herself a clip art image of someone
Taking pictures, and me,
             I conceive you,
I will author my many futures to you.
Will you let me sound the strange wail?

All my little tables, all my little charts.
I will be laying out for you a home and its fill.
Chaos without demand, something.
Close to cuddle, without a care.