Paul Killebrew

Are you interested in the relationship between poetry and politics? Do you believe that your own poetry has political implications?

I almost joined the Army once. Amazing but true. I took the intelligence test and everything. This was actually not all that long ago. After basic training, I was going to enter officer school and work in some kind of legal area. I had or was given the impression that it would be like A Few Good Men. Luckily I backed out before signing anything serious. These days, I pass the Army recruitment office every morning on the way to work, and I've gotten to be chat-level friendly with the recruiters. One guy in particular, the commanding officer I think, still asks me when I'm going to come in and sign up. "I can't today," I usually tell him. "My boss would kill me." He chuckles and throws me a little shrug.

When I was considering joining up I thought that being a poet, or anyway identifying myself as one, might be one of the many alienating experiences I'd have in the armed forces. This made me tense because I don't like the idea that poetry, rather than making space for communion, only puts us deeper into our own little worlds. It's difficult because poetry so often seems like a very insular, even provincial, concern, and its connection to politics is tenuous at best, often no more than a kind of color commentary—like a verse equivalent to Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh—for a situation from which it's increasingly dissociated.

But I didn't stay out of the Army because of poetry. In truth, things just got very intense and frightening, and I bailed. I don't know if it was a good decision or not, but the whole experience has, for whatever reason, led me to believe that writing political poems is really important. While I'm sure any political poems I write will be no more relevant than my vote, I hope they'll be a little ballsier than I am and somewhat more willing to carry a gun.

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from Forget Rita


With the same slow tackle of seasons touching,
the morning pressed into the back of my eyelids
that opened with a car key's clang in a toilet bowl.
Hours later, not sure where the day got off to,
my whole head filled with time
that shot like a laser through my ear canals,
a thin jet of seconds in its wake.
Late last night I turned on my bedroom light
in an electric confession:
"I lie down to stand on my underside,
the ceiling another wall I can't walk to."
It's why she hates overhead light,
or an adolescent taking down the trashy poster
taped over his bed—we all prefer subtle ironies.

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From Forget Rita, chosen by John Ashbery for the PSA New York Chapbook Fellowship competition. All Rights Reserved.




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