Laura McCullough’s Comments

These three poems are part of a recently completed manuscript that I wrote as a “corrective” to my previous books. The poems in Speech Acts explored the nature of language and most were lyrics or narrative-lyrics in the nexus of mind and body, but they didn’t, I think, reveal the emotional truth I was trying to uncover. So I wrote Panic (forthcoming, Alice James Books, January 2011), which are all narrative, third person, not a single first-person poem, but they explore what I saw and felt during the post-911 years while living along the Jersey shore. For a while, I thought these were the truest (to my own interior landscape) poems I’d written, until I began to question why I would have to write through characters and in third person to do so, and thought that was pretty cowardly. So I set out to to write poems that went against a lot of the poetry of our time—not ironic, baldly sincere, even confessional in some ways, that took risks with the musicality of rhetoric, that established an authorial speaker, and that, instead of wallowing in a post-modern mish-mash, attempted a mash-up of the emotional and intellectual, of the many elements of my own lived life.

For example, in “And Some Join the Military,” I collude concerns about the economy, recruitment into the military, contemporary poets (in this case, it begins with Brian Turner, self-described embedded poet, and ends with Galway Kinnell, an early influence for me), as well as my fears for my three older sons who are entering adulthood now in an age when things are deeply unstable in this country.

The poem “When I was Growing Up” begins in nostalgia, but ends, not just in loss of innocence, but connects to the pervasive themes in the overall book about boys, men, violence, the violence of culture, but it is also about the relationship of the individual to the group, something that has interested me since I was very young and still interests me today: why do some people have an internal locus of control and others do not and succumb to group “think?” Why do some people need imposed meta-narratives in order to be (or see themselves as) moral? Where does cruelty come from? And why is it so often perpetrated by groups?

Similarly, “My Daughter Lost Her First Tooth Today” is about the stripping away of illusions, the panic setting in for me as mortality makes itself a permanent guest in my life; it connects one of the first deaths I knew about as a child to the ongoing betrayals of life, and the inability to protect anyone from anything. In this poem, as in many of the poems in the collection, there are poets who show up or references to poems. I’ve had some editors complain about that, but I was trying to be as honest in these poems as I could, and to leave out the poets and poems would be mean shutting off a portion of my mind, closing off entire cities inside me, the cities I actually live in, the ones that make the world seem bearable. They were essential to these poems, the heavy artillery in the war I think my poems are waging against the entropy of self, against the ever more vapid popular culture that seeks to drown all of our internal locii of control. These poems are my life preservers; they are my U-boats smashed on the beach of my worst nightmare.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 30 | Fall 2010