These poems take their titles from the
names of small and large American cities. How have these localities
inspired your current project?
Well, you can’t beat the gravitas of city names. As titles, they enable
me to play with cultural expectations and authority. But I don’t have
an agenda. I’m just roving around, insinuating myself into foreign
places—I’ve written around thirty so far.
I improvise from a kind of erratic historical research. I wrote
“Brattleboro” after driving up there and coming across a marker about
John Humphrey Noyes, who, in the 19th century, founded a doctrine
called Perfectionism that held Christ to have returned in 70AD,
clearing humanity of sin. Perfectionists around those parts would
practice complex marriage and male continence—variety in all aspects of
life was virtuous, monogamy was sinful. It was a release of art, a
heresy full of optimism and desire.
I’m drawn to the lore of a city’s birth. An official name may pay
homage to an historical event, or it may render, however crudely, a
Native American word. We’re as removed from these origins as we are
from our own infancies, and that's good for the poem. It leaves room to
conjure, to operate on Richard Hugo’s assumption that “Until I found
it, no outsider had ever seen it.”