Newtown Literary Contributor: Micah Zevin

Writer Micah Zevin’s poem “P.S. 174” was featured in Issue #7 of Newtown Literary. Here, he gives the background for his work.

The poem that came to be known as “P.S. 174” (my elementary school Rego Park namesake) and to be published in Issue #7 of the Newtown Literary went through several title changes with a slow evolutionary incubation, “Death and The Enemy Part I”  being the title that stuck for the longest before editors at Newtown accepted it. During the time this poem was constructed, I was in one of those reflective obsessive periods in my work, recounting the early years of my awkward youth in elementary school, where bullies dominated and oppressed and were simultaneously emulated, imitated, and respected as embodiments of “cool” and “rebellion” by their lack of effort and care in school as well as their defiance of its rules.

At first, the poem was mainly comprised of the nostalgia of running to the ice-cream truck after the final school bell had rung while being pushed and shoved by your fellow sugar-mad hungry classmates. While it had a whiff of the mythological (Lord of The Flies), it did not have the narrative focus to make the fantastical easier to comprehend and follow. This came about in a workshop several years ago when we were asked to bring in poems we still “believed” in but that were “missing” something and as a result were not complete. The ideas behind the concept of the poem and the original title, which was not clearly conveyed through it, were regarding how alive everyone is or is supposed to be when they are young, alongside the “reality”, how certain people and situations can and do shape our current adult identities. Do we change for better or good? What does that even mean? How do we define those terms? A lot of the language that instinctually and gutturally came from my mind was born of early adolescent memories of other children as mischievous little beasts on a haphazard journey of individual and group scenarios that involved risk and discovery in an often insulated and restricted universe. I often remember my fellow children as less disastrous/cartoonish versions of the Gremlins. As a result, (in the poem) that’s how they come to be attracted to danger represented by the composite bully left-back-kid, Freddie, who acts as a lure for these desires, with status objects like firecrackers and stink bombs acting as a kind of initiation into his world. The section in italics where Freddie addresses his new recruits came later. It came about not only because I felt something was missing narratively, but because it lent more mythic significance to the piece: a monologue by Freddie, the antagonist/protagonist.

As for process, this poem is a throwback to how I hope I used to write. There were several teachers and professors who recommended that before I typed up a poem I had written in my various notebooks, that I let it sit for a while and ferment before I started to type it up and start the revision process. Since my M.F.A at the New School was completed last year, I have tried to modify this extreme stance. Now, every morning that I sit on my couch and start jotting whatever pops into my head regardless of whether it is journal entry purge from my psyche writing exercise or potential fodder for poetry; I go through what I have written during the week, pick a few promising entries, type the results up, work on it instantly, and perhaps read it at an open mike.

Since November 2014, I have been running a reading series called the Risk of Discovery Reading Series, where I conduct a poetry workshop where I invent fun stimulating poetry prompts to get other poets creative noodles flowing, as well as my own. Of course, I use all of the poetry prompts to write my own poems and read them at the reading series. This is another way in which I generate new material that gives me restrictions and takes me out of my comfort zone, as well as periodically surprising myself with work that is sometimes instantly promising.

Thanks, Micah!

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