The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: “She Went Into the Lobby for a Box of Junior Mints” draws the reader in with a highly evocative title. How do you navigate the process of titling works?
Gregory Crosby: I have a weakness for odd or wacky titles that create some sort of expectation that the poem itself subverts, or that simply function as “grabbers.” I consider titles to be part of the poem as a whole, and I often write poems around a phrase that sounds like a good title; I have a very old and very long Word document filled with nothing but potential poem titles, which I turn to whenever a prompt is needed. “She Went Into the Lobby for a Box of Junior Mints” is, of course, a line from the Hüsker Dü song “Merry Eiffel Tower High” (from their 1986 album Candy Apple Grey). The preceding line is “She went into the movies/She’s been there ever since,” and recently, while sitting in a theater waiting for the film to start, I made the mistake of actually reading the ingredients on a box of Junior Mints and discovering that sugar came first, long before either chocolate or mint. I have, as many of us do, a complicated relationship to sugar, particularly with the history behind it; the poem is the result of thinking about those complications. Since that Hüsker Dü lyric always pops into my head whenever I’m at the movies, it was a short step to realizing that it would be a highly appropriate, allusive title for the poem I had in mind.
RR: The poem includes biblical references scattered amongst commercially available candy and common consumer taglines. When pulling references to utilize in your works, do you consciously attempt to mix a large variety of sources (everything from literature to commercialism), or is it a more subconscious process?
GC: It’s never particularly conscious nor subconscious–all of that language, from a lifetime of widely varied sources, is constantly percolating in my mind. Poems often happen simply as an attempt to bring all those words and phrases and sentences to heel somehow, isolating a few signals out of that linguistic noise.
RR: The humor of this piece is apparent, and carefully employed. What role does humor play in your work as a writer?
GC: The obvious one: Is it funny? Yes? Good, leave it in. I do a fair amount of readings, and it’s interesting and gratifying to hear which lines in a poem get a laugh. They too are “grabbers,” in addition to being (one hopes) actual examples of wit. Humor also helps punctuate the self-serious, grasping-for-gravitas tendency in poetry.
RR: Are you currently working on any other written projects?
GC: Yes, constantly. My projects are legion; much of my writing time and energy is spent simply trying to figure out where to focus amid the cloud of distraction that is daily life (In the 21st Century, focus feels like a luxury good no one can afford, so we all just make do with knockoffs). But all those “projects” are themselves a form of distraction, albeit one that often results in finished works. Individual poems, unconnected to any larger concept, are always clamoring for attention, and more often than not whatever comes out on the screen or in the notebook is not what I was planning on working on when I sat down.
RR: Looking at your output simply based on what is available online, you are clearly a prolific writer. Do you have any rituals you would like to share that keep you writing at a consistent level of quality and output?
GC: I’m pleased and bemused that Google represents me as “prolific.” I am, really, fairly indolent, and I’m not sure I would recommend any of the rituals I’ve developed over the years; most of them involve simply letting lines and images and ideas build up until they become an intolerable pressure in my psyche, then spewing them out in stolen moments when I should be doing something else (usually gainful employment or catching up on sleep). I’m fortunate in that I have the ability to revise decisively throughout the initial draft, as I’ve already done much of the writing in my head (many writers swear by the efficacy of long walks, and it’s true). I’m not overly precious about the work–unless a poem has serious issues or is a misfire, it pretty quickly goes out into the world and takes its chances. My only truly surefire writing ritual is a wide-ranging and sustained engagement with art and literature (I’ve found experience usually takes care of itself). Whenever a film or book or painting or song feeds my head or heart or both, I feel the compulsion to turn around and try to feed others. It always comes down to that weirdly generous and self-indulgent impulse to somehow pay something forward.
Gregory Crosby’s work in Issue 2.2: