The Life of a Poem: “THE ANXIOUS LEVER OF LOWERING SKY” by Robert Krut
Welcome to “The Life of a Poem,” a monthly column at Frontier dedicated to uplifting our previous contributors’ new poems. For this piece, we’ve reached out to a previous contributor of our Poet in the Mirror series, Robert Krut.
THE ANXIOUS LEVER OF LOWERING SKY
Fear is a blade held in a lung.
The sky lowers an inch each night.
Play pin-finger till dawn, you have ten.
Keep sticking your thumb in a socket.
Electrical or eye it’s all the same.
You walk through the room like an aspirin.
Sleep is pointless when day is night.
A lump of ground rises to make your sofa.
When you breathe, you create the clouds.
The clouds are a loose brain of lightning.
That is not something to celebrate.
You did all of this and nothing, take credit, or don’t.
Eat praise like porridge, drink anger like poison.
Both leave you full, exhaling sky.
A knock at the door, but the moon
covers your mouth like a mask.
This poem was previously published in Radar Poetry, and newly published in Krut’s latest collection, out October 12, Watch Me Trick Ghosts, available here.
Tell us about this poem. How did it come to life?
Robert Krut: Typically, a specific image or moment starts the writing of a poem for me. However, in an effort to write something every day, there are times when I just sit down at the computer, take a breath, and start writing. For “The Anxious Lever of Lowering Sky,” I had gone through the day without writing anything yet, so at around dusk I sat down, stared outside for a moment, and started. In the moments before writing this one—forgive me for the hippie-talk of what I’m about to say—I felt like I was just pulling phrases and ideas from the air around me and jotting them down. I wasn’t conscious, but instead just moving ahead. At a certain point, taking in the lines around me gave me momentum and I began to feel like the images and concepts were coming from inside me, like the energy moved from the space of the room and into my chest.
How many times did you submit or revise this poem before its publication in Radar? Did you revise it before publication in Watch Me Trick Ghosts?
As far as submissions go, I had sent it out a handful of times early on—like most writers, I assume, I always start the submission process with places that have sent encouraging notes in the past. After that stage, I move onto journals I like but haven’t communicated with previously. Radar is one I’ve enjoyed for a while now, and when they released a new issue in the Fall of 2020, I jumped at sending some poems to them.
There was a lot of revision, in two stages. The form of the poem was part of the rough draft, the single sentence per line (save the very end), but there were a lot of those lines. After the rough draft, the piece was a mass of lines and ideas, and I had to step back and look for the real pulse of the poem, and what it was trying to do—and which lines were the ones doing that. I began lopping off lines, one by one, until it felt like every single one absolutely needed to be there. I cut back on the rough draft by about half. Then, naturally, I tinkered with the phrasing, as well, but the heart of the revision was all about chopping out entire lines that weren’t relevant or needed.
What does your poem-writing process look like?
In the past, almost every poem has started with an image, or a moment. However, near the end of working on my previous collection, I started to integrate a new approach, and now for my new book, about half of the poems follow this different process. I was interested in mixing up my approach, both out of a desire for fresh, energized poems, but also out of the simple goal to not sputter out over time. This approach—the one used for “The Anxious Lever of Lowering Sky,” discussed previously—has helped me expand my poems (I hope, at least), and kept me on a more daily sort of writing schedule. During the thick of working on Watch Me Trick Ghosts, I wrote a rough poem per day (naturally, a lot of them didn’t make the cut for the book). If I didn’t have a specific image sparking me to write, I took the “just write” approach that often led to poems in the style of this one. My hope is that it not only kept me working, but created invigorated work.
How do you know when you’re ready to submit a poem for publication?
One of the first essays about craft I read, years and years ago, was Raymond Carver’s “On Writing,” where he says he knows a story is done when he has added a comma to a sentence, then removed it, then added it back in. I took that to heart, and that tends to be how I approach the process now. Once I’m at the point where I’m, say, changing a line break, then changing it back, I know it’s as ready as it’s going to be to send out.
How do you recharge and regroup from rejection?
At this point, I think I have a healthy attitude about it, keeping in mind that not everything is for everybody. There are a lot of different kinds of poems, and a lot of different kinds of journals, and editors, and your work isn’t going to fit everywhere. So, when I get a rejection, I generally just move on. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some that make you shake a fist at the sky (“but I know my work would be right there!”), but it’s all just part of the process, and isn’t really about the poems themselves, but the publication of them.
Years ago, I worked on the editorial staff of a relatively big, national literary journal, which showed me just how many submissions journals get. There would be piles and piles and piles of paper (this was back in the pre-submittable days) to read through. Even after you trimmed it down to top choices, the piles of paper were like towers. That image helps me deal with rejection as well, knowing just how much is out there, and that you are part of thousands of submissions. It’s somewhat freeing in way, and puts the submission process in perspective.
And, of course, when a piece is accepted somewhere, that feeling wipes any frustration of previous rejections away. Not only does it mean the poem is going to get out there, but it frequently expands your own literary world. With this one, it provided an opportunity to work with a journal I’d admired for a while, but also editors who took real care with their writers. They went out of their way to bring the issue’s writers together, both in print and in (online) reading events, which was a particularly nice layer of the poem finding publication, particularly over the past year or so.
Robert Krut is the author of Watch Me Trick Ghosts (Codhill Press, 2021), The Now Dark Sky, Setting Us All on Fire (Codhill Press, 2019), which received the Codhill Poetry Award, This Is the Ocean (Bona Fide Books, 2013), and The Spider Sermons (BlazeVox, 2009). He teaches in the Writing Program and College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lives in Los Angeles. More information can be found at www.robert–krut.com.