Poets Online Talking About Coffee: Teresa K. Miller

To where have you sped?

I remember driving with friends in high school who would joke “10 points each” when people lingered too long in the crosswalk. Someone told me that’s from a movie I’ve never seen, Death Race 2000. And then lifetimes later, but really less than a decade, my dad got struck and killed on his bike by a 17-year-old kid trying to get around a truck to win a street race, which must have had all-consuming importance in that moment.

Your reference is, I’m sure, to the title of my book published by Sidebrow—sped. My father, or the memory of my father, or the empty space in the shape of my father, is one point toward which I sped as a poet for a while.

Or, I will probably always circle that space somehow.

Or, I spent a summer as a student teacher in a special education (SpEd) classroom of 4th– and 5th-graders, some of whom were nonverbal, a number of whom were still in diapers, one of whom crawled on the floor with his tanktop collar clenched in his jaws, a ring of drool expanding toward his stomach, one of whom had terrible gas and an instructional aide sitting beside him and spraying Lysol, so whole lessons sounded like fart-groan-aerosol—and we read the same book every day, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, because the routine was comforting for the students with autism, and one day during the story a student grabbed another’s head and thrust it into his crotch, not violently, just as a misguided gesture toward friendship, and rewards aside, I realized the singular terror teaching engenders.

Or, I got a writing grant when I was twenty, and I used it to drive in a big circle around the United States to do a “study of place through poetry,” part of which involved kissing someone who wasn’t my girlfriend in a lifeguard chair in the Rockaways in the middle of the night. Now I wake up at 2am and think about the Mauna Loa monitoring station and Year Zero; I can’t imagine place in any grounded sense connected by interstates, or burning that much gas to end up where I started.

It’s not really about driving, but maybe the simultaneous speed and stillness, and how we feel bored even as we think we don’t have enough time, and my impulse to resist the guile of technology to avoid splitting apart. I find myself blurting “Cabin in the woods!” as a life plan, and my partner says, “That’s a horror film.”

But I don’t know what “it” is. In another life I would have circled that and written in the margin vague pronoun.

I enjoyed Cabin in the Woods but, like you, I have yet to see Death Race 2000. How does the lover of marginalia cope when watching movies in a dark theatre?

Or maybe, how does the interviewer return to the marginal when the conversation gets dark?

I have trouble handing over two hours to sitting still, but I’m also hesitant to write in my books—reverence for the Artifact even as I’d prefer to set the pace & place. I guess the question becomes which is more politically effective, to comment or to enact, assuming political is the goal and not just the tailing pond we’re all swimming in—whether to decry Jeff Bezos or steal his lunch money and make him write a poetry book.

Jason Snyder coined the term “aggressively earnest” to describe John Cleary, and John passed the label on to me. It pretty well sums up my approach. I told John I’d get aggressive earnestness as a neck tattoo if he got it on his lower back—I even shared the German term for tramp stamp that I learned from a farm manager in Costa Rica—but so far I’m still waiting.

 J. Lo, No Lo or Lilo?

If this has morphed into an Experian third-party identity verification, then I’ll go with No Lo, Forever.

There’s a kind of deep, chronic relationship dysfunction where intimacy doesn’t exist except in the spray-tan form of inside jokes that have mutated into an unintelligible form of twinspeak. Maybe in the midst of my escape, my (evil?) twin said something condescending but nonsensical to the outer world, and I said it would make a good book title, and she said it would make a terrible title, so then I had to write the book.

Or maybe I’m still mourning anthropology swallowing linguistics, when all I wanted to do was diagram sentences and study creoles and labor over the translation of image & cadence & rhyme. Instead I majored in lesbian pulp novels from the 1950s, which is why I’ll soon be a millionaire.

You didn’t sign up to play Dictionary, but then again, when I signed up off-camera, I didn’t know what I was signing. You patch it up so nicely, but I keep breaking the fourth wall.

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