Friday, November 15, 2019

#139 Backstory of the Poem "From Ghosts of the Upper Floor" by Tony Trigilio

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***This is #139 in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. Below Left:  Tony Trigilio in August of 2019

#139 Backstory of the Poem
From Ghosts of the Upper Floor (BlazeVOX [books], 2019)
by Tony Trigilio

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? The poem is an homage to my brother, Carmen, who died in 2006. (Left: Carmen)
I began the poem in 2016 (Below: Tony in 2016), after attending a special throwback screening in Chicago of the classic film, Planet of the Apes

I’ve seen the film many times, but this was my first viewing on the big screen since 1974, when I was eight years old  (Right) and attended an all-day Planet of the Apes marathon (five films in one day) with my brother in my childhood city, Erie, Pennsylvania. Watching the movie now, as an adult, brought back the memories of the 1974, including my recollection of the bathroom accident that is the poem’s center of gravity
The poem emerged from a kind of Proustian magic—one memory led to another in an enchanted chain of recollections. I began the poem with what became its final image: my brother turned three-quarters away from me, pretending he didn’t notice the acrid smell of urine coming from where I sat. I built the architecture of the poem backward from that final image. This moment, I knew, had to be the image the poem landed on. I began with the sickly, ammoniac smell of the final image. The odor triggered a detailed reconstruction of the events that led to that last, pee-stricken moment in the theater. (Below:  Big Brother Carmen with Little Brother Tony)

I originally composed the poem for my book, Ghosts of the Upper Floor, which was released in August 2019 by BlazeVOX [books]. Ghosts of the Upper Floor is the third installment in my multivolume experiment in autobiography, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). 

I’m watching all 1,225 episodes of the old vampire soap opera  Dark Shadows and composing one sentence in response to each episode. These individual sentences become memory triggers for diaristic excursions in poetry and prose. For this particular poem, I was watching Episode 608 and was struck by the morose, opening voice-over remarks by the character Maggie Evans (Bottom Right), which led me to describe the show as “the Joy Division of daytime TV.” 
I watched this episode with my mother back in 1968,(Left:  Tony with his Mother)  the same year, as it turns out, that Planet of the Apes was released. As always, my endless chain of memories of watching Dark Shadows becomes entangled with family recollections and with events as they are unfolding, in all their ongoing-ness, in the present moment.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail. I began the poem in the living room of my apartment on the far north side of Chicago. (Above Right:  Tony in his writing room) I was sitting on the floor, hunched over my Moleskine notebook on the coffee table. I constantly paused and rewound to get the details right, and eventually, as my memories of the Planet of the Apes movie marathon became clearer, I shut off the DVD player so that I could focus all of my attention on the writing.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? I began the poem July 24, 2016.  (Left: Tony in May of 2016)

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) I spent roughly a month revising the poem. I usually need lots of drafts, but this poem only went through about three or four. 

          I’ve attached a page of the original draft from my notebook. (Right) This was the version that appeared in Ghosts of the Upper Floor. The remaining drafts—in typescript, with hand corrections—haven’t survived.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us? My favorite outtake is a line that pointed too obviously to the gender panic at the core of the poem: “Every man who had a penis had a flap [a fly opening in their underwear] and unlike me, as a child, they knew how to use it.” This anxiety is everywhere in the poem, and I felt if I kept this particular line, I’d rob readers of the chance to experience the little boy’s panic on their own.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Most of all, I’d like readers to remember times when they, too, were surrounded by familial love even while feeling deeply trapped in shame. I’ve always wanted to write about my brother’s patience in the movie theater. He could’ve embarrassed me, but instead he simply endured the horrible smell of his annoying little eight-year-old brother who—as we both learned that day—didn’t know how to use a urinal.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?  Remembering my brother’s benevolent silence that day. This makes me miss him in the most crushing but beautiful ways. I’m grateful that I could memorialize it in a poem. (Left:  Carmen and Tony)

Has this poem been published before?  And if so where? In its prose poem form, it has just been published as part of my newest book, Ghosts of the Upper Floor (BlazeVOX [books], 2019).

 It also was published in a slightly different form, as a stand-alone, verse poem, in Columbia Poetry Review (Vol. 30, 2017).

Anything you would like to add? The poem represents, literally and figuratively, an exposed moment from my childhood. It’s a testament, for me, to the importance of trusting our most vulnerable memories when we write. Those moments of embarrassment are often our most human, and I try to remember this even as I’m unearthing troubling or painful memories in my work.

Tony Trigilio
From Ghosts of the Upper Floor (BlazeVOX [books], 2019)

With Liz and Gene Kannenberg at a throwback screening of Planet of the Apes—released in 1968, six months before Maggie’s overwrought Episode 608 introduction, “One man has discovered that both sacred and profane love can leave you completely alone” (Dark Shadows, the Joy Division of daytime TV)—first time I’ve seen this film on the big screen since 1974, age eight, a Planet of the Apes marathon (all five movies, all day) at the Warner Theater, a plush Art Deco cinema in Erie, Pennsylvania, where I begged my brother Carmen to take me with him and our two cousins (he relented only because my parents forced him to), and during the intermission between the third and fourth films—Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes—I went to the men’s room with them and, self-conscious that I didn’t know how to use a urinal, watched how my brother walked up to an empty one and imitated him, pulling my penis through the fly hole in my underwear, but I didn’t adequately maneuver it from the flap, and for some reason didn’t understand you must point your penis at the urinal, causing me to streak my underwear and jeans with my stream; I felt lucky no one saw it, assumed I’d gotten away with my accident, until I felt a huge damp spot on the right inner thigh of my jeans as the fourth movie began, and by the end of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the odor had become inescapable, at which point I noticed my brother watching the movie turned three-quarters away from me—he endured it and never said a word, even though he must’ve realized his reward for taking me to a five-movie marathon was the acrid smell of urine for the last two films (three hours of screen time, plus intermission).

     Tony Trigilio is the author and editor of 12 books, including, most recently, Ghosts of the Upper Floor (BlazeVOX Books, 2019), the third installment in his multivolume poem, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). His selected poems, Fuera del Taller del Cosmos, was published in Guatemala in 2018 by Editorial Poe (translated by Bony Hernández). He coedits the poetry journal Court Green and is an associate editor for Tupelo Quarterly.  He is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. (Above Left:  Tony in May of 2019)
Twitter: @RadioFreeAlbion
Instagram: @tonytrigilio


001  December 29, 2017

Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
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043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
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047 December 11, 2018
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048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
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052  December 27, 2018
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053  December 28, 2018
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054  December 29, 2018
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055 January 2, 2019
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056  January 7, 2019
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057  January 10, 2019
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058  January 11, 2019
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059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
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062  January 22, 2019
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063  January 25, 2019
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064  January 30, 2019
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065 February 02, 2019
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066 February 05, 2019
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067  February 06, 2019
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068 February 11, 2019
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069 February 12, 2019
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070 February 14, 2019
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071 February 18, 2019
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072 February 20, 2019
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073 February 23, 2019
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074 February 26, 2019
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075 March 4, 2019
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076 March 5, 2019
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077 March 7, 2019
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078 March 9, 2019
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079 March 10, 2019
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080 March 12, 2019
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081   082   083    March 14, 2019
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084 March 15, 2019
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085 March 19, 2019
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086 March 20, 2019
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087 March 21, 2019
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088 March 26, 2019
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089 March 27, 2019
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#091 April 2, 2019
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#092 April 4, 2019
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#093 April 5, 2019
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#094 April 8, 2019
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#095 April 12, 2019
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#096 April 16, 2019
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#098 April 19, 2019
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#099 April 20, 2019
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#100 April 21, 2019
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#101 April 23, 2019
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#104 May 09, 2019
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#105 May 17, 2019
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#106 June 01, 2019
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#107 June 02, 2019
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#108 June 05, 2019
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#109 June 6, 2019
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#110 June 10, 2019
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#111 Backstory of the Poem’s
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#112 Backstory of the Poem’s
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#113 Backstory of the Poem’s
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#114 Backstory of the Poem’s
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#115 Backstory of the Poem
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#116 Backstory of the Poem
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#117 Backstory of the Poem
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#118 Backstory of the Poem
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#119 Backstory of the Poem
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#120 Backstory of the Poem
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#121 Backstory of the Poem
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#122 Backstory of the Poem
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#123 Backstory of the Poem
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#124 Backstory of the Poem
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#125 Backstory of the Poem
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#126 Backstory of the Poem
by Cindy Hochman

#127 Backstory of the Poem
by Natasha Saje

#128 Backstory of the Poem
“How to Explain Fertility When an Acquaintance Asks Casually”
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#129 Backstory of the Poem
“The Art of Meditation In Tennessee”
by Linda Parsons

#130 Backstory of the Poem
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#131 Backstory of the Poem
“Baby Jacob survives the Oso Landslide, 2014”
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#132 Backstory of the Poem
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by Henry Israeli

#133 Backstory of the Poem
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by Ken Allan Dronsfield

#134  Backstory of the Poem
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#135 Backstory of the Poem
by Catherine Zickgraf

#136 Backstory of the Poem
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by Susana H. Case

#137 Backstory of the Poem
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by Paula Persoleo

#138 Backstory of the Poem
by Kris Bigalk

#139 Backstory of the Poem
“From Ghosts of the Upper Floor”
by Tony Trigilio

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