Q & A: Devin Johnston
Tell us about The Desert Fathers of Sinai.
Well, as the line suggests, I didn’t make it very far in that particular book! It’s a slightly absurd or wry touch, to bring up those ascetics and hermits in an erotically charged poem. While the speaker snoozes over its pages—the contemplative life!—his love rushes to work. The sand, which keeps time for her, stretches out in vast desert tracts for him.
We’re reminded of Herrick here—“Upon Julia’s Clothes”—but also the likes of Robert Lowell’s “Falling Asleep over the Aeneid,” with its sound effects and self-reflexiveness. What is static about reading . . . and love . . . and what’s electric about them? How might poems on the page be aligned with actual physical bodies?
The poem began with sound—the zipping of a skirt, the snap of static electricity—and found its form and language from there. “Upon Julia’s Clothes” would be exemplary of the mode. I love Herrick’s magnified attention to a knee, an earring, a molecule of sweat or scent . . . Whereas the speaker in “Upon Julia’s Clothes” observes rippling silks flow and liquefy, “Static” carries a drier, more crackling charge. The clothes, after all, are going on rather than coming off in my poem. But the very title suggests atmospherics, interferences, and sparks—all of which could characterize desire as well.
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This poem originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Poetry magazine