The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: In the past you’ve mentioned that your MFA was “hugely positive” because the professors there helped you find out “what a poem needs in order to hold together.” Do you have any advice on pursuing MFAs for other writers?
Michael Brokos: My advice would be to do as much research as needed to come up with a list of programs that appeal to you most. There are a lot of factors, and you can decide how to weigh them: funding, faculty, location, the opportunity to teach, etc. It probably goes without saying that the MFA, by itself, doesn’t get you anywhere professionally but instead gives you an opportunity to develop your craft and community. If you are willing to commit to working hard at your writing during the program and after the program, then an MFA might be a worthwhile pursuit..
RR: Is there a specific reason that you decided to set some of “Conveyance” in the Mediterranean?
MB: The Mediterranean is a specifically mental setting at that one moment in the poem. The poem’s physical setting is rainy, urban, kind of grungy, so I was looking for a more idyllic location to suggest a discrepancy between the trying physical experience and the strategies the mind employs to blunt or soften that experience. At the same time, most of what the Mediterranean promises—sunlight, hills, a river—do seem to be present in the poem’s actual landscape, only distant and transformed.
RR: “Conveyance” has a deeply urban feel in juxtaposition with nature; can you comment on this juxtaposition and its meaning for you as a poet?
MB: The urban is a subject I return to often. So many people existing so close together, the comforts and anxieties, the intimacy and anonymity—all of that at once. I think that in many of my poems, the natural occurs within the context of the built or artificial. But in moments of extremity, the two might seem more oppositional or juxtaposed instead of complementary. The overwhelming-ness or overstimulation of the city might lead nature to be imbued with longing for quiet, simplicity, or harmony.
RR: Your use of negative space between lines operates as a physical separation between different images in “Conveyance.” How did you decide on this format?
MB: The pulled-apart quality of the lines seemed like an effect that would heighten the tensions of the poem to where I wanted them to be. Most of the lines are split into two units, which hopefully reinforces the dualities that the poem foregrounds—for example, reality and the imagination, or the urban and the natural. Also, within each stanza the clauses build on each other in a syntactically similar way, so I felt I could abandon traditional spacing and punctuation without making the sentences difficult to parse.
RR: The word ‘conveyance’ is defined as “the action or process of transporting something or someone to from one place to another.” Can you comment on how the act of leaving can aid in being transformative?
MB: In addition to its environmental and physical qualities, the place you live takes on the cadences of your personal and social life. If you’ve lived in a bunch of places, then in memory each one will be, in part, a snapshot of what it meant and felt like for you to be there. Leaving is inherently transformative because it means vacating one climate and set of physical touchstones for another. But the added layer is that it enables you to take stock of your subjectivity in relation to what was objectively there.
“Conveyance” appears in Issue 4.2.
Michael Brokos lives in Baltimore, where he teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University and is an assistant poetry editor for the Baltimore Review. He is the recipient of a Bread Loaf Camargo Fellowship in Cassis, France, and a work-study scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont. His poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, Bodega magazine, Hobart, and elsewhere.