Lunch Poems

J. Y. Strain

J. Y. Strain
Credit: Mario Schifano.

A new poem in our lunchtime series, and a brief Q&A with the poet to discuss modern poetry and grocery stores.

E.g., “We don’t live in a world of generalities, we live in a world of endless options, where we define ourselves by the merchandise we own, by the brand names we prefer, and by the music booming from our subwoofers. Writers are the last people who should fear addressing that world directly.”

J. Y. Strain lives and works in Bloomington, Ill. This poem is dedicated “for my brother, regarding his ride.”

I’d Like to See You at Thanksgiving

If you wanna go Grand Prix there’s
some things you gotta know.
Digest this holiday plea:
Get rid of that Mitsubitchi.
You love a leech you call Sarah.
You love the way she rides: topless,
singing and sucking like a bull frog.
You love the way she
likes her beats fast and her
sea bass below. I don’t like
tasting her ass bumpin’ in
the garage like I hear pudding
flavoring away in the cupboard.

Please come home. You were good
at that back when you were a player
in pinstripe pants, but now I’m ready
to take a bat to your Adam’s apple
and make a rabid dessert. This pie
has all its fingers in you.
Multiply it by “you” and “two”
and you’ll get the circumference
of the total Eclipse of the
car harness she strapped onto you. 

She launched you and your hatchet
onto the hood of an attempted
manslaughter and you fender
debended her anyway. Fine.
Bring justice against those who don’t
exchange insurance information---
all she cares about is her die job.

Like the Killer album she’s got you
on the run, in a panic ‘cause the disco’s
got their bass down low, but
Sarah smiles like Sarah doesn’t care.
She’s manufactured fully aware
that you will hunt down any crotch
rocketing past her and roll it under
the A side of an Alice Cooper vinyl.

You’re reckless. Where did your reck
go? Is it crunching with the crumbs
growing stale under the oven we never
used? Is it a dust bunny wriggling
into the address where you no longer
live? Debris brought the dope show
strobe lights, but I’m not dancing
because red is whorish, blue smells
like chlorine, and cops smell like
chlorine-clammy whores.

The telephone is ringing: it’s the
handcuffs. I told them that you
and your hatchet joined
the SWAT Team, so have fly corpses
next time to prove your alibi or the cats
will take all the credit for the kills.

Some days I just want to bash
your face in with a red sparkly stiletto
but I don’t wear shoes anymore.
I’m a shoeless runner in a gaggle
of grease. Everybody’s running.
There are handcuffs chasing cats
chasing flies chasing food chasing
you chasing Crotch Rocket Dude
and you’re screwed `cause you’re glued
to a car that accrued quite a record
but no one blames Sarah even though
she’s the homewrecker.

Now you’re the homemaker
because Sarah’s what you call home,
but leather seats don’t keep you warm
at night though they’ll get you to court
without too much pain. Just don’t go
directly to jail before I trot my turkey
past GO and collect your bail money.


The Morning News: The poem contains several references to brand names and contemporary bands. To what extent do you feel poetry can or should incorporate pop culture?

J.Y. Strain: I’ve had writers tell me that they avoid addressing popular culture because it dates their work. People sometimes write with the hope that a piece’s significance will be eternal and universal, and I won’t deny striving for that is a beautiful goal. However, I find it often limits a poem from reaching its full potential. People live in a transient world and writers, of all people, should never fear addressing it in its immediacy. Sometimes people forget that the greatest literary pieces are considered great because they engage with the times from which they were born. (Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is the first thing that comes to mind.) A more contemporary example is Updike’s “A & P.” Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t know what an A & P was prior to reading the story, yet despite the regional reference, not only did I still enjoy it, but the specificity of working at the A & P brought the setting to life for me. We don’t live in a world of generalities, we live in a world of endless options, where we define ourselves by the merchandise we own, by the brand names we prefer, and by the music booming from our subwoofers. Writers are the last people who should fear addressing that world directly.

TMN: What brought you to poetry? Was there a particular poet or poem (or other influence) that got you started writing?

JYS: Embarrassingly, I was brought to poetry as a requirement for my undergraduate English-Writing major. I needed a lower-division writing course and they weren’t offering fiction at the time. (I’ve spend the majority of my life identifying as a prose writer.) By the time I got to upper-division courses, I was finding more inspiration for writing poetry than fiction. The first major influences on my writing were two books, Blues Poems edited by Ken Young and Agha Shahid Ali’s Call Me Ishmael Tonight, which taught me how to love formal poetry. Not much later I was guided toward Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins and Ooga Booga by Frederick Seidel. Reading these poets permanently changed the way I thought about the use of language. “I’d Like to See You at Thanksgiving” definitely draws much of its influence from them, though I believe some of the rhythmic influence still hearkens back to my formal poetry training.

TMN: How would you characterize contemporary poetry? Is there unifying aspect, or is it more anarchic?

JYS: I think that’s an important question. Frankly, I’m still not even sure what constitutes “contemporary poetry.” Poetry thrives in so many genres today that I sometimes get irritated when people make generalizations about “modern poetry” (which I usually hear in the statement “I don’t really like modern poetry”) because it’s all so diverse. That statement might suggest I lean more toward an anarchic stance on contemporary poetry, but I do think to some degree there is a unifying aspect in it. The Internet provides writers access to so many different literary journals that publish so many different types of writing, which is evidence of both the multifaceted nature of today’s poetry and also the range of influence that often overlaps in poetry produced now. If there is a unifying aspect, I believe it can be seen in the poetry that desires to take multiple influences and marry them in a single poem. I think many poets today endeavor to do that.


TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan