The Operating System

4th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: Day 28 :: Kristen Tauer on Zachary Schomburg

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I first encountered Zachary Schomburg in springtime on a rooftop bar in downtown New York City, through the voice of another poet. The words hit me like this:

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Which is to say that his work cracked a huge space in my understanding of what shapes poetry is possible of forming. Schomburg’s work introduced me to prose poetry. While his work often fits the label of “prose poetry”, it also stretches across more traditional and familiar forms. After encountering his work, I realized that there are no limitations to form–a rule of the genre that I’d often been told (“In poetry, there are no rules”), but had never felt that I had permission to fully embrace the idea.

So I fell in love with the poet. Not Schomburg—the other one—but only for a day so that I could “borrow” his copies of Scary, No Scary (Black Ocean, 2009) and Fjords Vol 1 (Black Ocean, 2012). I was mystified by Schomburg’s work, and also again by the possibilities of what poetry, and thus my own creative writing, are able to accomplish. He introduced me to the idea that a poem can simultaneously look like this:

Love is When a Boat is Built From All the Eyelashes in the Ocean

When the bats
break
from the mouth of
the cave
hold on tight
at my waist.
If I fall
into the ocean
bury what washes up
beneath the mattress
of my first bed.
When our eyelashes fall out
it does not mean we are about to die
it means we are about to be saved.
We should look
directly into the sun.
We should
expect a boat.

And also look like this:

Like most strong collections, Schomburg’s books are meditations which are best understood when read together, although many of his poems stand strongly on their own. His work is rooted in surrealism, and he stitches together strange alternate-worlds over long sequences. No matter how seemingly bizarre, these sequences always retain an intrinsic ethos of genuinity. That feeling that resonates from his work — me too, me too — is what attracts me to poetry and what has kept me in the genre.

In his most recent book, The Book of Joshua (Black Ocean, 2014), Schomburg creates an elaborate dreamscape that reveals its intentions the more you step into its world. Having read his earlier collections, this book was an especially provocative and rewarding journey to venture into. It feels fitting to end with a selection from his newest, which will hopefully mark a new beginning for someone else discovering his work for the first time.

from Agnes the Elephant

When I was a baby, I was kidnapped from my bassinet
while my mother was soaking in the bathtub. She
couldn’t hear the intruder walk slowly and heavily down
our hallway, or open the door into my bedroom because
the hot water from the faucet was splashing into the tub.
The hot water turned the cold water back into hot water.
The suds were so high around her, the tub looked like
the mountainous arctic. She reached for the suds with
her hands and rubbed them on her legs which were in
the air. She started at her ankles and then she moved the
suds up over her knees and then she moved her hands
down into the hot water where the suds stayed on the
surface and where her hands kept going down, beneath
the surface, down between her legs, and they stayed
of the tub, and her head fell all the way back. Then came
out a little baby scream.

.                .There is no
.                .such thing
.                .as infinity.
.                .I started counting

.                .when I was
.                .very young

.                .and I can tell
.                .you now

.                .that I am
.                .done.

[Source: http://www.pen.org/poetry/agnes-the-elephant]

Zachary Schomburg lives in Portland, Oregon. He has published four books of poetry, his most recent being The Book of Joshua (Black Ocean). He co-edits Octopus Books and can be followed on twitter at @zschomburg and tumblr at lovelyarc.tumblr.com.

Kristen Tauer is from the Finger Lakes and is currently living in the above poem.

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