Monday, September 14, 2020

Talking Poetics #27 : Jeff Alessandrelli

For the last 12 or so years I’ve walked around with a piece of paper in my right back pocket. Not the same piece of paper, naw, but one that has retained the same characteristics throughout: cheap copy paper, words of mild to severe illegibility wildly schismed up and down the page, sometimes side to side. To say I begin with a loose structure is understating it and most often I start my writing work while walking my dog. In craft interviews I’ve read about other writers’ fear of the blank white page, sitting empty in front of it, mind and body a dullard of one. But with regards to writing poems at least, that’s never been a major issue for me, as I’m normally on the move when writing, not staring at the computer screen, not focused on writing at all. (I also write non-fiction and in the writing of that I have stared, sometimes for hours, at the venomous screen, no worthwhileness appearing anywhere in front of me.)

Although I didn’t realize it when I started writing seriously—a period that directly correlates with my dog ownership—perhaps movement embodies my entire poetics and/or vision of writing. There are exceptions, dozens of them, but I don’t particularly like narrative poems or poems with a staunch beginning/middle/end. I’m not very drawn to epiphany and even revelation can seem forced within the parameters of set lines and stanzas. I know I sound like a negatron, but I don’t really care about fern gullies or fatherhood or fiery rhetoric.

In my own poems at least what I’m mostly trying to get at is a moment and a disappearance, in the way that I’ve seen faces or pieces of graffiti or landscapes appear and then immediately disappear during the course of my walks—and yet those momentary visions somehow stay indelible in my mind, for days, months or years later. It’s an everyday vision that I witness, but via my there-and-gone again-ness it somehow seems unordinary to me, and that’s what I try and write towards—-the sparkling vagaries of the mundane, rendered technicolor in beige and grey.   

The below two poems are taken from my 2019 collection Fur Not Light, one inspired by the work of the Russian Absurdists. (If you don’t know them, this book is an amazing start.) Composed between 2014-2018, much of Fur Not Light was written in prose, lineation be damned, but the volume’s opening section is in lines, short ones. Nearly all of that section was written while walking, aimless and attune. With the two poems below I can distinctly remember the composition circumstances. The first was written in the summer of 2015, over the course of three different walks, Monday afternoon, Thursday afternoon, Saturday morning. One stanza that first day, two the second and the last three on the third. (I later went back and revised a bit but the thereness was already there by that point.)

The second was written in the late fall of 2016, at Thanksgiving. I lived in Omaha, NE at the time and was briefly housesitting for my friends John and Rachel in my former hometown of Portland, OR. That poem was a two-walker, with the first two stanzas written on Thanksgiving Day and the next three written two days later. A lyric by Chance the Rapper makes a fleeting appearance in the third stanza too. (I think?)            
from “Be Yer Own Hitman (Deathsounds/Lovesongs)”

My past 
A winter’s thaw,  
Sun intermittently through 
Dark cloud. 

As then I believed 
I owned the air, 
Now succumbed 

To my mere rental    
Of it, 
For a short time, 
At a great cost. 

(Realizing that under certain circumstances  
Even the sunshine 
Can be a kind of death 

As today I finally study 
The meaning of snow, 
Of slush. Thick 
Mysticisms of snow 

Some canyon’s  
Every pockmark.  


I could put a bullet                  
In my heart 
Or a sunflower  
In my hand  

And today all is a battlefield 
Of sunflowers,  
Battlefield able to shout  
Without having a mouth. 

When did I forget 
How to fly?  
I didn’t, I didn’t, I won’t.    
Where the river bends 

Through the trees  
I am waiting, 
Breathless to grace.   
Keep rowing past anyway, 

Our stunned copse 
Of eye contact 
Its own glittering 

When I was younger I thought that poetry was about linguistic triumph. Now I’m of the mind that it involves syllabic darts of rhythm, deeply felt but barely seen or heard.

Jeff Alessandrelli is most recently the author of the poetry collection Fur Not Light (Burnside Review Press, 2019). In addition to his own writing Alessandrelli also runs the literary record label/press Fonograf Editions. He’s at

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