At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?
Currently, my favorite poem is:
The party theme is idioms, so I pocket a toy block. We arrive late, and every counter is crowded with coconut bars, pizza, eggs on the half shell that look like eyeballs with green olive pupils, lying on red squiggly pasta brains. Are you Left Holding the Bag? I ask Luke. He fishes out a pair of dentures, clenched shut with green Duck Tape, a fresh shell poking out between them. I’m Biting the Bullet, he says. Bats in the Belfry asks me about my costume. I hold up my prop. Writer’s block is not an idiom, she says. Then I’ll take the cake, I counter. Penny For Your Thoughts says, Eat dessert first. Chalk and Cheese walk in. They’re British. We have to look it up.
The t.v. is hooked to an extension cord in the driveway, and Dressed to the Nines, Two Peas in a Pod, and Tears Before Bedtime are watching the Cleveland Indians rack up runs in the championship game. A fire burns in the firebowl, even though the night is freakishly warm. Bored to Deaths stride in with a board on their shoulders, skeleton faces. Three Sheets to the Wind pours us drinks with sparkling wine and violet liqueur, like drinking fragrance. Bite the Bullet tells us he feels awkward at parties, never knows what to say. Half Bored to Death is a good listener. I keep missing Mike, who died so quickly in June. He’d be Chicken in Every Pot, a big social justice guy. Or maybe Role Model, brown pillow/bun in fishnet stockings.
The host, Cat Out of the Bag, gives us ballots. We know Bats in the Belfry will win, even though she knocked over the pizza and left her belfry on a chair. You should have seen her a few years ago as Phyllis Diller. I vote for Three Sheets to the Wind, who looks a bit like Westward Expansion. To me, Halloween’s a spectator sport, I tell Raining Cats and Dogs. But look, I say, Now I’m Eastern Bloc, holding my arm all the way out. I’m Blockhead, Artist’s Block tells me. We came together. When we leave, we take the cake plate, empty.
Thank you for asking about my favorite poem! At this moment in time, I am partial to “I Miss You, Chicken in Every Pot.” It was a fun poem to write. Much of it is true—my friend throws wonderful Halloween parties. I consider Halloween a spectator sport; I’d rather spend half a day making a dessert than a costume, and although the costume-committed may take a little swipe at my lame-osity, they also like dessert, so I’m a tiny bit off the hook. This poem is meant to immortalize their amazing talent and enthusiasm and to express my affection.
I like the way the theme of idioms lent me an opportunity to mess around with humor, the funny contradictions, and double-meanings. I hope the mention of death doesn’t feel jarring in a light-hearted poem, but rather an emotional layering. We’re always feeling more than one thing, no? The prose poem format is a nice package for storytelling and scene-building while retaining its poemy resistance to backstory and context.
The poem was a finalist in Winning Writers Wergle Flomp contest, which was a real kick. I included it in Dear Youngstown, a chapbook of poems centered around my adopted home, where blight and struggle are set against the arts and people working so damn hard to keep this place whirring. It’s also in my new book The Compost Reader, with maybe a longer lens and also several Halloween poems.
One more note about the content of the poem: when I wrote it, I was thinking about Mike, who had died the summer before. Every time I turned a corner, I expected he’d be standing there. Last week, our friend Luke, Bite the Bullet in the poem, also true, also died, and now with COVID, it feels cruel to be grieving without coming together to cry, remember, raise a toast. So here’s to you, Luke, and to all friends, yours and mine.
Karen Schubert was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and grew up mostly in Orchard Park, New York, close enough to the Buffalo Bills’ stadium that if she climbed the pear tree, she could hear the rock concerts. She lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for twenty years, then settled in Northeast Ohio, where one line of her family has lived since the early 1800s. She is the author of Dear Youngstown (Night Ballet Press), Black Sand Beach (Kattywompus Press), I Left My Wings on a Chair, a Wick Poetry Center chapbook winner (Kent State Press), Bring Down the Sky (Kattywompus Press), and The Geography of Lost Houses (Pudding House Publications). Her poems, fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in numerous publications, including National Poetry Review, Diode Poetry Journal, DMQ Review, Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Louisville Review, Apple Valley Review, Water~Stone Review, AGNI Online, Aeolian Harp, Best American Poetry blog and American Literary Review. Her awards include the William Dickey Memorial Broadside contest winner, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in poetry, and residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center. She holds an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts and is co-founding director of Lit Youngstown, a literary arts nonprofit with programs for writers, readers, and storytellers.
The Compost Reader is available for purchase here.