Sudden. Injurious. A natural violence of the innermost. A seepage that breaks open the layers of the central artery. A spilling over, a rupture of what has just left the heart. It tears you apart from the inside; in that, it builds most often without warning until it’s too late, until you expect a quiet evening at home, perhaps at a candlelit dinner long overdue, perhaps when tucking a child into bed. It builds and builds. It builds until the tearing. And then the collapse. It flows from the heart and floors you.
This must deal with the human, seeking a special and lackluster comfort.
Methodical. Distant. A figuring out of what went wrong. Awry. A much gentler cleaving, however; as such, it is a comfort no matter how routine. Sometimes the bereaved need closure. Something akin to answers. Here is the long-awaited autopsy report. Here is what happened. A science undergirds it all, a careful procedure, an understanding of structure—even when it seems to miss the point. That said, for all of this, one thing remains: it too involves a cutting asunder.
With little coincidence, science is dissection early on—those poor frogs.
Limbs for days.
Forget the body shuttered in the morgue if you can. Silence the voice of what matters most. Here we arrive at dissection in the abstract, the extreme, of the sense that anything can be dissected, so long as it suits the critical examination. So long as it analyzes even the minutiae, leaving no stone unturned. It can seem inconsequential, a mere formality, though it remains in pursuit of a new shape of knowing.
This writing is the formaldehyde that lulls frogs into their imaginary gardens,
their sanctimonious ends.
As for the poetry.
As for the poetry, why not a surgery? That certainly is more hopeful, yes? Working with living tissue, the lifeblood, the sustenance. The extremities are the first to go. The easiest removed. The most susceptible at that. Poetry can be surgery: at once a routine as well as a last-ditch effort. Though no less precise or calculated than the dissection. And in either case the poem cuts. It both cuts and invites the cut.
By the time you are reading this, you warrant another answer,
which may or may not come.
And then there’s the stitch.
This is a stitch. A stitching up. Another suture. Saying so works well as far as a manifesto might go. Stitch it up and rest easy. Stitch it up, dress it up, send it on its way, send it into full and inevitable ugliness, the living ugly and the ugly dead. Make it pretty. Give it meaning.
Give it extreme meaning where nothing else matters.
Mini-interview with Jacob Schepers
HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
JS: Honestly, just staying in community with other writers does the trick for me. As an introvert, I really have to force myself to get out there, but the connections and conversations are everything. Having real conversations, I mean; I’m lousy at schmoozing, networking, and the “transactional” side of things. When I have the chance (when I give it the chance, I should say) to hear what keeps other writers going on a human level, and when I’m offered to share what keeps me going too, things are golden.
HFR: What are you reading?
JS: I’ve been gobsmacked while reading Muriel Leung’s Imagine the Swarm.
I’m also in the midst of re-reading Steven Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies and his Sonnets to Orpheus as well as Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, which I’m teaching for the first time this fall.
HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Dissections”?
JS: “Dissections” has been stewing for quite some time, actually. I first drafted it five years ago in an MFA workshop with Orlando Menes when we were making our way through The Manifesto Project, edited by Rebecca Hazelton & Alan Michael Parker. Since then, the ideas sat with me: I wanted to say something about the weird resonance I hear among “seeping” and “incisive” writing, and, relatedly, the supposed beautification around “dressing a wound.”
On another (simpler, cheekier?) level, though, the piece really just riffs on its nod to Marianne Moore’s long version of “Poetry” and what it could make of those supposedly “real toads,” cut ’em up, and leave them strewn about in our “imaginary gardens.”
HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?
JS: A big question! I’ve got my hands in two cookie jars at the moment.
One is the collection that I envision “Dissections” will be a part of, a set of poems around the lineage, decadence of, and shame around flowers and flowery imagery in lyric.
The other is a collection I’m working on that’s centered around Cold War tensions and the seemingly mutually unintelligible mythos around the Soviets and the Americans. Mind you, I began this project a year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so the timing of this project as I shop it around has been unsettling to say the least.
HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
JS: The liberal arts matter! Humanities education matters! I saw a tweet recently that sums it all up nicely:
And, dang, if that ain’t something. So study the useless and non-useful subjects. Lean in to the messy electives that would make your family groan at the dinner table.
Jacob Schepers is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (Outriders Poetry Project, 2014), whose writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in Verse, Tupelo Quarterly, PANK, Midway Journal, A-Minor, and elsewhere. He is the cofounding editor of ballast and teaches at the University of Notre Dame.
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