Michael McGriff

The poet discusses Denis Johnson, Larry Levis, Coos Bay, and the obsessions behind his latest collection of poems, Early Hour.


Ben Evans: I’m Ben Evans and you’re listening to Fogged Clarity. This morning I’m pleased to be speaking to one of my favorite poets working today, Michael McGriff is the author of four books of poetry and a collection of stories Our Secret Life in the Movies which he co-authored with J.M. Tyree. He also served as translator for Swedish poet and Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer’s collection of poems The Sorrow Gondola. McGriff’s latest book of poems Early Hour was released in August of last year and takes its name from a painting of the same name by German Expressionist Karl Hofer. He teaches in the Creative Writing program at the University of Idaho. Michael, thanks for taking the time…

I wonder if you could explain the marriage of influences behind your latest book, Early Hour; I’ve heard it referred to as a meditative sequence of Hofer’s painting, but then we find the “Black Postcard” poems in homage to Tranströmer interspersed throughout—this with all the poems seemingly situated in this landscape of an almost post-industrial Northwest that has for a long time served as your backdrop. Can you talk about the tonal similarities you found in the work of Hofer and Tranströmer and how you found their respective aesthetics to align with the mood and geography of the Northwest you grew up in?

Michael McGriff: That’s…I’ll try! I think the way–your question, I think, describes the book “aesthetically”, perfectly. It is a synthesis of the section of so-called “Black Postcard” poems that are an homage to Tranströmer and there’s all the poems that are directly engaging the painting “Early Hour”, which is the name of the book. Of course, all the landscape markers are my obsessive aesthetic images which are images of my hometown in the Pacific Northwest. But the book…I had all these things cooking anyway, but the book sparked into life when I was at the Portland Art Museum and I saw the painting “Early Hour”, by Karl Hofer who was a German Expressionist painter who I really had no knowledge about, but this painting kind of caught me dead in my tracks. The more I looked at it the more I was totally overwhelmed by it, and mostly because it seems, on first glimpse, to be a pretty ordinary European painting. You know, it’s a naked guy and a naked woman in bed and in repose; they’ve got a dog at their feet. There’s a landscape in the background. But there’s just something spooky about it, and the guy starts to look really deathly the more you look at him. You know, then you look on the placard: it was painted in 1935, the guy’s a German, and then all of history sort of triangulates the foreboding tones. So, I wrote in response to that painting for quite a while. Or at least it was in the back of my mind while I was writing.

Karl Hofer’s “Early Hour”

BE: Early Hour (Hofer’s) seems concerned with probing that space that exists between the woken man and the sleeping woman–to those unfamiliar with the piece we’ll post it alongside this interview–the separateness despite the intimacy of the circumstance seems a tension that propels a lot of the poems, and some have called Early Hour a book about desire. Is desire a product of the ultimate unknowability of an other, even a lover? Do you think desire is the yearning to bridge that gap?

MM: Yeah, I do. I mean, the book kind of situates itself like you’re saying. It’s got the apostrophic address: the speaker of the book reaching out to this other, this lover, however you want to characterize her. But beyond that, I think, it’s that and that component of the self or however you want to think about it, as well. But I think you’re totally right. I love that about the painting. They’re so physically close together, those two figures, but they’re really in vastly different worlds at the same time. It’s just a great metaphor for trying to make art and trying to be in love, trying to do all these things. It’s pretty compelling.

BE: Yeah, and it’s also, it’s almost that territory between life and death. You know, she’s dead to the waking world and he’s there and must confront the burden of the times, World War II looming.

MM: That’s right.

BE: There are 3 poems, all titled “The Afterlife” in Early Hour; we have a poem called “Relatives of the Dead”, and “Skipping a Funeral”—-and in fact so many of these poems read like visions beyond the realm of flesh….How has poetry and your practice of it informed your conception of mortality, and of your own mortality”

MM: I don’t know, but I do know that one thing that interests me is being in a landscape and trying to attach a language to something that you could never attach a language to. That’s as best as I can describe what poetry does for me—-the poetry that I love the most: the poems of Pablo Neruda, Larry Levis, the music of Jason Molina. I’ve talked a lot about him, even before, here. There’s just something fundamentally internal about being in a place, and of course ‘in a place’ is people and life and all the problems associated with those things.I think that I’ve always thought of poetry as the vehicle that most can hold the language for that internal mess that you contain when you’re living in the external, material, physical world. So, I think that’s always been a space where I’ve…I’ve tried to live up to that space inside me on the page.

BE: Yeah, I was struck by your reference in the past Fogged Clarity interview to Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia. His albums have meant a lot to me, and actually I can’t listen to them as frequently as I used to. They take me to quite a dark space. But I wonder if you listen to Sparklehorse…

MM: Oh yeah. Sure.

BE: That album It’s a Wonderful Life also possesses this otherness, and I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. Do you know the songwriter Bill Callahan?

MM: I sure do. Yeah.

BE: He’s the best of the best. Watching him in concert is like having a dream. He takes magnesium supplements, or used to, to dream…

MM: Whoa (laughs).

BE: What is your dream-life like? Do you have a rich dream-life?

MM: No. Man, I don’t. I have a kid now, so I’m mostly just living the life of exhaustion. I close my eyes and open them and it’s the next day.

BE: How old?

MM: Almost three.

BE: Wow, congratulations, man. Well, there’s the brightness of a new life! But so much of what I wanted to talk about here today was the darkness of your work. So much of your imagery centers around spoilage and ruin and decay, and to me at least, oftentimes conveys a despondency or resignation beyond redemption—-I How is it you are able to inhabit what I imagine is a very dark psychic space for the extended period of time it takes to write a book? I wonder, do you see a bleakness in your own work?

MM: I do…I’m trying to figure out for myself what it means, exactly. Because what I love about poetry, or the poems I love anyway, is the vivacity and invention and imagination of the potential of language. Again, it’s the thing I love in Neruda’s work. To use that to explore anything including dismal topics like feeling isolated and desperate in a post-industrial world—there’s something true about that for me. To express something beautifully even if the subject is dire, there seems to be a little optimism in there, or there is a desire for something other than the world as it is.

BE: Why is it you think pain and melancholy are such a galvanizing force for the imagination?

MM: Man, I don’t know, but I only want to listen to sad music. I think there’s something fundamentally enjoyable or cathartic about the extremis, something in the extreme. I think there’s just some maybe healthy or unhealthy desire to have the volume turned all the way up. And if that is a taboo territory—like, you know, death or feeling annihilated in a country—I think that that’s… at least the music I listen to and the books that I read, there’s just something about that that feels real to me. We talked over email a little bit about Denis Johnson. There’s something in Denis Johnson’s work that really signals that for me. Jesus’ Son is hilarious, and it has to be, because it’s so, so sad in so many ways.

BE: I picked up Denis’ new book again in preparation for this interview, and I intended to read only one story and ended up finishing the whole thing again. He’s a writer you regard very highly, and I’ve read a lot of authors’ reflections on Denis’ work, but very few poets. What made this guy so special in your opinion? What attribute can you point to in his work that makes his voice so distinct, because he does stuff on the page I’ve never seen before. He’s a magician.

MM: Yeah. Well you asked a little bit ago about the dream state… I fell in love with Denis’ work through his poetry, through Incognito Lounge and The Veil and came to his fiction after that. Both his fiction and poetry, and his essay writing, they’re not afraid to combine the dream and the real without separating the two.

Denis Johnson

I mean, he’s really like a European Surrealist in this way. He just insists that both worlds are the same, and I think, too, there’s something about his sincerity that is so raw. He’s such a religious writer. He’s so concerned with being separate from God and what that might mean. I heard him talk about his own work once, that his characters exist in a fallen state, in a Christian fallen state. You can’t fake that. It’s not cool to be a religious writer, and he’s not interested in being cool, even though all the cool kids love his work. So, that sincerity is just so raw and inspiring, I think, for a lot of people.

BE: It’s amazing how much in The Largesse of the Sea Maiden he is anticipating and speaking to his own death throughout the book, particularly in the story when he goes to visit the man in Texas—the images of the vultures. He’s stunning, and the only parallel I have to him—-I haven’t spent, to be honest, time with his poetry, only his fiction… I need to do that. But his magic is reminiscent of Levis’s, to me, particularly the later Levis where there is that weaving of the dream with elements of reality…. but, back to Early Hour. We see this image of a horse recurring throughout the book, and even find a poem titled “Why I am Obsessed With Horses”. Poets of your lyric power and with a similar propensity for the deep image often invoke horses—Levis, of course, throughout his books, but particularly in Elegy; James Wright’s A Blessing; Philip Levine’s The Horse-—what is it that remains so sacred and symbolic about this animal?

MM: I don’t know. It’s just one of those things. It’s like seeing the ocean and asking that same question. Something so massive and mysterious…there’s just something about a horse. I’m not really sure how to say it. There’s a false sense of connectivity, in my opinion, between people and horses. We think we can make them our servants, but they’re just too amazing and mysterious and brutal and powerful. I mean, you do think of them like the ocean. You think you can take your boat out, but you know that you’re going to be consumed by it. I love horses, but I’m terrified of them, I think, like any normal person should be.

BE: I stayed on an Indian reservation right outside of Missoula, Montana, right next to this whole field of horses, and I’d walk by them every day with a bag of apples. Only two or three out of 40 horses would approach and eat the apples. But they are incredible. I attribute, I guess, some of their specialness to our history with them and how they enhanced our mobility and how much of our growth and early industry depended on them. I wonder if that established the connection in some sense.

MM: I wonder. Not for me. If I looked hard enough I’d probably come up with those reasons. I didn’t grow up with horses. I didn’t grow up owning one or stabling them or riding them or anything. But I grew up in a landscape where there are horses everywhere. I just think there’s a reason there’s a fence between a person and a horse. You see a horse out in the rain, standing totally still in this environment that would kill a person in 20 hours, and they’re just sitting there, timeless. They seem so deeply connected to any landscape they’re in and so able to survive it. There’s something enviable about the durability of the horse. The horse just seems so comfortable in itself. It’s an enviable thing in a way, but they’re always behind a fence. It’s a sad image.

BE: You talked a bit about where you grew up in Coos Bay, Oregon… I haven’t heard you go into detail about that. All I know is what I’ve read in the books. In both your first two books, particularly the first one, there’s a rage there. It blew me back. It’s a beautiful rage. You know that I mentioned James Wright and Levis and Levine because I thought of your work in the same vein. I always have. Wright was the son of a glass factory worker, Levis was the son of a grape farmer, Levine was the son of used auto parts salesman, and you yourself grew up in a working-class household. Will you speak a bit about your history and your upbringing there?

MM: Sure. Like virtually everyone in Coos Bay, both sides of my family were connected to the logging industry, for many generations, as loggers and millworkers and machinists and millwrights and these sorts of things. So it was a world I grew up in, and I have this sort of inherited cultural memory that belongs to this kind of work. But, of course, this industry, the bottom fell out of it after the Fifties really. So my dad and his generation, the Vietnam generation, they were really the last generation to grow up with any optimism attached to the industry and social mobility and these sorts of things. In my generation, I grew up seeing my dad get laid off from the mill. Their memories, my parents’ memories, are attached to this sort of optimistic, aspirational, socially mobile working class, and my generation is attached to the realities of Reaganomics and food stamps and poverty, for lack of a better term. So I always found the landscape so oppressive, economically and socially. There was a lot of amphetamine addiction and domestic violence and just all the usual markers of the pressure cooker of poverty. So, it’s a place that I love and can’t be a part of, at the same time. So the writing comes out of that space.

BE: You forged diamonds out of it. So, certainly, the poems must stem from empathy, but in all the poets I’ve mentioned there are also elements of near-derision and resentment in the voices, which seem an acknowledgement of the patheticness of it all, of the working-class striving and maybe just human endeavor in general. I wonder if it is that acknowledgement of futility that births a freedom on the page. So the poems themselves are these acts of almost violently resisted resignation, the writhing, as one is going down.

MM: That’s nothing I ever set a scaffolding up using. It’s just kind of where the poems ended up. Mostly, because in the mid-nineties when I started writing poems for the first time, I looked at them and thought, ‘Oh, this feels like something only I could write. This is a poem.’ It was the first time I started writing about my family and my family’s history and their landscape. So, in a way, I suppose it just came about on its own, but also I was reading like gangbusters Levine’s work. He was the first major poet to open a door for me on the page and gave me permission to do whatever I wanted, because he’s surreal and strange and dreamy and he’s gritty and conversational and a witness to his working-class background at the same time, and I just thought, ‘Man, this is all the things that I feel.’ So, the first book of mine is very derivative of Levine, and Levis I would think, for sure.

BE: Levine’s poem “On My Own” is one of my favorites. That’s a masterpiece.

MM: Yeah. He’s the best.

BE: Levis… I speak of that derision, but Levis talking about seeing his parents sleeping together and his parents listening to the radio as he eats his cold stew—-that’s almost unreadable for me, because there is this hatred of origin there that I don’t feel in your work, at least the familial hatred.

MM: Levis is a special case because I get the same sense from Levis’s work that I do from Jason Molina’s songwriting, that his witnessing of the decadent and his own failure and inevitable death is too real. It’s too close, and both of those artists ended up basically killing themselves. And it makes their work really tough to stomach sometimes. There are some Jason Molina songs I just have a hard time listening to now that he’s dead, because they just seems painfully prophetic. I think Levis’s work is similar.

BE: I’ve come to see so much art through that lens of people anticipating their own death. I talked Denis Johnson. But I think in order to give any work some urgency that has to be somewhere in the mind or in the consciousness, because we’re fleeting and that oils the machine. I went back to Dismantling the Hills (McGriff’s first book of poetry), and this first line of “Iron”, “I was wrong about oblivion then…” You demonstrate such a great gift for setting the hooks in a reader right from the jump, and throughout your story collection this is true, as well. I wonder if there is a particular strategy or craft element you rely on to do this, or is it merely intuition and a history of learning and talent?

MM: I would think definitely that’s a product of the laboratory space. The beginnings of stories or poems or novels or anything, it’s like, “how do you get them into your spell?” That’s always my question. I remember, writing “Iron”, particularly, because that was the last poem I wrote in that book, and to me it was one of the first times where I felt like I had enough material to make a statement that grand about an abstraction, like, “I was wrong about oblivion.” Like, ‘I’ve been alive long enough to know about there are gradations of suffering.’ Because a lot of the poems in there are about being a witness to a parent going to work or feeling under the economic thumb of an industry. That was, for lack of a better term, a breakthrough poem for me, just because I felt like I actually had some language for the abstract, the philosophical.

BE: I was sitting in Ferndale, Michigan with my partner at the time, and I pulled up that poem. She’s a History professor, and we always talked about poetry. I pulled that poem up on my phone, and read it to her in this crowded restaurant, and right to our left there was this man and woman on what looked like their first date, and I’m reading this poem about the clawhammer, and I could just see their faces changing as they’re eating their risotto. It was pretty funny.

MM: That’s really funny [laughs].

BE: Do you have that book around? Would you read that poem?

MM: Yeah. So this is the first poem in my first book.

[McGriff reads “Iron”]


I was wrong about oblivion then,
summer mornings we walked the logging roads
north of Fairview, the gypo trucks leaving miles of gravel dust
eddying around us. You were the Queen of Iron
and I, the servant Barcelona. The slash-pile
we tunneled through was the Whale’s Mouth,
our kingdom. Jake-brakes sounded the death-cries
of approaching armies as they screamed over the ridge
where we held our little breaths and each other,
passing the spell of invisibility between us.
Five years later, you brought your father’s
hunting knife to school and stabbed Danielle Carson
in the hip and I never saw you again.
I could say I left town for both of us, that I drove I-5 South
until I reached the aqueducts of California,
and for the first time felt illuminated before the sight
of water as it rushed beneath the massive turbines
spinning on the beige and dusty hills, powering a distant city
that would set me free. I could say
after your father covered the plastic bladder
of his waterbed with baby oil and wrestled you to it,
that in those days after your pregnancy I made plans
to drive a claw hammer into his skull. But I never left,
and when I moved it was only as far as the county line.
If my life has been a series of inadequacies, at least I know
by these great whirls of dust how beauty
and oblivion never ask permission of anyone.
In the book I read before bed, God lowers himself
through the dark and funnels his blueprints into the ear
of a woman who asked for nothing. Tomorrow night
she’ll lead armies, in a few more she’ll burn at the stake
and silver birds will rise from her mouth. This is the book
of the universe, where iron is the last element
of a star’s collapse and the moon retreats each moment
into oblivion. My blood fills with so much iron I’m pulled
to a place in the hard earth where the wind
grinds over the ridge bearing the wheels of tanker trucks
oiling the access roads, where deer ruin the last of the plums,
where the sloughs shrink back to their deepest channels,
and I can turn away from nothing.

(From Dismantling the Hills, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008)

BE: Damn dude. That’s so good. So I read in an interview that you had been watching a lot of iterations of the Joan of Arc film and that inspired this poem. Is that accurate?

MM: Yeah. For whatever reason, when I look back at this book, I don’t remember how a lot of the poems came to be, but this one I do, because I was really stuck on it. I had all these different things I wanted to talk about. One was the sexual abuse and pregnancy of this character.The other was the memory of playing with this character in slash piles as this kid, and then, I didn’t know where to take the poem. Frankly, I wasn’t really practiced in weaving a lot of disparate elements together like Levis does so well. I remember reading a lot of Larry Levis at the time and I was binge-watching Criterion [Collection] films, which got me going on these Joan of Arc films. And I just thought, ‘I wonder if I can get this in there.’ It’s just another image of suffering, but also of female providence. So I just stuck it in there to see how it might affect the writing, and it ended up being a good foil structurally, and it ended up making me re-write the poem toward that image of Joan of Arc. So it was kind of art born out of being stuck. I couldn’t figure out how to thread the poem together and then it came from an external source.

BE: These are definitely Levisian moves: “I was wrong about oblivion then”, and then this transition, “If my life has been a series of inadequacies, at least I know by these great whorls of dust…” Those are professional moves right there…I write about A.I., and I’m scared of this kind of meta-reality we’re living in, in hyper-stimulation. I wonder how we protect literacy, knowledge, and intellectual pursuit in such an age, and how we can ensure that 50, 100 years from now someone has the solace and the peace to sit down with a paper copy of Dismantling the Hills and read this poem and sit with it. I wonder if you feel like that possibility is under threat.

MM: I honestly do. I remember in graduate school, which would have been in the early 2000s, my good friend Beau Thorne, who is a screenwriter and fiction writer, he decided and declared to all of us grad students that he was “turning off”. He was going on an internet fast. This, at the time, seemed outrageous, because this was when the internet just was a really great tool for artists. You could buy whatever book you wanted, you could buy used books, you could get whatever album you wanted, you could listen to indie music on musician’s sites. Everything seemed so optimistic, and he was saying that he just—-it was like cigarettes or booze or something, you know—-he just couldn’t stop once he started. And to this day, he has a virtually analog existence. This is something more recently I totally have done myself, and I absolutely see the value in it. Because art takes so much work and it takes so much floundering and wandering and being bored and being unstimulated externally, and being only stimulated internally, and I have a huge fear that it’s too good of a drug. Fentanyl and the Internet are two things that, to me, seem equitable, and equally as dangerous for people and the things that they could possibly make going forward. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what I feel.

BE: I feel very similarly. If you haven’t, and I think I’ve referenced this book in three other interviews I’ve done, check out Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. It’s quite terrifying.

MM: It’s really interesting. Now that we know what we know about data mining and advertising, I hope it makes everyone re-think the viability of keeping art online or digitized, because now there’s a sinister echo to everything that I think just wasn’t as obvious before. It just makes me re-think everything now. It’s like, ‘Jesus. Doing the things that I think are for good, are they attached to things that are bad?’ Like, when I post a link to an amazing archived interview on Facebook every once in a while….am I hurting someone? I don’t know the answer to that.

BE: We will never have ads on Fogged Clarity. I don’t care if two people read the journal. I just don’t want ads. It’s difficult. Everything is so much about commerce, it makes the good ones anxious. Even the good ones, and dirty… I don’t know, it’s frustrating. Well, my friend, it has been very good talking. I appreciate the time. What are you working on now? What are reading? What are you writing? What are you considering?

MM: Well, I’ve got two book manuscripts that I’m sort of in the first major overhaul phases of. One’s a book of poems and one’s a short story collection. I’m mostly working on the short stories right now.

BE: Do they play in that same kind of space that Our Secret Life in the Movies did? Most of that I see as poetry, you know. Is it stylistically similar?

MM: Yeah, I would think so. They’re a little more short-story-ish than those sketches in In Our Secret Life in the Movies, just in terms of like: more stuff happens, people talk, and there are scenes [laughs]. But it is condensed. Half-a-page to seven-page short stories. So they’re pretty brief. But they do occupy a similar dreamy headspace, I think.

BE: Are you a fan of Stuart Dybek?

MM: Yeah, I am fan.

BE: His short story collection…he’s almost like Lydia Davis in that way too. A story can be like, a line or something.

MM: I love it.

BE: He co-created a class in Rome with Garrett Hongo, who was my advisor at [University of] Oregon, and the class was the best class I’ve ever taken. We studied the Japanese haibun, the prose poem, and it opened spaces for me that I’d never thought I could access before. But I digress. Dybek, he’s a master. Super talented. My friend, Mike McDermit, who works with me on Fogged Clarity, he interviewed Dybek, and Dybek said he first knew he wanted to be a writer when he was sitting at a table, drunk with his friends, and he cut himself as he was cutting a lime, and he saw a rivulet of his blood drip down and mingle with the lime juice, and at that moment he knew he wanted to capture it and be a writer. It’s kind of like the Murakami moment, when he’s watching the baseball game, and he’s like, “I’m going to write a novel.”

MM: I always wonder about writers who get really good at mythologizing their origin stories, because that blood and lime juice image is so brilliant. I wonder how true it is. I hope it’s true.

BE: I’m reading T.C. Boyle’s latest novel. You want to talk about a machine. He is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. When Fogged Clarity was nothing, I emailed him out of the blue, this earnest kid, in 2008. I was like, “Would you do an interview with me for a literary journal?’ And he was like, “Absolutely!” And he was generous and he was kind, and he talked to me then a couple times later, but that guy is a machine.

MM: It’s amazing.

BE: He is a writer. Pure writer.

MM: Those fiction writers, man… this is something I’ve discovered about my own life as a writer, having sort of stumbled through one collection of short stories and trying to write another. I mean, this book started out as a novel, the one I’m working on, and it revealed to me just a whole new layer of admiration, envy, and respect for long-form prose writers. Man, how do you have the soul to work on something for five years to get one draft of it, to look at it and say, ‘This is a piece of shit. I need to start over,’ and then start over and finish it. I mean, poets aren’t like that. You can bang out a poem in a couple weeks, and then brood on it for a couple more, and then revise for a couple months, and you can do that simultaneously with ten poems. But man, the humbling and the sort of being lashed on the post that it is to be a novelist. When people keep writing novels, I just, I keep taking my hat off, you know? It’s amazing.

BE: It’s like a long distance runner. You just have to go unconscious. These people just go unconscious. I mean, James Lasden… one of the coolest books I’ve ever read is The Horned Man. He went out in his shed on his property in the northeast, and he said he wrote it in six months. He said it was almost like a fever state that he wrote it in. Those are the best. When you’re just completely unconscious, you’re fully immersed, no other thought, and you just lose hours and days.

MM: Just last night I was talking to J.M. Tyree, my co-writer on Our Secret Life in the Movies, and we were talking about another conversation I was having with another writer about the sort of admiration so many people have for just the jagged, rough-edged, broken-voiced art, and how we live in an auto-tuned era where rough edges are removed and just how important it is to praise, honor, and emulate those kinds of artworks. You just have to get it out there no matter what.

BE: Where the source of sublimity is imperfection.

MM: I think, in a way, it’s not fostered or encourage. Sort of, the mess, you know. I’m going on a tangent, but it sparks an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with several writers I know… especially teaching in an MFA program, the temptation is to chisel off all the unique stuff of everyone’s work to make something agreeable, but of course that’s a crime against humanity.

BE: I think that’s why we probably so love Denis Johnson. I mean, just imagine if someone had tried to chisel away that voice. But there are voices that, regardless of what you teach them, what you tell them, they won’t be suppressed, they won’t be held back, and the truth needs to be seen, and heard or listened to. Are you listening to anything good right now, music-wise?

MM: Man, good question. Heavy rotation right now: Fela Kuti.

BE: Man, I’ve been cranking Fela! He’s the best. Revolutionary. I actually know Stuart Bogie, the horn player. He was in our Fogged Clarity commercial, which is pretty laughable, now, ten years later. He played the horn as Fela in the Broadway musical. But Best of the Black President, Vol. 1, Best of the Black President, Vol. 2. You know, listen, I weigh 230 pounds, but I can throw that on and go run seven miles to it… I’m just so fired up. Nice man!

MM: I’ve been working my way through David Byrne’s labels’ catalog, Luaka Bop. And man, that guy, the stuff that he is archiving and getting remastered and permission for—it is just the work… It is just the Lord’s work, so to say. I mean, that guy is amazing. I can’t believe the stuff he has on that label now. It’s amazing.

BE: All right, my friend. It was great talking. You’re much nicer than I expected, reading your poems. I thought you’d have that Levine gruffness to you, but you are a charming and kind individual.

MM: Thanks, man. Well, hey, I appreciate the interview and I love re-treading your Will Oldham interviews. They’re just the best. So, keep it up, man. That’s great work over there.

BE: Right on, man. Well, you have a great rest of the day.

MM: You too.

Michael McGriff is the author of several books, most recently the poetry collection Early Hour (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) and the linked story collection Our Secret Life in the Movies (A Strange Object, 2014), which was an NPR Best Book of 2014. He can be found online at MichaelMcGriff.com.