David James' book, She Dances Like Mussolini, won the 2010 Next Generation Indie book award for poetry. He teaches at Oakland Community College.
His poem "The Death in Your Face Game" appears in Issue Thirty-Four of The Collagist.
Here, David James speaks with interviewer Elizabeth Deanna Morris about games, dying, and the inevitable.
1. Could you please talk about how you wrote your poem, “The Death in Your Face Game?” (Also, have you ever “played” this game?)
I have a long series of game poems like “The Moo Game,” “The Pizza on Your Head Game,” “The Tired of Your Present Life Tree Game.” This is a recent one and I started with the title first. Most game poems are silly and have a bit of humor, so I tried to use the format to write a serious poem. “The Death in Your Face Game” is actually a rhyming poem called a weave (a form I created). Its rhyme scheme is abcad befbg ehiej hklhm, etc.
The older I get, the more my poems deal with death in some way, shape or form. Maybe it’s my attempt at understanding the inevitable.
2. Could you speak a little more about the author’s relationship to death in this poem?
The narrator’s advice, hopefully, is the kind of advice I take to heart: carpe diem or seize the day. I can dwell on the certainty of death or I can accept it and find joy/pleasure in my daily life, however mundane it may be. Writing has always been my method for confronting issues, challenges, disappointments, miracles.
3. I find the last two lines of this poem, “Those who grind a path toward next week / or next year get blown away like human debris,” to be interesting in their self-referentialness. If humans are the ones getting “blown away,” it seems odd to compare them to “human debris,” something human in origin, but destroyed and broken into pieces. Could you talk about the difference between humans and humans as parts?
The last two lines speak to that human tendency to project ourselves into the future, to think about next month or the next vacation, or when we retire. We must do a bit of planning, for sure, but that preoccupation takes us away from the here and now. We should focus more closely on today, this moment, this experience, or else, as the poem predicts, our lives blow away in the wind like litter. For me, human debris is the equivalent of pieces of torn newspaper tumbling down the street.
4. What’s been sitting in your bag/on your beside table/on the top of your desk to be read, recently?
I’m just now reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s precurser to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Everything is Illuminated. I loved the second novel so I’m going back to read his first. And I am constantly reading The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, trying to broaden my aesthetic view of poetry.
5. What do you plan to write this summer?
I never plan to write anything. I create time to sit and think and then poems start and, when I’m lucky, develop lives of their own. I like paraphrasing Robert Frost who said, writing a poem is an act of discovery. My pleasure stems from the process of imagining and stumbling into a poem and its topic. In the best possible way, I want to see where the hell each poem will take me. And it always takes me somewhere…