Welcome to “Behind the Byline,” the column in which we share conversations with current NER writers in all genres.
This month, NER poetry editor Rick Barot speaks with poet Luke Brekke,
author of “June” (NER 35.4).
RB: When I first read “June,” I thought of it as a pastoral poem with an elegy up its sleeve. How did the poem come about?
LB: Some years ago I had friends whose first child—after a full-term and otherwise healthy pregnancy—was stillborn. The burial took place in a little country cemetery, in summer, on an exceptionally beautiful day. The mother held her child during the ceremony and, when the time came, couldn’t bring herself to lay the child down. The first attempts at the poem tried to register that experience. As the poem moved further along, it also became a response to the loss of three young people, who I knew in varying degrees, who took their own lives.
RB: “June” has a lush descriptive quality, and it makes me wonder about the poets you’re reading and responding to. Who are the poets in your personal canon?
LB: This poem was written a while ago, so I don’t completely remember what I was reading and responding to around the time it was written. I do know that Keats, at some point, became a conscious model. He says in a letter that beauty “obliterates all consideration,” and sometimes I like to believe that’s true. I know, too, that I was reading a lot of John Ashbery’s early books around the time this was written, which may have something to do with its reticence and its willingness to go on for a while, though in other ways it probably belongs to a very different lineage than Ashbery’s.
As far as a personal canon goes, I’d add Stevens, Yeats, and Bishop. For the last year, I’ve been continually stunned and inspired by Paul Muldoon’s work, and Ellen Bryant Voigt’s last book, Headwaters, is another that I keep going back to.
RB: You’re a coffee roaster in your day job. Tell us about that. And where can people get the coffee?
LB: I’ve worked at Kickapoo Coffee Roasters for almost five years, and it still doesn’t feel much like a job, which has a lot to do with the people I work for and with. I don’t really roast too much, but spend more time packaging coffee and filling orders. A lot of the work I do is fairly physical, and it’s a pleasure to make a living with your body—to be up and moving around, to be sore at the end of a day. Physical fatigue is highly preferable to mental fatigue. The job also allows me plenty of time for daydreaming, which, for whatever reason, seems essential.
You can find our coffees online.
RB: “June” is your first published poem. What reactions have you gotten from your family and friends?
LB: They’ve all been sweethearts. My family has been especially encouraging. I stole my first copy of The Dharma Bums off my sister’s bookshelf when she was away at college, and then a year later took a copy of Yeats from my brother’s room. While neither theft went unnoticed, both went unpunished. So they’ve been involved from the beginning.