“I haul the past around with me every day.”
This Diet of Flesh (Finishing Line Press, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Reading chapbooks is actually a new activity for me, but over the last few months, I’ve read several impactful ones: Charles Wright’s The Wrong End of the Rainbow (2005), Catherine Pritchard Childress’s Other (2015), Matthew Wimberley’s Snake Mountain Almanac (2015), and Janice Hornburg’s Perspectives (2013). In the past, I’ve tended toward longer collections, and “New and Selected” types of poetry publications, but this year I’ve really opened to the experience of reading a 20-25 page bound volume. I love the feel of the books in my hands. They’re portable enough to take walking and profound enough to keep me thinking.
What’s your chapbook about?
The majority of my poems are spooled around the time-honored topics of Eros and Thanatos, love and death –what else is there, really? But beyond themes of loss and longing, at its core This Diet of Flesh negotiates personal, American landscapes and the hidden, even lurking, power that’s always present in the world. Like many other folks, I am obsessed with the Mystery.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
“Home on December 1st” is the oldest poem in the book. I wrote it on a walk that I took over 10 years ago. It was one of those evenings that all midnight optimists love: dark, cold, and full of stars.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I’m an inveterate walker, and for better or worse, most of the poems were initiated while out rambling. Generally, I’ll start off with the kernel of a poem –sometimes it’s just a word or sound – and later, I’ll sit down and attempt to hammer it into form. When stuck, I’ll go for another walk; now and then it comes together. I believe in the ancient motto solvitur ambulando: problems are solved by walking.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
The chapbook is divided into two sections. The poems in “Part One: A Coiled Message” loosely follow the calendar year, while those in “Part Two: Dark Question, No Reply” attempt to flow out from the query, “what is man?” The question is posed in the section’s first poem, “The Knowing.”
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I had a wonderful experience creating the cover. My first cousin, Josh Johnston, is an artist living in Boone, NC. He created the cover image and interior drawings after we discussed the organization of the chapbook over a few stout beers. He’s a talented artist, and I hope to collaborate with him again.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on an article about the Marvel superhero known as Black Panther. I’m also attempting to write new poems all the time. Sometimes there’s just a word or an impression that I collect, hoping to use it at a later time.
Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?
Only ten? Walt Whitman, Cold Mountain, William Wordsworth, William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Robinson Jeffers, and Charles Wright.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?
No, all of the poems were written as one-offs. After they were finished, I noticed that many were geographically linked. For example, each poem is set in the South, and almost every southern state is explicitly named. Like many Southerners, I haul the past around with me every day, so it’s no surprise those specific place names jumped out in the poems.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
“The Night It Happened” is the outlier because it’s a prose poem. I had originally attempted to write it in verse – couplets – but the voice in the poem, a woman named Sara, just sounded more natural speaking in prose. I think, though, that it’s thematically linked with the rest of the collection.
If you could re-title your chapbook, what would the new title be?
The collection was nearly entitled Poems(ish). Though I’m still drawn to that title, I ultimately I felt that it was too whimsical for this batch.
What themes and images “bridge” your work?
Rivers and lakes are dominating images in This Diet of Flesh. I love the waterways of America. Unfortunately, many rivers can be almost forgotten in our contemporary world; bridges have rendered them almost invisible from our cars. We pass over rivers, not through them. It wasn’t always this way. They were once the very thoroughfares and boundaries of the country. Remember one of Langston Hughes first published poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”? To me, that’s a nearly perfect poem.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
I’d be honored for anyone to spend a moment with my little chapbook.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
I read maps, travel accounts, natural history, and graphic novels.
What do you wish you had been told as a writer?
Writing is such damned, maddening work, isn’t it? I really don’t consider myself a true writer; I’m just a guy who likes to distill experiences down to an image or a sound. There’s an old Italian word called sprezzatura. As I understand it, the term means to make something difficult look easy. It’s a kind of affectation of nonchalance. All of my literary heroes possess sprezzatura, and I wish that somewhere along the way I had learned to cultivate and harness it.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by the natural world –rocks, water, trees, wings, darkness – all that fine stuff.
What gets you to the page?
I’m ruled by time, just like everyone, so I’ve tried to stop squandering so much of it. I’d like to write more, walk more, and be kinder to my fellow humans.
Scott Honeycutt grew up in Virginia and Tennessee. His writing has appeared in Northwest Ohio History, The Journal of Ecocriticism, Anthology of Appalachian Writers VII, Hartskill Review, Torrid Literature Journal, and other publications. He lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he is an assistant professor of English at East Tennessee State University. When he is not teaching, Scott enjoys walking the hills of Appalachia and spending time with his family.
After Noah docked his barge
on the summit of Sand Mountain,
he opened its dark hold and found
it full of cleave-eyed serpents.
The Old World menagerie of
beasts that had boarded so long ago
were transmuted in passage
into these coiled, taut messengers
At the end of our days what
remains if not praise and conviction?
So why not take up snakes after
the heaving waters leave us on
hard land and offer a rainbow
full of scales alive with God?