Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Interview with Somerville Poet David Blair: Author of the poetry collection “Arsonville”

Poet David Blair

Interview with Somerville Poet David Blair: Author of the poetry collection “Arsonville”

Interview with Doug Holder

David Blair is a poet who is firmly rooted in Somerville, and on any given day you may see him walking the streets of our very walker-friendly city, closely observing, taking in the sights—and pondering his next poem.

Blair grew up in Pittsburgh. He is the author of three books of poetry, Ascension Days, which was chosen by Thomas Lux for the Del Sol Poetry Prize, Arsonville, and Friends with Dogs. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Ploughshares, Slate Magazine, and many other places as well, including the anthologies, The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Devouring the Green, and Zoland Poetry

I spoke to Blair on my Somerville Community Access TV show, “ Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: David—you use a quote by Alexander Ristovic, “ Behind your back, if you turn, you'll make out the sheep, trying to fly with their wooden wings.” How do this center your book?

David Blair: Well the things I write about are pretty much what I catch from the corner of my eye. This quote meant a lot to me when I started out writing.

DH: I get the sense that most of your poems are never far from grief.

DB: Well some of the poems in this collection centered around my mother's death. Also—they were written when my daughter was born. There is a sense of happiness and grief happening at the same time. That's the way life is.

DH: I often tell my creative writing students to unplug themselves, and go out into the world and observe. How does this work for you in Somerville?

DB: Going out and looking at things drive my impulse to write. I love Somerville. The city is a great place to walk. I have lived in Somerville for twenty years now—so I am well-acquainted with the terrain. Years ago I worked as a waiter and manager at the now defunct restaurant Tallulah's in Davis Square. I saw a lot there.

DH: In the collection “Arsonville” you exhibit a great eye for detail. You see the “rat town” kids on the subway, a woman with a lip like a couch, chin-studded dancers in some bar—and you are a scholar of the people and detritus found on and around Revere Beach.

DB: One of the pleasures of writing poetry is the concentration it requires. Details pop in my head. Settings, people,etc.. suggest feelings. I like to write around things. I realize how hard things would be if you did lose hearing and sight.

DH: Who are some of the Somerville poets you enjoy?

DB: Lloyd Schwartz, Joe Torra, Julia Story, Tanya Larkin, and right over the border in Cambridge—
David Rivard. All their work has a lot of life. Their work implies something much bigger. They describe a new world based on the old world, but with a new twist. There is something familiar in the unfamiliar.

DH: You examine both the glorious side and the underside of Revere Beach, in your poem “ Revere Beach in Spring.” On one hand there is a beauty on the beach, as well as spent rifle cartridges, and condoms.

DB: I love Revere Beach. But with anything you love, you have to tell the truth. There is an ugly/beauty there. At the same time I am writing about the Jersey Shore, Orchard beach, etc...

Revere Beach in Spring

Forget that purple seaweedy
end of it, with the gross stuff
and the carnivorous sandflies
in the rattle of dried grasses,
obligatory pieces of dried shit,
the bad stories the phytoplankton
tell the sea worms, the messes,
the city having its squalid dream
that is hard to forget, Esmé,
but why would you? It’s April
and there are grandmothers
wrapped like Bedouins
with flat Irish mouths
and punky grandchildren
in the vast sands of different life,
the International flights hooking
down eight-hour early afternoon
loads from Heathrow, Paris
and Munich, enormous as rocs
flying over apartment buildings
their wheels down and wings up.
You get to the middle of the beach,
finally you can see some lighthouses,
the green and the gunmetal water.
It’s terrible to read biographies
of Sylvia Plath and look
at the pincer of her Winthrop
and the pincer of near Nahant,
peninsular from the subverted
bowl or crab body of Revere Beach.
The ocean tanker out towards
the open water of the bay
tilts to one side, a hat, and guys
who have been working outside
or drinking indoors list to the side,
and nobody is good looking
at all. To the seagulls with blood
mottles, this is one big Clam House.
They squawk about it. Have you been out
to the Clam House? Big surf clams
that whole beach, tilting over,
water dribbling out of them,
they try to get their stomach feet
back down into salt muck.
Practically too much clam.
People with strong guts,
the Japanese call them out
for soup and if they were smaller,
they would be cherry stone dozens
on some menus, but most people
figure they are deformed
by waste, tainted, tattooed, gangland
specimens, or bone-head mutants
who break the springs inside
the seats of tractor trailer seats
and have the 64 ounce cups of spew,
snuff tobacco-dipping, inbred
bumpkins of the liminal world
gone to seed, just dangerous
and yucky, like the time
I saw a spent condom next
to a faded rifle cartridge, a broken X.
For the clams, Revere Beach is hell
and Valhalla, dry places
pried open, broken down
into fragments, then sand,
soared up to the sky in the beaks
of Valkyrie gulls, while in distant
clouds, shrouded airplanes reflect
and glow upwards, angelic flights.
These things survived for awhile.

--David Blair

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