…a closer look at Every Word Was Once Drunk

Behind the Titles: A Closer Look

at Every Word Was Once Drunk by Ian Bodkin

Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Lee Busby

April:

How do you feel about the usage of an introduction? This isn’t a common tactic used in poetry collections, so at first I was a bit thrown off by it. Do you think that it fits in nicely or tells us too much of what the author was thinking? Personally, it reads nicely, and while a little different from what I’m used to I think that it adds another layer to the collection. Behind-the-scenes stuff is always a nice addition to any work of art. And while it’s not common to have a long introduction like this collection has, poets often use something to enhance the setting of a particular poem or series of poems. Something useful that I think it does is give us insight as to why the subject of this collection is called Drunk rather than given a common name. This information is also helpful as we read the first poem, “#1,” because without the author saying that this was a tribute to his Appalachian roots someone from the South, as I am, might misinterpret the narrator’s understanding of the Appalachian culture. All-in-all I think that it was a interesting choice made by the author that clearly has a payoff.

Lee:

I agree, it is an uncommon practice to have an introduction in a single author’s book of poetry, but I’m always intrigued by what the author hopes to bring to the collection by having one. This being a second printing, I have previously read the collection before the introduction was added. In some ways, I feel fortunate to have navigated the book on my own the first time through, but I find this new introduction incredibly insightful and helpful to my understanding of Drunk and the construction of these poems. Also, the personal nature of the introduction truly helped to break the fourth wall and let the reader see the inner workings of a world created, influenced in nuance and drama from across a plethora of genres, manifesting itself in the universe of Drunk. A very fun behind the scenes look.

April:

Which poem from the first section struck you the most? The poem on page 24, as these poems don’t have names, that begins, “Drunk carves masks for composure,” was the one that haunted me long after I’d read it. It’s a poem about getting a message that someone he loved was lost in combat, in a plane crash. In this poem we learn just how meaningless words can be and how they can mark you forever. “What is said can be highlighted & gone” the poem reads, “…bomb, patriot, down, down…” I’ve never lost someone to war, but this loss still resonates with me. I can feel Drunk change. I can picture how the words sound, and what his face might look like. And I feel changed as the backseat rider to Drunk’s story. It’s a powerful poem.

Lee:

I think in this first section we see a lot of Drunk coping, dealing, not just with loss, but with himself, his facade, who he is, the cult of personality, the jester, the pawn, the dreamer. We see the physicalness of Drunk in honky-tonks and mason jars, the spiritual in a ‘motif of light,’ the meditative on a couch contemplating Bruce Wayne’s own masks. On page 25, the poem touching on Bruce Wayne, I like the dichotomy brought up by how, perhaps, Drunk views the masks of Batman versus the masks of his own self. It’s made evident that one is mostly influenced by external factors, something that ‘defines an anger of release’ while, to the other, the mask is ‘nothing less than the possible.’ Seeing Drunk use the external of one figure to help define the internal of another/himself/the persona in general, was quite intriguing and opened me up to the contemplative nature of the work.

April:

In section two there’s a poem that starts, “Drunk is never finished with tragedy,” did you see this as an overall theme for this collection? The theme of tragedy and how it fits into the things that make us human-the ability to have our hearts broken again and again and somehow continue to exist? I think that’s why the poem about the lost patriot was so powerful. The poet understands human suffering, whether through Drunk or his own experiences, and conveys it on a level that resonates throughout the overall human experience. It seems odd to say that sorrow is a connecting factor, but it is and it’s a powerful one. The thing about this collection is that it doesn’t get caught up in self pity. Drunk continues to do things like call friends and escape jury duty while there’s a constant reminder that he’s been marked by tragedy. It’s the drum beat that Drunk’s story is told to and it’s a beautiful story.

Lee:

This collection tends to bounce back and forth, deftly, from tragedy to comedy and back again, being consistent in both tone and personality. I think a couple of important lines to remember from the last half of the book are, “Drunk confines himself to second best” and “Drunk walks inconsistent, an inferior need…” The narrator reiterates to us, often, that no matter the tragedy, nor the comedy addressed, that Drunk rarely, without cause or sarcasm, overstates or oversteps his known boundaries. That as ridiculous a situation as he tends to end up in, or puts himself in, there’s a restraint, whether self-imposed or an act of a higher power, that keeps Drunk completely grounded in a reality of his own making, one that is shaped by himself not necessarily as hero, but as an important cog in making the world work, making the world perform. I was happy to live in his world, if only for a little while.

April:

I’d give this collection a 5 out of 5.

Lee:

Five mason jars held to the sky.

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