Guest Post, Asa Drake: Keep a Record


When I tell anyone about my work, I want to say that everything I have written is entirely accurate. Of course, my poems aren’t accurate. I lie for concision, and that doesn’t bother me. Ours is a language inadequate to our needs, so I think a good poem is willing to be inaccurate and still be a document of our times. I often write about current events, things in my life, things said to me — and on revision, I find that the number of people or the number of actions involved in a poem can be overwhelming. So lately, I find myself consolidating. Maybe a coworker is five coworkers. Maybe a sentence is multiple conversations. So long as the poem still reads emotionally true, this kind of lie is doing the work I need with the content I have. I think it’s the information professional in me that makes me look to cataloging as a shortcut for consolidating experiences in a way that can make for an interesting poem.

Lately, I’ve been interested in apologies. The conversations I pull from, the speakers I use, they’re unrelated except through content, and the apology in many ways provides a format for interpretation and consolidation. I transcribe these conversations with no intent to reconcile, but a poem has to do something more because, on some level, a poem is about understanding. I found it impossible to believe that what was said to me was designed to set me at ease, like in “Tonight, A Woman.” There’s a moment where another speaker enters, points to the narrator’s face and tries to set it apart from herself. This was, at some point, part of an apology, but no one says “foreign” as an act of love.

So I study the structure of these apologies. I try an experiment. I let these statements stand without my response. I leave the dinner, the breakfast, the breezeway. I read a letter and put it away. I speak to the people I love. But then, the conversations return. A colleague walks a little faster in the parking lot. At the table, someone asks if I’ve lost my tongue. I draft an email I don’t send. I cry a little. The academic vestige is lost. So I discontinue my experiment. I look back at my transcripts. I’ve lost interest in the conflict, but I know I have a poem to write because I have an obsession. I’m interested in how apology becomes performative redress. In this way, the speaker maintains their status by clarifying that I did not perceive you as one thing because you are so clearly another. So frequently, these apologies are another question. They ask me, are you from this country, and I have never lived anywhere else, except within that question. So that’s where I write from. I want to understand what people say to me, and I only have this language to answer myself with, which is difficult.

Asa Drake
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2 thoughts on “Guest Post, Asa Drake: Keep a Record

  • October 14, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    I love this. Writing is the only time I lie and it doesn’t bother me. “I did not perceive you as one thing because you are so clearly another” – beautiful.

  • October 15, 2019 at 10:21 pm

    I really appreciate the concept of emotional truth being the most important part of a poem. One of the things I’ve struggled with the most in my poems is tweaking the truth without feeling like I’m lying in some way. This really makes me feel better knowing that if it improves the ring of emotional truth, it is the right move.

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