Our Reviewpoints series continues with Jeremy Schraffenberger discussing how he wrote the poem "I memorized a list." Come back tomorrow to read why Poetry Editor Rose Swartz decided on the poem for Issue 46.
I met Rauan Klassnik when he came to Cedar Falls to read from his book of poems Holy Land (Black Ocean), which I can’t recommend enough. Later he suggested I look at Stephen Berg’s translations of the fifteenth-century Zen master Ikkyu, Crow With No Mouth (Copper Canyon). I had these two books on my mind (and in my ear) as I composed “I memorized a list,” one in a series of twelve or so prose poems.
The poems emerged in fragments, sometimes disjointed and dreamlike, sometimes interconnected, often suggesting a larger coherent narrative, but more often dissolving into the tense stillness of a moment. I wrote them more or less orally on my daily walks to and from work, and the rhythm of this walking seems to have worked its way into the poems, as did the various objects and people and events I observed—dogs barking, motorcycles rumbling by, all the beautifully random happenings of the street.
The prose poem form lent itself to—or suggested, or required—a poetic consciousness troubled by the incomplete, the unresolved, the forgotten. I think of them as anti-sentimental poems of longing and grief and anxiety—with a touch of madness. The form also insisted that I rough up my usual style. For better or worse, my other poems have tended to be much more finely wrought, more lyrical, but these pieces asked to have an unbeautiful scratchiness in the voice, as if to resist the epiphany that often accompanies slipping into the lyrical.