THE PODRE REVIEW Issue 1 (with Kaveh Akbar)

November 13, 2023 Chris Brunt Episode 6
THE PODRE REVIEW Issue 1 (with Kaveh Akbar)
Show Notes Transcript

PODRE's newest bonus miniseries (yes, our highly-anticipated literary salon) kicks off with guest Kaveh Akbar, all-world poet and author of PILGRIM BELL and the forthcoming novel MARTYR, here to discuss poets who can handle the rock, the enduring cultural significance of The Simpsons, and three poems about fatherhood that will make your heart swell bigger than the rim when Steph Curry's on one of his heaters. It's basketball season. It's poetry season. It's PODRE, from the logo, BAAAAANG!

In case you're a little confused as to what's happening in the special show intro, here you go.

Each of Kaveh Akbar's several magnificent books can & should be purchased at the website of the man himself, here.

Marvelous poet and friend of the pod Hayan Charara's books, including his newest collection, can be found here.

Robert Hayden's incredibly rich body of poetic work is worth owning in this handsome volume. 

Please head over to the website or find us on social media so you can see the gorgeous PODRE Review Issue 1 cover art made by David Wojciechowski.

And here are the poems we discuss on the episode: "Ode to an Abandoned House" by Hayan Charara. "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden. And "Learning to Pray" by Kaveh Akbar.

Chris: Dads. They've been around since the beginning, but what do we really know about them? It's time to start asking questions. I'm Chris Brunt. This is PODRE.

Chris: Welcome to the show, everybody. I'm your host, Chris Brunt, and this is issue one of the PODRE Review, the newest and most important venue for literary discussion in so far as I can tell, the entire world. Like our "Bad Dads" miniseries with Brad Franco, these are bonus episodes that will run in between full seasons of PODRE. Season two, by the way, is currently in production, and we'll be sharing the premiere date with you soon. Each issue of the PODRE Review will be edited by a major figure from the literary world, which means they'll be here with me in the PODRE studio, having an in depth conversation about poems, novels, and stories they've helped me select that'll tell us something true and urgent, about parenthood, about being fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, siblings, stepchildren, orphans, Genghis Khan-like progenitors, whatever the case may be. Today's issue is edited by my friend and one of the most exciting poets to come along in memory, Kaveh Akbar. Kaveh's poems appear in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Paris Review, Best American Poetry. He's the author of two spectacular transcendent poetry collections, Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf. He's also the editor of the Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse, 100 poets on the Divine. And later this year, Knopf will publish his debut novel, Martyr. He's a professor at the University of Iowa and the poetry editor of the Nation. I've been teaching his incredibly rich and powerful work for years. There's nobody better and nobody I'm more excited to dig into these poems with. We're going to talk about three poems about fatherhood together, two by a couple of hall of fame Detroit poets and one by Kaveh himself. But look, before we get to the poetry, here's something you might not know about Kaveh Akbar. Kaveh is a baller, okay? Kaveh can hoop. This man is six foot four at a minimum. I won't even go into the wingspan. And Kaveh, like me, grew up in the 90s watching Michael Jordan's Bulls on TV every night. But unlike me, Kaveh grew up in the Midwest, not too far from the city of Chicago. And also unlike me, Kaveh is reported to be actually quite good at basketball. So I wanted to do something nice for our friend to show him that we at PODRE appreciate his time and value his expertise and celebrate him as an artist and as a human being, as he should rightly be celebrated. No, I couldn't get Michael Jordan here due to scheduling considerations. Mine mostly. So I did the next best thing I could think of, because part of our mission here at PODRE is to make dreams come true. That's why we give out the Not a Terrible Father In This One Instance Award. That's why we've promoted Julian to co host and given him a platform to air his opinions and ideas and criticisms of me, his dad. And that's why I made this special custom show intro for Kaveh. So here we go. It's the PODRE Review issue one with guest editor Kaveh Akbar, coming at you from the floor of our childhood dreams, aka the Madhouse on Madison, aka Chicago Stadium.

Announcer: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the number one parenting poetry addiction recovery and culture podcast in the world. PODRE! At host, the man in the middle, from Houston, Texas, at six one and a half Chris Brunt! At wing, from Syracuse, New York, standing at three foot eleven, Julian Benz-Brunt! And at guard from various parts of the Midwest, but originally, Iran. At six four, Kaveh Akbar!

Chris: **** yeah, poetry. Let's give it to em.

Kaveh: **** yeah, poetry.

Chris: Who are the poets that can ball? Like, what's the starting five?

Kaveh: Joy. Joy is a point guard.

Chris: Joy Priest brings the ball up for sure.

Kaveh: Yeah. Joy Priest played ball. Nabila Loveless played ball. John Sands is a poet who plays basketball. Ross Gay plays. Adrian Matika has been on IR for years, but purportedly was like a real sort of, like, Reggie Miller type, like, fighting around screens and then just a knockdown, dead eye shooter. Natalie is famously. Natalie Diaz is famous. She played for Old Dominion and then played professionally overseas. There are a lot of poet ballers, Terrence, for sure.

Chris: That's enough for a couple of teams, man.

Kaveh: We could get a league going 100%. Yeah.

Chris: Do we let fiction writers in, though? That's the thing. I mean, hybrid. Hybrid, yes.

Kaveh: So at Iowa, where I teach, there's a yearly game of poets versus fiction writers in the workshop of baseball. And I think that fiction writers have never lost. I think that that's literally true. I'm not sure.

Chris: Going back to 1931. Fiction writers.

Kaveh: Yeah, well, listen, don't quote me on any of that. I just moved here in July. I'm not super hip to all the Iowa lore, but I know that the poets team actually went out of their way to practice this year and still got know. And they were like, we just didn't have enough. Like, it surprises me because there are a lot of poets who are very athletic. I think it's something about baseball in particular. I think that baseball is just, like, such an excruciatingly boring sport. No offense to people who love baseball, I guess, but it's just such a demonstrably inferior sport to basketball that it's.

Chris: It's not the Great Depression anymore. Come on, let's move on.

Kaveh: Yeah, it's like beneath the poets to excel at. You know what?

Chris: You know, you guys got to bring in a ringer. Do what you got to I mean.

Kaveh: There's a Simpsons episode about that where Mr. Burns's power plant has, like, a softball team, and he brings in, like, Darryl Strawberry and all these ringers, and he hires them to the power plant to work at the power plant, but really to play on the team.

Chris: Darryl Strawberry is a great choice for that because he'd do it, too. He'd absolutely do it.

Kaveh: Well, there's like a whole. I'm not a baseball guy, but there's a whole fleet of early 90s baseball stars who were involved. Ken Griffey Jr. Was one of them.

Chris: I thought today we would talk about three poets, Kaveh, who all three of them are near and dear to my heart. You know, it's interesting. We've got two Detroit poets. We've got the Bad Boys. We've got the Pistons lined up against the starting guard here. We don't want that tension to seep in here into our reading of the poems. I want to put that on the table first.

Kaveh: I won't hold it against the Pistons. And actually, in all realness, I was a Bucks fan growing up.

Chris: You're a big Bucks guy.

Kaveh: Yeah. And so both the Bulls and the Pistons just beat the **** out of my beloved, like Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, Ray Allen bucks my whole childhood, because it was like the Jordan Bulls, and then it was like the Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups Pistons. And so between those two teams, and they're all in the same central division. And so you're talking about, like, two of the biggest childhood bullies for me.

Chris: But now you're a Bucks fan. You're walking in tall cotton. You're fine. You have Giannis. Okay, so poet number one is a good friend of this podcast, Hayan Charara. It's from his new collection, newish, most recent collection. These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit.

Kaveh: I read that as a PDF for the first. I think I wrote some words for the cover.

Chris: You're on the back of the book here with Diane Seuss, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Kaveh: Me and Diane, it's like one of these things is not like the others, but, no, I love think that he's. I think that he doesn't bang his pots and pans about himself very much. But I think that he's quietly one of our best.

Chris: One of the best. And he has so many great dad poems. It was so hard. You and I were going back and forth over text like this poem. This poem, this poem. He has so many amazing poems about his father. About sort of like what we'll call today dad poems, but also about being a father himself. Right? He's got two beautiful children. This is one of his great subjects. He's got this poem about his dad hitting a guy with a car that I wish that was here on the too.

Kaveh: But we'll just have a separate Hayan Charara fancast after this.

Chris: Absolutely. So this is "Ode on an Abandoned House." Wind and rain. Here are the keys to the house. A missing door, two broken windows birds for you, a room with a view the bedroom which once held the moon and stars out of sight ants and worms, such sad witnesses. The grass uncut and the yard overgrown are again yours to inherit. And you, the leaves whirling across buckled floors. Please take my father's voice, whispering, may you live forever. May you bury me.

Kaveh: Beautifully read.

Chris: His lines the way they just kind of fall down the page. He's really a poet whose lines just tell you exactly how to read them. Right? Yeah. But this one, those last two lines are what for me, really just kind of take the air out of my lungs. May you live forever. May you bury me. How do you read those? How do those hit you?

Kaveh: Well, the juice of this poem for me is the thinginess. Right? He's not saying like, oh, my dad. Oh, my father's voice. How I miss my father's voice. Right? May you live forever. May you bury me is like this sort of. It's an idiom in, I think, a lot of cultures. Maybe it's an English idiom, too. I don't really know. But that idea of to live without you would be untenable. So may you bury. I mean, this is a sentiment that I've expressed to my spouse. I think it would be like, you have to be the one who lives longer than this. Got dark fast. But it would just be untenable. It just would be like, my spouse is more resilient than I am in every direction. It would just be certainly from a parent to a child. Right? The thinginess. Right. That the poem is concerned with the ants and the worms and the bedroom that once held the moon and stars out of sight and even the door that is missing. So it's just like an open space is thingified. Right? A missing door.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: It's like, almost like apophatically invoked. Right.

Chris: It should be very sad, very melancholy imagery.

Kaveh: Right?

Chris: Here's this house just falling down. And I get a sense that this is the Speaker's childhood house. This is the house 100% they grew up in. Right? And yet it doesn't really have that music. It doesn't have that tone because maybe because of the address, because we're giving it back to the ant worms. We're giving it back to the grass. The speaker feels very much at peace with this process of. This thing is ******* falling down.

Kaveh: And I like, too, the way that may you bury me, since you is the pronoun used to address those things. Right. The wind and the worms, et cetera. That may you bury me, which was ostensibly spoken by the father to the son, becomes almost like an appeal to the wind, to the dirt of this house, to the bones of this house.

Chris: Right?

Kaveh: Like, may you bury me. May I be buried in such vaunted dirt, such know, such hallowed ground.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: Which I like very much too. The sort of pressure put upon that second person pronoun, you is very quiet and deaf there. And it's such a clean. You know, I think of Hayan Charara the way I think of poets like Ada Limon or Sharon Olds or Elizabeth Alexander and that their lines are just so crisp and clean and almost, like, deceptively clear. Right. Because there's no word in this poem that your son wouldn't know.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: Your young son.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: Inherit, maybe overgrown. Right. There's no, like, never any ornament.

Chris: Right?

Kaveh: Yeah.

Chris: It's not pristine. They're so smooth. And I mean, I honestly, I think of Hayan and his way of speaking, which is also incredibly assured and calm and relaxed and intentional and with just always a touch of. That sort of sense of humor to it. Right. Or a touch of irony to it. But this poem, I mean, ultimately, it wants to be read as some kind of metaphor, right? Like we're talking about an abandoned house and it's an ode to an abandoned house. And it has this astonishing ending that fills us with this sort of paradoxical or maybe just bittersweet feeling of loss. It feels to me like it's trying to be about memory. The problem of memory. The problem of being able to recollect your childhood house, this thing that is gone, or your father who may be gone. Right. Or at least your father's voice that may be gone and being able to honor it in your memory. And yet it's this sort of thing that's being blown away by the wind.

Chris: Right?

Chris: It's whirling away.

Kaveh: Yeah. Memory almost as a kind of matter. Do you know. Sorry, I'm going to be really poety for a second, but Rilke's 9th Duino Elegy.

Chris: I don't know them by number.

Kaveh: Which do we know we talking about? Give me 2 seconds to pull it up and then you can edit it. As if I'm just pulling this out of.

Chris: I'm also going to edit out the part where I go. No, which one is. You're like, yeah, the one where.

Kaveh: Oh, yeah. And you just quote it from memory.

Chris: Yeah.

Chris: No, in perfect German. Yeah.

Kaveh: Okay, so the 9th one is the one where he's like, "so much is unutterable. All that we can do is talk about what is utterable." This is the part that I always think about. "Praise the world to the angel, not the unutterable world. You cannot astonish him with your glorious feelings in the universe where he feels more sensitively. You're just a beginner. Therefore, show him the simple thing that is shaped in passing from father to son, that lives near our hands and eyes as our very own. Tell him about the things. He'll stand amazed as you stood behind the rope maker in Rome or the potter in the Nile. Show him how happy a thing can be, how blameless in ours." Right? So, I mean, just the idea that you're not going to impress an angel with your ideas about the ineffable, with the unutterable.

Chris: Right?

Kaveh: But you can impress an angel with a decrepit house, right? Because the thingness of the decrepit house, right? The thingness of that doorframe missing its door, right? That's what we have to show for ourselves, is our gunny sacks full of things that we carry around with us.

Chris: Even if we don't even have it. What we have is the memory of it. What we have is the poem of the memory of it, right?

Kaveh: But again, that's what I'm so. I mean, as a poet myself, as a creative person myself, that's what interests me most, is when an artist is able to strain their medium in order to allude to that which the medium wasn't built to accommodate, right? Which is to say, if you took a picture of a house, you could draw that house pretty faithfully from that picture, right? The dimensions you and I couldn't.

Chris: But others you and I couldn't.

Kaveh: Because we're both bad drawers, as we've established, right? But one could. An architect could look at a photograph of a house and pretty reliably recreate a house that looks something like it.

Chris: Right?

Kaveh: If I just described a house to you, it doesn't matter how actuarial I get, right? If I'm like, the bay windows are 5ft tall, but whatever. I don't know what a bay window is.

Chris: The big pretty ones, you can sit inside where they kind of.

Kaveh: Oh, the ones with the little reading.

Chris: Yeah. They go out a little bit, so you can kind of get up in there.

Kaveh: I guess. I do know what a bay window is then, but I think that language can only give you metaphors. I can say this is what the house was like. Right. Whereas a photograph is really good at saying, like, this was the house. Right? And the way that Hayan's poem is sort of pouring language around the absence of the house and revealing the mold.

Chris: Right?

Kaveh: Or it's like flower thrown on a ghost. Right? Like we're sort of seeing the shape of the house that once was, even though he's really only describing absence. That's the thing that interests me often most in art is when the medium is being sort of deployed against a silence or against an absence to give the silence or absence shape.

Chris: And it's so perfect, too, because what the father is expressing here or what the son is remembering or imagining the father expressing is a kind of impossible thing, right? This impossible wish that we have to keep each other even after death. May you live forever, may you bury me.

Kaveh: One of those is far more likely than the other.

Chris: Yeah, but it's that if I could have this, then that's a fate that I can accept. Right.

Kaveh: Well, and, I mean, what is it? I am not a father. I have a puppy that I adopted and three cats, but what is it to.

Chris: I'm going to have you back on with Himanshu and we're going to do like a dog father episode.

Kaveh: I can't wait. It can't wait. We're going to be great. What is it to create life? Knowing that the best case scenario is that it lives richly and then dies in 80 years or 90 years or whatever.

Chris: Yeah.

Kaveh: Just knowing that there is a terminus for the thing that you're creating.

Chris: I don't think about their longevity in exactly that way.

Kaveh: I'm asking this because it's an anxiety. Not like, oh, you ******* monster, I'm asking this because it's an anxiety.

Chris: I think about their mortality all the ******* time, all day. But it's more in the context of, like, can I get them through the next few years? Can I get them into adulthood. Can I get them through this gauntlet of danger? And yesterday for the holiday, we were at our friend John's family vacation place up in Thousand Islands, and we had this beautiful time. He was so hospitable, his people were so lovely. And it was kind of know the boys were just romping all over this island, and they were jumping in the St. Lawrence river, which is **** near freezing, even this time of year. But to get there, they had to go through these rocks and they had to kind know the sand is wet and it's slippery. And all day long I felt like I was just in a state of pretty high tension, right, of make sure the little one didn't slip and fall and the big one wasn't going to drown or get hypothermia in the water.

Kaveh: Or what have you.

Chris: You're just constantly on rescue duty when you have small children. I don't know what it's like as know John has teenage daughters, right? So he's in a totally different world as a parent. And the things that he's afraid of and has anxiety over, I would imagine quite different. But I think more about my responsibility to them in this very immediate, almost visceral sense of I'm spotting them all the time, I'm walking behind them. Don't fall right now.

Kaveh: So you're governed more by the kind of acute crises than it's all sort of abstract for me because I don't have an actual. And this is so much like recovery, just broadly. Right. It's all abstract for me right now because I don't have an actual child about whom to worry. Right. But for you, it's acute and hourly and minute to minute, and so you're not focused on the endless reprocessing of the big existential thing because.

Chris: But I do have their childhood as this thing that's, like, happening right now before our eyes, and yet only gets to happen once. And so I put a lot of pressure on myself for that, right? Like, don't **** it up, man. They only get one of these. Don't traumatize them. Today, that friend of mine who, he's the one who's. We have each other's number memorized so we can call each other from jail. He's got two little girls. And his big thing is his sort of mantra that he tells himself is just don't be the reason for their childhood trauma today. That's his 24 hours a day. Just don't be that reason.

Kaveh: And it's like, you could be perfect. 364 days out of the year.

Chris: But you could have that one day. And that's the indelible mark.

Chris: Right.

Chris: On their childhood. So it is abstract in that sense. It is kind of like, how much of a long view can I take here? But even just within their childhood, even within the last three, four, or five years, what is their life like? And how does the world feel on their nerve endings as a result of the atmospherics that I'm partially creating. Right. And how does death come into that? Well, that's a longer conversation.

Kaveh: But you're also the guardian of them having a childhood that they can look back on fondly and think of as a childhood. Right. Which is something that a lot of people don't have. Right. A lot of people don't have a childhood that they can think back on wistfully and be like, oh, how easy it was when I was a child.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: And that's a credit already.

Chris: Both of them already have, I think, right.

Kaveh: The vast majority of people in human, I would say probably the majority of people living on the planet Earth right now don't have a childhood that they can look back on and be like, wow, that was perfect. Right? If only I could go back to the ease of those days.

Chris: Yeah.

Chris: And you don't want it to be perfect. You want them to be resilient. You want them to know the struggles of moving through this world and certainly the struggles that others who are less fortunate have. And that's all part of it. But at the same time, there is something that ought to be idyllic and they shouldn't have to feel under threat all of the time.

Kaveh: But that calibration, too. Now I'm just, like, narrating my anxieties about ever becoming a parent. But that calibration is so delicate, right? Like, my dad came to America in his 20s with, like, $300 in his pocket and moved from Duck farm to duck farm my whole life. And he worked six days a week, farmers hours, et cetera, et cetera, on farms that he didn't own, just, like, labor on. He worked on corporate farms. And so my life has been orders of magnitude easier than his, though not without its trials, right? If I imagine when I was 24, moving to China, right? Like, a language that I didn't speak a word of. Not even, like, moving to France that I kind of, like, knew food words or just truly just didn't speak a word of it, right? Just moving to China when I was 24 and being like, all right, I've got $300 in my pocket. What now? God, that's scary. Right? Yeah. And then my life, right? I've passed through addiction and a number of whatever, right? And I'm happy with where I am now. I'm married to my best friend. I get to do my favorite thing in the world for a living, and it's very lucky. And so if I were to have a kid, I would want to protect them from some of the things, but I also don't want them to be a little ****. You know what I mean? I don't know. That calibration, right? Something about having the foil of the world or the foil of withholding parent or whatever, right? Made me be like, see, I can prove you wrong. You know what I mean? And I don't know. I'm not even, like, forming complete thoughts.

Chris: No. This is something that my partner and I talk about constantly, right? That exact calibration. And sometimes the word various conjugations of spoil will come into conversation, right. How do you guard against that? And it's like, on some level, this is a kind of experiment that, in our family that we're doing what would happen to what kind of grown up comes out of an actually good and pleasant and healthy and happy childhood?

Kaveh: Emotionally mature parents. Yeah.

Chris: And to some extent, we don't know. Right. We don't know what that's going to look like on another level, you think, well, the foils will actually present themselves. Right? Like, we don't have to actually go looking for them. They will certainly. And we might not actually know what they are until we're looking backward.

Chris: Right.

Chris: We're looking in, like, moving to China would be a kind of loud and obvious one, but there are other might be more subtle ways for hardship, struggle, difficulty to enter their lives that we're not necessarily. And then the final piece of it is, I noticed this more with my older one because he's the older one, but also, given his personality, he will find that inside himself, he will generate something to struggle with if nothing else presents itself. You can make everything on a glide path and give them everything that they need. Not necessarily everything they want, but everything that they need. And something about just, like, being a person is hard enough.

Chris: Yeah, sure.

Chris: I'm like, why are you working so hard, man? All you got to do today is skateboard and watch TV. What are these windmills? You were tilting at my boy. But he found them in his soul. Here's something that I'm going to battle with.

Kaveh: He's like, Jordan. He makes up the player across from him. He's like, what did you say about my mom? The guy's like, I didn't say anything. What are you talking about? And he's like, yeah, 

Chris: Now I gotta score 55 on you in the Garden.

Chris: Yeah.

Kaveh: The Last Dance was full of those sorts of stories where he would just, like, make up some **** about a player.

Chris: Ginned up beef. Just the other guy is completely unaware. Like, what are you talking about?

Kaveh: Yeah. And you're right. I think that when I listen back to this, what I will hear is my desire for control. And your relative surrender, right? Your relative surrender, truly surrender.

Chris: Like, oh, ****, I tried, but we're.

Kaveh: Teetering on the precipice of irreversible ecological collapse with the global specter of fascism rising and taking over left and right. And I don't think that one needs to look hard in this world for foils. And I'm, like, worrying about how to manufacture and calibrate them. And what I am hearing even now speaking is my own desire to control every variable in this hypothetical, non existent child's life.

Chris: It's the difference between looking back what Hayan does in his poem, right? Looking back at this.

Kaveh: That was good way to reel us back.

Chris: Looking back at the abandoned house of childhood, of memory, and seeing it so clearly, right? And seeing its paradoxical beauty and decay and death and the yearning for it to live forever, knowing that it can't, et cetera. And then the looking forward. Two weeks ago, we couldn't see the ******* sun because of the wildfires from Quebec. And the whole time that was happening was we couldn't go outside for three days because of the air quality. I'm thinking my kids are seven and almost four. What the **** is going to be going on when they're 27 and 24, much less 47 and 44? I think about that stuff all the time, but it's so just like any other kind of angle you want to take on climate change and on the kind of coming, as you say, like the ecological collapse, it just stuns your mind with its enormity, right? You think, well, certainly that renders me in a position of surrender. And all I really can worry about is make sure they don't slip into the St. Lawrence river this afternoon and bang their knee.

Kaveh: And this is off topic or semi off topic, but I think too, one of the greatest hustles that late capitalism has pulled on us is the idea that this is all, like, individual responsibility, right? This is like your and my fault for not using metal straws our whole lives as opposed to industry producing, like, 90 whatever percent of the world's pollutants and the world's carbon, et cetera, being produced by the eight largest manufacturers, et cetera, et cetera, and Monsanto, et cetera. You know what I mean? Like the idea that it's like, because you and I haven't been rinsing out our aluminum cans enough, which we still.

Chris: Do that food can right in the recycle bin without even mention, I don't want to rinse it.

Kaveh: Yeah, it's your fault that the turtles are dying.

Chris: But meanwhile, the recycling truck is not even going to the recycling center anymore. It's dumping it behind ******* town, which.

Kaveh: Is literally what happens to 90 plus percent of it. But my spouse and I still, we rinse our cat food cans and we've talked about this, and it's like, we understand intellectually that this is going to the same landfill as everything else. But there's something about the ritual of the rinsing that it takes us out of our day and it reminds us that we are connected to an earth that is inflected by our behavior. And whether this specific behavior is helping that or not, it's at least making us mindful in that moment, which carries over into everything else, which is basically how prayer works in my life, too. It's like I pray for my mom's health or whatever, and then I call her and make sure that she's taking her medicine, et cetera.

Chris: Right?

Kaveh: I mean, that's my understanding of how prayer works. But speaking of houses of childhood memory, transcendent Detroit poet of the mid 20th century, Robert Hayden has something to say about that, doesn't he, Chris?

Chris: He does comment, and that was also an excellent segue to your poem, which we're going to talk about.

Kaveh: Sure.

Chris: So, not to give Robert Hayden short shrift, but we're going to read this poem and then move to yours. This is a poem that I bet a lot of people have heard at least once come across. It's one of the most anthologized poems of the 20th century. And as you said, there's a really good reason for that. It's a beautiful poem. "Those Winter Sundays." Sundays, too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blue black cold. Then with cracked hands that ached from labor and the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. I'd wake and hear the cold splintering breaking. When the rooms were warm, he'd call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, speaking indifferently to him. Who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know? What did I know, of love's austere and lonely offices?

Kaveh: Beautifully read.

Chris: I never know how to stress that second to last line. I think when you scan it, you get a different answer. But it feels to me like, actually, the stress wants to move. And I think you could go either way. But it's. What did I know? What did I know? Or what did I know? What did I know?

Kaveh: What did I know?

Chris: I never want to read it the same way. Back to back. I always want to discuss.

Kaveh: Yeah, eventually you'll get it right. One of the possible permutations will be the correct. Actually, this poem. I think about it all the time because it's. Again, doing that thing that I was speaking about in the Charara poem of stressing the medium. Right. There's this Brian Eno quote about the crack in a blue singer's voice being the sound of an emotional event too momentous for the medium assigned to record it. And I think about this poem in that final stanza, where he says, speaking indifferently to him who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know of Love's austere and lonely offices? And the way that the sort of lyric catalog of those first stanzas. Gives way to that direct address.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: And the way that this is like someone recounting a boyhood. And then moving suddenly into the present with that interrogative, almost as if to be, like, this artifice, this lyric palm ****. Not working. Yeah. It's like he's reaching his hand out from the page and being like, no, this isn't like me being cute. Me being a poet. What did I know?

Chris: I know, ************.

Kaveh: I'm getting goosebumps talking about it. You can't see it if you're listening to the audio. But this is a poem that we've both read probably literally a thousand times. In fact, I have this poem when my spouse and I. My spouse is a poet. Transcendent America poet Paige Lewis. And when we were studying for our PhD comp exams. It was the way that we had to take our PhDs was in a locked room with no WiFi and no computers and no phones. They would just ask you. Yeah. They would just ask you a litany of questions. About one of a hundred books on a list. And you just had to be able to answer them. And so we spent those two years just taking long walks, memorizing poems together. Which is something that Paige is extraordinarily good at. And as good as Paige is at it, I am that bad at.

Chris: Song lyrics. I'm an encyclopedia of song lyrics, movie quotes. It's embarrassing how many movies I can quote from beginning to end poems, because they're written artifacts that are sitting there on the page. They will not go in my brain. They won't stay there.

Kaveh: Yeah. For me, it's like, page is such an obsessive looker. Like, when they look at a bird, they don't just see a bird. They see a red breasted robin with a little bit of white on its left foot, and its right wing is kind of crooked, right? I'm like, oh, look, there's a red bird on page. It's like, yeah, that's the Robin with the white foot that I've been telling you about. You know what I mean? And so they would always memorize these poems within the first. If we were doing this poem, Paige would have it memorized in a half hour, and then we'd spend the next hour and a half with them just teaching it to me. Right. Which, of course, just reinforced it for them. But I say this all to say, this is one of the ones that you can put a quarter in the jukebox and it'll come out. And I think all the time about that ending and the reason that everyone remembers and the way that he uses offices is not a way that we tend to use offices today, right? Like, it's a sort of strange usage of the word, sort of meaning like a station or whatever, or like the workplace, almost.

Chris: But it's that usage that is so out of the ordinary and so utterly ******* perfect to absorb all the different kind of vectors of this poem into that final point, that resting point, right? And it's got it all.

Kaveh: And it's not a pretty word, either. It's not like, love, lonely and austere. Butterflies or something.

Chris: ItS hardness and almost. It's, like, bureaucratic is what makes it the perfect word here, right? Because this whole poem is about him doing his father, doing this domestic work, right? This work.

Kaveh: I feel like, because we all know this poem so well, we stop hearing it, but cracked hands, that ache from labor and weekday weather. And then he's polishing his shoes on a. Like, imagine the humility to wake up early on a Sunday before your kid and polish your kid's shoes. Not like, hey, Robert, get in here like, Bobby, come polish your shoes.

Chris: Get up, God **** it.

Kaveh: Yeah, get in here and polish your shoes. But he wakes up early and polishes his son's shoes.

Chris: His hands hurt. His ******* hands hurt because he's working in like, a furnace in Detroit in the 20s. You know what I mean?

Kaveh: Yeah, it's unbelievable. And again, this is the kind of reflection that I think are, you know, the idiom of recovery trades in this kind of anecdote, right. You know, the. Where was I selfish? Where was I fearful? Where was I self seeking? Where was I ignorant? You know, maybe not so much when you're like a little kid, but there.

Chris: Are plenty of here, right?

Kaveh: Yeah, but that's what I'm saying. Yeah. It feels like a very recovery adjacent anecdote too, right? Well, because he talks about the cruelty, the chronic angers of that household.

Chris: Not a judgment of himself as a child, necessarily, completely. Because it's really just a confession of ignorance and an ignorance that couldn't be helped, right. Because he was a child and this house was a ****** up house, right?

Kaveh: Yeah. He talks about the chronic angers of that household. And I think that in a less emotionally mature poet's hands, right. He'd be like, ****. Parents were always angry about everything and sucked for me. They never did **** for me. But here, I'll tell you what.

Chris: I know that love's austere and lonely offices.

Kaveh: Wasn't that guy yet. But I mean, that's the thing, right? Is to rebuke ethical infantilization and rebuke the sort of marvel movie of rhetorical hygienics where you're the superhero of the poem who behaved in ethically immaculate ways from beginning to end and everyone around you aggrieved you. And the poem is your place to sort of take air your recriminations, right. It's much more interesting to me to take the position of I'm ****** and I'm ignorant and I have vast cavities in my empathy and so do you. What do we do about it?

Chris: Not about his father. It's about him and it's about his retrospective. His looking back and seeing himself. Not his father. He sees himself. And to see himself, he has to also see his father wake up before him in the cold, right? Yeah, it's ******* cold. In that house. His father wakes up before him to warm it for everyone. That is an act of love. That is an act of devotion that he can no longer allow himself to be ignorant of.

Kaveh: Yeah. And even when his father calls him, he rises slowly in dress, right? It's not like he's like, up lickety split to go out and give his father a Leave it to Beaver hug, right? He rises slowly. He's like, my dad's waking me up on a Sunday.

Chris: There's no distance between rise and dressed and fearing. Right. He wakes up slowly, I think, because that fear, the violence of this household, is always crackling in the air, right?

Kaveh: Yeah.

Chris: With the warmth from the fire that's been stoked is also this crackle of danger, right. Of like, who knows who's going to get the ****? I mean, look, on the opposite page in Robert Hayden's collected poems is another pretty famous poem called "The Whipping," right. Which is not about his father, but it certainly feels germane, right, that this is a person who experienced physical abuse throughout their childhood, who saw the abuse of other family members at the hands of their father and others. This is a house that you don't want to wake up in, period. And to be able to look back on that and do this incredible, moral, imaginative work of honoring the work that man did do is really an astonishing act. It's not forgiveness, it's just a larger picture, right? Yeah, it's a larger picture.

Kaveh: It's just a more honest picture, right? It's just more honest than he was an ogre or he was a saint.

Chris: Okay, Kaveh, we'll close with one of my favorite poets from his debut collection, calling a Wolf a Wolf, which is a book that I love so much. I teach it every semester at this point.

Kaveh: Really?

Chris: I was going to say every year, but I think I end up teaching it every single semester. And one of my favorite poems in this book, which is called "Learning to Pray." And Kaveh, if you would, let us hear what this sounds like.

Kaveh: Yeah, and thanks so much for having me on the podcast, Chris. Yeah, it's my luck to get to chat with you for any amount of time about poems in life. So, yeah, this poem is called "Learning to Pray." My father moved patiently, cupping his hands beneath his chin, kneeling on a , then pressing his forehead to a circle of Karbala Clay. Occasionally he'd glance over at my clumsy mirroring my two big Packers T shirt and pebble red shorts, and smile a little despite himself, bending there with his whole form marbled in light, he looked like a photograph of a famous ghost. I ached to be so beautiful, I hardly knew anything yet. Not the boiling point of water or the capital of Iran, not the five pillars of Islam or the Verse of the Sword. I knew only that I wanted to be like him. That quiet stripe of father, mesmerizing as the blue white izmet tile hanging in our kitchen, worshipped as the long, faultless tongue of God.

Chris: Oh, Kaveh. You know when you read that, how ******* good this poem is? I know. You know.

Kaveh: You can tell that I haven't revisited. I mean, I haven't read from my first book in years, and I haven't read that poem in particular in a long time. I don't mean read it in front of people. I mean I literally haven't read it.

Chris: Do you remember writing. Do you remember the process of putting this together?

Kaveh: It doesn't sound like most of the poems in that book. I don't remember writing it, to be honest with you. I wish that I had, like, a quippy story, like I was struck by an Olympian thunderbolt and out came this poem or something.

Chris: Well, maybe that's kind of what happened and that's why you don't remember it.

Kaveh: Yeah, maybe. Well, it's one of those poems, and I've read Your incredible Work as well. And There are Poems that just Sound a little Bit out of your own Idiom, and It's almost like those are just the sort of freebies. You have the punch card that you get. I don't know why I'm speaking in the second person. I have the punch card that I get. It's like, buy ten milkshakes and your 11th milkshake is free. It's like when I show up for ten poems sometimes. The unconscious, the muse, the Universe, whatever you call it, right? Sometimes it'll just like, hand me one. Right. Sometimes it's like, here's your freebie.

Chris: Long and faultless tongue of God. There you go.

Kaveh: No, for real, though. I mean it. You show up to the salt mines of those poems where you're just sort of beating your head against your desk for 8 hours to get one line out, right. And to just. What's the thing? You stare at the page till one of you bleeds or all of these sort of, like, macho bullshit things. But, yeah, it was a time in my life where I was writing to avoid accidentally killing myself. I mean, that's what this book was, was early recovery, Wwen I knew that if I wrote for 4 hours, then that was 4 hours that I didn't have to worry about accidentally relapsing or harming. If I went to the coffee shop and wrote for 8 hours, Or If I went to the Library and read For 6 hours before or after a meeting or whatever. This was time that I didn't have to worry about. I mean, it was Literally just a place to put myself. I mean, myself holistically, like my physical body. It was a place to put myself and also my brain, my consciousness. And MoSt Of ThOse Poems Move very Quickly and Are KiNd Of Super Saturated With Imagery ANd MaNy Or MoSt EVEn Issue Punctuation in this kind of late. Merwin Clifton Alan Bryant Floyd's HeAdwaters Sort of Way know. It becomes like this sort of centripetal rush of language. And Then THERe Are Just a couple Poems in the Book like this that Are Much Slower, right. And ThAt speak in complete grammatical sentences. And. Yeah, again, they just feel like the free smoothie on the punch card. It's like I'm not even proud of it, necessarily, because it just doesn't feel like it came from labor. You're proud of things that you made and that took effort.

Chris: Right?

Kaveh: And this one. It's one of those poems that I think, as best as I can recall, was like 85% done after the first draft in an hour. It's just one of those.

Chris: It is so natural and it feels so inevitable. And of course, there's not a word out of place or a word that's not needed. What it's describing is ultimately, it's a simple scene, right? You seeing yourself as a young boy, you don't allow a lot of description here, but there's such economy in what you do allow, right? My two big packers T shirt and pebble red shorts. There's affection in that. There's the local notes that give it a kind of time, and maybe not a time, but certainly a place, right?

Kaveh: Just like the idea of a little Muslim kid and like a too big Packers shirt.

Chris: There's a lot of your biography in that little image, right? But then the camera immediately pans and smile a little despite himself.

Kaveh: Right?

Chris: You've got that parenthetical almost, so that we're still actually concentrating on what the father sees here. But the miracle of the poem is that you never really go into his point of view or even try to speculate as to what he's maybe thinking or feeling.

Chris: Right.

Chris: It is a poem about you as a child or looking back at you as a child. I ached to be so beautiful, I hardly knew anything. Yet it's this tension between your desire and knowledge, or the lack of knowledge, right? What knowledge can't give you. What you can't ever really understand. Which may be what's going on inside your father. Maybe God. Or what God sees when he looks at you, right? Which certainly is the theme that runs through this book, right? This attempt to open up a dialogue with a higher power, with a supreme being of some kind.

Kaveh: I saw somebody criticize that book one time as saying it was like just a book of my daddy issues with God. And I thought that was like the most brilliant thing that I've.

Chris: I'm like, yeah, Paradise Lost, ************. What kind of criticism is that?

Kaveh: No, I thought that was such a beautiful way. I wish that I had come up, you know what I mean?

Chris: Second copy.

Kaveh: Yeah. Because I feel like it was just like a Twitter egg who said it like an unattributable. But I don't read my even I'm not that masochistic. I'm happy to admit that I read all of my reviews exactly once. All the reviews that cross my path, the good ones and the bad ones, I think that they're interesting, usually. Yeah. That daddy issues with God. I think about that all the time. I think it's so good. I mean, when I was a kid, I literally thought my dad's umbrella caused the rain because when he would grab the umbrella, when we would walk outside, it was raining. And he talked to me about God and stuff. Is it like this? I don't know. And you don't have to share on this if you don't want to, about how you talk to your kids. But I imagine it's like this for a lot of little kids, right? Especially maybe not so much in your home, but in our home, my dad was very much like the center, the sun around which everything orbited.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: So when someone was describing a masculine, all powerful deity who knew everything about me and controlled everything, I was like, oh yeah, I got one of here. You know what I mean?

Chris: Yeah.

Kaveh: He's like watching the Bucks game in the other room. You know what I mean?

Chris: Yeah.

Chris: It doesn't require a lot of theological.

Kaveh: Yeah, yeah. That's what even, you know, as I grew, know the way that for Borges, the Sahara was a good approximation for infinity, though of know there aren't infinite grains of sand in the Sahara, but to the human mind, it's about as close as you can come. For me, my dad was like the closest I could come to imagining an all powerful Alpha and Omega creator.

Chris: Right.

Kaveh: Yeah. I think that that started as early as the experience that I'm describing in this poem.

Chris: Yeah, well, it reminds me of my other favorite line in this book, which runs through my head all the time, which is, I think it's the last line of the book. It's the last poem in the book. And you're addressing an idea of God, or you're addressing God and you say, "I'm almost ready to show you the mess I've made," which is certainly merging. Then finally, that paternal kind of role with an idea of God here, right? And again, like returning yourself to a childhood perspective.

Chris: Right? Like it's opening the door to your kid's room. Here's the mess, right? Here's my life. Here's my soul. Here's what I've done with what I've been given.

Kaveh: And there's that air of Augustine in it, too. Augustine said, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet, like I'm almost ready. I'm still going to do a little crayon on the walls over here, but I'm almost ready to show you.

Chris: But speaking of last lines, I just... "worshipped as the long, faultless tongue of God." I think only Charles Simic would be sort of in the conversation with being able to write a line so perfect in its balance, and it's a supernatural thing that you're describing, and yet it feels so immediate and visible. And right here, it's the proximity to this figure of your father in the midst of this ritual, and it's otherworldly, and yet you're in your living room. We can see your living room. We can see the Packers shirt and the red pebble shorts. Finally, then, to an unknowable idea, which is if that tongue is faultless, what a frightening notion. What an un reality underpinning all of this.

Kaveh: Yeah, well, I mean, comparing to Simic is like comparing to Catallus or something, but certainly it's a scary notion. I can agree with you on that. Is this idea that if that is the model of God, then that is what is perfect. And in all the ways that I am not, that all of the ways in which I am not, that are therefore deficiencies or defectivenesses. Right. And there are a lot of ways that I was not, and I'm not that. Right?

Chris: Not as a poet, my friend.

Kaveh: I appreciate it.

Chris: We are fortunate to have this book and to have had you join us today and talk about these other poems and poets. Our Detroit Bad Boys.

Kaveh: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me and for making this space where we can hang out with you. And you're such a good steward through your myriad curiosities, and it's just a joy to spend time with you here and off the mics, too.

Chris: Likewise, man. And limber up. Get loose, because I think this Poets League absolutely 100% with legs. I think we need to talk offline.

Kaveh: I think you're right. I think you're right.

Chris: I'm going to be drawing up some brackets. I think we're 

Kaveh: I love it.

Chris: Thanks so much for being here.

Kaveh: Appreciate it. Take care.

Chris: That's all for the show today. Thanks to Hayan Charara and the late, great Robert Hayden for writing gorgeous and meaningful poems. Thanks, of course, to our guest editor and starting guard, Kaveh Akbar. And thanks to you for listening. We'll be releasing another action packed issue of the PODRE Review soon. And there's even more Bad Dads with our friend Brad Franco on the way. It's an embarrassment of bonus episode riches here at PODRE. Please subscribe to the pod wherever you listen, and leave us a nice review. Help us move up the charts. Until next time, sweet lovelies.