Cave Canem Prize Winner Iain Haley Pollock: An Interview

Posted in Articles, United States on 2011-05-28 02:28Z by Steven

Cave Canem Prize Winner Iain Haley Pollock: An Interview

Michigan Quarterly Review
February 2011

Dilruba Ahmed

Meet Iain Haley Pollock: Philadelphia-based poet, English teacher at Chestnut Hill Academy, and co-host with his partner Naomi of an occasional culinary smackdown based on “Iron Chef.”  Iain’s first book of poems, Spit Back a Boy, won the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and will be published in June 2011 by the University of Georgia Press.  I conducted the following interview with Iain via e-mail, but you might imagine the ambient noise of Hobbes Coffeshop in Swarthmore, PA, where Iain and I have met from time to time to talk about poems:  a whirring espresso machine and clattering mugs.  Fork tines clinking into bowls of an elusive truffled macaroni that suddenly disappeared from the local menu.  The tap-tap of Iain adding more ketchup* to his macaroni.  And amid the clamor of the everyday, the sound of Iain reading aloud a remarkable poem called “Chorus of X, the Rescuers’ Mark,” a poem that I am thrilled to share here in an audio clip as part of this interview, along with Iain’s comments on the major preoccupations of his manuscript, poetic inspiration and form, and the recent controversy over Tony Hoagland’s poem, “The Change.”
Tell us a bit about the book’s evolution.  When did you begin these poems? Did you envision them as part of a manuscript when you began, or did some themes and threads emerge as your work unfolded?

Well, I’m a grandiose sum’bitch, so I think of poems (and evolution) in terms of space and time.  While the places I’d lived before–Southern California, D.C., Utica, Boston–factored into the content of poems, they were all written in Syracuse, Greensburg, Pa. and Philadelphia.  And the poems are located in time between the first Portuguese incursions into Africa and waiting, about two years ago, for my partner Naomi to come home from work.  In writing about moments along this continuum, I was drawn to the presence of history in the daily and of the daily in history.
I never thought of the poems as a cohesive manuscript–I aimed for “best words, best order”–but was surprised to see themes emerge from my preoccupations of the past several years: race mixing, death, and marriage…

…In “Port of Origin: Lancaster,” you write of a speaker who knows of his “black mother’s blood” as well as his “white father’s city.” Is this speaker twice exiled, so to speak? How does your speaker grapple with his hybrid identity (if that’s an accurate description)? In the “The Recessive Gene,” for example, we see him attempt to “scrape” his way to a new complexion.

Someone once called me a “hybrid” at a party. Made me proud to have such an obviously small carbon footprint, but the intent was likely to package me into the de rigueur post-colonial theory of the moment. I’ll leave to the critics any thoughts about the Calibanic nature of my speakers. I’m hoping that in the poems about mixed-race identity that mixed-race folks see some of their own experience in the poems, and that other folks find a reflection of any doubleness in their own identity…

Read the entire article here.

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