Interview with David Bartone
1/In The Affair, your stanzas are broken up by subject: us, you, her, I. But in the final stanza, the narrator has distanced himself from the reader in choosing “the legs” as the active participant. Can you tell us a bit about this choice?
It is important for a writer to be prismatic about whatever’s then most important. And in this poem, it is pronouns.
Not so much the speaker alone or the subject alone or the reader alone, but the positioning between. Making elbow room, jockeying, the faraway eye, the smell of skin, to be so close, to push a pin through paper. The infinite metaphors for how a poet can be in relation to the world of the poem, its population. How, many times, many positions can be had, and with grace, and at once, by simple pronoun variation, I believe. I like movement in poems. Poetry will never bore if the writer is constantly redistancing, to say resituating, the self from the poetic impulse that bears the poem.
This idea comes to me (in its tangled way) after I’ve considered a long time a line in Ted Berrigan’s Red Shift: “I am only pronouns & I am all of them & I didn’t ask for this / You did”. Here he reads it, full and devastating, at the wonderful Penn Sound.
2/Water and liquid imagery are present in all three of your pieces in apt. Is that a theme involving the fluidity of time (implied in Omolara) or morality (hinted at in To Celebrate Like Champagne and The Affair)?
Yes, it is a theme, but I wonder for what, exactly. I meditate often on concepts of water, be it pitter-patter, the notion of slack water, or dew held long, or clouds, or boats. Joke-dancing last night with friends to “Come Sail Away” (no joke), I thought I understood water.
But there is something bigger here to admit. I grew up in crowded New Jersey down the shore a few miles from the ocean and so I am always asking water to explain its hugeness—its one sound variously put—its self repeating, but not like a sewing machine—more as though the cries of Troilus and Crisedye have navigated good history to land on every shore—the ocean. You may notice next time you are at the beach how many bow in their way to the water (put best in Moby Dick, page 1), but if I speak to the exact way I bow, I run the risk of self-dramatization. (And witness how often the love poet’s offense of self-dramatization.) Most so, I find poems best when they aim to reconcile the drama of bowing with one’s cause to bow. This is capturing faith. This is much like religion.
I can’t say, I guess is what I’m saying, that I am in any significant control of the literary powers of water themes, or of any themes, in poems. But true, I delight like no other at the toy of a theme I am discovered to have been writing in. A guilty pleasure. Water—much as love affairs, time, and morality—has always been a big theme.
3/Heavy words are lightly thrown in The Affair, double entendres like “Two good naps end to end” and “It was sex between us but that was all I could spurt.” But you use them to level the reader in the final lines “Walking the shoreline until the legs / Didn’t even mind it was time / To perform catch and release / Though too late for it to be done gently”. Is this piecemeal pacing done with intent to draw the reader in and then issue the blow, or more as a warning of what’s to come?
But somewhere…I think it’s a building to. I honestly didn’t know where the poem was headed when I began writing it. It was chronicling something very real in my life.
4/Sum up your work in apt in five words: go!
More joy written than lived.
David Bartone’s poems Omolara, To Celebrate Like Champagne and The Affair can be seen in the first print issue of apt, which can be purchased here.