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Writings from the F Train

Writings from the F Train

This week I got the chance to pick the brain of the wonderful poet, Jason Primm, on his poem “Flood” and other musings. Rather than type out the whole nearly two-page poem to you here, I’ve provided a link to it here on my own personal poetry blog and you should READ IT(!!!), which I use for the sake of my own words and of others (this is not a blatant request for you to read my poetry, because trust me—Jason’s is better). Jason and I share one thing in common—we both might save a lot of money on coffee if we could write anywhere. Fortunately for Jason, he can people watch on the F train. Omaha is about 50 years behind the modern world and we don’t even have a train. As I type this to you all now, dear readers, I am shoved into the corner of a coffee shop with a scowl that says, “Don’t talk to me…I’m blogging.

Jason’s given me some good advice about honesty in narration of poetry, which has proved quite helpful as I continue to venture into the largely unknown world (to me, at least) of chapbooks. A 22-year old with a chapbook, AM I SUCCESSFUL YET? Besides that, this is an interview worth reading for anyone who has ever had to experience the helpless, trapped, lonely feelings that come along with being a flood victim—to watch pieces of yourself and your home being destroyed. One of the main reasons I chose “Flood” is because the words remind me a lot of how my father had to deal with the devastation of a flood we went through–I was forced to leave my home, our entire basement was destroyed, people were canoeing around (that was the only sort of funny part). Also, I mention Jay-Z and Beyonce here, and duh, that is a super important topic in the modern world.

Hello, dear Jason from Brooklyn. I love that you included in your bio that you write frequently from the F train. Is that the sort of clattering, jumbled atmosphere you need for inspiration, or can you really write anywhere?

I wish I could write anywhere. I would save money on coffee. The train is good because there are a lot of people on it and nearly all of them are actively ignoring you. It is like a coffee shop where, usually, no one talks to you. I write with a laptop. So, people can see what I am writing which is a little odd. I have had two people comment on the poems that I was writing. They both had enough sense to do it on the way off the train. One said, A little like Wallace Stevens, Huh? And the other said, I liked the last line.   

Your poem, “Flood,” hit me with a great sense of empathy. I’ve been on the receiving end of a terrible flood that destroyed part of my home. I wondered as I read who you believe the speaker of the poem to be?

He has worked hard all day to try to save his things. He has done what he has needed to for his family, and he came back to do one more thing alone. The poem is at least a little bit about the loneliness he feels in that moment. There can be a freedom in being lonely. This is a poem about before the flood. He hasn’t lost anything yet like your family did. At least not in a flood.

I love the beautiful images of objects—“great steel drum smokers” and “a few lawn ornaments”—floating around. Is a flood a time where we (or you personally) figure out what’s important in our lives, and what to let go?

Yes that part is true that you have to decide what is truly important. The smoker obviously must go. Buried in the core of that pile on the back of the truck are the expensive things, the sentimental things. Maybe some of those things are so important that they are riding on the laps of people. For me, though, in those images, the most interesting things were the things that I imagined people grabbing at the last minute, the top of the pile. I saw those lawn ornaments as a last minute impulse, something grabbed, not to have, but to deny it to the flood.

Admittedly, your image of the boat floating and women on higher ground reminded me of the devastation I saw firsthand as a volunteer in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Did a real flood that you went through inspire this piece?

I grew up in Louisiana and the inspiration for this did come from Louisiana, but nothing that I was personally involved in.  Being down there, you probably read a little bit about all the levees and controls that they have on the water so that the Mississippi River doesn’t flood every twenty years or so. This happens every spring, all the water from the top of the country comes rolling down the river. In this situation, the amount water coming was extraordinary. It wasn’t to Louisiana yet. I was living in Brooklyn at the time but I was watching it on the news, making its way down. They could have let this water go all the way to New Orleans or open the spillway and flood the areas around the Atchafalaya River where less people live. What struck me about this story was that it wasn’t raining in LA and there wasn’t a hurricane. Someone from the Army Corps of Engineers was going to let this water loose at an appointed hour and land that had been dry for a very long time was going to be underwater.

I love the line “Maybe if you/ Had sons instead of daughters you could have/ lifted it up.” I think my father felt the same as I struggled through our basement in sewer slime and water up to my knees to rescue his beloved records. I wonder, is the flood in this poem quite literal, or is it also metaphorical?

I think a good poem honors both things. If you really see the thing in front of you, if you are honest and careful in describing the thing, the symbolism comes automatically. As I say above, the situation was real but the flood in this poem hasn’t hit yet. The time that I spend on the images at the top of the poem gives an added sense of reality to his dream of the flood later.

On a completely unrelated note, do you ever see Jay-Z and Beyonce walking around in, as you say in your bio, the “Empire of Brooklyn?”

No, I have never seen them walking around. If I were to run into them, I’m not sure that I’m tall enough to see over their bodyguards. I think what I mean by that word is that though Brooklyn isn’t large on a map, it is vast in terms of neighborhoods and cuisines and languages and peoples.  I have been living there for thirteen years and haven’t come close to seeing it all or even understanding much more than my neighborhood. Also, the word has a grand-ness to it, and I was poking fun at myself. My Brooklyn is quite a few degrees humbler than anything that Jay-Z and Beyonce are experiencing.

When did you first begin your writing process as a poet? Does it come naturally for you or do you have to set up a regimented schedule for writing?

My routine is to try to write very early in the mornings on weekends and on my commute and lunch hour when possible. This is out of necessity. So in that sense, yes, it did come naturally. This started a few years ago. When I was younger, I didn’t have a routine and this stress would follow me around all day that I really must do some writing. I didn’t at the time. I find now that if I get a poem in the morning or even a few lines, I’m nicer to everyone else in my life for the rest of the day.

How rewarding did it feel to be published? A teacher told me her friend decorates his office humorously with rejection letters. As a young poet myself, I’m ready (I hope) to deal with rejection in the same sort of laughable way. How do you deal?

There are two parts to my poetry life. When I first got out of graduate school, I just assumed that people would naturally recognize my genius.  I sent a few poems out. One got published and I was pleased. I didn’t realize how big an accomplishment that publication was. I thought it was just something due me. Then, I received a few rejections. Those long ago editors were right. The poetry that I was writing was just okay. I hadn’t worked on it very hard. In the way of youth, I took it all personally. I still read poetry and every blue moon I might put a line or two down, but I stopped considering myself a poet. I mostly stayed away from poetry readings and the world of poetry. It was something between an extended pout and a self-imposed exile. A couple of years ago, I published another poem after more than a decade between publications. I was ecstatic. To answer the other question, I still don’t deal well with the rejections. I grit my teeth, dutifully record it on Duotrope and try to move on. I also on occasion throw my racquet when I’m playing tennis. I might have a personality flaw.

This might be tough, but I collect advice from poets I interview like you. Any last ideas for me as I end my last semester of college and head out into the “writer’s world?”

Okay. I’ll try. People can smoke in poems but not in the last two lines. When in doubt, add the moon or the stars. When a line sounds flat, even if the poem isn’t formal, put it into iambs. Watch out for big words, they chew up the syllables and people might think you are trying to show off. You can build a whole poem on one good image. I know that this isn’t quite what you are looking for with this question, but the work is what is most important. The rules that you find to keep your work honest and interesting will be about as simple as what I list above. Figure your rules out and work. The “writer’s world”, especially for a poet, is tough; but if you don’t keep working, it will be tough and you will hate yourself. I know I did. Do you have a time machine so I can go back and kick myself in the ass with this bit of advice? One other thing, a few of your friends that write fiction will succeed before you. Don’t let that get you bitter. We, poets, are more complicated creatures. Our time in the oven is a little longer. Preheating is essential.

Jason Primm lives in the empire of Brooklyn and works on the casino cruise ship of Manhattan. He does most of his writing on the F-train. His work has most recently appeared in burntdistrict, Grasslimb, Stoneboat and The James Dickey Review. You can find his most recent musings at his newly birthed blog:


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