The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: Since this is “Dream Man #5”, in what respect does he compare to the others?
Krista Cox: My Dream Man series emerged after several years of being single after a divorce. Basically, I decided to imagine myself the “perfect” man. It ended up becoming an exploration of society’s and my own expectations of men and relationships, and (of course) told me lots of uncomfortable things about myself. Rather than each poem representing a different man, they’re all stories about the same imagined, idealized man. What’s interesting, though, is how often the poems contradict each other. Dream Man #1, for example, begins “He never leaves anybody.” But, obviously, we know from #5 that isn’t true; he left a wife. Taken together, this demonstrates the often contradictory desires we have of those around us. We want someone without baggage, but who has been through enough hardship to have developed emotional intelligence. We want someone who can intuit our needs, but share their own needs explicitly. We want someone who’s experienced, but “pure.” The list goes on and on. And, realistically, since we’re each a bundle of these kinds of irreconcilable contradictions, the dream man’s contradictions make him seem more attainable and more tangible, rather than less so.
RR: This poem is packed full of half-meanings. How does its frequent use of this particular poetic strategy contribute to its tone and effect on the reader?
KC: I’ve always loved poems that develop meaning in an indirect way, like by telling you what didn’t happen rather than what did. In a more direct poem, I find the focus on the absent and half-meanings (or double ones) tend to expand the poem toward other possibilities and give it a kind of tentativeness, blurring the line between the real and the imaginary. But since we know right away that “Dream Man #5” exists in fantasy, I think here it has the impact of skewing the poem toward reality; it creates complexity that challenges the idea that this is, in fact, just a fantasy. This bolsters the push toward realism created by the dream man’s contradictory nature.
RR: One of challenges in writing about love and loss is avoiding becoming cliche or sentimental. As a poet, how do you ensure your approach to these topics remains fresh?
KC: One of the most beautiful poems I’ve read about love and loss is “Kiss of the Sun” by Mary Ruefle, and my favorite “romantic” film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love them because they approach love and loss obliquely, and pay homage to the downright messiness and ineffectiveness of people. Ruefle recognizes that it’s entirely possible that she won’t be able to quench her love’s thirst, but she still promises to chuck an orange as high as she can — one last hail-mary attempt at connection. In Spotless Mind, Clementine and Joel know full well that their respective neuroses will make their relationship rife with conflict, but (spoiler alert!) they still choose to be together. I think poems risk cliche and sentimentality most when they ignore the complexity of people and real life, and the fact that it’s often through — not in spite of — hardship and conflict that the deepest love can be nurtured.
RR: This poem addresses what T. S. Eliot once called the divide “between the idea / and the reality,” “between the conception / and the creation,” perhaps most directly in its final sentence. How does this dichotomy speak to the innate impossibility of the act of writing?
KC: The “Hollow Man” reference is an interesting choice, here, as my whole “Dream Man” series is an exercise in going “round the prickly pear” over and over, trying to get a taste of it. There are really three layers of “impossibility” in this poem. First, the poem begins in the realm of the imaginary, and even my own fantasy is incomplete, contradictory, and impossible to manifest. Then, so much is lost between the concept of the dream man, and his translation into text, by the very nature of language. Finally, the use of the second-person point of view draws attention to the space between what’s written, and what the reader sees, especially in that last line — did you, reader, imagine this scene to be dark? Nope! It’s actually flooded with sunlight. We arrive at yet another contradiction: while all this complexity and dichotomy move the dream man closer to the realm of reality, the very depiction and perception of him make him less tangible.
RR: How has serving as a poetry reader at the Pittsburgh Poetry Review informed your personal approach towards writing?
KC: I think all writers are told at one point or another that the key to good writing is lots and lots of reading. I absolutely agree with that. But I think that reading only what we choose to read can be limiting; we tend to read what we like, and it can become a sort-of literary echo chamber. One of the things I love about reading for journals is that I’m exposed to all kinds of writing that I otherwise wouldn’t see. While reading work I love is inspiring, reading work I less-than-love gives me something to push against, as opposed to something to move toward. Reading forms and themes I wouldn’t otherwise seek out expands my lexicon. Reading for Pittsburgh Poetry Review is also great because I get to see the comments of other writers whose work I really respect. It’s like getting all the valuable input from a workshop without having to have my own poems on the chopping block! It’s been a really invaluable experience, and I’m very grateful to get to do it.
Krista Cox’s work in Issue 4.1: