Contributor Spotlight: Aaron Graham

“Mythos (Deployment)” and “Footfalls” by Aaron Graham appeared in our Spring ’16 issue and can be read in their entirety here.

Tell us a little about “Footfalls” and “Mythos.”

It was interesting, the first thing that actually was able to speak to me, that i was able to relate to after I got out of the Marine Corps was Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” There was something about the work that spoke to me, that knew me, and that I just inherently understood. “Footfalls” is sort of an attempt to repay the favor in as much as its an attempt to convey some of my experiences with “Burials for the dead” and “Unreal Cities” using a tone and diction that flowed from the intensity of “The Waste Land”. Or at least in my mind it did.

I suppose, thematically speaking, “Mythos” is almost a counterpoint to “Footfalls.” It’s really dealing with the notion of this incredible weight of history in the Middle East—really in the land itself in the grains of sand and the Tigress’ silt—possesses. To think the road the unit was patrolling was walked by the Prophet of Islam or that a few miles from the spot I was standing on the Apostle Paul was struck by God on the way to Damascus was—and even still is—jarring. These are still parts of the history/mythology of global society, if not shared then at least something we’re collectively aware of. Yet, being in these places in 2006-08 and viewing the hustle and bustle around me there were times I could not have felt farther away from anything mythological. In fact, I think the thrust of the poem is the encroachment of the quotidian into any grander ideas we have of the world.

What was the most difficult part of these particular poems?

So “Footfalls” was a really difficult poem for me. I was trying to capture the feeling of immensity I was constantly faced with while serving in the middle east. The immensity of the desert, of the task at hand, the immensity of the death that we’d either see firsthand or—more often—that we’d come across that had previously been indicted by the previous regime as well as how my encounters with these things (things I can barely get my mind around even now) always seemed to play out in this crazy glare that obscured everything more than four feet in front of my face.  I always felt aware of these surrounding, their immensities, but was always encountering them in the particular, like always stepping over an edge each day and never feeling grounded. I suppose the seemingly abstract quality of what, to me, was all too tangible for a number of years in succession and trying to communicate that bifurcation was difficult.

Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.

Paul Muldoon’s Madoc: a Mystery. I have never been wowed by the depth and complexity of a poetic project more thoroughly than with Madoc. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to speak with Mr. Muldoon a few times and the one thing that always captivated me with me was his mind’s associative ability to draw and tease out through lines. A think Madoc is the greatest testament to this ability as well as a mind-blowing crash course in the poetic possibility such an approach generates. It’s fantastic for any poet who has notions of embarking on such highly structured project. (A delusion I may still entertain myself.)

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be?

Bob Dylan. Maybe not the “authoriest” of authors in a traditional sense, but I consider him to be the greatest living poet and one of America’s greatest poets. His wordsmithing, and even more so his thread work of tone and register go the farthest in weaving together what I view as the worthy elements of the high modernism a la Eliot and Pound into with a diction as real an poignant as something Natasha Trethewey or Jericho Brown could pen. Some of Dylan’s lines “they make everything from toy guns that spark to flesh colored Christs that glow in the dark” for instance, hit me where I live every time I hear them. Plus, I’d love to draw out some more profoundly counter-culture ideas I imagine he has on current world events—after a pint or four.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

Revising and massaging the manuscript for my first book Blood Stripes. It has done really well in all the contests its been entered in but hasn’t found a home in print yet. So that’s my current project.  I should also, likely, tend to my dissertation at some point.

Our thanks to Aaron for taking the time to answer a few questions. Read “Mythos” and “Footfalls” in their entirety here: www.sequestrum.org/poetry-mythos-and-footfalls.

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Aaron Graham hails from Glenrock, Wyoming, population 1159, which boasts seven bars, six churches, a single 4-way stop sign and no stoplights. His work explores the relationship of desire, compassion and violence in combat situations and the resilience, latency and impact of trauma and moral Injury on maritime society. He served as the assistant editor for the Squaw Valley Review, is an alumnus of Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and The Ashbury Home School (Hudson) and is a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where he served with The Marine Corps’ Human Intelligence and Counterterrorism Task Force Middle East as analyst and linguist. His work has appeared in SAND, The Tishman Review, The East Bay Review, Print Oriented Bastards, Zero-Dark-Thirty and f(r)action. His first book “Blood Stripes” was a finalist for Tupelo Press’s 2015 Berkshire Prize. Aaron is currently finishing his PhD in Literature at Emory University.