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***Erik Fuhrer’s “(the creature of bad habits)” is #220 in the 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.
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 began as a type of automatic writing, in that I just let the writing flow without stopping until I felt I was done. I do not believe this to be a spiritual process, but it is a mediated process. In this particular instance, the media was music, with lyrics, my television, both turned up to the max, and the winter wind that howled right behind me at my front door, so that what I was writing was not necessarily influenced by particular sound bites but rather by the noise generated by the sonic crossover of the various interlocking mediums.
This process produced a large prose piece that contained the beginnings of “[the creature of dark habits]” and another poem in the book’s first section, “[once there was a tree].” I immediately decided there were two pieces present and separated them into two thick prose versions of how the poems appear now. At first, I liked the way the prose read quite literally breathlessly, since I did not include any punctuation at that stage either, so the words pressed together quickly off the tongue.
I can’t quite explain why I decided to start whittling down the density of the text and opening up the form, except to say that the piece just felt like it needed to sprawl. In high school, I was taught that form followed function, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. If everything needed a reason to exist, we’d have very few things, and the musicality of the composition developed not necessarily in response, but alongside, and sometimes even against, the meaning of the poem. That said, I did intentionally have the last stanza press against the right hand margin, in order to demonstrate the ways bodies that don’t fit into normative categories are literally marginalized.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I was in the foyer of my home, in which I have tightly fit a home office next to a large coat rack always full with coats, scarves, and hats, alongside a small table on which we keep my dog’s leash and our keys, which is next to a tiny box in which our mail collects after it is pressed through the slot next to our front door by the mail carrier. The space is a light bluish color with white trim and is adjacent to my living room and television. It is a hybrid space, good for hybrid thinking that allows me to get distracted— a necessary process for me, since I write much more productively when I am not actively thinking about the work itself.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? February 2017
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 would say too many to count. The difference from the first draft to the second was perhaps the most drastic, because it went from a prose poem to a poem with line breaks. After that, I made countless small changes in spacing and word placement especially, which accounts for probably the next half dozen drafts. The second big leap was when I cut roughly half of the content from the poem, after which I again dabbled in composition arrangement. I place a lot of weight on the musical and spatial composition of the piece, so even a minor change like adding a space can have, at least for me, significant ramifications.
Since the spacing of poems is so important to me, I usually arrange and rearrange the lines on my computer so that I can immediately visualize the edits. I’m fairly certain that the major content cuts were made on paper, as I find it easier to do specific edits off screen, where my eyes seem to, for whatever reason, have more precision. That said, I have the habit of tearing up and discarding old drafts, leaving only their trace in the versions I decide to keep. I suppose I like to be bold and resolute in my choices, not allowing the past to come back to haunt me.
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? Yes, and yes of course! It took some digging into old emails from my MFA program to unearth the original versions, which included Anthony Hopkins and Audrey Hepburn. (Left) It feels strange to think that this poem was once part ode to the cinema. There’s a randomness to this original version that I kind of like, but I ultimately agree with my final instincts that Hopkins and Hepburn tend to obfuscate already often opaque images and phrases
Excerpt from the original: “many times at night I look into the creature and see a mirror of Audrey Hepburn and I slide under the screen with my creature left under the pillow with its feathered toad Anthony Hopkins is a nested nightmare and I bathe him in a tub with my creature and bead acorns between our teeth as he tithers&slithers&sluices juices that impersonate the creature whose mouth is an echo of Anthony’s mouth which is wet echo of moth's wings traveling over my tongue yes we are closer than your eyes are flicker the shutter against our bodies”
poem? That language can reduce a body to illegibility. That those who are socially marginalized are also often physically marginalized—pressed against the page, the wall, the police car. That the term human is sometimes used as a weapon to keep others “not human enough for the census,” the newspaper, the workforce. I really want the poem to bear witness in the way that it offers readers to step into its gaps and to confront their own complicity in pushing the text and “fleshboy” further into the margins.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? I’m not sure that writing this poem was an emotional experience for me, since I wrote it very quickly, without stopping. There was no room to think or emote. That said, looking back on it, the parts about “fleshboy” and the way that certain bodies are relegated to the margins are most emotional for me, especially as they set up the framework for a latter section of the book called “Body Count,” which details ways certain bodies have been dehumanized or made expendable.
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? Yes, in the first issue of SPF Lit Mag: https://spflitmag.com/erik-fuhrer/
Erik Fuhrer is the author of several books of poetry, including last year’s Not Human Enough for the Census (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), which is officially described as “an ode to apocalypse as anthem for the environment [that] sees nature as a protagonist fighting to change humanity by exposing its absurdity. This collection finds both beauty in decay and hope in our mistakes.” His upcoming book, in which I take myself hostage, will be published by Spuyten Duyvil Press later this year.