Tuesday, April 15, 2008

An Interview with Christopher Cunningham

Thanks to Bill Shute at Kendra Steiner Editions I was able to purchase a fabulous collection of Chris Cunningham’s poems titled Next Exit: Five and Chris was also happy to oblige to an interview:

When did you fall in love with poetry and who, or what collection, did you fall in love with?

I’ve always toyed with the poem, starting in high school after my first collision with T.S. Eliot and “The Hollow Men.” I was struck by the darkness at first, and the magic of words creating instant images in my mind. To this day it’s how I write poems: fix the image/scene in my mind and then describe it, letting the metaphor take care of itself.

Which poets (living or dead) would you like to gather in a bar with?

All of my choices would be living poets, I prefer to let the dead rest: they’ve earned it. I’d tip a glass with Hosho McCreesh, justin.barrett, Luis C. Berriozabal, Michael Philips, Bill Roberts, Father Luke…there are others but that would be a hell of a start right there.

When did you start taking poetry seriously enough to try and publish it and why?

I really started ‘finding my voice’ and the words to get across what I wanted to say around 2000. I began sending out submissions and got my first accepts at American Dissident and the fantastic Nerve Cowboy. As for the ‘why,’ poetry for me has always been about communication, about conveying the depths of the human condition, the suffering and the hope and the finer details of our passing thru. It’s about reaching an actual level of pure communication between humans who are alive and awake enough to experience it. Although, to be fair, I also use the act of writing poetry as a kind of therapy, as a way into that mental place where art is created and the rest this brutal world falls away, so not all of it is for public consumption.

How did you come about your collection of poems for Next Exit: Five?

Bill Shute at Kendra Steiner Editions asked me for some poems for his fantastic series Next Exit, so I sat down and wrote ten new poems for him with the chapbook in mind. He’d planned on pairing me up with another poet (as he’d done with the other versions) but felt the poems worked well enough as a whole that he published the whole batch.

I love your poem, “Mobile, Alabama.” I especially love the lines “everyone is tired/and the world is/a difficult place.” Could you tell me how this poem came about and may I post it?

Sure, feel free to post it. That poem is a true story. All the poems in the chapbook are true stories. A couple of friends and I had a nasty bout of car trouble at the top of that big bridge in Mobile and our car died in the middle of the night. We had to coast down that long slope with semis blasting past, holding a tiny maglite out the window for illumination. We were on our way back from New Orleans. It turned out to be a long night with many revelations.

Mobile, Alabama

as the trucks
pound across the
giant expanse of
bridge looming
in the distance

the water
somewhere below

exhales and inhales.

everyone is tired
and the world is
a difficult place.

nothing is very reliable.

people are lost, much
is broken.

this road seems

but it

disappear into the southern air.

metal, mostly,


What is your favorite poem in this collection, why, and may I post it?

Probably standing indian, north carolina. I don’t write many poems that might be classified as ‘love’ poems, unless it’s the difficult kind, but this is a poem for my girlfriend of eighteen years writ about a camping trip that was full of thunder and madness and a deeper appreciation for the power of nature, and the nature of love and trust.

Standing Indian, North Carolina

as the storm built
a castle of silver
in the distance
and the wind
struck down
in its path,

as the emeralds
lining the trail
flashed and waved on
slender stalks of
rusted copper wire,

as the husked remnants
of fallen trees
became strange wild animals
and the air vibrated with

the river
tumbled over the falls
nearby and

your fingers
around mine.

Where do you live in Georgia and have you been to all of the towns you name in your collection?

I live outside of Atlanta near the airport, a city called College Park, in a house with my girl and my dog, Stella Blue. I have indeed been to all those towns, and more…I love the inspiration of travel and especially discovering weird and strange new places.

What is your favorite place to visit of all the towns named in your collection?

Really, my favorite city is mentioned in one of the poems: New Orleans. Though we’re probably moving to Asheville, NC at some point…we love the mountains too.

What is your favorite word?

That’s a tough one. It’s either “savage” or an obscenity and all its myriad variations that gets used frequently around here: rhymes with “chuck.”

What is your least favorite word?

It’s the word “like” when not being used in a poem for metaphorical purposes, as in, “I mean, oh my god, she was all, like, whatever.”

What does your family think of you as a poet and about poetry in general?

I’m lucky to have a family that enjoys my poems and thinks it’s a worthy pursuit. My mom in particular is a big supporter of the small press and small press poets; she’s recently bought books by William Taylor, Jr., Luis Berriozabal, Hosho McCreesh, others. She’s even tried her hand at a few poems and they turned out damn fine.

What work and hobbies do you have outside of poetry?

I write prose and paint. I also play some poker. As a hobby.

As a member of the Guerrilla Poetics Project are there any hurdles you’ve had to overcome or are still overcoming in the process of distributing poems to all?

I love the mission of the GPP and support it with time and energy, as well as cash. Every small press publishing outfit has hurdles to vault, and we’ve had our share. They just make the Project stronger…

Finally, what would you like to accomplish for your own poetry in the next two to five years?

Keep writing the kind of poems I need to write and putting together books, keep attempting that deep communication with my fellow human beings, keep trying to understand the savagery and beauty of our species.

Thanks for asking and for the chance to run my mouth.

Thanks Chris!

If you’re a regular reader you know that Kendra Steiner Editions (link is on the sidebar) offers chapbooks one for $4.00 or three for $10.00 and that is an excellent deal if I may say so. I urge you to support the small presses and the poets they feature so I hope you’ll visit the site and pick out a few titles for yourself. You won’t be disappointed and the poets may even sign their work for you if you ask nicely.

Thanks for reading, please drop by tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…


Tommaso Gervasutti said...

"Letting the metaphor take care of itself". I totally agree.
Best wishes, Davide Trame

Poet Hound said...

Thanks for your support Davide!