FALL 2011




Solidus Online

Zack Finch

Life Savers

Hart Crane’s father invented Life Savers candy,
   but his son drowned in the sea.
He had sold off the rights to his candy too early,
   earning a paltry
   2900 bucks from a product that is still on shelves today.
We wind up making of our lives “what we were
   helpless to avoid making.”
Is it possible to fall in love with the fatality of facts?
Dear father: “my room rent is eleven dollars, food is expensive,
   and the only tutoring I have managed to wedge in
   earns 2 dollars per week.”
But what I love is the way every fact dissolves upon
   entering the poem— it suffers an irrevocable sea change,
   becoming the image of its impact, residue of foam.
Hart Crane leapt from the railing of the SS Orizaba, it so happens,
   a few minutes before noon.
He was born in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
He longed for the sea to absorb his losses, the way the sea
   accepts the spit of a child, and is forever in a small way changed.
Let every poem be a surrogate for the fact of death.
Let its splash bring silence, finally, to life’s harangue.
Take comfort: you will have always spit into the ocean,
   having done so once as a child.
“This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.”
The first five-flavor roll appeared in 1935.


Of What Am I Certain?

Gold and Bondi discovered the steady state theory
   of the universe while watching a horror movie in 1945.
My great-grandfather invented the burglar alarm
   around the turn of the century.
For me, there is just one big discovery and it keeps multiplying.
New matter is continuously created as the universe expands.
Then again, very often I feel like a man standing in centerfield,
   flexing the webbing of his leather glove, waiting for it to happen.
I often wake myself up crying, “I got it, I got it!”
But then all I can remember is some flirting sense of instantaneous
   success. Some successful pop.
Perhaps the sound of someone’s parents raking leaves.
The shapeliness of the piles, before they’re set ablaze.
Of what am I certain?
Haruki Murakami discovered his destiny was to become a writer
   while sitting in the outfield bleachers in Jingu Stadium in 1978.
At the crack of the bat, the ball sailing into the blue...
Meanwhile, Mary Baker Eddy slipped and fell on an icy bridge
   in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1866.
Three days later, she had invented a new religion.



What first sparked your interest to write? What serves as your motivation now?

I remember writing elaborate imitations of Edgar Allan Poe when I was ten years old. It was mostly nonsense, of course, but I thought it sounded nice. So it’s probably the musicality of language that first sparked me to write.
The sound of words is still a primary motivation for me, though I also want to write poems because the process sometimes allows you to devise truths—precarious or provisional truths—that can’t be constructed through more conventional ways of using words. The two poems that you’re publishing in your current issue, for instance, were written with the form of the mathematical or philosophical proof somewhere in the back of my head, even though the “truth” being spelled out is way more visceral and emotional than it is logical or syllogistic.

How do you manage to balance lyrical, personal, and linguistic elements in your poems?

The linguistic elements are always arranged lyrically, with an ear for how they sound. As for personal experience, I guess it affords most of the source material for the process. But I think of “personal experience” pretty broadly. I mean, much of our personal experience is linguistic, particularly if we spend a lot of time reading. For instance, that poem “Life Savers” embeds a few facts from the life of Hart Crane, but that’s a subject that feels very personal to me—I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about his work and his life. Or the phrase “we make what we are helpless to avoid making”: this approximates a phrase I encountered some years ago when reading the notebooks of the artist Jasper Johns. His notion of artistic helplessness became an inspiration for me to accept my own intuitions and limitations, and so gradually this phrase became part of my personal life, and eventually made its way into a poem, where it took on a slightly different meaning. I mention these two examples just to say that I don’t think of the personal as private. Because so much of our living takes place in and through language, the personal is always something that is already shared. If I’m not the first person to say this, well that just enforces the point!

Many of your poems involve facts. What do you think these inclusions add to your poetry?

Marianne Moore has that famous line about poems being “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Walter Benjamin imagined a book that would be composed entirely of quotations, etc. The world just feels so evanescent and unstable to me. So when I use a fact or a quotation, I think it tends to give the poem a kind of traction, a way of gripping the real world in a way that “the imagination” cannot quite do.

How did your experience in the SUNY Buffalo Poetics Program influence your writing? Can you think of a specific professor that stood out as a major influence?

It had a huge influence which I haven’t fully understood or integrated yet. I mean, I was surrounded by so many profound poets—my two main mentors, for instance, were Susan Howe and Myung Mi Kim. But then I was also involved with many amazing peers and fellow students who were taking serious prosodic and conceptual risks in their work. We shared our work a good deal and supported each other and sometimes fought with each other about aesthetics. Buffalo gave me permission to experiment, to take risks, and to begin to think of “poetry” as a very porous and open-ended genre that has to be continually reinvented if it wants it to stay alive.

You mentioned an idea of "scaffolding" as a poetic structure. Could you explain that concept and how it helps you represent sentimental ideas without becoming cliche?

I was thinking of scaffolding as a metaphor for language that surrounds and buttresses the unsayable heart of a poem. I guess it refers to a way of writing indirectly or tangentially, through implication or circumlocution. For a while, it seemed that I was capable only of writing poems that hoped to say “I miss you.” But in order to capture the full force of this “missing” feeling, I thought I had to build up a rather elaborate architecture of language surrounding this otherwise meaningless and inert phrase, so that it might have an impact when it did actually appear.

How does your role as a professor influence your role as a writer, and vice versa?

I’m not sure that teaching makes me a better writer, but I do know that writing makes me a better teacher of writing, if only because I can speak to students out of my own experience. I know how hard and how surprising it is, what the challenges and elations can be, how important revision is, and I can communicate with students about their process in a very experiential way.


Zack Finch's poems have appeared in journals including American Letters & Commentary, Fence, Kadar Koli, Poetry, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics and Tin House, and his prose on poetry has appeared in Boston Review, Jacket, P-queue, ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, and The Wallace Stevens Journal. A former poetry fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, he currently teaches as a Lecturer in the English Department at Dartmouth College.