Poets Online Talking About Coffee: Brent Terry

Hello. I am more of a tea drinker, though I drink a lot of tea in coffee shops. Does that disqualify me?

Does too much coffee sicken you?

Let me put it this way. I am in Yellowstone Park, and I would rather drink the boiling sulphurous mud pot I just saw than drink a cup of coffee.

Were you out walking?

I was out walking, running, hiking, and even playing a laughable round of golf. I didn’t write much on this trip, other than the odd snippet or line here and there, but I was in serious sponge mode, taking everything about my new surroundings in, letting it percolate, begin to be the stuff of poetry, collecting sensory data to recollect in solitude upon my return and maybe make something interesting. I saw a lot of remarkable geology out west, stuff that has long been washed away and buried beneath the foliage here on the east coast. A ton of wildlife, too: bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, prairie dogs, egrets, herons, songbirds, even a hawk flying off with a snake.  Combine all of that with the voices of people in restaurants, the smell of a coming rainstorm, the music on the car radio, the slight sting of the summer’s first sunburn, a fish taco and a cold beer after a trail run, and you end up with a heady synesthetic stew. Add the motion of walking or running or driving for hours through landscapes empty of people or buildings, the rhythms of covering different terrains at different speeds-mostly under one’s own power-and with any luck, from this jumble of sensation something useful, something meaningful and interesting emerges and finds its way to the page. And of course, associations and meaning will begin to stick to this sensory stuff, like bugs splattered on a windshield. And getting out and moving-running in particular-has always been important to my work. Not just the rhythms of it, but that magical sensation of finding the stillness at the heart of motion, a clarity that is impossible for me to find elsewhere. The brain being awash in exercise-induced opiates and cannabinoids may well have something to do with it as well! Whatever the reason, I arrived home today awash in stuff that may just become poems.

I agree. Plus one can be super-restless at the writing desk without a walk or run beforehand.

It is much better to get a few miles in on the roads or trails before sitting down to write than pacing grooves in the floor during writing time! 4.And coffee (to a lesser extent, tea) simulates the mind and spirit but, again, makes one restless! I think the right combination of stimulation and restlessness suits the writer almost perfectly. 

It was fun to meet you in Minneapolis during AWP. But when are we gonna hit club Zoo from your poem Travelogue: Cinema Exotique?

Travelogue: Cinema Exotique

I wouldn’t sleep with you, the Swiss girl slurs,
for all the ampersands in Amsterdam—where Reece,
btw, texts of red-light-blue, between gawking
the Vermeers & pub-crawling zones
of enlightened licentiousness, her bedspun visions
of Dutch Masters tastefully windowframed
& shadowboxing transgender hookers on long, white
walls in a time-lapsed museum of the mind—the Swiss
being vicious drunks, like Buddhists, but still
Sammy Starstruck struts his stuff with the spinning girls
of Warsaw, cutting a rug in a club called Zoo
in a city where next-morning’s footprints sprint behind him,
hither & yawning through urban woods hushed
& hung-over, snowscaped & dotted with Poles
gaping him mad, him dashing all merry, hell-bent for wodka,
running toward/away from precisely nothing,
not death certainly, nor that taxi smoldering curbside,
when love or something like it depends on
getting in your miles/getting over the subway
sausage that laid your guts to waste, on kisses
so expert/unexpected, they unzip the duffel
in your chest, fill you up with something that tastes
a little like Chopin, a little like chocolate,
like Champagne on the talented tongue of the woman
who goes off with you to Rome despite the fact
that you aren’t even French.                & what wonders await
in Firenze, one might reasonably ask,
with its favorable exchange rate, its Byronic ghosts,
the torsos of the exquisitely tailored adorning its piazzi?
Will Abigail depart, addicted to ices,
singing Here Comes the Sun, & will Dan & Karen
stumble hand-holdingly upon the lost adverbs of Verona
shimmying iambic in Shakespearian bodices,
box-canyoned in back alleys & cooing
down the centuries, versifying saucily, never having known
of Dolce & Gabanna, acid-trip Ginsbergs, Little Steven
or rolling naked with starlets on piles of Euros,
those bastard children of dollars & yen,
& will Chris write the sun setting on knockoff Oakleys
& The West in flames, pen Raffaelite cherubs
sizzling hiss & pop, plummeting toward Pittsburgh,
far over the sea, fat & doomed as barbecue hogs?
Dunno, but here in Phoenix I stagger to rise
from the flames I’ve been shot down in,
study to solve the Swiss women at the bar,
like the pole-vaulter searching for a cure
for gravity in Lausanne on TV, where the announcers
all have British accents & the track meet runs like clockwork.

Oh God, how the twenty-eight year-old who still lives in me would love that! Unfortunately, the looks of horror on the faces of the actual twenty-somethings when they saw me might be a bit of a buzz-kill. I am sure you could pull it off, though. But what the hell, if we ever end up in Warsaw together, yeah, let’s do it. I am listening to music from my own clubbing days, Bronski Beat and Yaz, at this very moment. Wow, dangerous nostalgia! It’s funny, the Warsaw/Sammy Starstruck/Zoo section was the first part of the poem I wrote. I used to coach college track and cross country, and while having a few beers with some of my former athletes, one told this amazing story of a just-completed semester abroad in Warsaw, talking about how he rallied from food poisoning to heroically go out dancing with his new mates. He went on to demonstrate how the women would come “spinning” up to his group and dance off with one of them. He and one of the young women hit it off and are now husband and wife. Like a freaking movie, that! I knew it was poem material even as he was telling it, and literally wrote down what he was saying on beer and salsa stained napkin. It fermented (the idea, not the napkin) for awhile, then I blended it with bits and pieces of tales from other friends who were traveling in Europe at the time to come up with the poem. It’s part of a series of “Travelogue” poems, all of which make it quite apparent that most of my travelling is, alas, vicarious.

Brent Terry is the author of two collections of poetry: the chapbook yesnomaybe (Main Street Rag, 2002) and the full-length Wicked, Excellently (Custom Words, 2007). Terry received an MFA from Bennington in 2001. In 2111 he was awarded a fellowship from the Connecticut Arts and Tourism Board. A former neighborhood poet laureate in Minneapolis, Terry now lives in Willimantic, CT, where he scandalizes the local deer population with the brazen skimpiness of his running attire and teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University, but still yearns to rescue a border collie and light out for the Rockies.

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