Noah Falck - Though I Don’t Know You, I Think You Could Probably Stop the Rain

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Noah Falck, Celebrity Dream Poems, Poor Claudia, 2013.


“I walk for hours through a meadow,/my pockets leaking bacon bits” – this is how Noah Falck sees Bill Clinton, and more importantly, how Noah Falck sees us seeing Bill Clinton. Celebrities are mirrors in which we watch ourselves watching them. These poems purify that experience, and in doing so, clarify the beauty and sadness of fame – how much we want to matter, and that mattering now is largely tied up in fame. God, I fear, needs a press agent. The book’s Berryman epigraph – Peoples bore me – seems a head fake here — people do not bore Noah Falck. What surprises me most is how much he makes me feel for these people I feel nothing for. I mean you, Lindsay Lohan, and you, Tom Cruise. Here, you are resurrected…as human. - Bob Hicok


Barack Obama
 
A glass of whiskey tastes like 
the world around me. As the human 
 
race tunes in via rainclouds. Rain
clouds over the White House. Rain 
 
clouds as a form of memoranda. 
According to the Gallup Organization,
 
I’m gradually making sounds everyone 
is listening to beside a loved one.
 
 
Bill Gates
 
The statue of a girl pouts all night
in the parking lot. I remove my eye 
 
patch as the moon comes out, let the 
bats howl at me like weed whackers. 
 
When we meet in the cemetery
you give me a look that says,
 
Headache, heartbreak. The moon 
is corrugated. The moon is gone.
 

KATE MIDDLETON, DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE 

My skin is spending the summer
stateside with my idea of you,

my idea of a storybook ending
with children staring though me until

I jog up a hill and find a field blazing
with dandelions. From a distance a hairy man
steps from a cake. His body looks like
the beginning of a beautiful, private island.


ASHTON KUTCHER

My secrets are the sad work of a wanted poster.
A history exposed like an umbrella

blown inside out.  Someone tells me
my head is cluttered with vegetation

and all the lost pennies of Iowa.
I believe I am a sea change

without a motorboat. As always
there is a sunset of paparazzi bruises.


LADY GAGA
It’s always my birthday. The shaved legs
of all my guests. We have sex with monsters

inside the China cabinet, my breasts
in the mouth of a silhouette

of an anteater.  Kitschy-kitschy coo
and I am the after show of a Led

Zeppelin reunion concert. All the girls
skinny to the point of tears.


CLINT EASTWOOD

I know what you’re thinking -
the faces over the bon fire

are a sort of black magic breathing
us towards another heart attack.

And the streets feel French tonight,
tattooed with a silence of empty weather.

You’d think there would be more dust. But no.
Just an empty limousine and a bruised knee.




Noah Falck, Snowmen Losing Weight,  BatCat Press, 2012.

noahfalck.org/home/

Snowmen Losing Weight is an approachable collection of 61 poems on a range of topics from baseball and mustaches to Dick and Jane. The collection is broken down into four sections, presented in a unique accordion-style book with hand-inked covers and endpages.


Not everybody notices you change. Most of the people, they say hey and start telling you about the bicyclist they killed on the way to work or the pistachio jelly bean they invented in their nap. It takes a special kind of person to point out your haircut. Your weight loss, your new fannypack, your sacrifice flys, your hiccups, the stains on your coat from a watermelon and peanut butter sandwich. And beyond that, it’s a rare bird who will say the soft thing about what they notice. Or will take you as you are into a noticing beyond you both.
Noah Falck’s debut poetry collection, Snowmen Losing Weight, comes with puffy eyes and melancholy jokes, but its realest strength is in its pointer finger. Which is pointed not out of judgment or self-congratulation or even to cocoon two observers against the rest of the cold world (OK, well, more on that later), but to be on the lookout, most always, for a wider circle. Measuring tape that goes forever and is always restarting. Or like it says in the very first poem: “Suppose the wind falls / in love with the wrong / season.” A goal of reckless inclusion, including until we’re out of breath, toward a large and dissolving inhabitance.
First, though: I’m not the world’s waxiest book object dude, but yeah, the physicality of this book is too immediate and elegant not to begin with. Snowmen Losing Weight is four-books-in-one, sectioned out in a double-burger dos-à-dos style. Don’t take my word for it:

I don’t want to compete with a video’s description prowess, but I do want to add two things. One, there’s a real formica nostalgia to the vinyl exterior, like I’m six and trying to find everything I dropped under all the kitchen tables I’ve ever seen. Which is further confirmed by the white-and-black speckling on the cover (inverted on the endpages), which I’m going to go ahead and admit reminds me of cookies and cream ice cream. That was the second thing. The important thing: mad props to the students of Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, PA, who design and produce BatCat’s books. They’ve done something beautiful and memorable. It’s an expensive book, but that’s because you’ll want to put it where everyone can see it and coo.
To clarify: the design doesn’t feel like something that’s begging for a high five before it gives you a ticket. What I felt in my “tactile experience”—section hopping, cracking between new spines, making one smooth flipover at the midway point—was a memory of intermissions and overlooked physical bounds. Like let’s not forget that strip where the carpet is nailed down to prevent it from shagging into the bathroom. Or like it says in the poem “Moons Over My Hammy”: “There were other moments, I’m sure, / moments like ice cubes stuck to the bottom of the glass, / like interrupted keyboard solos to be continued later.” Don’t pretend transition doesn’t take some work, the book says. OK, I said. You’re gorgeous. If you want me to notice the work it takes to move between enclosed spaces and enclosed feelings, and if your objectness is the beginning of my interaction with these poems in a significant way, I will go ahead and think about that as I am reading them.
In thinking about that and reading these poems, I kept thinking the word “tableau.” So I looked it up to make sure: OK, yes, Mondrian, scenic arrangement, and tableau vivant, living picture, a parlor game and then a style of narrative photography. In these poems, images do build and hold still next to each other. But Falck’s eye is evocative because it’s not just image arrangement that it’s after. That’s step one, but step two is image imagination. Images fertilized in other images. Take: “The scoreboard leaks / a boatload of Japanese beetles.” Or take a fire escape, where “a woman / takes off her coat like a superhero.” Tell me in which order this image originally occurred: “The night is longer than someone trying on and then peeling off a turtleneck.” And it’s sensory fertilization too, like when the darkness in the poem “Ghosts in Cargo Shorts” smells of granola bars and canned laughter. I mean, maybe, OK, any poet in the room is apt to call on themselves to figure out what the darkness smells like, but I like how many cabinets Falck’s poem-cooking arms are rifling through.
Going on with the tableau idea: there’s a healthy respect for narrative, but I’m not sure about that word, I guess, when I read: “Once upon a time silver car / beneath the streetlight was not a car at all … and the deaf boy / flew the bird in heavy traffic. Once upon / a time in a crowded locker room twenty- / two women waxed lips in unison.” Like narrative is getting respected, but something else is getting revered.
The second poem in the book is called “Though I Don’t Know You, I Think You Could Probably Stop the Rain,” and this poem is between an I and a you, and the I notices how the you’s cell phone gives off just enough light to see faces, and this makes the I want things: “And it made / me want to know what / it was like to hear music / the way you hear music. / But you turned your head / away to signal for your friends. / Over here, you yelled / I’m living my afterlife.” So maybe I was wrong in the second paragraph. Maybe when we’re talking about tableaus and pointer fingers and wider circles and shit, we are, after all, talking about an I that wants to bring a you into a closer world. A don’t-joke-about-the-afterlife-let’s-live-in-looking. A noticing buried in whispers, in a big coat the voice has slung over itself and the listener.
Like for example Spanish gets spoken, in these poems, through leftover lipstick marks. These poems keenly and softly see us melting the world into ourselves: “Your love life is a neighborhood in Chicago / where car alarms lull babies off / into dreams of wingless, singing hummingbirds.” Oh man, I am really talking myself into this new idea: that these poems aren’t tableaus, or the tableau isn’t a way to include yourself in the world, it’s a way to use the world to define a duo, or as the poem “In the Tunnel to Daydreaming” says: “The umbrella / of every occasion. We pretend inside a toothy radius of light.” Or someone makes a book that everyone wants to touch, but it’s the reader alone who really has to do the touching necessary to move through it all.
Still: Falck’s net is, ultimately, wider than pillow talk. He knows you don’t need to be secretly in love with everyone you imagine. Being alone with one person all the time isn’t the end all be all. Because there are always neighbors watching you drink milk. Multiple people are always telling you that your face reminds them of someone about to hiccup. People have “hidden handguns and hair / poofing out like unlucky umbrellas.” They have shower thoughts, and these thoughts “become monuments casting the kind of shadows / people photograph for friends.” Probably this is just me making things more complicated than they need to be, but I like to think of that line two ways: 1) you take pictures of shadows because you think your friends will like those pictures, yes, and 2) taking pictures of shadows is your version of having friends. This seems like a good tonic to the wide-world-of-lovers-against-the-world idea. A way of arranging and fertilizing images in the world that will work both in and out of love. Or how the poem “Man Versus Style” puts it: “When he reached the street corner with the slow moving traffic and everyone’s eyes, he thought twice about combing his hair.”
Like anything that’s full of good stuff, it’s inevitable to wonder “how and why is this so full of good stuff?” and in so wondering, leave stuff out. There are some things in Snowmen Losing Weight I haven’t talked about, like the skeleton key of a Wallace Stevens namedrop in “Boss Crashes the Party.” The delicate succession of the four sections, the differences and connections between them and how the last section is suddenly all prose poems. Or the archeology of eyes and looks that runs through all these poems, from “looks that must have inspired the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner” to “in your eyes the clapping of several simultaneous first kisses in the shade of a Mexican sitcom.” The character poems: dog trainers and retired square dancers, who admit that “love was something lying around / among vacuum cleaner parts at a yard sale.” There’s a file cabinet full of hair clippings I haven’t really mentioned. There are confessions inside pickup lines. The book ends with an epic rundown of the American midwest, premised as a run of measuring tape, perhaps tired subject matter rescued by specificity and contrast/combinatory powers: “people hugging in small groups, their colorful fannypacks overlapping in smoke groomed bowling alleys.”
Listen, I think I am from the walking-around school of poetry criticism. Which asks: will these poems affect how I walk around? Will they end up part of the chemistry I squirt on my contact lenses? For me, I see so much urgent seeing in these poems, seeing that wrestles between its desire to share itself and its confusion about whether to share itself with what it sees or into one special other set of eyes. So I walk around and see through that. I see a dude in a wheelchair putting his coat on in the courtyard of the apartment complex next door, the complex with the fountain. And before reading Noah Falck’s Snowmen Losing Weight, I would probably see this wheelchair dude and think about how all my friends get mixed up between the complex I live in and the one with the fountain and end up buzzing the wrong bell. But now I notice how the dude stops his coat after getting one arm on. The rest of the coat is just flapping against him, and he is wheeling away, and because of Snowmen Losing Weight I am not going to call that giving up. - Mike Young

“Snowmen Losing Weight  may be one of the best-designed poetry books I’ve ever seen and the poems contained therein are equally badass.”- Ryan Ridge

In his first, full-length collection Snowmen Losing Weight (BatCat Press, 2012), Noah Falck appears to level an explicit indictment of Whitmanian poetics in the poem “Not A Song” when he writes: “Sing not the crossed arms of America. / Sing not America, not the frayed salt of wounds.” These lines, though, should be read as a bit of a dodge. For, indeed, Falck does sing America, although he focuses his music upon a particular cross-section of the country.
And what is that cross-section? Mostly the Midwest and its cities, landscapes, and denizens. Take, for instance, the following passage:
Then the scoreboard leaks
a boatload of Japanese beetles
and tiny children lose their teeth.
I watch the colors come out of their screams
and it makes me feel Catholic all over.
The point guards dreams in unmarked cars,
in starchy collared shirts.
The “scoreboard” evokes the high school football fields of Middle America, while the “boatload of Japanese beetles” serves as a reminder of the popular Bag-a-Bugs that lined suburban streets in Ohio and Pennsylvania during the mid- to late-eighties and overflowed with shiny green and brown beetles. Similarly, readers encounter a slew of images one could see in any number of cities and towns located between the coasts:
vanity plates from Michigan and the moon
after the blinds were drawn. There were seat
belt violators everywhere, people surfing channels,
a stubborn breeze lounging in the parking lot.
There were soda machines. Mountain Dew cans
squashed like hit-n-run and the moon 
…  
            a gas station down the block some teenagers,
stoned for the first time, sift through a mountain
of potato chip bags.


Whether “vanity plates from Michigan,” soda machines filled with Mountain Dew, or stoned teenagers munching on potato chips purchased from a gas station, Falck’s poems orient readers within a blue-collar, American universe that reminds one of settings popularized by singers of the 80s, such as John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen.
While one might be tempted to pigeonhole Snowmen Losing Weight as a collection that traffics in quaint, often nostalgic memories of a bygone era, this would be to misread the collection's tone. In fact, several poems document an unapologetic exodus from Rust Belt by its younger inhabitants. For example, the second poem of the collection offers the following image:
and there are people
wearing puffy coats walking
away from the center
of the city. The buildings
are all vacant and small
Then, a bit later in the prose poem “Recipe For Reasoning”:
The river lost his prizewinning gleam. And there is no music coming from First Street. The abandoned buildings share the panoramic view and remember the foot traffic; they can’t forget the foot traffic. Still no music wants to come from First Street. All the canned beers go uncollected and the wind goes nostalgic. The city should have a future.
In both instances, people walk away from Midwestern city centers, leaving their vacant and abandoned buildings as monuments no more relevant than “uncollected” beer cans left to roll down the streets. Only the wind remains to experience the nostalgia of these empty cities. Moreover, the few who do stay to relive “the golden days / of drive-in movies” are those who, “years later,” are broken “men with saggy tits / and book clubs of [aged] women.” Yes, the “city should have a future,” but in all likelihood it doesn't; or at least not a future that appeals to a younger generation.

How, then, does the speaker of these poems confront this desolate and aging region? Well, first he flees from the “empty spaces / of urban buildings cranky with rusty machinery” and “the place where [his] heart / was first broken”; then, once he has “moved into another neighborhood” in order to escape “all the sadness in all the moments along the way,” he sings new songs within and to his a new America. Of course, the concluding poem of Snowmen Losing Weight leaves open to debate whether or not the speaker of these poems can truly escape the region; for we are told in “The Measuring Tape For The Midwest” that this part of the country “extends beyond the five flavors of boredom and further than the dimple-smeared children circling the food court could ever imagine.” Perhaps, then, it is inescapable. - Joshua Ware


Forms of Enthusiasm: Noah Falck’s Snowmen Losing Weight: A Mash Note With an Interview Inside It
Jake Adam York
      
Earlier this year, I saw on a friend’s desk an unusual book. It had a rather simple board cover—type, but no image—but it had four spines, two on one side and two on the other. It was like a dos-à-dos book, but doubled. And each of the bindings was covered in a bright vinyl that made me think of the interior upholstery of 1960s Ford Galaxies. I’ve seen dos-à-dos books before, but nothing like this.
The book is Noah Falck’s Snowmen Losing Weight, published earlier this year by BatCat Press.
I borrowed the book.
After attaching a lobster bib to catch my drool, I cracked it and discovered, to my delight, that this four-spined book was not simply a bauble from the binder. The four spines announce the structure of the book, which is divided into four sections. There is a delicious symmetry to the sections, which appear to have equal weight and size. The bindings turn each section into a kind of chapbook, and your reading is focused: you don’t flip to the back of the book or flip back and forth a lot, because each section is physically isolated, while being attached.

This is brilliant moment. So often a book’s design seems to disappear, as if the physical form of the book and the informational form were independent of one another. They often are, I suppose. But here is a book where there is a direct and necessary relationship between the book, the codex (or codices), and the book’s idea of itself (or is it the other way around?).
Falck demonstrates the book’s operation in this video:

Much to my dismay, the book’s first printing was sold out, but after talking over the summer the author was kind enough to sell me one directly. (The second printing is now for sale.)
And you need one of these. Everyone does. Which is why I asked Noah if he’d answer a few questions by e-mail, so I could introduce him and this book to you.
Here’s what we wrote to each other.
JAY: How would you describe your poems? Or how would you describe yourself as a poet?
NF: My poems project the nonsense of the everyday. They have basketballs in them, cult figures of the 1970s, denim, sex, airplanes, and rain. Probably too much rain.
I am an accessible poet. At least I like to think of myself as accessible. Open to the unwashed masses, you know. Accessible, not in the mold of Billy Collins, but in the sense of the Heimlich Maneuver. I mean, everyone knows about the Heimlich Maneuver, but how many times have you seen it in action. I want my poems to act as a sort of Heimlich Maneuver. Meaning, I want readers to kind of laugh at the apparent awkwardness, but also experience a sense of earnestness.

JAY: There are over forty poems in this book, and they’ve previously been published in a long list of journals that includes Anti-, Barn Owl Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Forklift Ohio, Greensboro Review, Pank, Pinch, and so forth—a broad list. How do you choose which journals you send work to? Do your choices have anything to do with how you think about your work or your poems?
NF: I send my poems to journals that have published and continue to publish work that truly moves me. Journals that makes my beard hair hurt with joy. That has always been the case. I don’t think where I decide to send my poems has any effect on the work itself.  However, I am acutely aware of the literary cliques and mfa brotherhoods that overshadow how some journals operate. I try not to let these social orders effect where I send my work.

JAY: Some of the poems in Snowmen also appeared in your chapbook, Measuring Tape For the Midwest. Did the chapbook prefigure Snowmen in any way? Was creating Measuring Tape good preparation for putting Snowmen together?
NF: Actually, Measuring Tape would never have existed without Snowmen. Back in ‘08, I began sending out early forms of Snowmen to a few contests. One of the contests was Pavement Saw’s Transcontinental Book Prize. The editor, David Baratier, contacted me and told me I didn’t win, but he enjoyed my work enough that he wanted to assemble a chapbook out of a selection of poems from Snowmen. I said yes, and those selected poems became Measuring Tape.

JAY: How did you arrive at the four-section arrangement?
NF: Originally, the manuscript had three sections, but the editors at BatCat decided to rearrange the manuscript into four sections after a fair amount of dialogue. The editing process was a pleasure given the talent and attentiveness of the student poets at BatCat.

JAY: How did you find BatCat Press? Was it their idea or your idea to bind the book this way, giving each section its own spine?
NF: I found BatCat when I was researching small presses that held open reading periods that weren’t charging a $25 reading fee. The binding and book artistry of Snowmen was all BatCat. Deanna Mulye, the faculty advisor, is some kind of binding wizard. Every one of the books they bring to life has its own unique identity.
If that’s not enough for you, check out this great conversation between Noah and Nick Sturm.
Everyone wants one of these, I know. (How’s that for a blurb?) And I do mean to share my enthusiasm for this book with you. I want to give it to you, like an ice cream cone on the street in the middle of a rapidly warming day. I want you to feel the cloud of a snowman on your tongue. But mostly I want you to read these poems and be double-taken by them.
And I want to offer this to you, too, as an example of the vicissitudes and the justifications of enthusiasm: who cares what gets you to read a book as long as it keeps you reading and finally feels worth the time?
 books_crossword

Noah Falck, Life As A Crossword Puzzle, Open Thread, 2009.


Life as a Crossword Puzzle was selected by Guest Judge Tyler Meier (Kenyon Review) as the winning manuscript for Ohio in the Open Thread 2009 Tri-State Chapbook Contest.
Of the chapbook, Meier says:
“The tonal textures-mini-tragedies, high comedy, irony in sequins, cheap jokes, silver-pure pathos, poems that feel like a clemency-mash up and make something that looks at once like a chimera, then a mirror. And perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to this chapbook. Always accessible, Falck is making possible what normally isn’t possible: fantasy moonlighting as realism, irony dressed up in the ‘I mean this with all my heart’ sweatpants.”

1.Down
Outside the sun short-circuits,
the grass becomes a complicated mess
and the boy studies
the line on his father’s face
before shifting awkwardly
in his plastic yellow lawnchair.
Published in H_NGM_N #4
6. Across
His brother was a professor. A complex map on the inside. And the
1980′s were a forged era. They disappeared in the back row of
cinema 8, where the sticky spot on the floor was not spilled soda.
He once placed headlines on people’s doormats, rang doorbells
to learn how to run away. Once he sang in the wind. Now, he lives
in a one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of town. He watches
his girlfriend strut around the kitchen in high heels, telling him she
knows the way to the next American Dream. Everyone wants
something.
Published in Backwards City Review, issue 3

books_measuring

Noah Falck, Measuring Tape for the Midwest, Pavement Saw, 2008
“The conversational tongue that resides inside Measuring Tape of the Midwest is the one that brings these poems together. Imbued with trenchant humor, incongruous ideas are released from the poet’s endless register of imaginative images that indulge in the very best of American miscellany. Reading these poems one gets the sense he is rewriting history (“today is a new version of yesterday“), employing his paraphernalia as tools for building upon the melancholic everyday, a process that overall proves to be most profound.”- Brian Foley

“Mostly a humorous poetry collection but with elements of an eerie post bluetooth age lurking. No pussyfooting.  Falck does not fit that oft promoted model (find your (singular) voice or die at the hands of an academy!).”-David Baratier

Measuring Tape has lots of really beautiful passages, many of which made me feel as though I was floating. I especially enjoyed this book when there seemed to be less narrative or logical scaffolding… when the voice of the poems seemed to be going purely (or mostly) on feel…. and that, for me, is where they sometimes became magical.”- Rauan Klassnik

Lullaby of the Showoffs

Our scene is a crowded auditorium
of xeroxed glances,
a gaping sprawl
of secondhand whispers.
Anymore we behave
like oil spills
when something moves us,
feel human as if
we were galloping
into a picture frame
of an unbuilt room.
But for now
the evening’s mouth
is a kidnapped thought
filled with numerous blank spaces
and has the possibility of being quite boring.

originally published in Orpheus

books_engines

Noah Falck, Homemade Engines from a Dream, Pudding House Publications, 2007.

The river has always been there, always outside rolling through into a Utopia of loneliness and all season the overcast, the blurry frame of life, a landscape of abandoned vehicles, a landscape of burnt grass and trees dying in the gloom. There was once a sky, the one you’ve seen in photographs, in postcards but it departed, smeared itself away.
*
The last few days in acid washed blue jeans, the mustang responds with a rippling effect, drives in sickening paths without thinking of the next destination, then the Oakwood border “And we are all living on spent time,” here a river, the comma of the city, the water a single shape, a swaying detail no one approaches. The homeless with blow torches will bring you out of sleep with sounds kissing your ears, sparks singing like ice cream trucks. An aeroplane on schedule each day, a script in the cockpit under storms; there may have been a methamphetamine lab brewing in the garage with the stray cats, but in the alley a rush of people in t-shirts think about insect stingers or loose teeth or the bridge they were born beneath or the fist that aches from throwing one too many punches the night before.
Published in Eucalyptus: A Journal of Broken Narrative 


Poem Excluding Fiction,” Academy of American Poets (2013)
Poem Excluding Elegy,” The Bakery (2013)
“Celebrity Dream Poem – Bill Murray,” Poetry Crush (2013)
Temporary Tattoos,” Paper Darts (2013)
“Celebrity Dream Poems – Barack Obama & Bill Gates,” Boston Review (2013)
“Celebrity Dream Poem – Justin Timberlake,” Sink Review (2013)
The Nation,” interrupture (2013)
“Celebrity Dream Poems -Steve Jobs & Lindsay Lohan,” Fact-Simile (2012)
Landscape with Stuffed Animals” & “Nawlins,” Jellyfish (2012)
Staring Contest,” Smartish Pace (2012)
“Celebrity Dream Poems – Lebron James,” Birdfeast Magazine (2012)
Denim on Denim on Denim,” Country Music Journal (2011)
Houseboat Stranded in a Cornfield,La Petite (2011)
After the Doorbell,” Green Mountains Review (2011)
Mascot,” Leveler (2011)
Raking Leaves is a Kind of Torture,” Greensboro Review (2010)
The Measuring Tape For The Midwest,” The Equalizer (2010)
Celluar Phone,” Everyday Genius (2010)
Though I don’t know you, I think you could probably stop the rain,” Diode (2010)
from Life As A Crossword Puzzle,” Kenyon Review Online (2009)
Without You The Skyline Isn’t Worth It,” Is Reads Pittsburgh (2009)
What Comes From Loneliness,” Columbia Poetry Review (2008)
Interval Between Beating Pulse and Sunrise,” elimae (2008)
The Edges of a Simple Scene,” Gulf Coast (2007)
Boss Crashes the Party,” Word For/Word (2007)
From A Desk,” Pilot (2007)
Snowglobe,” Redivider (2006)
Confessions Inside a Pickup Line,” Bat City Review (2006)
“from Life As A Crossword Puzzle ”5.Across,” No Tell Motel (2006)


spotlight: Noah Falck
by Nick Sturm
 

Interview by Nick Sturm
Noah Falck is the author of Snowmen Losing Weight (BatCat Press, 2012). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Forklift Ohio, La PetiteBarn Owl Review, Fact-Simile, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere. He works as Education Director at Just Buffalo Literary Center in Buffalo, New York.
Noah and I met when we both lived in Ohio. He came from Dayton to Akron as one of the first readers for The Big Big Mess Reading Series and exuded nothing but positive, supportive energy. Noah, like his poems, is attentive, compassionate, and attune to the well-being of those around him, as ready for raucousness as for a long talk into the night. He might not make a lot of noise, but when he does it’s measured out with heart and a faithful urgency. He is a poet thoroughly in support of poetry.
NS: What are you listening for when you read a poem? What implicates you, grabs hold of you, transforms you?
NF: I go inside a poem best when it is attempting to do something with the language I have never experienced before, emancipating the voice from the poet. Not necessary radical or experimental acts of language, simply language that is insisting me to follow. For me, a good example of this would be Peter Gizzi’s poem Plain Song: “Some say a baby cries for the life to come/some say leaves are green ‘cause it looks good against the/blue.” I am a sucker for the repetition of “some say.” It carries me. I want singing to happen. I want an urgency to engulf me. I want to be moved into an education. Gizzi’s poem does all of this for me.
When I was an elementary school teacher, I would always try to explain to my students that a poem should try it best to act like fresh air in a polluted city, which made sense to them as they were mostly of the urban crowd. Simply stated a poem should never be boring. It should constantly be reinventing the world. I know when a poem grabs me because it makes me feel like I found something that I never lost, like I have discovered an essential originality. Great poems interrupt science, and at times, swallow hangovers.
Your desire “to be moved into an education” by a poem seems related to your dedication to teaching elementary school students, though it seems teaching poetry to young students, especially the way you’re describing it, as an emotive experience, as a continuation of one’s daily experience of a landscape, is pretty rare. I wasn’t exposed to poetry until the 7th grade, but that experience has a lot to do with why I’m here talking to you at all. How did you approach teaching poetry to your students? What poems would you give them? What kind of projects would you assign?
The elementary crowd has always been playful and inventive, and are never tired when it comes to creating new art. It’s kind of awe-inspiring when being surrounded by little people who love exploring language as a natural part of their existence. So it was really a matter of slowly engaging them each day with poems that would help them in acts of self-discovery. Giving them poems that would both give them a jolt and make them question their original definition. Most of the students who came into my room already had poetry pinned in their heads as – “short sentences that rhyme.” And that’s fine. I like that they had that knowledge base, but I wanted them to question that definition. Is that all that poetry is? To answer that question we would explore as a group through a variety of mini-projects.
We would make collages from ancient issues of National Geographic, and then write poems describing our collages. We would come up with fantastic, outlandish lies, write them down, pass them around the room and add to them to create prose poems. We would listen to Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, and Mozart and then compose poems that could accompany the music or poems that held the same emotions that the music exposed. We would paint and act out poems. Generate exquisite corpses. All in an attempt to widen our classroom definition of poetry. Poetry outside the world of rhyme. Last year we took an old basal reading textbook and a 1984 young adult novel and produced some collaborative erasure poetry books. (SEE ATTACHMENTS FOR STUDENT ERASURES) This was my attempt at fostering my students’ individual delights with language. I wanted each student to arrive at an understanding of what poetry means within his or her own world. A poem could be a daisy flashing us during a fire drill. It could be a bouncy ball the size of the sun. It could be sadness dressed up like grandma. It could be and by the end of the school year -it is.
A few of the poems that we read, questioned, and imitated were: WCW’s The Red Wheelbarrow, David Berman’s Snow, excerpts from Tan Lin’s Blipsoak01, Matthea Harvey’s Poem Including the Seven Wonders of the World, some poems from Beckman & Rohrer’s Nice Hat. Thanks, along with the obvious classics, such as Shakespeare’s sonnets, Langston Hughes, and a number of traditional and non-traditional haiku.
Let’s talk about your first book, recently published by BatCat Press. Snowmen Losing Weight simultaneously revels in and slumps against the ruin and simple, melancholy grandeur of the Midwest. Moments of joy are continually tempered by a kind of metaphysical desolation, a shadowy feeling that effects, and is often transferred between, the people and landscape that populate these poems. As Joshua Ware points out, “Snowmen Losing Weight leaves open to debate whether or not the speaker of these poems can truly escape the region,” and that ultimately, “Perhaps…it is inescapable.” Do you agree with Joshua about escape or the inability to escape being central to these poems? What are these poems excising? What are they embracing?
The poems within Snowmen were written over a 7-year stretch, a time in which I was living in Dayton, Ohio. A city I was raised in and have had a love/hate relationship with throughout my life. That being said, landscape in some form, has always played an elemental part in my process. Sidewalks, rivers, streets, and the people that inhabit them always appear to collage their way onto the page. It never smells like it though.
Ware’s idea about not being able to escape the region is exciting and romantic, in that sense of being trapped. If being trapped can be romantic for a moment. As if we were in some tower overlooking the vacant auto manufacturers, the shopping malls and suburban sprawls, where everyone is attaching and detaching their cell phones from their belts and still completely content with their day-to-day realities. So I guess to answer the question plainly, yes. I do agree with Ware’s assessment. The poems hope to use the Midwest and its history, in some way, as a kind of mood ring that frames and reveals particular moments that will either move the reader or just pass through.
The poems are not trying to excise anything. I want everything to be in my poems. The tensions of the everyday. On the other hand, the poems are attempting to embrace that mythical essence of the Midwest. The stereotyped Midwest with the basketball hoop above the garage and the neighbors bringing over cupcakes. A place where there is always someone cutting a lawn or learning how to ride a bicycle or hotwire a Honda Civic.
To return to my first question, and to turn it on myself, I’m often thinking that what I’m looking for in a poem is an acknowledgement of the seamlessness between art and experience. That doesn’t mean anything about liking a certain kind of poem, only that the poem, in whatever way, knows that it isn’t just a poem, but that it is part of the world, is the world. Whitman makes this seamlessness explicit and I hear Whitman in the poems in Snowmen Losing Weight. But there’s more than a yawping echo here, there’s this huge tenderness and intellect that allows us to see “faces beautifully obscene in the sun,” a party’s worth of strangeness and play, and a lingering darkness. What poets brought you to Snowmen Losing Weight? And what about this idea of seamlessness, which seems related to your desire with your students to expand their conception of what a poem is?
There are shelves of poets who’ve helped me build Snowmen. There are too many really, but if I had to generate a mixtape of them for a reunion, the list of the influential would be: Simic, Tate, Koch, Stevens, WCW, Peter Gizzi, Donald Justice, Matthea Harvey, Dean Young, Bob Hicok, Kevin Young, Cate Marvin, Graham Foust, Bob Dylan, David Berman, Kim Deal, and Bob Pollard.
This idea of seamlessness is so relevant. I agree with you in the way that a poem is always something more. It is an opportunity to connect more fully with life experiences you’ve already had, no matter how restricted or fragmented the memory. And so too, poetry as a whole contributes to this magnification of your experience with the world. When teaching little people to write poems, I very much wanted them to experiment with the physical and intellectual act of writing. And in this experimentation, I wanted them to create a collision between the physical and intellectual. It’s in this collision, in those sparks, when poems share the abstract and concrete, that they have the ability to become part of the world.
And I’ve always wanted my poems to project the world. To show up at bus stops, in the lost & found, and in the purses of grandmothers. I try to compose poems that connect in a collected experience, and at the same time be something brand new. Isn’t it the goal of the poet to try to recreate these experiences for the reader? Poetry acting as a sort of discovery machine that allows us to project ourselves and expand our natural understanding of the world. It gets us drunk with images and surprise. I mean isn’t surprise what it’s all about? Like shaving your head and noticing a faded tattoo of a family portrait. Did you ever see it coming? Poetics as collisions of constant surprise.
My friend Wendy is a student of Gizzi’s, and she was telling me about their first day of class once and how Peter said that the two most important things about poetry are joy and discovery. Nothing but joy and discovery. This feels more true than any other statement one could make about poems. It’s all wrapped up in ideas about resilience and the willingness to not let our selves and our bodies be the end of us and what we know and feel. This sounds like what love is about, too. I sat in your living room late one night with you, Matt Hart, and Mike Krutel and we talked about this and I remember eating grapes. So what is more important: love or poetry?
I am not sure how to go about answering such a question. I have been falling in love all my life, and when I think about poems and people, I think Gizzi’s statement could apply to both. I mean can’t they be the same. When you fall in love with a person there is this sudden aura of joy in the everything. You tend to feel like a child in a field of toys or better. On the other hand, when you come across a poem that moves you, you have that same feeling. It pulls you alive and your heart starts to beat a little faster. So I feel that this could be a trick question. Is this a trick question? I remember that night with the grapes, the air was wild with joy.
“We sing into each other’s ears, lighthouses and churches.” Are we the snowmen slowly disappearing?
I would hope the readers could constitute what the snowmen represent. I have always been part of the school of individual interpretation. Everyone will come to snowmen from their own particular history, inspired or saddened or nostalgic.
Snowmen Losing Weight is a beautiful book-object presented in a unique accordion binding so that the book opens up multiple times, has to be turned over, and can completely unfold like a kind of map. It’s really a great testament to the work of BatCat Press and not something to be left on the shelf, but held, carried around, danced with. It’s like the heightened aesthetic feeling I get from the physical dimensions of vinyl.  Let’s say this book comes with a vinyl soundtrack, what would it be?
I love this question. I was never much into vinyl  – I was much more of a cassette tape guy. A soundtrack is difficult when thinking in terms of Snowmen. Here’s a sample of what a Snowmen soundtrack might sound like:
Side A:
Ass Ponys – Last Night It Snowed
Bob Dylan – If Not For You
Jens Lekman – Black Cab
GBV – Stifled Man Casino and/or 14 Cheerleader Coldfront
My Morning Jacket – I’ll Be There When You Die
Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Silver Jews – The Wild Kindness
Side B:
The Replacements – Can’t Hardly Wait (live SNL version)
(smog) – Dress Sexy At My Funeral
Tim Easton – I Would Have Married You
Yo La Tengo – Drug Test
The Raveonettes – Forget That You’re Young
Talking Heads –  This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)
Wussy – Little Miami
This is fantastic. Tell me about the work you’re doing now. What’s the imagined soundtrack for your next book?
Well, I’ve been sending around a chapbook length manuscript called Celebrity Dream Poems, inspired by a survey I conducted during the summer of 2011. The project is an attempt to bring non-poetry readers to poetry, using celebrity figures as the gateway. I’ve also been writing a fair amount of prose poems and even more recently some lunch break poems observing Buffalo, New York, my new home.
I am attempting to write poems that do what these songs do:
Side A:
Lucinda Williams – 2 Kool 2 Be 4gotten
The Hiders – Everything I Wanted
The National – Mr. November
The Tallest Man On Earth – Graceland (cover)
Pavement – In The Mouth A Desert
Side B:
Spoon – Anything You Want
Tobin Sprout – Last Man Well Known To Kingpin
The Cars – Since Your Gone
Wilco – Too Far Apart
Big Country – In A Big Country
- coldfrontmag.com/features/spotlight-noah-falck

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