CM: There's "The Bob Hope Poem," a real monster in terms of length. But that poem couldn't be any smaller to contain the set of ideas and reflections that are in it, and here is the truth-! did not make that determination, the poem did. For years I wished that poem would "finish itself," would find its end-point, would allow me to wrap it up and be done with it. But it kept suggesting new connections, avenues, issues, and I felt obligated to fu lfill that vision, however sweeping. This poem is not a narrative but a symphonic structure, with themes and motifs that recur, interconnect, shift, evolve-the poem is internal, and the form tries to mirror the free-floating consciousness of its narrator on one snowy day in Chicago. It's not just the material, it's the attitude toward the material that help dictate form. If the poet wants to document the external world, to write horizontally, putting the world on the page, then the poem swells-the more you put in, the bigger it gets-that's more or less a Newtonian process of physical expansion. There's no requirement that a poem be large, of course. The lyric poem is probably more logically suited to vertical thinking-to the voice of the poet, freed of extemal reality, singing a song, or a prayer, or an argument. It would make no sense at all for Dickinson to expand her poems or for Whitman to contract his, just to match some ideal vision of poetic form. What those two great forerunners demonstrate is that singularity of vision requires finding a form to match the voice and content--or not finding that form, which suggests that it is just out there somewhere, under a rock. It's really about creating a form, inventing it, doing whatever it takes to house the poems you have in you to write. SK: America and popular culture seem to be two of the most prevalent influences for you. When you were developing your aesthetic, who did you read who most moved you?
CM: Whitman wrote long poems, of several types and lengths, and that was an early model. Then there's Patterson, William Carlos Williams, a great model for pastiche, collage, and documentation. Robert Pinsky's poem "An Explanation of America" was a model for "The Bob Hope Poem," and so was James McMichael's "Four Good Things." SK: Have you ever been fond of shorter poems, writing or reading them?
CM: Yes, I do write shorter poems. I have a new book coming out in 2007, which is a very long book, but composed of mostly short poems. It's another attempt at finding a form to accommodate my compositional desires-this book tries to reflect a year in the life of its narrator, to be a little bit journalistic, but remain firmly lyric. So, it's modeled on notebooks, but it's really a 52
The Literary Digest of the University of Idaho