Possible Futures: Poetry, Puerto Rico and Adoption with David-Glen Smith

Headshot Poet David Glen Smith

Poet David Glen Smith

Your poem “Learning Spanish” provides a sensual recreation of the experience of immersion in a foreign language morphing familiar via the body—here through the lens of love and fatherhood and the translation into body rhythms. Can you talk to us about this rich braided layering of history, family history, and future? How you arrived at your metaphors and the process of writing this poem?

For a number of years, after many attempts at learning conversational Spanish, I reached the conclusion all languages are musical in origin, and my approaches conflicted with developing a poetic understanding of the phrasing—sometimes, on a basic level, there is a satisfaction just listening to a group of people absorbed in their cultural conversations without my comprehension of the words: the meaning transforms to music. From that starting ground I wanted to describe the sensation of a persona’s developing understanding of another language through a close relationship: a partner born from another culture. And the persona’s need for his child to understand the background of both parents, both cultures.

Likewise the process of creative thought is similar to language comprehension— in the sense writers often drown themselves in a collection of impressions and sensations in order to sort out and organize the flow of relevant themes and emotional impact to provide their readers. In this poem’s case, by mirroring the experience of language and creativity I opened myself to a wide assortment of material I needed to weave into a specific tapestry of information.

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I discovered how vast the quantity of history and literature and music were hidden from me, through no one’s fault but my own. Borrowing from my experiences of San Juan —the copper-blue cobble stones for instance, the carts of candy and chipped ice, the older men playing dominos in the town square— I discovered my persona would likewise be alien to the past life experiences of his partner as well as the average day-to-day speech of an unknown city. Once I acknowledged that fact, the watery metaphors quickly swept over the poem.

In “As A Figure of Hermes” the narrator open with the writer’s dilemma: “A moment of confrontation: me and the blank paper,” dilemma enough without the presence of a child to raise and love and imagine a life for over the rest of one’s days. Eventually the narrator latches onto the metaphor of Hermes, sliding into reverie about mortal son. Can you speak to the relationship between fatherhood and writing? How has fatherhood come to bear on your writing life?

With the experience of becoming a father last year, and the whole process of the adoption of our son Brendan, I quickly fell into a mode of redefining myself. Almost immediately a whole new understanding of my goals and aspirations emerged—I know it sounds cliché, but once the title of Father is attributed to you, a strange mindset develops without warning: no matter how much mental preparation you are supplied.

The poem in particular was a projection of a future possibility once Brendan reached his middle teen years—written before a birth mother had even matched with us. What I find interesting, although the projection of him as a dark-haired boy is inaccurate, my fear of a loss of communication with him is very similar to the fear of losing touch with my creative energies. Once, in the mid Nineties, I experienced a long spell of writer’s block, partly self-imposed, partly circumstance. My fear if the blank page echoes my fear of Brendan not understanding the creative energy of a writer-father.

“Without hesitation, / shove kindling and kerosene-soaked-rags / under the foundations of any structure / binding your slender body to the past” opens your powerful poem, “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges.” This poem strikes me as the kind of letter, as a poet, I would hope to find in my “baby book” (or, from the prenatal birth classes parents of our generation might attend, where one is often asked to write a letter to one’s future child). Can you talk to us about the inspiration behind this poem?

The “Burning Bridges” poem is another example of writing which appeared before we were matched with the birth-mother. It was the first full length poem I wrote addressing my son as an actuality, rather than a possibility due to the fact we were processing the paperwork and profile information for the agency. As you mentioned, it is a letter “exercise” I heard about years before as a means of developing ideas into something stronger and more stable.

Most of the inspiration is based off negative experiences from my immediate past—mainly a one-time corporate employer telling me to not burn any bridges in my exit interview. This of course only made me burn a huge pyre when I left the company to pursue my writing and editing positions. I pray he is never put into such situations of corporate middle management—or ill-advised authority figures—which of course became the backbone of the poem itself.

Furthermore I did not want to bind him to any expectations of my own. Certainly I want him to be involved with the creative arts in same fashion, but it will have to be up to his own choosing, not mine.

Most importantly, I wanted to prepare him in a sense for the opposition he will bump into later in life due to the fact his parents are in a same-sex relationship. I hate that expression; it sums up the situation in a very cold, clinical fashion. Regardless of that fact, I want him to be able to see beyond the definitions and restrictions society often places on diverse thoughts, diverse ideas, to hold firmly to his opinions and live according to a moral code based on his own choice construction, and analytical process.

How do the practices of sketching and writing compete/complement your imagination’s processes?

At one time my sketching was more intensive, more of a ritualized practice which helped explore new ideas—during the drawing process I discovered that the development of new schemes with a different manner of expression brought new focus to writing. However, with Brendan’s birth, my regular practice of drawing and painting has stopped temporarily. Once the demands of raising him lessen slightly, or offer windows of opportunities, I’ll start the process again, exploring a way of bridging the two different fields into one project. I have partially generated a series of Japanese tanka verses partnered with ink-brush illustrations—a project only half realized at the moment. As it stands currently, what resulted is that my two selves, illustrator and poet, tend to argue who is in control of the output. Oftentimes the original idea seems to suffer between the two extremes. A compromise needs to be built between the two aspects of my personality.

Any writing mentors you wish to share with us?

When earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Vermont College, then affiliated with Norwich University, I was fortunate to work with three established writers of merit: Susan Mitchell, Lynda Hull, and Mark Doty. Each of the trio, with their unique methods, did instill a better sense of direction for my writing. Through their individual approaches I strengthened my style of building connections between a variety of themes and story-lines. I always admired the manner their particular styles braid more than one conceit through one body of work. Some quick examples from their creative efforts I often use in my classes: Hull, “Ornithology;” Mitchell, “Havana Birth;” Doty, “Tiara.”

There is much talk recently about the validity of a higher degree in creative writing; at the time I was working towards my own, I felt a strong connection to the concept of guided study for developing a stronger sense of self, a stronger sense of craft. It is not a direction suited for everyone. On a practical level, I chose the MFA specifically to enable me to have a background for teaching university-level courses. On a more emotional approach, I needed to learn how to feel comfortable in my own skin and how to be honest with my own personal experiences.

We understand you are at work on a new series of poems, Quintet, with a unique structure. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Quintet is a manuscript, near completion, which explores numerous interior monologues. I do like the idea of a tight “concept album” in the music industry—in a tongue in cheek manner I created the same idea for a poetry collection. In this sense, the full narrative of a five member modern jazz group is heard. Edgar Lee Masters’ book Spoon River Anthology proved a valid inspiration ever since I read it in high school. In my case, the thoughts and impressions of the band are shown in a manner mirroring the sixties jazz be-bop movement, sudden solo improvisations popping into the middle of a memory without warning. The verses appear alternating between a tight, traditional form and an abstract, expressionistic pattern on the page. In this manner I follow the Modernists from the Twentieth Century, their rebellion against expectation and strict definition.

David-Glen Smith’s work appeared in various magazines including:Assaracus (where “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges” first appeared), The Centrifugal Eye, ffrrfr, Houston Literary Review, Lady Jane Miscellany, Louisville Review, Mid-America Review, Saltwater Quarterly, Slant, The Steel-Toe Review,and The Write Room. In addition, a recent print anthology titled Ganymede-Unfinished accepted two of his poems. Currently residing in Cypress, Texas with his partner of ten years, they recently adopted a baby boy, a welcome edition in their lives: new topics and inspirations for poetry projects. Smith teaches English Literature at both Wharton County Junior College and Lone Star College-CyFair. He received his MFA at Vermont College, and his MA at the University of MO at St. Louis. For more information visit his website.

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