Lunch Poems

Michael Loughran

Michael Loughran
Credit: Mario Schifano

Today we reintroduce our Lunch Poems poetry series with two poems by Michael Loughran, followed by a brief Q&A with the poet.

Michael Loughran’s poems have appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Boston Review, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Jubilat, Tin House, and elsewhere. He also has new poems coming out in Pleiades and Barn Owl Review, teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia, and is poetry consultant for Subtropics. More at his Tumblr.

“Year of the Grim Light” 

I was using fewer and fewer words,
and then I was using none.

Not even a running gag with the dog,
or reading old history out loud to a houseplant.

Not even half a song sung to the TV news anchor on TV.
Not even lip-synching the lip-synched halftime show

through the wall to the neighbor. In a flower bed of flowers
near a half-imaginary park, I noticed flowers

and had a feeling about feelings in my spine.
I dragged myself to bed, turned the pages of a book,

shouted out a long song. I could have drifted downtown
to the empty barrel factory, watched sunlight hit the brick

for the rest of the day, and then I did. And then the mailbox
arrived in the mail and I sat down and kept sitting,

watched my half-self in the window
watching the sun, waited for something to come disturb my little scene.

I said the light was a grim light
and it was, but it seemed grim to say so,

which worried me. I was worried I may have been getting grimmer.
I was worried I might begin to whistle a terrible song,

and then I started whistling,
and it was terrible.

“Happiness Is a Serious Problem”

Put the pen in the drawer, the drawer
in the desk, the desk in a truck,
the truck on the highway, your head
out the window. Open your mouth,
put air into it, consider the air.
Put the right amount of wine into yourself,
talk to the camera operator
about operating a camera, the trumpet
player about playing the trumpet.
Talk to the red bloom on the tulip,
to the crudités on the ear-shaped plate.
Climb a hill, speak half-language.
One-third of your face is a broccoli.
How do you spell broccoli?

* * *

TMN: Repetition figures prominently in “Year of the Grim Light,” e.g., “lip-synching the lip-synched halftime show,” “a flower bed of flowers,” etc. How does the repetition serve the larger context of the poem?

Michael Loughran: At the most basic level it’s something I did in the poem because it was fun to do. And it’s funny, I hope. Not funny ha-ha; I guess the humor of it is stupid and dark. One rung higher on the intent ladder, I’d say it’s a poem where I’m seeing how much of that fun I can get away with—you know, “Is this guy serious about saying ‘lip-synch’ twice in one sentence?” That sort of thing. But I wouldn’t say the repetition in the poem is supposed to connect in any direct way to the context of the poem. If pushed, I might go so far as to say there’s no such thing as context in a poem, just the here-and-now of the text itself. Get in its way and it mows you down.

TMN: What has teaching poetry to others taught you about it?

ML: You think you know Keats, but when you go to open your mouth about Keats in a roomful of people, you realize you don’t know Keats. So you go home and get to know him, you go to the library, you call up smart folk and ask them. And then you start to see Keats, and everyone, as a bridge between two other poets, and that there’s this huge and various world of bridges that leads, maybe, up to the place you’d like to be. That’s the lit side. On the workshop side, I’m always reminding students and myself of the same two things: Be precise. Don’t be cute. I would probably flunk me if I took my own class. But student-me would be a hard worker.

TMN: What is a current trend you really like in poetry? What’s a trend that you hate?

ML: I don’t like a poem that’s too pretty, and I don’t like one that’s too ugly. What I like is a poem that veers back and forth, a poem that doesn’t allow you to get a foothold on its pretty/ugly quotient. These kinds of poems allow themselves, haltingly, some lushness; they misbehave, but not too much or loudly. I’m seeing a lot of them lately, but maybe that’s just because I’m always looking for them. Whether they constitute a trend I couldn’t say, but I’ve been reading the Flood Editions books, where many of them are to be found.

As for a trend I hate, didn’t a journalist ask Redman a similar question in the 1990s? And didn’t he say, “My record sales?” I like 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