Friday May 24

Montesano-Poetry Keith Montesano is the author of the poetry collection Ghost Lights (Dream Horse Press, 2010). His new manuscript, Sirens and Wildfire, was recently named a finalist for The National Poetry Series, The New Issues Green Rose Prize, and The Akron Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, American Literary Review, Third Coast, Blackbird, Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. He currently lives with his wife in New York, where he is a PhD Candidate in English and creative writing at Binghamton University.
Keith Montesano Interview, with Kaite Hillenbrand
Why did you choose horror films?
Not all the poems are from horror films, actually. When I began writing these, it started as motivation to get words on the page—I wanted to start a new project. But I had no idea I would keep writing these film sonnets into what I hope now is a kind of conceptual manuscript.
I suppose in these poems I’m writing about some type of horrific thing that the certain peripheral character in each poem’s witnessing—it was an idea that I just ran with from the very beginning, and it’s been freeing to not really have to write for any type of workshop, or to write for the means of showing someone else once a draft’s done.
The films I’m choosing for the poems are ones I’ve either been a fan of for a while, or something struck me from a film I’d never seen previously (either something older or something just released) that I thought would work well.

I admit that I’m really a comedy-watcher; I don’t watch horror films. But I see from descriptions of these films that the scenes in your poems occur early in the movies. Why depict scenes from the beginnings of these movies?
This is actually something I never thought about, but looking back at this particular group of poems, the events do occur at the beginning of the films. Often, whether it’s intentionally done by the director or not, I suppose I’m picking out a certain kind of aspect that deals with the tone of the film early on, but usually there’s a sense that the character had been living in that fabricated cinematic world for a while, so maybe it’s just luck in that sense. The scene that seems to speak to me the most poetically is the one I tend to write about once I stumble upon it in the film, no matter when it occurs chronologically. Or I re-watch a movie purposely to view a scene I have in mind that I hope to use for a poem.

All movie-watching might be somewhat voyeuristic, I suppose. Why did you choose the point of view of the watcher in all of these poems? Do you understand these poems to be voyeuristic or something else?
The poems are definitely voyeuristic. I’ve been a cinephile since I was probably fourteen, and I figured one day that I’d try to write a poem from the perspective of someone watching something terrible happen in a film—usually under the guise of either being alone or surrounded by a bunch of people. So it’s a perceived reality of a world within a world, then, if that makes sense. Usually the character’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there’s a sense from some of them that they may not necessarily get a certain enjoyment from watching, but there’s that point where they think, “Thank God it’s not me,” which I think everyone’s felt before in some way.
I think this has a lot to do with guilt and inaction to a certain extent: I feel that more people are content to walk away from something and have no one know they were there than to actually risk their lives for someone they don’t know. And though that bothers me, I also don’t know if I could act heroically or valiantly in that situation either, so there’s some of that from myself as the actual author of the poems in addition to the persona.

Do you think that something apocalyptic (or quasi-apocalyptic) is occurring or about to occur in our world, and, if so, are your poems influenced by that possibility?
I think it's become fashionable these days to make some kind of art that's apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, and though you could talk about the upcoming Mayan Apocalypse scheduled for 2012, I think for me, if there is one upcoming, it has to do with everything that we as humans are doing to cause it. Everything from how we continue to treat one another, to how much oil and gas we're using, to how we're a "We want it right now and we won't have it any other way" society, to the frightening nature of how true the idea seems now in Kurt Vonnegut's first novel PLAYER PIANO (the premise, 60 years after publication, seems eerily similar to what we're dealing with these days, and that's not the only novel from that time period one can say this about). I remember reading PLAYER PIANO and 1984 in 9th grade and thinking, "It's amazing how these authors conjured these fictional worlds." Now it all seems like a kind of possible, narrative destiny.
Many of my poems are definitely influenced by that possibility, but through a lot of them there's also the presence of a beloved, and I think that's necessary, for me at least, when I write that type of a poem. In many of these film poems, there's an admission of guilt or betrayal or something we don't know about from the narrator as it relates to a beloved. And even if what the narrator's thinking about may not be what would actually happen in that situation, I like to think that the last thing on a person's mind, if they see their life ending imminently, is the person they're in love with, whoever that may be. It's cliched, yes, but in the midst of all that's haunting us in the world we live in now, I still believe that there's some kind of peace in that, something everyone would at least want to believe in if that was the last thought in their mind.

In your blog, you interview poets who have just published their first book. How did you come to do this, and why do you do this? What is your favorite part about interviewing writers?

During the time I was sending out my first book to contests and open reading periods, I discovered an interview with Brian Teare, whose first book “The Room Where I Was Born” is still one of my favorite first books of poetry of all time. Then I realized there was an archive of many more interviews with poets about their first books, and the project was started by Kate Greenstreet (found here). It was comforting to know about all these varied experiences from others dealing with the same thing, and it was amazing to read about all the presses too, many I didn’t know existed at the time. Once I read enough of the interviews, I started to realize that—though this may seem obvious—almost everyone has a different experience. And that was both comforting and interesting on many levels.
For every poet that sent their book out three times before it won a prize or was selected for publication from an open reading period, there was another who it took five or more years and over a hundred submissions to achieve publication. I wanted to continue that project because I think it’s important to have that information there if people want it, and these days, with so many good books being sent to contests and open reading periods, I think the resource is one where people get more behind-the-scenes information than they normally would. And I think and hope there’s something valuable in grounding the process instead of making it a complete mystery.
My favorite part about interviewing writers would probably have to be realizing that so many of them have moved on from their first book into other projects, but they still enjoy talking about their first books as if it will always be important, and it is. After all, it’s the first one, and though it’s clichéd, without it who knows what would’ve happened to other future projects and books.
The Author as Man Who Sees Uncle Charlie Get Shot through the Neck in Hard Rain
After the film by Mikael Salomon
It wouldn’t stop, & I knew this. The sheriff missed me:

I hid in the basement. By then it would be too much trouble

to find anyone. But finally I knew I had to leave: a cheap

inflatable in hand for this eventual emergency. The lights

from the truck were blinding—statues & telephone poles

almost below the waterline as I waded. I heard their voices

a minute before shots were fired, & it was clearly a man,

as if God finally appeared, glaring in the form of white light

we finally sink into. I hid behind a statue & waited. What

could I do to help? & then the blood as it poured, as his head

lolled under, then back up, wavering: it didn’t take long.

When the lights were shot out, & the other dragged bags

through the flood, they followed, & it was silent, before

I found an alley through buildings, & hoped it would hold.
The Author as Man Who, Fishing Further Down the Swamp, Thinks He Sees Something Murder Samson and Ainsley in Hatchet
After the film by Adam Green
No binoculars: just a pole & bait & the boat I thought

would never hold again. I never knew why it was illegal

& questioned the motives for it: endangered species, stories

of Crowley & voodoo & curses, but nothing had happened

& though I caught little, it was quiet, always quiet, even

if that night changed it all, when I saw them from a distance,

could make out ghost-lights swarming above the swamp

before growling & voices & a sound like chopped wood

that kept me there, still & waiting. It wasn’t more

than a minute & only then did I start to believe, waiting

again for whatever it was to find me, to the point

where even breathing made me nervous. But only after

first light I got it moving again, to witness only smudged

photos & headlines saying it was nothing but alligators.
The Author as Man Who, from the Opposite Corner of the Street, Sees Sandra Get Shot through the Neck in Blitz
After the film by Elliott Lester
That week the rain wouldn’t stop: pooled & flooded

the sewers, & even with the windows closed the barrage

was like blood pulsing through the heart, never ceasing.

I was walking the opposite way, saw him closing on her

in all black, an oversized hood shrouding his face, before

she stopped & one shot went through her neck. I ducked

behind a van, could barely see as the rain came down harder,

before the blood pooled, black amidst the shadows

as she gasped & choked for air. I knew she was gone,

but called & blurted out words: hurt, hurry, now, can’t.

I don’t know if mine was the last face she saw, or knew

my eyes looked directly into hers. They said they’d come.

I snapped my phone in two, threw it down a sewer,

& always imagine I could’ve done something more.
The Author as Man Who Watches from His Attic Window During the Decapitation in Hobo with a Shotgun
After the film by Jason Eisener
In this Technicolor city: graffiti, the stench from sewers,

hookers on every corner. The way I always said it would be.

Boards & black bars over my windows, except the highest one—

where I watched the gang leader from my attic, clearing mice

that suffocated & couldn’t escape. I watched his son drive away,

barbed wire ripping cleanly through the man’s neck—

blood spurting like twenty squibs went off, the movie prop

no one can get to look real. It always happened like this: hidden

or out in the open, you could watch, as long as no challenge

was heard & no words were spoken. & for years now no one

has bothered me—I have nothing anyone would want. Still, when

you left me those years ago, I thought I’d eventually escape,

find some place in the country, show you that I could forgive

& that somehow, away from this city, I’m still alive & well.