Interview: Marty Cain

Marty Cain’s Kids of the Black Hole (Trembling Pillow, 2017) is a book length poem that speaks from multiple time periods, both in lyrical style and confessional themes. Throughout the book Cain-Vila’s poetics resists the urge to be called pastoral poetry, postmodern poetry, or confessional poetry while simultaneously weaving from threads of each lyrical style. This has been noted in other reviews, most recently from Paul Cunningham at FANZINE who writes “Much of the content might unsettle you. But it’s important to let this gratuitous, starry-walled poem flood you. With its sleeping bags, with its blood trails. With its cowtipping boys, with its blindfolds. With its broken bottles, with its cracking knuckles. With its black holes.”

Rather than simply reiterating what Paul has already cast light on, specifically the poem’s ability to envelop the reading into its world of trauma, rural upbringing, and mentalscapes, I decided to see if Marty would like to speak about this amazing book in his own words. Below is a text based interview we exchanged between October-November 2017.

Chris Muravez: First, thank you for writing this book, especially the way you did. Long form poems, book length poems, or project books seem to be making a kind of impact on the small press world in the past few years. Could you talk a little about why you were drawn to this form for Kids of the Black hole? And how do you see this form in relation to more normative collections of poetry?

Marty Cain: For me, the choice to write a book-length work wasn’t a conscious one, at least not initially—Kids of the Black Hole actually started out as a two-page individual poem. I wrote it during the summer after the first year of my MFA program in Mississippi; up until that point, I’d been writing autobiographic narrative poems that were very indebted to Larry Levis, and at least for me, that mode—with a statically embodied, temporally coherent subject, that moves through space and time towards an epiphany—began to feel really stifling. I’ve always loved Levis, though, and rather than trying to totally destruct that influence, I decided I wanted to write a poem that pushed that narrative frame to its absolute limit. I wrote it over the course of about two months; everything I read and thought about began to be cannibalized by the poem—I began to dream about it, and I woke up from dreams and kept writing. A question I asked myself a lot was: what happens in the silence following the lyric epiphany? Does the speaker disintegrate? Is there silence at all, or is it something more akin to white noise—to static, or stars? (Through the online supplement to the book,, I’ve tried to push this tension even further—where does the book end? Can it ever?)

I wouldn’t have described it this way at the time I wrote it, but with a few years of hindsight, I can say now that Kids is about trauma. It’s about being abused, assaulted, and degraded, and what violence does to the imagination. And personally, I don’t want to write poems that turn my trauma into a digestible, consumable product. I want poetry that can’t be assimilated, and I think what I love most about the messy long poem is its uneasy relationship to institutionalism and systems of canonicity. At its best, it doesn’t let itself be contained or reduced. (As my pal Tim Earley writes in his book Linthead Stomp: that is some unassimilable shit.)

CM: Paul Cunningham seems to think you’re already dead, or at least living somewhere in-between this world and another. With your surreal settings that jump through time and space, it’s not hard to see what Paul means. While reading Kids of the Black Hole, I was also really drawn to these oscillations between what seems to be a realist confessionalism, a dream-like tunneling through an internal psyche, and metanarratives on the poem itself. What are some of your literary influences that informed this style?

MC: Yep, “living somewhere in between this world and another.” I feel that thoroughly: poetry as a way of being dead while still living. Probably my biggest and most obvious influence was Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, which became something of an obsession for me when I first read it. My partner Kina Viola and I went on a bunch of Mississippi pilgrimages to all of the landmarks that Stanford mentions. We went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where he wrote a lot of the book. We went to his grave in Subiaco, Arkansas, and saw someone leave a note on it and then drive away in a hurry. (I thought about dancing on his grave, in the way that he talks about dancing on a levee in Battlefield.) What captivated me most about Battlefield—and still does—is the way that Stanford veers in and out of narrative realism, rendering it a permeable, fleshy surface. I love the moments in the text where the speaker dies, and comes back to life, and then dies again, and becomes something that isn’t living or dead or necessarily human. In this sense, Battlefield became my model for how to disturb narrative autobiography without necessarily precluding narrative altogether. (And I love narrative. I identify as a narrative poet.) As far as self-reflexivity goes, I was reading two books while I was writing Kids—Lucas de Lima’s Wet Land and Cathy Wagner’s Miss America—and was awed at how both of these poets foreground the material labor of writing. These texts certainly had a visible influence on what my book ended up becoming.

CM: I’m also interested in your philosophical, or theoretical, influences. You noted Kristeva in your bio at Tarpaulin Sky, but I’m also noticing some elements Deleuze & Guattari, Eugene Thacker, and some other continental thinkers. What are some of theories or critics that you are drawn to? Why?

MC: Kristeva’s writing is extremely important to me. The first time I read Powers of Horror, and then again when I read Black Sun, I was astounded by her lyricism and excess—her erosion of the line between the critical and the aesthetic. I think about the passage about Joyce in Powers of Horror all the time. (Re: Finnegans Wake: “A single catharsis: the rhetoric of the pure signifier, of music in letters.”) My interest in Kristeva is ultimately more oriented towards her poetic language than her theories, though. On her own, she’s way too invested in Lacanian frameworks to dismantle systems of power in any tangible way, at least in my opinion. In general, I dislike psychoanalytic theory, but simultaneously have a perverse fascination with it. (Hell, half of the scenes in Kids take place in a therapist’s office.) I have a line in my second manuscript, The Wound Is (Not) Real: A Memoir, about stabbing Freud in the eye.

I can fuck with D&G some (particularly their conception of “minor literature”), but more so, I love Éduoard Glissant’s revisioning of their ideas of errantry and nomadism in Poetics of Relation. Building off Caribbean culture and histories of diaspora, Glissant insists upon an opaque subject—one that is rooted in a culture without being overdetermined by linear historicity. This conception of poetics, that resists transparency and legibility (and consequently, colonial rhetorics of mastery), is at odds with many institutional and academic approaches to poetry in the U.S.—the forces that want poetry to be assimilable—and I find it extremely valuable for this reason. At the time I wrote Kids, I hadn’t read Glissant, but he’s influenced my thinking in my second manuscript quite a bit.

In general, I’m excited by work that refuses to keep the poetic/aesthetic and the theoretical in separate spheres; work that opposes any division between intellect and affect. (I just finished reading Bhanu Kapil’s amazing Ban en Banlieue, which resists disciplinary categorization in precisely this way.)

CM: The idea of Arcadia has been invoked by others often in conversations about this book, and I’m wondering if you’d like to expand this conversation in your own words.

MC: I’ve been fixated on the pastoral for a long time. I spent my senior year as an undergraduate studying the contemporary postmodern pastoral, as well as uncovering the mode’s classical origins and its early modern reception. This culminated in an art installation in which I covered a wall in dirty sheep wool and projected video onto it. Being from Vermont, I had Robert Frost shoved down my throat by teachers at an early age, and had to contend with pastoralized representations of New England via Thoreau, Emerson, etc.—representations that never felt true to my own experiences of rural life. (What do they know about growing up an hour away from a mall? About getting your car stuck in the mud? About your babysitter breaking into your house and stealing your car to support his drug habit?) My interest in the pastoral, thus, is an interest in inhabiting the ahistorical violence of the mode—the precise violence that lies at the ideological base of this oppressive, fucked-up country—as a way of subverting and rewriting its coordinates. Further: if the pastoral has historically concealed the realities of rural life and labor—if it has attempted to wipe away historical traumas with a long, ugly brush—what happens when ones reterritorializes that which has been hidden? What happens when we attempt to make a home in Arcadia? Arcadia—at least for me; I can’t speak for anyone else—has always felt contiguous to the work of art itself: in its messy, bloody, life-giving properties.

CM: Lastly, there’s an obvious influence from punk rock, so what are you listening to these days?

MC: I’m always and forever listening to the various projects of Pat the Bunny (Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, Wingnut Dishwashers Union, Ramshackle Glory, etc.), who is also from my hometown. I listen to Titus Andronicus’s The Monitor on repeat. As far as new releases go, I’m obsessed with PUP, a great punk band from Toronto, as well as Downtown Boys, an amazingly raucous punk band that vocally resists capitalism, ethno-nationalism, and fascism in all forms.

Marty Cain is the author of Kids of the Black Hole (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017), a book-length poem, as well as, a digital supplement. His creative and critical works appear in Fence, Boston Review, Jacket2, Action Yes, Dreginald, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Mississippi, and presently, is pursuing a PhD at Cornell, where he studies rural poetics. With Kina Viola, he edits Garden-Door Press, a chapbook micropress.

Chris Muravez is a poet, a veteran, and an educator living in the San Francisco Bay Area. His poems and reviews have appeared in Angel City Review, Santa Clara Review, Deluge, and others. He earned an MFA from the University of Notre Dame and currently teaches at Diablo Valley College.


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