Behind the Words: B.D. Fischer

Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Tocai FruilianoB.D. Fischer’s poem “The Tocai Fruiliano Is At 54 Degrees” interweaves sensory impressions, snippets of dialogue, and declarative statements interlaced with self-corrections to create an impression of the mental state of its speaker. The poem begins, “I have a number of discrete personality disorders” and continues its splintered narrative from that place. I had a chance to speak with B.D. about his process, his writing life, and about the poem itself.

B.D. Fischer’s novel Slowly But Thoroughly is forthcoming from Strange Days Books.  He can be reached here or via Twitter and is a regular contributor at the politics and culture blog Public (dis)Interest and the self-explanatory Alcohol Reviews.

 

Ellen:  When did you start writing? Do you remember what the trigger was that got you started?

B.D.:  I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  The only other things I’ve ever seriously wanted to be were a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles and a second baseman for the Phillies.  There are still esoteric scenarios in which one or both of these come true. Note:  In real life, for money, I am a consultant.

I reckon it has something to do with the related problems of how difficult it was for me to learn to read–I was third to last in my first grade class to pass the exam that qualified you to say, “I know how to read”–this was a real thing, I find it impossible to believe that any school systems are still giving such a test–and how desperately I wanted to be able to read because when we were in the car my mother asked my older brother (a good reader–apparently he learned via some unintentional whole language technique by demanding that my father read him the same book every night until he had memorized the shape of the words and matched them with their sound) to look for signs.  And then I remember when I did learn to read of course hiding with a flashlight under the covers panting to the end of a Dick Friendlich tragedy (“Tell Dixie I forgive him”).  For a time, I literally ate my books, I mean as in I compulsively ripped off the corners of the pages and ate them.  This mostly stopped around the time I was twenty when I learned that certain notorious torture regimes cut the flour in their prisons with paper, and people constipated to death on the resultant bread.

 

You loved books to the point of eating them and now you write them. So why poetry? What function does it fulfill that’s different from the other forms of writing you practice, such as fiction, nonfiction and plays?

I feel completely unencumbered by form and don’t conceive things this way. Form does not address a problem or fulfill a function for me. That having been said I am generally an Eisenhower Republican when it comes to these things.  I am not generally able to sit down and make poetry come, but sometimes does it does.

 

So when a poem does come, how do you know it’s a poem?

It’s not cognitive like that.  None of it is.  There are no algorithms only feelings.  Everyone has to make their own decisions, their own judgments.

 

Yes, of course, the writer decides. And sometimes, most intriguingly, the categories are not clearly defined. I would argue that your poem straddles that line, telling a story but fragmented and non-linearly. But as a writer of both poetry and fiction myself, I’m interested in if your experience writing prose influences your poetry and vice versa?

I’m sure there’s an answer to this question and I’m just as sure that I don’t and can’t know it.  I just don’t have the conceptual categories for it.  It’s like asking me how my use of consonants has influenced my use of vowels.

 

Can you speak a little it about what inspired the poem in Issue One of Spry, “The Tocai Fruiliano is at 54 Degrees?”

I remember that I had recently completed a draft of a manuscript that had occupied me off and on for something like eight years, constantly for 18 months, “Rich Girls.” There was a real finality to this, not that it was done but that it was complete. It marked the passage to another stage, both of the project and of my life, and I did not want to move right into it. And yet I had all this energy and momentum and did not want to stop. I didn’t really have any other semi-projects, like, lying around, which is not usual, so I began going through my files. I’m an inveterate jotter-downer, of ideas, overheards, quotations out of books, excelsior scraps of fishwrap newsprint and advertisements, and an excellent journaler.

I had lived in Chattanooga Tennessee. I remembered standing at the stove, making a pan sauce, and looking slightly down (a hilly city) into my neighbor’s beautiful garden. It’s a soft memory, blurry because it happened many times. Sometimes the purples blossoms were on the trees, sometimes they weren’t.

When I lived in Houston I remember waiting for a prescription–I can’t think for what, I had nothing controversial–and watching a slightly out of it African-American man just rather baldly manipulate his balls with two fingers over several minutes. I remember his great line was to tell me “I’m in pain, man.”

The best lines of the poem were written, I believe, in that same apartment in Houston, a very dark place which I never fully unpacked even by the time I left 18 months after moving in. Dark both physically and spiritually. I got another great story out of this apartment complex, really almost a novella, “Indian Car Alarms,” with the great Spanish-Croat con man Mydic Goziña. The best lines are the “The Altered States of Chimerica” stanza. So preposterous, but such great rhymes and near rhymes, the best kind of rhyme.

 

I’m interested in the process of narrative, and in that poem in particular I see a narrative thread in terms of birthday and wife (or not-wife) and also the thread of prescription drugs and the pharmacy, but it’s not what I’d call straightforward narrative. There’s a part in the poem that says “The horse moves backward / while you face forward” and I have the feeling of that in the poem itself. Can you speak a bit about how the poem functions for you in terms of narrative?

Anyway, as I pull out and scan and discard and re-examine all these scraps and fragments, themes emerge and lines stitch themselves together. Connectors emerge, and one of these is the story. It’s all one piece to me–the man going on his birthday to pick up his wife’s psychiatric medication.

I stole the lines you quote from a failed fiction about a professor. The title of one of his books was “Forward on a Rearfacing Horse”–a social history of rhetoric or rhetorical history of sociality or some somesuch bullshit–the only part I really liked about the story. So I adapted it for this poem, and also adapted it for SBT in a late edit; the narrator has recently finished reading Eagle on a Southern Wind: an intellectual history of Southern City, SCU Press B.S. 1979. The connections are there if you squint.

Then the poem comes to a point across a rare enjambed stanza in the image on a digital wine chiller of a Tocai at 54 degrees. Tocai is an interesting and ambiguous wine term. Few rhetorics revel in simultaneous specificity and ambiguity more than wine’s. Baseball used to have something like this but has been mostly supplanted by sabrmetrics. There have been recent cases in the Court of Commerce of the European Union granting Hungary exclusive rights to the term, usually spelled “Tokaj.” The Italian wine and locus of this poem is now officially known as Fruliano, which I further complicate by adopting the highly non-standard (although not completely invented) “Fruiliano” nomenclature.

 

I’m taken with the idea that the poem came to you as one scene because the poem does have this fragmented, collage feel to it. I can see that all the other elements weaving into it (the neighbor’s yard, the sauce reducing in the pan) are able to hang together because of the structure of the underlying story. Is it fair to say that through this poem and this technique, you are capturing some of the strangeness of the everyday?

Yes.  What a horrible thing to say out loud.  But that is how I feel.

It is collagistic.  The transitions are opaque at best.  I’ve always been a sucker for staccato poetry.

 

What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your writing?

Riding back to Tempe I had a beautifully serene feeling about the whole day, which shows how you go up and down an emotional escalator in this business. It was my first really serene day of the spring and I felt, well, I didn’t care where the bus was going or if it ever got there, and I was content to watch the countryside roll by. It was desert, of course, with cactus and odd rock formations that threw back the flames of the setting sun. The sun was a golden globe, half-hidden, and as we drove along it appeared to be some giant golden elephant running along the horizon and I felt so good I remembered something Johnny Sain used to talk about.

 

Another collage! Collage as interview Q&A. It could be a fun way to approach a poem. Or a story. Or a fragment of a story.

Or daily life.  Like a lot of people (I assume, it’s not the kind of thing one can really ask) in lust with books I’ve developed stock answers that function as perspectives–kind of meta-objective correlatives–on feeling and experience, thought and emotion.  “The cool of the evening” is what Johnny Sain called it–a most useful concept.

 

Thank you for your time, B.D.! It was a pleasure discussing your work with you and your process. Is there anything that you are working on right now that you are excited about?

I have recently taken my first steps into a large fictional world–Paperwork Reduction, structured on the Office of Management and Budget approval procedures for federal data collections.  Scary.  Like one of those freefall roller coasters.

 

Ellen Kombiyil is a poet, writer, and writing teacher. Her work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Poemeleon, Revolution House, Spillway and Spry (issue 2). She has been invited to read her work the annual Prakriti Poetry festival in Chennai, India, the Raedleaf Poetry Awards in Hyderabad, and Lekhana in Bangalore, where she also recently taught a poetry and performance workshop. She is a 2013 Pushcart nominee, a 2012 Best of the Net nominee, and a Founding Poet of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective. She is currently working on her manuscript-in-progress “Histories of the Future Perfect,” which explores the intersection of astrophysics and poetry, and which she fondly calls ‘quantum poetry.’

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