“Not in ideas, but in things,” physician/poet William Carlos Williams famously suggested, becoming the spokesman (whether he wanted to be or not) for what became known as the Objectivist school of poetry.
Now that it’s written, I realize that Brazil, Indiana (a folk poem) has to be among the least objective literary project ever. Sorry about that, WCW.
My goal from the start of this writing project was to honor the characters and street corners I remembered from my small town youth. I wanted to share their stories as plainly as I could. Literary antecedents included Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, David Budbill’s Judevine, Joe Brainard’s I Remember and Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, with a bit of John Berryman’s Dream Songs and Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets thrown in for syntactical punch and shifting points-of-view. That’s a quirky bunch of books, for sure, but limiting myself to twelve lines per sequence segment was as experimental as my poems ever got.
I strived to create a reading experience that was as conversational as sitting at the end of the bar.
Now that some excerpts from my 100-page manuscript have found their way into publications and I’ve shared a few of the poems at readings, I’ve heard from editors, readers and audiences that my small town experiences mirror their own small town experiences. Sequence excerpts have appeared in publications in the U.S., Scotland and Ireland, so I can only assume that there’s something universal about how we’re effected by where we’re raised.
Brazil sits at a highway crossroads down in the southwestern corner of Indiana — an area of the state that’s been mined, farmed and manufactured to the brink of death. Empty storefronts and crumbling side streets are the obvious signs you expect to see. Rumors of meth labs swirl like fast food trash in the Walmart parking lot on the outskirts of town. The locals are a tough bunch, but friendly, too.
My grandmother, who died last year (just a couple of weeks after her 90th birthday), was my last family in Brazil. Her passing inspired me to delve deep into my memories based on a handful of poem scraps I already had in the works. Three months later, I had a book-ish collection to show for my trouble. Poems practically fell onto the page. I had to learn to trust my gut as I put down work at a pace that was unusual for me.
Since calling this project done I’ve been surprised that more Brazil poems haven’t bubbled up. Which may or may not mean that my shambolic little tributes to the people and places that made me who I am today tell the whole story.