Willie Perdomo reads "That's My Heart Right There"
Don Share: This is the Poetry magazine podcast for the week of January 7th, 2019. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On the Poetry magazine podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.
Don Share: Willie Perdomo’s fourth book of poems, The Crazy Bunch, is forthcoming from Penguin. The book chronicles a weekend in the life of a group of friends coming of age in East Harlem.
Lindsay Garbutt: Perdomo uses what he calls a “hybrid approach” in the book.
Willie Perdomo: One of the things that I was conscious of that I wanted to use—these long... they’re almost, like, Whitman lines. But there are also... I use these short, sort of hip-hop couplets. I use dialogue, I use vignettes, so, you know, the hybrid approach is still in effect for me.
Don Share: Perdomo remembers the moment he started writing The Crazy Bunch.
Willie Perdomo: It was at the end of watching the HBO documentary “Nas: Time is Illmatic.” It was so resonant for me I cried, and I hugged my wife, and I said, “baby, I’m back.” (LAUGHING) And I don’t know what I was really back from, but I ran to my study and I opened my notebook and I heard one of my friends ask me, “when are you gonna write about the crew?” And crews were usually groups of mostly males, for the most part, throughout East Harlem, the Bronx— and they were offsets of, I guess, the breakdancing crews, but they were all particular to specific neighborhoods in New York City.
Lindsay Garbutt: He answered the question with a narrative journey. We follow the poetry COPS, which stand for Consolidated Poetry Systems, as they try to interview members of the crew.
Willie Perdomo: They’re trying to get to the bottom of what actually happened, but you know, in these kind of neighborhoods and these kind of situations, you can’t—you don’t really say. Because it’s kept as a secret within the community. There might be people in the community who know what happened to these characters, but they still won’t say. Especially if you are coming from outside the community.
Don Share: The poetry COPS find a photo album and ask the poet of the crew, now much older, about a photograph of him with a girl at her sweet sixteen party. The poet answers, “That’s my heart right there.”
Willie Perdomo: When we love someone, at least where I grew up, we would say that. “That’s my heart right there.” So don’t mess with her, don’t mess with him, don’t mess with them, that’s my heart right there. And that was an indication that that person was held in high honor and high love and esteemed.
Lindsay Garbutt: Here is Willie Perdomo reading “That’s My Heart Right There.”
We used to say,
That’s my heart right there.
As if to say,
Don’t mess with her right there.
As if, don’t even play,
That’s a part of me right there.
In other words, okay okay,
That’s the start of me right there.
As if, come that day,
That’s the end of me right there.
As if, push come to shove,
I would fend for her right there.
As if, come what may,
I would lie for her right there.
As if, come love to pay,
I would die for that right there.
Don Share: There is a fantastic kind of doomed romanticism right here, it’s sort of like Sir Walter Raleigh in the Tower of London or something, to me. It’s sort of ... it puts everything out there and … there is also a wonderful rhythm to it. I have the idea that people probably write all kinds of things for people they love, but if what’s written for them has rhythm in it, it’s especially lovely. It feels heartfelt when there’s a rhythm in something, I mean, it’s the rhythm of the heart, but just about how you hear and experience something, that sort of passionate insistence is really important to the poem. It doesn’t need—in this case, it doesn’t need those long Whitman-like lines, cause the rhythm is almost like making that case.
Christina Pugh: Yeah. And the repetition of “right there,” almost like a ghazal format, also seems to me part of the hybridity he is talking about in his commentary on the poem. And it also really reinforces the kind of power of the loved person. It’s interesting how the poem was constructed around what “We used to say.” The we, it’s almost like an interesting choral kind of voice there, “We used to say.” And so that’s an interesting perspective as well. A lot of times with the troubadourian love situations, that actually … (LAUGHING) this does bring to mind a little bit, it’s the I and the you. Here, it’s more of a commonality, a kind of group format as sort of part of this love is used to articulate one’s place in the group, and so there’s an interesting social inflection as well, in which the speaker and the loved one play a role within a larger culture.
Lindsay Garbutt: I love that aspect of the poem, too. I feel that there is a gentle ribbing that’s happening throughout the poem of, like, the guy friends responding in a way that’s not mentioned here, but kind of subtly felt, of like, “yeah yeah, okay, she’s your heart,” and he’s like, “no, really.” I mean, he’s trying to find these other ways of describing the same feeling or explain why this sort of cliched sentiment is true and in some ways it’s still full of cliched phrases in a sense, like, “don’t mess with her,” “don’t play,” those kinds of things. But it also … it starts to change about halfway through, where he says, “In other words, okay okay, / That’s the start of me right there.” That he’s trying to articulate, “I’m not just one person anymore, and I feel very connected to this person, and this person is where my self starts, is over there.” And so it starts to build this sort of community that you were talking about, Christina, and also, even though it’s ostensibly one speaker, I feel like I hear other voices in this poem.
Christina Pugh: Hmm. Yeah, that’s always great when there’s a kind of silent interlocutor, or sort of silent challenge. I love what you were saying about that. You know, a lot of times, the other commonly heard phrase you’ll hear among parents is, like, your child is like your heart walking around outside of your body, I’ve heard that phrase a lot. So this, to me is, like, the same kind of power, like, it’s not a child situation, but it’s a lover or significant other situation, that that can be just as powerful. It opens up the self into another person in a similar way. That don’t mess with or play with, or anything … that person, whoever it may be, my child, my significant other, who constitutes me, constitutes part of me.
Don Share: Well, where it tugs at the heart, though is the repetition of “as if”. It’s like “We used to say, / That’s my heart right there. // As if to say, / Don’t mess with her right there. / As if, don’t even play,” you know, “As if, come that day,” “As if, push come to shove,” I mean, it’s not a completely done deal.
Christina Pugh: (LAUGHING)
Lindsay Garbutt: (LAUGHING)
Don Share: It’s pushed forward. It’s cool, because it’s, like, about the past, where something began, but it’s pushed into the present and then on into the future, because there is sort of a subjunctive in there. Like, as if. As if, as if, as if. It’s like that your yearning and wishing and dreaming, it’s, like, the attachment isn’t just because they’re maybe in a relationship, there’s still something that isn’t happening yet, or something that might never happen. You say what you say anyway, as if, as if … because I think every relationship, distant or close, has an “as if” in it. There is always that gap that ... it can be heartbreak.
Don Share: You can read “That’s My Heart Right There” by Willie Perdomo in the January 2019 issue of Poetry magazine, or online at poetrymagazine.org.
Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all January episodes all at once in the full-length podcast on Soundcloud.
Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought of this program. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and please link to the podcast on social media.
Don Share: The Poetry magazine podcast is recorded by Ed Herrmann and this episode was produced by Curtis Fox and Rachel James.
Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this program comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.
Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.