Rumpus: The book moves all over the world, through various stages of your life, and through experiences with several men. Were these poems driven more by experience or more by your writing obsessions?
Candito: You know, I think the poems in Taste of Cherry are mutually driven by experiences and literary and cultural obsessions. Travel and people-watching, two of my favorite activities, definitely surface in the poems. I was also a sickly child who spent a lot of time alone, reading and watching movies, and imagining myself into the worlds of stories and films. This probably speaks to my obsession with playing poetic dress up, with trying on different roles and perspectives, and reimagining memories and scenes in different costumes.
For example, “Epic Poem Concerning the Poet’s Coming of Age As Attis” recasts some of my early adolescent experiences from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old-boy. It’s one of the poems I enjoy reading aloud because, as you might remember, I have a fairly soft, girly voice, and I get a perverse kick out of reading lines like “I jerk off on the school bus” into a microphone. Honestly, I’m surprised when people ask me about events in the poems as if they’ve been airlifted from my life. The speakers in the book are psychologically and emotionally unstable women and men who I really wouldn’t trust with my children. People leave me alone with their children all of the time.
Rumpus: Sex and gender are everywhere in this book as are notions of the father-daughter relationship and a speaker who pushes toward the tour-de-force-woman-in-the-world ideal. In your opinion is the book’s speaker creating her own world or is she created by her world?
Candito: The speakers in Taste of Cherry respond to and even try to subvert the identities and roles that the world has allotted them. I think gender, sex, and culture are the most important and problematic identity categories, and as such, they keep surfacing in the speakers’ internal and interpersonal struggles. You know, I don’t see a female ideal at work in Taste of Cherry, but it makes me happy that you do.
For the most part, the speakers are just trying to make sense of the world and their roles in it. The transformations that do occur are often liminal, parodic, or just depressing to me. The poems definitely aren’t quiet, so maybe their refusal to be subtle somehow subverts gender expectations. I’ve always been drawn to poets that grab me by the throat—Lorca, Mina Loy, Anne Carson, Cate Marvin, Richard Siken, even Frank O’Hara, whose speakers grab you by the throat just to tell you a dirty joke.
Rumpus: What kind of trust was needed for this project? Did you find yourself having to trust yourself? Memory? Emotion? An imagined reader? The figures that helped create the book’s characters?
Candito: I think that writing poetry requires an absurd leap of faith. You have to trust that what you’re writing is honest and even important (to whom, I’m still not sure). I’m going to have to defer to Frank O’Hara here: You just go on your nerve. Writing the poems in Taste of Cherry. I tried to channel the intuitive undercurrents of emotional, psychological, and cerebral experiences. Musicality and rhetoric in poetry are also extremely important to me, so I let the rhythms of the language, and the speakers’ strategies of conveying affect through wit or dark humor do the heavy lifting.
Rumpus: You often utilize a mix between the lyric and the narrative, but somehow seem to resist the lyric-narrative label so common in contemporary poetics. What are your feelings about such modes? How do you make use of them?
Candito: That’s funny, because I think I’ve recently gone on record as saying that many of the poems in Taste of Cherry are lyric-narratives. It’s hard to resist that compulsion to categorize, I guess. I think there are few pure lyric or narrative poems being written these days. For me, the lyric mode, with its emphasis on sound/song, offers a means of attending to the private, often idiosyncratic, often almost incommunicable elements of experience. The narrative mode, with its focus on story and sequence, gives me a way to convey the particulars. The struggle in my work is really between accessibility and ambiguity, or mystery.
I agree with Reginald Shepherd’s claim that poetry that’s completely accessible is more concerned with the meaning behind an experience, rather than the experience itself. It’s important for my poems to capture the process, rather than the product of their occasions. I also want to engage and represent immediate and recognizable dynamics of cultural and social experience. I guess that balance, and lots of revision, are crucial.
Rumpus:There’s a lot of tension here between pleasure and language. How do they two fit together for you? Is one a language for the other? Do they necessitate each other?
Candito: I think this relates to the clarity/mystery paradigm. For me, language, especially poetic language, should seduce, but not completely reveal meaning. I take immense pleasure in the textures of words, and in the little slippages in meaning that can occur when you pay attention to the sonic interplay of language. I think pleasurable language should suggest and entice, rather than simply denote.
Rumpus: What’s the most pleasurable line in the book for you? In what way?
Candito: I’d have to say a line from “Polarity”—“these are the stories we invent when the North Star/turns out to be a Cold War satellite.”—because it compresses and draws connections between individual and historical paranoia.