Karl Zuehlke (KZ): Your book, Long Division, uses the motif of fables to allow fantastical moments simultaneously invested in a kind of logic and the moral of the story. “Moral,” here, should be understood as the literary element: the coda at the end of the narrative. Perhaps you could talk a little about what fables mean to your writing, as a process of composing and as a genre with preexisting formal assumptions?
Alan Michael Parker (AMP): Fables fascinate me: I love the ways in which the genre accommodates the peculiarities of my imaginative process. I so distrust reality that fables seem to me more real, in a way, than realism. They include how we picture the world, yes? And how we’d like our inner lives to be made manifest? (Not that you have to worry about me, in terms of reality, but I’m not its greatest champion.) Anyway, I’m always trying to let wild-er-ness into my writing; fables have helped me do so for years.
KZ: Realism and reality are, at least to my mind, two very different things. I am inclined to think that realism is simply another kind of fable. And at times I am persuaded that the surreal contains an element of verisimilitude. To quote one of my former teachers, however, “I reserve the right to be wrong.” Perhaps you would be so kind as to expound on your notion of, “ wild-er-ness?”
AMP: One of my goals is never to write the same poem twice; one way I attempt to meet this goal is to abandon intention. “Wild-er-ness,” to me, refers to abandonment—reckless, feckless, and otherwise intuitive. If only I could let go…
KZ: If you have an ideal of what a poem should or can do, could you describe it? Could you describe it in five words or less, if you had to?
AMP: Mean thrice; recondition reality expressively.
KZ: Jacob A. Bennett in The Phantom Limb has connected some of your list poems to Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” but says your writing is, “more ‘Wally’ than Wallace Stevens.” What do you make of Wallace Stevens?
AMP: Stevens remains an enormous influence upon my work. Certainly, the formal peregrinations of his “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” inform my list poems—but perhaps more profoundly, his willingness to take an abstraction and render it concrete, and to be unafraid of what language results, embodies for me a notion of beauty I have long aspired to understand. Accessible, brilliant, and difficult… his poems matter deeply to me, and have mattered since college, when I first encountered Harmonium.
KZ: In your interview with Colin Winnette in Word Riot from a couple years ago, you commented that, “I think of my daily life as pretty boring.” Yet inLong Division, so many of the premises and settings for poems are domestic, while not apparently autobiographical. What fascinates you about writing the interiors of the “Zoomburb?”
AMP: I believe that the poem is my great teacher, and that the subjects learned matter less than the learning. A study of interiors of a life meanslearning—which I hope happens in the poems without either solipsism or self-aggrandizement.
KZ: The epigraph of your book is from William Carlos Williams’, Spring and All. What do you take from Williams’ work?
AMP: Williams! Of course, the great poems. But also the ability to write about love, and the economy of the language, and… the variable foot. And the ambition of works such as Spring and All.
KZ: Rumor has it that you wake up quite early to write. Coincidentally, in “Bird” there is a persona that wakes up “damn early, 5:30 // every morning” (27), to do battle with himself in the form of a bird. Perhaps you could talk about how this poem came to be and your process of writing it?
AMP: “Bird” was from the beginning a kind of hysterical aubade, the obsessiveness of the sestina emotionally consonant with the speaker’s behavior. I mean, who repeats the same six words every six lines, only in different order—and one of those words is “bird”? And then repeats them again three lines later? That person must be getting up too early, and warring with Nature.
KZ: Do you consider yourself a hybrid artist, working between fiction and poetry, or is that a false distinction? Is writing just writing? Do you have an impulse whereby you know a particular piece