An Interview with Mike Dockins

Mike Dockins was born in 1972 and grew up in Yonkers, New York. He holds a BS from SUNY Brockport (1999), an MFA from UMass Amherst (2002), and a Ph.D. from Georgia State (2010). His poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, The Gettysburg Review, Quarterly West, Indiana Review, PANK, and in the 2007 edition of The Best American Poetry. His critically acclaimed first book, Slouching in the Path of a Comet (Sage Hill Press, 2007) is anticipating a third print run. Mike’s also a singer-songwriter. Fame For Zoe, the latest full-length album from his acoustic-pop duo Clop, is available on iTunes.

Interviewed by Christopher Linforth

So, why poetry?

Clichéd as it may be, what most directly inspired me to want to be a writer was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which I read when I was 20. At first, of course, I imitated, and wound up with a pile of useless prose warblings. About five years later, I started really appreciating poetry, thanks to en exposure to Pablo Neruda and also the contemporary poet Gary Soto. Both gave me a sense of the importance of concrete imagery, and of metaphor. But I also tried to keep alive the vivacity of language (even just generally speaking) from Kerouac. At 25 I wrote what I consider to be my first “good” poem, and what was more remarkable (to me) than the poem itself was a brand-new instinct that told me that it was good. After that, I was hooked.
Who are some of your influences?

Besides the writers named above: Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Italo Calvino (in particular, Cosmicomics), James Wright, Anne Sexton, and Annie Dillard (I think Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is overall my favorite book).

How does your creative process work?

Usually I need actual and psychic space to begin something. Some people can use seven minutes on a train (even while standing) to jot something down. I can’t do that. I need time off, and a barstool or something. I like to use a certain kind of pen, and use lined paper, and draft by hand. The first time I tried this was for a poem that’s in my book called “Leap Day: 2/29/04” (which I’ll include below). That day was like an Indian summer in Atlanta, and I was inspired to write. The poem is around 40 lines long, but I wrote it, by hand, about seven times before committing to word processor, and after that the poem went through a few more revisions, though mostly minor ones. It’s tough on the hand, but worth it. I like the reward of finally typing it up and considering it on the typed printed page. I haven’t been writing as much recently but this is still my process. It feels healthy.

Hit us with one your poems:

This was originally published in Crazyhorse (#68, Fall 2005), and later in my first book of poems, Slouching in the Path of a Comet (Sage Hill Press. 2007).

LEAP DAY: 2/29/04

Mercury has leaped into the skulls of thermometers,
and the Earth leaps out of its orbit, keeps leaping
until the sun is directly overhead all afternoon,
springs forth a leaping flare upon a thrumming
string—a string like a strand of spiderweb strummed
by a leaping wasp—and the bleeping dials and radars
of Earth science leap off their scales. The thin blade
of the Moon slashes the atmosphere, and the whole sky
leaps into the lungs of children, who roll in a heap
on dazzling lawns, the grassblades strummed
by leaping spiders. The children leap-frog into old age,
safe from the curbside swerve of buses and Jeeps,
the beeping taxicabs leaping across the leaping asphalt.
In porch rockers, old folks are sleeping, eyes closed
against the sun, memories leaping beneath their lids,
their retinas leaping to slap volleyballs into a field
with little left to reap, despite the sexual eeping
in the muck of the frogpond. They dream their lives
are whistling kettles, the slow steeping of tea leaves.
Even quarks leap across quantum playgrounds,
infinitesimal sandboxes, leaping with atomic joy—
the most essential joy—setting cells and molecules
to an unseasonable leaping, with an unseasonable fuel.
And the poets deep in their sunless caves do nothing
but leap as a crack of late sunlight leaps under
the door and onto the page, which is now leaping
from a typewriter exhausted from a spell of leaping.
It and all the leaping leapers of the world begin
to settle back into the way things had been, and must
now be again: the sun slipping into the coin-slot
horizon, the Earth tilted into its anchored routine,
kinetic energy seeping from every cell and tiny particle,
every thing emptied of its leaping, a place where,
though the spider is tired, the wasp cannot escape.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently looking for a publisher for my second collection of poems – one comprised entirely of epistolary poems. The project was initially inspired by the terrific letter-poems of Richard Hugo. Meantime, I’ve also picked up a new hobby, that of constructing crossword puzzles. My goal is The New York Times. It takes time away from writing poems, but I feel that my creativity all feeds from, and into, the same place.

Where can we find more of your poetry?

One of the letter-poems is online with PANK Magazine, and other can be found online at Scythe Journal, The Midwest Poetry Review, and in print with West Branch and Third Coast. Other poems are forthcoming with Atticus Review and Bateau.

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