MM: To start, I’d love to talk a bit about form. What appeals to you about the prose poem? Why was it the proper form for talking about wrestling?
CB: By design I’m a lyric poet, and I’ve always been quite invested in traditional forms and metre. My first pamphlet ‘Impermanence’ was quite formal in terms of its design and structure but with the poems for ‘Kayfabe’ I knew that I wanted to break away from the rigidness that form sometimes imposes. Professional wrestling is not a traditional subject for poetry and I felt that if it were written formally it would probably come across as trite and gimmicky. The prose poem is a form that allows more freedom and is a bit riskier in its construction and I felt that given the subject matter it lent itself perfectly to the poems. Prose poems are more ‘Attitude Era’ than ‘PG Era’ to steal the wrestling lingo
MM: It’s interesting that you mention “gimmicky” and “wrestling lingo.” Kayfabe is such an interesting title for a poetry collection about wrestling, since it refers to the “lingo” of wrestling itself, the way wrestlers distinguish between reality and performance, the way they refer to what they do. What do you feel is the language of wrestling? How is it its own poetic form?
CB: At its core all poetry is made up of specialist language really, based on the subject matter of the poem and the concerns of the poet. There’s no difference between a poem about farming using technical terms and the poems in ‘Kayfabe’ drawing off a specialist vocabulary. The only difference would be that using wrestling terms could be off-putting for readers without the knowledge of wrestling lore if you like. Take ‘Out of nowhere’ and the references to ‘RKO’ and Al Snow – non-wrestling fans wouldn’t have any idea what these things are but hopefully the rest of the poem is built strongly around these ideas to allow them an inroad into the subject matter, which will hopefully encourage them to find out. The language of wrestling is poetic because it’s filled with metaphor and allusion and countless other vehicles for expression. It’s just a little harder to unlock for the non- wrestling aware reader.
MM: In the poem Face Turn, we have the wonderful image of the speaker of the poem as a child unleashing a violent wrestling fantasy into the classroom. I think one of the things I most enjoyed about the poem was the juxtaposition of British school terminology with wrestling terminology, which is something I tend to think of as an almost distinctly American machismo and passion for casual violence. Where do you come into wrestling? When did you start watching and loving it? How did the violence of it give you a language you needed?
CB: Well that story in Face Turn is actually true in its essence so it was fun to marry up the two sides of my life in that poem. We have all been fed a diet of how cool High School was, almost as this place of nostalgic reverie but in truth it was a place, for many people, of utter pain and fear. I came into wrestling around 11 years old but not seriously until I was 16. My first real memory of it proper was staying up with my brother to watch the 2001 Survivor Series and being so invested in it that I ended up trying to pursue a career in it. That never worked out but it has always been a part of my life since, especially as an escape from the real world. I’m not sure it was about the violence per se, more about the freedom of expression, the characters and the strength of personalities. I often channel my inner ‘Rock’ when I am in anxious situations and it is surprisingly helpful, as cheesy as that sounds!
MM: He’s a charming and fascinating figure. Have you read Rax King’s The People’s Elbow? Wonderful non-fiction meditation on the Rock as a safe masculine figure, as she processes her sexual assault through a crush on him.
CB: No I’ve not read that but I’ll pick up a copy. He has a presence which exudes confidence and I think that it’s something that can be drawn upon. Similarly when my brother and I go to the gym one of our favourite quotes to get the other to work harder is that Kurt Angle won a gold medal with a broken freakin’ neck so there is fun in there too!
MM: Many of the poems in Kayfabe offer one scene, or one concentrated image. Do you feel prose poems lend themselves to that concentration of imagery?
CB: Yes definitely. I wanted to capture the immediacy of the moments, almost like vignettes. When you watch wrestling you are always left with the highlight reel moments that take your breath away. I wanted the poems to represent that same condensed energy. Prose poems work really well for this in a way you couldn’t get away with using couplets, for example.
MM: That immediacy definitely comes through. What are your plans for the book with Legitimate Snacks over at Broken Sleep? How are you feeling about the final product?
CB: Well I have a half dozen other poems I’ve been working on so it could hopefully at some point be turned into a larger pamphlet. The legitimate snacks are a brilliant concept because they offer a bitesize flavour of a poet’s work and can lead off in so many directions. Plus Aaron’s attention to detail and dedication to craft are second to none.
MM: They’re beautiful little books. I have a lot more I would love to ask about, but I have to wrap up. Can we end on you posing a question to me that I can also pass on to our wider audience?
CB: I guess a good question would be do you have a hobby or interest you would like to write poetry about but that seems too ‘unpoetic’ to be crafted successfully into poems?
MM: Excellent question! Still working on getting a good grip on how to write about chess. I wonder what others will say.
Colin Bancroft is currently finishing off a PhD on Robert Frost. His pamphlet ‘Impermanence’ was published with Maytree Press in 2020 and ‘Kayfabe’ with Legitimate Snack|Broken Sleep in 2021. His pamphlet ‘Knife Edge’ is coming out in 2022 with Broken Sleep. He runs Nine Pens press and the Poets’ Directory.