Mikko Harvey, Columbus, Ohio
How did you begin writing poetry?
I started writing poems as a freshman in college. I was in my dorm room and I heard some noise in the hallway. Instead of opening the door to check it out, I looked through the peephole. For some reason that sneaky feeling struck me, and I wrote my first lines, which went like this: “The narrator looks out of his peephole / and makes a wish—to exist, a real protagonist— / but the door is locked.” So, not remarkable as a poem, but kind of interesting foreshadowing to time spent writing, that sense of separateness, a piece of paper between you and the world...
But that makes writing sound gloomy. Every poem is also a little party.
Tell us about “Cannonball,” the poem that was selected for Best New Poets 2013.
I heard this lyric in a song: “I heard the news that you're plannin' / to shoot me out of a cannon.” I liked that, and wanted to fill out the story.
That's often how it is, a matter of mundane coincidence, a team effort between images and words, inside and out, combining.
Another line in the song goes: “I etched the face of a stopwatch / on the back of a raindrop.” Maybe someone else can take that one.
What question do you wish I'd asked?
Who really deserves credit for this poem?
The captain of the team, Mr. James Tate, who is the most imaginative poet I have come across so far. When I wrote “Cannonball” I had just read his book, Return to the City of White Donkeys, and I basically copied his form. The poems in the book are less interested in sharpness of language and more in narrative surprise. They are what Jung would call “intrapsychic events”—you can read them as stories, but also as dreamy metaphors for some ego struggle. I remember reading the poems and part of me thinking, “this is just silly surrealism,” and another part of me thinking, “my heart is breaking.” Fairy tales work that way too. Anyway, I don't think “Cannonball” holds a candle to Tate's poems, but I'm happy to be a medium through which the form plays.
Read "Cannonball" and 49 other poems selected by Brenda Shaughnessy by pre-ordering Best New Poets 2013.