My poem for HFR began with a profound experience of isolation. I was visiting Seattle, a city I love for its waterways and restaurants, but I was alone. That solitude generated a narrative. “Leadhead” came to my mind as a character who, cut off from family and employment, seeks the vibrant energy of the city while at the same time can’t keep up with it. It seems to me, as I reflect on the poem, that Leadhead is trying different strategies to assuage his grief—sightseeing, art, introspection, invention—but he can’t escape the omnipresence of his pain. Perhaps by donning a “suit of magnetic stripes,” he can engage, and do business with, his fellow consumers. Such interactions are tentative at best, and at times dehumanizing, but for better or worse commerce is how disparate Americans come together and commiserate.
I admire Leadhead’s resilience and the many ways he probes the world even as he is victimized by it. I see this kind of creative tenacity in friends and acquaintances who bounce back from ponderous losses to embrace the vitality still available to them.
In composing the poem, I was suspicious of and yet enjoyed the bizarre imagery: “leopard prints,” “coconut cream,” “giant propeller,” “monkfish.” As I considered revisions and continued to let the poem steep, I realized that these images were taking on and expressing the wild antics of the protagonist. Leadhead, though burdened with heaviness, is somehow irrepressible. He may wear his suit like a hair shirt, but he’s also subject to the hallucinations we often associate with mystics. Does this ennoble his suffering, transmute it, make of it a voice crying in the wilderness? I’m not sure, but I hope so.
For me, writing is a strange synthesis of abstraction and fellow feeling. The real world must be summoned, but it also invites extrapolation, at least if it is to activate the brain; emotion is essential as well if the imagination is to run hot, not cold-blooded. The wild card in any poem, though, is language, which, when all is said and done, has a mind of its own.
L.S. Klatt has published poems recently in Colorado Review, Washington Square, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review and New Orleans Review. New work will appear in The Common, Narrative, Blackbird and The Michigan Poet. His second collection, Cloud of Ink, won the Iowa Poetry Prize. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His poem, “The Suit of Magnetic Stripes,” appears in HFR 52.