Patrick Kindig is a dual MFA/PhD candidate at Indiana University. He is the author of the micro-chapbook Dry Spell (Porkbelly Press 2016), and his poems have recently appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, the minnesota review, Willow Springs, Thrush, and other journals. His poem “Meaning of: Sweet” will appear in the fall 2016 premium edition of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, October 23, for special savings and discounts.
Please tell us the history of "Meaning of: Sweet." How did it come about and how did it develop over time?
“Meaning of: Sweet” was one of those poems that, once conceived, didn’t actually change much over time. It began as a formal experiment, an attempt to write a definitional poem (like A. Van Jordan’s dictionary entry poems in M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A or Anne Carson’s expansive translations in Nox), and once I’d decided on the poem’s content — a (semiautobiographical) scene in which a boy learns, through play-wrestling, to navigate the relationship between pain and intimacy, violence and male-male desire — the actual language came pretty easily.
In terms of the form, how did you come to decide on using a prose block?
I’ve been playing with prose poetry a lot lately, as the lack of line breaks forces me to be more careful at the level of image and rhythm. The prose block seemed especially fitting for this particular poem, however, because (a) prose seemed to match the piece’s very narrative form (and gives it a kind of forward momentum that would have been deadened by line breaks) and (b) the squared shape gave the poem a formal tightness that contrasted nicely with its otherwise unsculpted prose.
How do you hope the title will interact with the body of the poem or contribute to the reader’s experience?
At a very basic level, I hope the title effectively frames and contextualizes the poem. The poem’s final line, for example — “This is how the boy learned” — wouldn’t make much sense if the title didn’t precede it. I also hope the title’s dictionary-like clinicality acts as a counterweight to some of the more visceral, fleshy imagery that pops up in the body of the poem.
I am enthralled by the electric connection between the two characters and the complexity of the story, both achieved in such a short piece. Are these traits you have admired or studied in the work of other writers?
Yes! Anne Carson’s Short Talks is, for me, one of the greatest collections of prose poetry out there, and many of the pieces in it pack a lot of complex characterization into very few lines. Another master of the compressed human relationship is Hemingway, whose Men Without Women is filled with beautiful, understated stories about pregnant interpersonal encounters (e.g., “Hills Like White Elephants” or “A Simple Enquiry”).
What is the best bit of advice you've received as a writer?
Read widely. If you only read one writer, you’ll write things that sound like that writer. If you read a variety of writers — poetry as well as fiction, literary theory, the newspaper, celebrity gossip, science writing, listicles, etc. — you’ll produce work that’s both more idiosyncratic and more interesting.