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Weekly Poem: Carl Adamshick writes for the ‘mysterious other’

Carl Adamshick has been writing poetry seriously for 20 years, and most of his poems have been short. That’s largely what you’ll find if you pick up his first collection, “Curses and Wishes,” which won the Walt Whitman Award in 2010.

As a challenge, the Oregon-based poet focused on composing longer pieces for his second book, “Saint Friend,” which hit shelves this August.

“I spent a lot of time writing and being very concerned with economy and what not to say and alluding to things. I learned that it’s okay just to write something and to say it flatly,” Adamshick told Art Beat. “I found that, in a long poem, it’s open to that, it’s open to a more conversational tone that I learned to have faith in.”

With that “conversational tone,” the poet was able to be upfront about what he wanted to convey.

“With the smaller, slighter poems, there’s more of a puzzle aspect… there’s a lot of word-play and there’s a lot of mystery involved. When you decide to say how it is, emotions are more on the sleeve, and things aren’t hidden. It’s really been fascinating to me to be open to that, to be open to the words spilling out instead of constructing them in some sort of way and moving them around and being really cautious and thoughtful about all the placement and the exact wording. It’s been a little looser and a little more exciting.”

Twenty years ago, Adamshick’s friends were his primary audience, reading his compositions at a bar, critiquing each other’s work over a beer — sort of an informal Master of Fine Arts.

Listen to Carl Adamshick read “Everything that Happens Can Be Called Aging” from his new collection, “Saint Friend.”

Everything that Happens Can Be Called Aging

I have more love than ever.
Our kids have kids soon to have kids.
I need them. I need everyone
to come over to the house,
sleep on the floor, on the couches
in the front room. I need noise,
too many people in too small a place,
I need dancing, the spilling of drinks,
the loud pronouncements
over music, the verbal sparring,
the broken dishes, the wealth.
I need it all flying apart.
My friends to slam against me,
to home me, to say they love me.
I need mornings to ask for favors
and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living.
Give me the bottom of the river,
all the unadorned, unfinished,
unpraised moments, one good turn
on the luxuriant wheel.

Unlike many other contemporary American poets, Adamshick is not the product of an MFA program, a fact that many point out to identify him as a different kind of voice. But regardless of his educational decisions, he was intent on a creating a life filled with poetry.

“I [was] left to my own devices and picking out my own books and reading my own things for my own purposes…I had a part-time job that I liked, and I had friends that liked poems, and I spent my free time just reading and writing,” Adamshick said. “I was just living this so-called poetic lifestyle that I really enjoyed…but I think I’ve just taken the long road.”

The long road or not, the poet has found a way to send his poems out into the world, which he believes is imperative to the power of verse.

“Poems are meant to be shared. I know that’s very general, but it’s also very true in a profound sense to me. I’m not writing poems for myself. I feel very strongly that a poem is finished when other people hear it or read it, and I keep that in mind when I’m writing.”

Adamshick himself has been profoundly affected by the poetry that he has read and, now focusing on the unknown reader that might pick up his work, he hopes to be similarly influential.

“I write for this mysterious other that is going to stumble upon a book, whether in a library or a bookstore or on a website somewhere. I really want some mysterious other that I don’t know, some stranger, to read it and see it as a real piece of art,” Adamshick said. “Reading poems has been very enriching and very life altering to me. I feel like whenever I write a poem I assume or I guess that somebody else is going to have that reaction.”

“Everything that Happens Can Be Called Aging” was excerpted from the book “Saint Friend” by Carl Adamshick. Copyright © 2014 by Carl Adamshick. Reprinted courtesy of McSweeney’s Poetry Series.

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