Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"When I say this, it should mean laughter, not poison."
March 8, 2013 4:14 AM   Subscribe

"Naming restricts. Once restricted, it’s easy to be judged and punished. Identity is more subtle, more liquid, I hope." An interview with Richard Siken, a poet whose work is easy, entertaining even, yet ferocious as all hell. If you're new to Siken, Scheherazade is a short introduction to the man and his style. You Are Jeff is a prose poem in twenty-six short, brutal chapters. Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out is one of his best: "You get magic gloves! A fish that talks! You get eyes like flashlights! / What more do you want? / I make you pancakes, I take you hunting, I talk to you as if you're / really there." He also paints.
posted by Rory Marinich (21 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Identity. The tagline to his blackface self-portrait (in the first link): "In the wrong light anyone can look like a darkness" would seem to give all the power to identity. I guess I don't get it.
posted by three blind mice at 5:10 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is great; thanks. You chose one of my favorite bits for the post title; it reminds me of Stevie Smith's "not waving but drowning." I agree with the interviewer that the works are very painterly, and absolutely feel his own description of the sideways development, and the resemblance to panels. Very nice!
posted by taz at 5:16 AM on March 8, 2013


Can't say I relate -- seems to me like the breathless, knucklebiting anxiety of a sixteen year old girl.
posted by temporicide at 5:20 AM on March 8, 2013


Siken is, indeed, popular among sixteen year old girls. He is the poet I used to introduce younger kids to poetry when I TA'd a creative writing course. But this is not to say he is not also a great poet.

The man has a talent for imagery that borders on the uncanny. The way he twists ideas and visuals to get them to fit together is a magic trick whose method I haven't been able to figure out in years of reading him. He's slippery.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:36 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Richard Siken talking about Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights, among other things
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:42 AM on March 8, 2013


I was not aware of this poet. Thank you so much for this post!
posted by magstheaxe at 5:43 AM on March 8, 2013


Didn't know this poet. "Litany" especially is well-worth reading through.

Ashbery was a painter too, and he's the guy whose l lines I see most in these.
posted by escabeche at 5:51 AM on March 8, 2013


Rory did you show me 'Litany' already because I don't think I'm familiar with Siken but I'm decently sure I've seen this piece before.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:24 AM on March 8, 2013


temporicide: “Can't say I relate -- seems to me like the breathless, knucklebiting anxiety of a sixteen year old girl.”

The notion that the souls of sixteen year old girls are characterized by unrelateable shallowness is a sad notion generally borne out of a desire to appear more important than one really is.
posted by koeselitz at 7:38 AM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


This poetry is fantastic - I can see both the anxiety-laden 16 year old in it and also every creaking snap that wrecks a perfectly kind silence in it too. It reads like talking with someone who hasn't blinked once in the entire time they've been with you.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:46 AM on March 8, 2013


It's worth noting his magazine Spork (and Spork Press) has published interesting work as well.
posted by aught at 8:21 AM on March 8, 2013


The notion that the souls of sixteen year old girls are characterized by unrelateable shallowness is a sad notion generally borne out of a desire to appear more important than one really is.

I didn't get shallowness from the initial comment, I got emotionally overwrought, melodramatic. I haven't been a sixteen-year-old girl, but I have been a sixteen-year-old, and I can tell you for certain that I was emotionally overwrought and melodramatic, and in retrospect so was just about every single other sixteen-year-old I knew, girls and boys alike.

And I say that as someone who can't imagine trying to appear more important than I am; I am so extraordinarily important already that I'd have to be, like, the president or the pope or Mr. Rogers or something to look any more important.
posted by dersins at 8:59 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will agree that Siken is pretty emotionally intense and overwrought. I think there's a lot of value in that, especially to teenagers who otherwise wouldn't connect to poetry, but obviously it's not going to be to everyone's taste.

Siken is currently one of my favorite poets though, for the way in which some of his poetry crystallizes a feeling or idea that I find otherwise inexpressible. My go-to example is the last lines of "Boot Theory":

A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river
but then he’s still left
with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away
but then he’s still left with his hands.


I am reduced to vague gesticulating when it comes to these lines and what they mean to me. I liked all of Crush, but "Boot Theory" was a gut punch and is a poem that will live with me for a long time.
posted by yasaman at 9:37 AM on March 8, 2013


His story about the high school girl just encapsulated my world view in a couple of sentences.

Thanks for introducing me. I can't wait to read more.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:59 AM on March 8, 2013


Ugh, overwrought?

He's my favorite poet. The disdain for him in my MFA program was the biggest sign that I was in the wrong place writing for the wrong people. All that fear of feeling.

That's why I write for sixteen year old girls now, I guess. I miss his quasi SF poetry blog about robots. What was that called?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:59 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


PhoB: I have to believe you're joking. Richard Siken writing a "quasi SF poetry blog about robots" is such an incredible concept that my skeleton literally just tried to leap out of my flesh at the thought of it.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:18 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Was it birdswillpeckyou.blogspot.com? I found links to this after it was deleted (?), but never saw it live.
posted by taz at 11:28 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh my god YES. Thank goodness for Archive.org.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:30 AM on March 8, 2013


(Start at the bottom and work your way up. This is awesome.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:31 AM on March 8, 2013


“Painting is stupid.”

“I see.”

“It’s worse than stupid, Mitoki. It’s damaging.”

“I see.”

“Go ahead, paint a bird, sad bird, let him fly into somebody’s head, everybody’s. Let that bird sing its sad sad song all night long. It’s burdensome. It’s kind of filthy.”

“What about catharsis?”

“What about mercy? What about what? What about quit? Is this the goal? Smear up the walls with your lousy feelings?”

“And what would you have me do instead?”

“Do what you want, Mitoki, but I mind my own business. I don’t shit all over everyone.”

“Why don’t I just pour glue in my throat? How about I break my hands?”

“Why can’t you just keep your hands to yourself? Why don’t you keep them out of my head?”

“You don’t have to look.”

“You make me look, and then you proclaim that it’s the best of you.”

“And you think it’s what?”

“I think it’s trespassing, I think its invasion, I think it’s...”

“War?”

“Maybe I do.”

“And you would prefer?”

“I’m tired of looking at the billboards of everyone’s sickness.”

“This is what people do, this is the good part, this is sharing.”

“It’s terrorism.”

(will stop posting in my own thread, but this is my new favorite thing of the now.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:39 AM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am reading "Crush" now on the strength of this thread and this is CRAZY intense. It's hard to even read two poems in a row. The language is so vivid and active and wrenching.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:39 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older In 1987, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu hit the B...  |  A world-renowned physicist mee... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments