Glen Armstrong

Glen Armstrong

Mr. and Mrs. Tattoo,” a poem by Glen Armstrong, appears in The Puritan Issue 29. Here, Glen Armstrong writes about his process and inspirations.

“Mr. and Mrs. Tattoo” is a poem that went through more drafts than I’d care to confess to. Early versions were just about that second tattoo and had that notion that the second tattoo proves we really wanted our first. I don’t trust hipsters. I don’t trust myself or the world I live in. My bullshit detector works overtime. I still suspect that we’d rather repeat a mistake than admit it. (See above, re: a bazillion drafts.) The poem only came together when I was willing to go beyond that second tattoo. Counting the tattoos in couplets gave me that sometimes elusive rhetorical design that Tony Hoagland writes about. It revealed itself as a love poem, maybe more, but love is plenty.

Sometimes less is less, more is more. I admire poems that try to pull the whole world onto the stage, which Kenneth Koch strove to do. It’s fun. It’s hard to know just what that lyric impulse can contain and what it has to turn away.

I’ve been listening to Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. I’m both impressed and surprised at what Ms. B is able to fit into a song. Before “Pedestrian at Best” has even thought about winding down, Barnett demands of the beloved (requests of the beloved? manipulates the beloved like a state fair hypnotist?), “Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, Honey.” She turns this whole love as commodity thing on its head. It’s the old Barrett Strong theme, stolen from the kingdom of the blues and doled out to beggars like The Beatles. It’s what’s interesting or what’s wrong with commercial rap. Here’s the expected pop music trope, “Give me all your money,” the pedestrian dressed up in the finest clothes. Once she gets the money, however, Barnett is going to fold it up into her own creation, her own angular swan. The line is a perfect surprise, a redemption and furthering of what we’ve heard before.

She continues:

My internal monologue is saturated analogue
It’s scratched and drifting, I’ve become attached to the idea
It’s all a shifting dream, bittersweet philosophy
I’ve got no idea how I even got here
I’m resentful, I’m having an existential time crisis
Want bliss, daylight savings won’t fix this mess
Under-worked and over-sexed, I must express my disinterest
The rats are back inside my head, what would Freud have said?

She tells. She shows. She thinks. She sees. It all gets pulled on stage, and it all belongs. It’s that instinct to stay open to anything that fits that reminds me of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. It’s not so much the rock auteur deal; once he hits Tommy, Townshend leaves me cold.

Stream of consciousness is easy. All it takes is a flaming woodchuck , a shopping list and some leftover teen angst. The poems I admire and hope to write some day are tough. They’re clowns but they’re not funny. They stay open. All night. Next to the tattoo studio. Next to the independent record store. But not always in the best neighbourhood, or the most interesting part of town.

Glen Armstrong holds an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He edits a poetry journal called Cruel Garters and has a new chapbook titled Set List (Bitchin’ Kitsch, 2015). He has two more chapbooks forthcoming in 2015: In Stone and The Most Awkward Silence of All, both with Cruel Garters Press.

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