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A conversation with Boyer Rickel, friend, mentor, and partner of
Morgan Lucas Schuldt (1978-2012)

Transom:
The interjection “O!” ties each element of “CentOde” together. As a part of speech, “O”expresses pure emotion—we don’t always know whether joyful or sorrowful or astonished—but we are always directed toward the heart, or the gut. Was that space (ambiguous but full of possibility) one that Morgan frequently explored in his later poems?

Rickel:
The primary material of Morgan’s poems is sound and word play: homonyms, neologisms (often made by merging existing words), deliberately misspelled words (to suggest multiple possibilities), and so forth. The CentOde is composed instead of lines borrowed largely intact from a wide range of writers. So in sonic terms, the poem is anomalous. But the effect of Morgan’s other work, given the surface instability, language looking simultaneously in multiple directions, the reader kept somewhat off kilter—certainly the interjection “O!” and the initial emotional ambiguity of its import is of a piece with those poems. Urgency and ambiguity: these increasingly marked Morgan’s poetry in his last year as he faced the possibility of dying soon, the possibility that what he wrote now might be his final work.

Transom:

The cento can be seen as either the most derivative of forms or the most honest, since every word we speak or write truly comes from others. The cento acknowledges its connections to the world of language. How does this cento, with its register of 62 poets, reflect Morgan’s own poetic aspirations, values, or ideals?

Rickel:
I’ve never been close to a writer more aware of his forebears, more in touch with and in love with his aesthetic sources, than Morgan. He traced his work from a line: Whitman, Hopkins, Crane, Joyce, Berryman, Celan, and among the living, Charles Wright, Heather McHugh, Harrette Mullen. I’ve probably left out a number of important names; his sense of debt was deep to many. Both his book-length collections (the second, Erros, is forthcoming from Parlor Press) include homage poems, not only to writers but to artists, such as Frances Bacon and Cy Twombly, whose work moved him. He combed the pages of his beloved forebears for words, phrases, making original work with the material of kin. He spent many months absorbed in Finnigans Wake, filling  several notebooks. Morgan thought the CentOde might be his last important poem. I believe that in part he wished to gather there some of the company he hoped to keep. Not all the writers he wanted to include are in the poem. He would have worked on it more had he lived. The poem reached a point, however, that felt whole enough to publish and include in a collection, should he die before he could do more with it.