It was late in the smoke-painted bar, a quarter past the blue hour, when The Interviewer pulled The Poet into an even darker room. And in the dark of that darkness, came the first question. Tell me, said the Interviewer, where do your poems live?
Maybe where all poems live: in doubt, shame, fear, prayer and ecstasy. Maybe they live in the part of me that still sees the Rickey, pubescent, gap-toothed, shy to smile, shy to speak, not man-enough, not black-enough, desiring, but who thought to be desired was outside him. Or that they live in this Rickey, older, who smiles, speaks, is man-enough, whatever “man” means, is black-enough, whatever “black” means, desires, apparently is desired, is desired.
Wherever the overlap is is where Rickey (his poems) lives. But poems also move.
The dark room was the color of closed eyelids now. Music reached in through a window deprived of its pane. With his eyes on the music, The Interviewer asked What was the last sin your poems committed?
Oh, they think too much. Worse, they feel too much. Still worse, they attempt this at the same moment, inside the same word. It’s what governs their lines, each line, their special meter. Could they be called Un-American for this or not contemporary or not of my generation? Many times they aren’t interested in performance or games.
A blade of moonlight cut The Poet’s body in half. The Interview liked this. The Interviewer wondered which half wanted most to be taken. Drinks appeared at the table without explanation. I want to know, said The Interviewer, pausing to take a sip of his drink, what your poems dream about?
I want to know, too.
Minutes were hours in that shut eyelid-colored room. The moon turned into the sun without apology. Music that had been reaching through the window pulled its hand away. The Interview looked less himself. Tell me, please tell me, what have your poems come here to do?
Over drinks, I was recently describing my process to a new friend who, utilizing silence, then said, “So you’re a philosopher first.” My back straightened, and I may have reached for my nearly empty glass of whiskey. I can’t claim the title, of course, though I know this much is true: that I don’t find satisfaction in my poems—regardless if they’re doing the sonic, imagistic or rhetorical work I want of them and enjoy—until the poems themselves satisfy (“solve” doesn’t seem right) the question, the argument, that I’m at work to figure out.
So what is betrayal? Or heartbreak? Was Stevens right about the Imagination? What is meant when we say “boy”—when Stevens says it, when I do? Is violence serviceable? Is love?
I have questions. My poems come here to persuade me the childish belief that I might answer them.
Rickey Laurentiis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. The recipient of a 2012 Ruth Lily Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, Rickey has also been honored with fellowships or scholarships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference as well as the Chancellor’s fellowship from Washington University in St Louis, where he is completing his MFA. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several journals, including jubilat, Callaloo, Indiana Review, Poetry and Feminist Studies.