“Play Thief,” a Side A poem by Adam Stutz

Play Thief

I catch the poison             too early this morning
catch the eroticism of sloth           a voluptuous fog sweeping in      
dousing  narratives          absence tense     pressed into relief       
like a dysfunctional          search engine pronoun

I correct the overcorrections        + keep correcting
corresponding to faulty focus       pressing on lenses
like I should be elsewhere            I slap on labels to my phobias
slap on doctrines to my doctrines              like a mess of registration tags

I catch the toe of opinions on my judgment            catch my guilt
on my epiglottis               catch myself looking        collapsing           
into lower-case                wish malfunction             brick-laying w/bones
wall knocks                hot word figments

I unspool the bad lines of euphemisms
unspool the die cut lines                of politesse
into awkward understanding        the electric snap               pressure cooker
the scratch art negatives                trend nuisance
trend watches
drift into mood swing lines

I slide the bleach under my nostrils           like the acrid burn of a
hangover             haunt my flaws                 idle window stares
step over             eardrum breaks                catch the strings of daylight
              play thief w/ vanishing points                    turn the news on/off

I unfold a broadcast                        traffic in feelings
I divide the fruits              of labor into fourths
find fulfillment in the seeds                         the promise in the wanting

Mini-interview with Adam Stutz

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?

AS: There have been a myriad of moments that have shaped me as a writer, but I would say there have been two that are especially important. One moment was during my final semester in college. I was taking a media law course and we were doing a case study on the Howl obscenity trial. I had been writing on and off since I was in high school, but as I immersed myself in Ginsberg’s work, I became obsessed with poetry again. I was consumed by it, both in terms of reading and writing it. That thrall was such a wonderful feeling, and I think I’ve been in pursuit of it for the better part of the last twenty years. The other moment, or series of moments, that was critical for me as a writer was the creative paralysis that I experienced during the pandemic. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life, and I was hobbled by both during COVID. My ability to remain open and attentive to language and perception was brought to a standstill, and I didn’t really write for the better part of two years. I also made it worse by falling prey to the comparison trap, which left me with a crushing sense of failure. When I did start writing again, it felt like I was starting over. To say that it was humbling was an understatement, and it’s been starts and fits since, but I’m grateful for the writing that I’ve been able to eke out.

HFR: What are you reading?

AS: Presently, I’m working my way through the Pathetic Literature anthology edited by Eileen Myles and Bimboland by Erin Taylor. I recently finished Raw Anyone by Alexandra Mattraw, Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux, Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong, and Loser by Josef Kaplan. All four were devastating in the best possible way. One book that I always come back to is Eruv by Eryn Green. I can’t speak more highly of Eryn’s work as a poet and human being. He’s phenomenal.

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Play Thief”?

AS: “Play Thief” arose out of chaos. Most of my poems begin as experiments in chance and failure. I’m a non-linear thinker—I don’t have a framework and my intentions with the poem aren’t abundantly clear to me when I begin. Eventually what unfolds is a funhouse mirror of sorts, a distortion of a truth attached to a haphazard scaffolding. In the case of “Play Thief,” the distortion occurs between the speaker’s role as perpetrator and victim, and the truth that is revealed is a botched revision to a theft he’s committed against himself—the speaker’s sense of time and equilibrium have been stolen, he’s unaware that he’s the culprit, and he’s feeling the repercussions of this self-inflicted breakdown, leaving him desirous for a longing that he can’t name. I hope that my readers can wrestle with the poem to see how their own distortions can affect their sense of balance, and how these imbalances cause us to manifest inscrutable desires. I don’t think human beings like ambiguity—I certainly struggle with it on a daily basis—and as a poet and a reader, I’m trying to become more comfortable with it. Hopefully, I can arouse that same appreciation in my readers.

HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?

AS: I’ve been tinkering with two manuscripts for a few years now, and I’ll probably continue to do so. I’m not sure if they will ever see the light of day, but I hope to get them to a place where I feel like they are complete even if I end up shelving them. I’m also continuing to write individual poems, which I might compile into a chapbook at some point. Lastly, I’m editing and publishing an online literary journal, Broken Lens Journal, which has been very fulfilling. Granted all of this is happening against the backdrop of working a nine-to-five job. Suffice it to say, my sleep-hygiene has been less than stellar.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

AS: Small acts of kindness are underrated in today’s hustle culture. Be kind to others and to yourself. This is coming from an expert curmudgeon who is very well-versed in self-deprecation and self-sabotage.

Adam Stutz is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Broken Lens Journal and the author of Transcript (Cooper Dillon Books, 2017) and The Scales (White Stag Publishing, 2018). His work has appeared in various print and online publications including The Equalizer: Second Series, The Cultural Society, A Sharp Piece of Awesome, Prelude, Be About It, Deluge, Dum Dum Zine, The Pinch, Where Is the River, Dream Pop, Cover, Ghost Proposal, Columba Poetry Review, Only Good Poems, INKSOUNDS, The Racket, and can also be found at stutzwrites.com. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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