I worry that I’m writing the same poem again and again; I’m forever unsure if I’m in a groove or in a rut. These two poems (and ten or eleven close cousins) are attempts to get out of the rut. They take inspiration and strategy directly from Richard Hugo’s masterful collection 31 Letters and 13 Dreams, less directly from my own struggles with anxiety and self-image. Hugo wrote a lot about his demons, too, and his dream poems contain lots of beautiful sadness and stuck-ness. Mine, I like to think, are a little more devil-may-care, preferring perhaps to shrug and chuckle. (Key word: “perhaps.”)
In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien writes of Vietnam in the late ‘60s as a place where one is never sure what’s real and what’s a dream. I am struck anew by its suggestion that writing too is like dreaming. Boundaries are blurred: the street you live on is dimly familiar, but the neighbors’ roses have a new, funky smell; the restaurant you’ve dined at fifty million times now sports a menu five times as long and a signature cocktail with seawater. In cinema, I think of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. Some characters speak once and are never heard from again. Plots are hatched; revenge is vowed; nothing much is resolved. The film is free of conventional movement. It follows what it finds interesting, and to hell with the narrative.
These poems have allowed me that same sense of freedom and (to borrow Robert Bly’s term) “leaping.” “Casino”’s setting is, in fact, a real bar at the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas—a town which is itself a dreamscape. “Class Reunion” also starts in a real-enough place and is based in the true-enough occasion of my 20-year high-school class reunion, but it’s informed, I hope, by a dash of surreality which makes it truer than the truth. I’m intrigued by what the poems might mean, though I don’t know what that is. I’m more intrigued by how they might achieve what Rodney Jones calls “transport,” a poem’s way of picking us up in one place and putting us down someplace new at the end.
The challenge of these poems is the challenge of writing anything: to transport and be transported.
Michael Diebert is the author of Life Outside the Set, available from Sweatshoppe Publications. Other recent work has appeared in The Comstock Review and the Georgia volume of Texas Review Press’s Southern Poetry Anthology series. He is poetry editor for The Chattahoochee Review and teaches writing and literature at Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta.