10 Questions for Cody Kucker
- By Abby MacGregor
Something in the river’s vexed beyond the torque
of tide returning to the sea, wherefrom
this thing must too have come, thrashing like all’s
apt to meet a fate of tatters in its teeth.
—from “Great White”, Spring 2019 (Vol. 60, Issue 1)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
Actually, it was recently returned to me as a Christmas gift from my stepmother. It was a story—illustrated and all—about a family of dinosaurs and how it was all Baby Dinosaur’s fault that Mommy and Daddy Dinosaur were parting ways. I must have been six or seven when I wrote it, my brother was two or three and our parents were getting divorced. But I must say, there was an actual narrative arc to it. It’s really quite hilarious (now, of course) and frightening to consider how much children absorb and the way such experiences end up manifesting themselves.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
In grad school I underwent an absolute conversion and became an avid student of, I guess I’d say, iambic poets, poets who meld fluid muscular rhythms, deep imagery, and winding, all-encompassing sentences: David Ferry, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Yeats, Plath, W. S. Merwin. I also catch myself frequently handwriting passages from Marilynne Robinson, Annie Dillard, and Thomas Hardy’s fiction.
What other professions have you worked in?
My aunt and uncle got me into the restaurant business very early on, so I was a line cook throughout high school all the way up until I started teaching high school English six years ago. I had a job sweeping a fabric store for a while. I still do landscaping and construction in the summers. I also spent a summer counting geese and sand-hill cranes for seventeen bucks an hour in Fairbanks while in grad school. I would literally crouch in the fields counting birds and tally them on a clipboard.
What inspired you to write this piece?
In my experience, the world always provides a metaphor for organizing our turmoil, which is the case with “Great White,” as with pretty much all my work. The inspiration was merely a natural phenomenon: a giant fish, most likely a striped bass, thrashing against the powerful outgoing tide of the Merrimack. We’ve also begun to hear a lot about great white sharks in Massachusetts the past few summers, so that was definitely just lingering in my head somewhere.
But when I wrote the poem, I had just returned from three years in Alaska, where I got pretty far from what I’ve always known as myself despite thoroughly indulging in the experience, and I was still very unsettled, even at home. I found myself entertaining strange ideas, relationships, ways of thinking and being. I knew the shit in my head and the way I was living was not, as Whitman says, the “me myself,” but I’m pretty voracious and, for better or worse, need to wholeheartedly engage with everything. So, the poem ended up being about that, essentially knowing that something is “off” but following it through until that idea or that phase is exhausted or resolved, devoured “wholly, once and for all.”
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I just like places where no one else is: my porch at the crack of dawn, those patches of woods in any town that only a few people frequent.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
One of two CDs I always just throw on in the background: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and this two-disc “Best of Bach” set I have.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Look very closely at simple things when I step out for my first cigarette and coffee, and if that doesn’t work—which is rare—read Plath, Berryman, or Stevens.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Whoever attends the River Bards readings at Battle Grounds in Haverhill, Massachusetts or else the editors who decide whether or not my poems are good enough for their magazines. Most of the people I still make time for are supportive as hell but not particularly poetically inclined. It’s really become a solitary endeavor for me, and I’ve come to kind of enjoy it that way.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Painting, a realist or landscape painter, without a doubt.
What are you reading right now?
David Ferry’s recent translation of The Aeneid before anyone wakes up. All Quiet on the Western Front for work. Five pages a night of Larry Bird’s Drive before I fall asleep.
CODY KUCKER'S poetry has most recently appeared in Carolina Quarterly, Albatross, Tishman Review, Natural Bridge, and CALLIOPE. He received his MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and currently resides and teaches high school English in northeastern Massachusetts.