John A. Nieves has poems forthcoming or recently published in journals such as: Indiana Review, Southern Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, New York Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Cincinnati Review. He won the 2011 Indiana Review Poetry Prize and the 2010 Southeast Review AWP Short Poetry contest. He received his M.A. in Creative Writing from USF in 2006. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri. His poem, “One Booth Over,” appears in HFR #49.
Culture as Curio Cabinet
I noticed shortly after having my poem, “One Booth Over,” accepted for HFR #49, that the call for submissions for HFR #50 was focused on the idea of “artifact.” I was delighted. In fact, I have been asking myself many of the questions the call for submissions asks. I am interested in the power places, objects, events and phrases have to create both personal and communal mythos. Earlier this year, I finished my first manuscript and began to shop it in earnest. This allowed me to imagine a new project. I began to think of the places I have traveled (I have been to every state and quite a few countries) and lived (New York, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri). The first thing that struck me was the many different ways people use the word work. This spawned a series of fifteen poems interrogating the different ways work works and means. From that, I found snippets of folk lore and urban legend that I found interesting to connect with. I began to retell or inhabit tales I have heard. “One Booth Over” is such a retelling. In my new project, I am essentially creating a curio cabinet of whens and wheres and the some of the things that make them distinctive. While many fine poets and theorists have written about the responsibility of travel writing, I think Cynthia Hoffman’s Sightseer handles it as well as anyone has. I tried to learn from her. I don’t populate the poems much with anyone but myself and maybe a character in a tale. That way, even the narrative moments can retain a lyric feel through unstable deixis.
In “One Booth Over,” I recount an actual incident that occurred in a truck stop. I don’t situate it because I think I am interested in being able to strike a chord with anyone who could understand this bit of lore as theirs. I attempt to create a speaker that is both peeved and captivated and a tale teller that is both insistent and incessant. The man speaking of dead birds finds his tale so important to tell, that he results to pantomime when the setting becomes too noisy to continue. His dedication, even if his telling is invasive, reaches the speaker deeply enough that he feels the need to repeat it. Here, the speaker’s dismissive tone contradicts itself in the fact of the poem itself—in his retelling. Like artifact, it is nearly impossible to detect which shreds of life will gather up meaning. We rarely know what our most meaningful memories will be until they have slithered past. I hope to fill my curio cabinet project with moments, objects and places that mean in unexpected ways, that role out like a time-space road map that interrogates historiographical, social and geographical strata—that digs for some truths about myself and hopefully the world around me. In the poems I try to invite the readers to tell the story with me instead of simply watching it be told. I believe, as Mikhail Bakhtin does, that “Every piece of literature faces out.” So does every piece of archaeology. The dug up nugget only means if some one is curios enough to consider it—to wonder what it could be trying to tell them.
Here are a few of his other poems featured around the net: Wolfpeach, Through Ends of Autumn, Three Poems, Storm Windows (Imago), and Backyard.