Friday, April 8, 2016

Q&A: “The Year of Living Dangerously” by Charles Jensen

In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer’s Center is spotlighting the work of Poet Lore contributors. This installment includes a brief Q&A between poet Charles Jensen about his poem, “The Year of Living Dangerously” (Poet Lore 106 3/4).

Photo Credit: Joshua Charles Parker


We prayed
no one got hurt once our
insurance lapsed. We stopped

crossing streets
with their glass and steel
bullets, the smell of burned rubber

like hair
on fire. We put away
knives, even dull ones, and used

our teeth
to do everything but
open bottles. Even the corkscrew

craved our
skin, our cork muscles.
The oven door stayed closed, its fires

tamed as
a circus lion we wouldn’t
put our head inside without a whip.

Skiing was
out of the question. Ice
skating, bowling, archery, skydiving

all verboten.
From the safety of sturdy
chairs, we showered quickly, drying

off with
air. Stairs we pointedly
ignored. When the snow came, we

kept to
carpeting. Windows
chided us with their fragility, their

constant threat
of breakage. It was only
by looking through them we imagined

our deaths,
our accidents, our injuries,
how every timid step we took

led us
deeper into the cave
where our lives were in our own hands.

Sarah Katz: "The Year of Living Dangerously" is a lovely, compact, and tension-ridden poem of three-line stanzas that explores ordinary dangers while utilizing very short and often enjambed lines. Why did you make these choices and what challenges did you face in writing this poem?

Charles Jensen: I definitely wanted to maintain an uneasy sense of foreboding as the poem unfurled, and I think those impulses are what guided the choice to use tercets with lines of increasing length. I hope the poem approximates the feeling of having something sinister sneak up on your slowly before it pounces. The enjambments are there to slow it down: "We one got hurt...once our insurance lapsed." Those pauses heighten the suspense of the stanzas. As for the dangers listed themselves, I wanted to communicate the feeling of living in a world rife with dangers without the safety net of health insurance to ease the mind, something I previously took for granted when I had coverage. So living in a world where cars became ammunition and an oven a predator were extensions of those fears, emphasizing how little around us is actually within our control beyond the caution of our actions.

Charlie Jensen is a poet and editor. He wrote The Nanopedia Quick-Reference Pocket Lexicon of Contemporary American Culture (2012 MiPOESIAS Chapbook Series) and The First Risk, which was published in 2009 by Lethe Press and was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award. His previous chapbooks include Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press 2007). He holds an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University.

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