Poet Raphael Dagold will be reading from his first book of poetry Bastard Heart (Silverfish Review Press, 2014) this Friday, April 18 (7 pm) at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, 1511 South 1500 East. A gifted woodworker/cabinet-maker as well as a poet, Dagold is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Utah. The book has just been reviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune and, earlier, he was interviewed on radio.
15 Bytes cornered Dagold recently with a few questions of our own. His poem “Voltage,” from the collection, is re-printed below.
Q: Congratulations! This is your first book of poems. You’ve already detailed the somewhat protracted process of getting published, how did getting a first book out affect your view of your own creative process (if it did) as well as the state of poetry today?
RD: I don’t think the book publication has changed my view of the state of poetry today, except in the sense that I now feel like I’m in the group of poets who have a book—I mean beyond the simple fact of the matter, perhaps I see books by other poets a little bit differently now. My book seems like a solid, cohesive collection; was it a book before it was a book? Physicality does matter. As far as how it’s affected my view of my own creative process, perhaps it’s helped me feel more sure that I have longevity as a poet: the earliest poems in the book were written about 20 years ago; the most recent, about two years ago. And moving forward, I think I’m now better able to imagine, in one thought, the next book. I’m a little concerned, actually, that I make sure not to limit what individual poems I might write because of prematurely shutting off possibilities as I imagine, plan, write towards, the next book.
Q: The title poem opens with “The blackbirds are ripping a hole/in the sky.” Can you tell us a little bit about your process? How does a poem come to you?
RD: I was in Wyoming for a month writing at an artist’s colony, the Ucross Foundation. I was married and my wife was not there with me. I thought, while there, that I was falling in love with one of the other artists. And right by my studio, there was a very large tree which, each day, filled with birds, more and more of them, blackbirds, until the tree seemed to have become a flock of birds, fuller and fuller and louder and louder. Then one by one the birds flew down and across the dirt road to a field of grain, of millet. It was an extraordinary daily occurrence. After my time there, I kept thinking about the birds. I became aware that I’d infused my conflicted inner life into my perception, my memory and imagination, of those blackbirds. I wrote “Bastard Heart” to try to descibe, as clearly as possible, those birds in and flying from the tree, and in and then out of the millet. I try to be accurate, precise, lucid. And that accuracy includes accuracy about confusion, about conflation, about the rapid play between outer and inner experience. That’s what I try to do, anyway. And with “Bastard Heart,” I thought to myself, “I am writing a magic spell.” I didn’t really understand it while I wrote it, not in the way we typically think of “understanding,” and I probably still don’t. But again, there’s a big way in which I was simply trying to accurately describe some birds in a tree.
15B: One of the blurbs on the book talks about the “intense lyricism…fueled by poetic restraint” especially as it relates the traumatic “past lives” of the Jews. Can you tell us something about what role Judaism plays in this collection and how these poems elucidate your own Jewish experience?
RD: I grew up in a Jewish household, it’s what we were, it’s what I was raised as and what I am now. We went to synagogue weekly, my brother Marcus and I went to religious school once a week and to Hebrew (language) school twice a week. I had a Bar Mitzvah and a Confirmation. When I went to college and for a few years after college, I naively thought that Judaism wasn’t important to me. But in my mid 20’s, in the University of Oregon’s MFA program, suddenly Judaism started coming into my poems. And I realized that I see the world as a Jew. That no matter what ideas I might have intellectually about religion, I am a Jew, and I will spend the rest of my life figuring out what that means. So I understood that when Judaism enters a poem, I’m writing the poem as part of that figuring. There’s a lot of family stuff in the collection, and Judaism is necessarily part of that. And I think there’s a lot in the collection about finding a self, or the search for some sort of self, and of course Judaism—Jewish history, Jewish family life, Jewish ideas—are, for me, part of that search. By “self” I don’t mean just my small body, what’s contained in flesh, though in another sense that’s everything we have.
15B: The epigram to your poem “Voltage” is from Jaques Lacan: “The best image to sum up the unconscious is Baltimore in the early morning.” There’s a LOT about Baltimore, especially the seamy side, in this collection. You’re from there, why this literary obsession with your hometown? Will you be writing about Salt Lake City some time with the same verve?
RD: I seriously doubt I’ll ever write about Salt Lake City—or about any other city—with anything remotely resembling how I write about Baltimore. As you note, I’m from there, it’s my hometown, so it’s my heart and head, my home, my reference point, including for example smells: what does this smell like? Is it like something I smelled growing up in Baltimore? But also, very importantly, from the age of four I grew up with my father and stepmother just outside Baltmore’s city line, and my mother lived in the city itself, in an area called Fell’s Point and in a contiguous area called Butcher’s Hill. My brother and I would spend weekends in the city with our mother, and longer times in summers. So urban Baltimore was both utterly familiar and exotic at the same time. And the city carried, still carries, a particular kind of emotional weight it wouldn’t have if my parents’ living situations hadn’t been what they were.
15B: What are you working on now and will its content be similar to your first book?
RD: I’m working on a second book of poems, tentatively titled Dislocation. Some of the content is similar to Bastard Heart: urban spaces, particulary Baltimore, recur, as do childhood events; also divorce’s aftermath, which you see starting in the first book. But there are new areas of content and of form that I’m working with in the new collection: I’m trying to intertwine the Pastoral through the collection, for example, both in its sense of a type of physcial space and in its sense as a kind of social space. Formally, I’m experimenting with poems and parts of poems which appear to be fragments, appear to be broken pieces, as if the whole poem does lie elsewhere, though in fact it doesn’t: what’s on the page really is the whole thing, that’s it. A series of poems in the new collection, “Broken Sonnets,” lives on the page and on the Web, an installation of visual poetry—the series, in progress, was published in the now-online journal Quarterly West a couple of years ago.
by Raphael Dagold
“The best image to sum up the unconscious is Baltimore in the early morning.”
Aaron believes he can send voltage
with lantern batteries hooked in series
through the air to his balsa airplane.
It’ll fly across his room, even beyond,
as far as the small harbor where we talk,
bumming around on cobblestones, looking
for cigarette butts with enough tobacco
left for Aaron to smoke. In the middle distance,
a tug pulls a trash barge, gulls squalling
over the heap. Nearer, almost close enough
to touch, the red-painted shark mouth
of the USS Torsk gleams its jagged teeth
toward Broadway Market, its produce stands,
fishmongers, greasy dives. Aaron again explains
his theory of voltage, how #14 bellwire
from Sam and Delbert’s Variety is perfect
for the popsicle-stick windings.
The unlit skeleton of the Domino Sugar neon
traces itself against the blue sky across the harbor.
Down the block, pigeons light
on the Angel Tavern’s sign, marking
its wooden wings with white dirt.
Reprinted with permission from the author. Copyright, 2014, Raphael Dagold.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Raphael Dagold‘s first book, Bastard Heart, was published by Silverfish Review Press in February 2014. His poems, fables, and photographs have appeared in Frank, Northwest Review, Born, Western Humanities Review, Indiana Review, and other publications; a fable is included in Persea Books’ Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories. He holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon and currently is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Utah. Dagold has taught writing and literature at the University of Utah, Lewis and Clark College, and other institutions, including nine years as a Writer in the Schools in Portland, Oregon. He has won fellowships and awards from the Ucross Foundation, Oregon Literary Arts, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and other organizations. Also an accomplished woodworker, Dagold ran his own business making custom cabinets and furniture for fifteen years in Portland before entering the University of Utah’s PhD program in 2010.
David Pace is a writer and literary editor of 15 Bytes. Author of the novel “Dream House on Golan Drive,” (Signature Books), his creative work has also appeared in Quarterly West, ellipsis…literature and art, Alligator Juniper, Sunstone, Dialogue and reprinted/posted in Phone Fiction. His by-line has also appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, American Theatre, Huffington Post and elsewhere. www.davidgpace.com