American Revolver
by Jan Beatty

By October 30, 2011Poetry, Profile

Originally published in Willow Springs 68

From the author

Notes on “American Revolver”

 

I’ve been trying to write “American Revolver” for a number of years, but just couldn’t figure out how to write a poem about a guy who robbed whorehouses for a living. Not a lot of models out there. In my previous books, I have poems about prison, some of them reflecting the time I spent in maximum security as a social worker, and later as a teacher. I didn’t want to repeat or revisit the issues of these poems. What makes “American Revolver” work, I think, is highlighting the oddness of both the ex-con and the speaker—he’s robbing whorehouses and she’s decided to have sex with him while he’s reciting the 19th amendment. Can she be a feminist if she turns her back, so to speak, on the women’s right to vote? To what degree is she implicated, as someone who engages with him, knowing that he terrorizes people? How does desire relate to the oddness and danger, or does it? My hope is to make this messy and unresolved: having humor on the edge of desire/on the edge of self-destruction.

Notes on Reading

Right now I’m reading D.A. Powell’s Chronic, Anne Carson’s Nox, Ross Gay’s Bringing the Shovel Down, Stacey Waite’s the lake has no saint, Reginald Shepherd’s Red Clay Weather, A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos, and Scavenge by RJ Gibson. I’mreally looking forward to some books that are coming out: Judith Vollmer’s The Water Books, Toi Derricotte’s The Undertaker’s Daughter, and Aaron Smith’s Appetite. I always go back to Ed Ochester’s Unreconstructed, James Allen Hall’s Now You’re the Enemy, Wanda Coleman’s Ostinato Vamps, Off-Season City Pipe by Allison Hedge Coke, and work by Alicia Ostriker, Gerald Stern, and Etheridge Knight to name a few.

I read a lot of nonfiction—right now a lot of books on Canada, since I’m heading off on a train trip across Canada in August. I’m reading a book on Winnipeg, since I’m half-Canadian, and that’s where my birth father is from. I’m reading some books on arctic exploration. Nonfiction that I always return to: In-Between Places and The West Pole by Diane Glancy, anything by Gretel Erlich, Jon Krakauer, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass.

About Jan Beatty

Photo: poets.org

Jan Beatty’s books include Red Sugar (2008), Boneshaker (2002), and Mad River (1994 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize), published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Beatty hosts and produces Prosody, a public radio show on NPR affiliate WYEP-FM featuring national writers. She worked as a welfare caseworker, an abortion counselor, in maximum security prisons, and as a waitress for fifteen years. She directs the creative writing program at Carlow University, where she teaches in the MFA program. She’s hoping to complete her fourth book of poems this summer.