Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets from around the world, celebrating the many creative voices who express themselves through poetry. This week, we share the work of poet Douglas Cole.
Douglas Cole has published six collections of poetry, a novella called Ghost, and the highly praised, well-reviewed novel The White Field. His work has appeared in several anthologies as well as journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Poetry International, The Galway Review, Bitter Oleander, Chiron, Louisiana Literature, Slipstream, as well as Spanish translations of his work (translated by Maria Del Castillo Sucerquia) in La Cabra Montes. He is a regular contributor to Mythaixs, an online journal where, in addition to his fiction and essays, his interviews with notable writers, artists, and musicians such as Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), Darcey Steinke (Suicide Blond, Flash Count Diary), and Tim Reynolds (TR3 and The Dave Matthews Band) have been popular contributions. He has been nominated twice for a Pushcart and Best of the Net awards and received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington. You can visit his website here.
We reached out to the poet to ask him about his influences and inspirations.
AN: How did you come to poetry? Why do you write?
DC: I came to poetry like a new kid entering class midway through the year. I didn’t know anyone, but everyone seemed to know each other and looked at me like, what’s he doing here? I kept my thoughts to myself, so I wrote them down.
AN: What do you hope people come away with from reading your work?
DC: Well . . . I suppose a sense of strangeness, dread, a feeling of things not quite right. I mean, I’m not trying to preach anything. All the philosophy, social commentary . . . I try to keep that out. Everything changes. I’m trying to make something like a koan, a psychedelic aesthetic. What I’m offering is really a document of my own exploration. I’m more interested in what I don’t know. As someone said, if my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.
This one started from watching a documentary on the Son of Sam. Disturbing. I don’t usually watch those things. Sometimes. This one sucked me in, though, which is where the image of sewer people with code marks on their foreheads came from. I suppose the old woman is an antidote I dreamed up to counterbalance the energy of the documentary. She’s got power, you know? Big power. Way more than a serial killer.
She doesn't sleep, or so she says—catnaps, dozes in fits
in her world chair by the east window, witness and some say
conjurer, but they don't know—I know—I see through the blinds
the way her eyes burn like roses. God’s awake, she says,
when the rest of you are sleeping on porches, in alcoves,
under highway on-ramps or in city parks—let's just say
she's not without sympathy, but she's seen it all—even that
horrible summer they came out of the sewers with code
marks on their foreheads, bumping into trees and fences
until one found an opening in the fabric of your dream
and they all started filing in. All she does is snap her fingers,
and up in smoke they go. So, call her crazy, call her an old bat,
but I tell you, you’d have been burned at the stake or thrown
in a lake of fire if it weren't for her and that eternal laugh.
This one is straight reporting of a dream I had. I filled in some of the details, such as the politics and the actors’ names. The fun of this one was casting. In the dream, they remain rather gray, vague psychodramatic extensions of the dream self. In the poem, I got to loan out the roles.
Here's the scene: imagine it played by Leonardo DiCaprio,
after Gilbert Grape, and maybe Harrison Ford as the father.
This feels like revolution Cuba or maybe Nicaragua,
use your memory and imagination to fill in the politics and dates,
but see beautiful blue sky day, these two, father and son,
just coming out of a restaurant and getting into the car.
They had a great meal. Any of the family issues are not at play
and haven't been for a while. There’s good feeling between them.
Then shots, a few fast shots come from somewhere,
probably having nothing to do with them—this is revolution,
a war-torn time, but maybe at the edge of the conflict,
and Leonardo is hit in the chest. He's bleeding out.
Harrison Ford realizes it. We realize it. But most of all,
Leonardo realizes it. He stops breathing and slumps forward.
We're looking up into his eyes. He's in that moment
where the body is dead, heart stopped, blood stopped,
and he knows it. We see he knows it. He's about to go,
and he's not sure what's going to happen next,
and we feel that anxiety. We're used to not thinking about it.
Then he's out. Now what? No afterlife montage review
travel through space and psychedelic rush or glowing star child,
no, nothing like that, but we know, we feel it, we go, too.
Then, there's really no explaining it or what went on between,
why or how we arrived here and are able to talk about it.
Almost all of the details of this one come from growing up in Berkeley, California, and going to Longfellow Elementary, which at the time was in a rough neighborhood. My biggest fear everyday was sitting in Mr. Sistrunk’s gym class, the last class of the day. He made us sit silent for five minutes at the end of class. If anyone made one sound, he’d add a minute. Add too many minutes, and I’d miss my school bus and have to walk home. That was a scary walk.
The Beautiful Phantoms
Can you imagine growing up in this luxury hilltop home,
green cultured lawn, line of poplars east, pines on the south scape,
west and north open sky and the sea and the Olympics—all yours,
all and night winds picking up and rolling through the eaves.
That child you are hears a knocking. Everyone is asleep.
Go to the door and open to the shadow there who takes you in
a whirlwind blur of faces, and drops you in a tenement room,
smell of old inhabitants, a stranger's initials carved in a desk drawer,
you saying, wait, wait, I don't belong here—
time taking over saying yes you do, every stomachache bus ride
to the poor school playground spattered with kid spit,
sirens going down the mystery street, dead cars in driveways,
afternoon heat dust, gangland territory,
you walk every high alert, blistering step in a haze,
music through open doors, eyes and eyes and the layered air,
here, here, I say, since I am your witness also,
and touch your temple with ghostly finger and plant through
ophthalmic migraine a secret way out made of words.
Annie Newcomer teaches poetry classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center's Turning Point—a place for hope and healing for people suffering with chronic health problems. Her North Stars series shares interviews with poets and writers and Annie's own experiences through writing. Annie also helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to write poetry!
Flapper Press Poetry Café.
Presenting a wide range of poetry with a mission to promote a love and understanding of poetry for all. We welcome submissions for compelling poetry and look forward to publishing and supporting your creative endeavors. Submissions may also be considered for the Pushcart Prize.
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