Christopher McCurry

“I was a different writer and person when I finished writing the poem.”

McCurry

Nearly Perfect Photograph: Marriage Sonnets (Two of Cups Press, 2016)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

Tina Andry’s Ransom Notes. Patty Paine’s Feral. Sarah Freligh’s A Brief Natural History of an American Girl. There is a crown of sonnets in Jeremy Paden’s Broken Tulips that I love; actually the entire chapbook is good. Oh, Nettie Farris’s Communion. I also enjoy all the work from Two of Cups Press.

What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I like short poems. Poems that are about relationships. I value accessibility and humor, as well. I like knowing that the writer has considered a reader like me and what we may and what we may not need to know. I like to be entertained.

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s about marriage, specifically my marriage and exploring the circumstances and emotions that come along with being with someone for the long term. It’s also about confronting your mistakes, meanness, selfishness, and other flaws within the confines of the form of marriage. That’s why they are sonnets, I think.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

Splayed was first. Many of the poems are about new relationships, misrepresentation, and miscommunication. Romanticized desire. Nearly Perfect Photograph is about marriage, trying to put a form to the passion and all the difficulties and heartache that goes along with that.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The oldest piece is actually the first piece. It started the series and the success of it inspired me to continue writing them. Not just that it was a successful poem, as far as poems go, but that I felt something click inside me, something change or fall into place. I was a different writer and person when I finished writing the poem and that transformation created energy for more.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?  

To a fault, my writing and my thought process are highly linear. Once I think of an idea or a line, I try to follow it through to a conclusion. I often get trapped in a rhythm or metaphor or can’t think my way out of a concrete description. Usually, my revision process is to condense and cut. I’m trying to break those habits some and grow in my writing.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m just trying to work on my craft. To find areas of growth, which is not too hard to do, and work on strengthening my writing. I want to stretch my use of metaphor and grow my imagination. So giving myself permission to do that in my writing is important to me now. At the same time, as a writer from the South, I want to explore my connection to faith and belief and the church. I also think every serious writer should be confronting their own blind spots and difficult subject matter, so writing about race and teaching and family, even if I don’t ever share it with the world, is one of my projects.

What music do you listen to as you work and write?

Terrible pop music. Like the worst of the weekly top forty. My wife thinks it is hilarious. I otherwise don’t like music all that much. I’ve never listened to it actively and I just recently got a car with a radio in it. My first truck had a CD player but it was stolen. For some reason, listening to Miley or Maroon 5, or whatever, creates a noise I don’t have to listen to and allows me to focus.

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

At the end of last year I read Blue Is the Warmest Color. It about ripped me in half. Such a moving love story. A real love story.

We all have to make choices about who we read in our limited free time. Many of us have demanding jobs, a house to keep up, a family to keep happy, a dog to walk. How do you decide which poets (or other writers) you want to read or should read, and how do you begin to understand what your own work might offer to benefit the literary landscape in the context of what else has been done?

I like to read a lot and read widely. Pretty much the only way to sustain that habit and not get overwhelmed with the wealth of options is to build in goals and rules. My goal every year is to read one hundred books. My rule is to read a book in a genre different than the one I just finished. This helps with diverse forms, and being aware of the authors I’m reading and supporting helps to make sure there is a diversity. I like to support writers close to home every chance I get.

As for the second part of this question, I don’t really know if that is up to me to decide. I think there may not need to be a benefit to the literary landscape, though I hope I’m making the argument for an accessible and reader-oriented poetry that inspires others to reflect and respond to this life with thought and words.

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?

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Ross Gay

Sylvia Plath

Stephen Dobyns

Wislawa Szymborska

Rebecca Gayle Howell

Sharon Olds

Patty Paine

Lucille Clifton

ee cummings

Czeslaw Milosz

I’d carry these poets anywhere.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

Definitely dancing. Something with movement and visible force, kinetic energy. I like the idea of getting lost in the body. And collaboration is more natural in dancing.

How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?

For a while now I’ve wanted to make a habit of writing every day. When writing Nearly Perfect Photograph, I just sat around and waited until a poem came to me. I think a lot of people write like that and I think good poems can come that way. You can definitely make a book, but for the sake of my craft, pushing myself to write everyday was necessary. So with a friend, Dave Harrity, I write a poem and share it with him every day of the week. But we don’t just send it, we have to read it, which puts a little bit of pressure on the language right out of the gate. I also participate in this thing called the Poetry Gauntlet with ten other poets. We read a book of poems, an essay on craft every month, and attempt to write at least 100 poems in the year. It’s been highly rewarding and habit building so far.

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

A honest, human(e) world where mistakes are made and forgiveness is sought and readily given in the name of love.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

“Marriage Sonnet # 3” stands out the most in form and tone, I think. Leigh Anne (the editor at Two of Cups Press) and I cut a lot of the playful ones from the collection and rightly so, but I couldn’t bring myself to let go of this one. It’s basically an anthem to my wife’s hair, which she started to grow out after our daughter was born.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

Close friends and family. Those who are struggling with their marriage or relationship. Fans of form, of humor. People who are interested in the way our daily actions and words shape our relationships with one another.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

I really enjoy the Dean Young quote, which I won’t put into quotations because I don’t know if it is exact, but goes something like: let us forgive ourselves for not writing a poem that is better than every other poem that has ever been written. That forgiveness is crucial to a lifetime of writing.

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Christopher McCurry is the author of two chapbooks, Nearly Perfect Photograph: Marriage Sonnets and Splayed. His poetry has appeared in Diode, The Louisville Review, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Rattle and elsewhere. He’s an editor at Accents Publishing and the co-founder of Workhorse, a literary collective whose mission is to provide opportunities for writers outside of the academy. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his wife and daughter where he teaches high school English.

christophermccurry.com

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Marriage Sonnet # 34 

You ask me if you look stupid

and there’s no doubt in my mind

the answer is yes. And it is

such a relief to find you grateful

that we hug each other and are

happy. Truth, for once, didn’t turn

us rabid in a room overexposed

with light and nowhere to lay

our heads but a cold slab of metal.

It’s true they cut off the head,

to test for rabies in animals.

But at least you know before

the symptoms show and

you’re thirsty but scared of water.

 

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