Prompts Response: Brian Lampkin



(Interviewer: Amber Carpenter, PR Editor for SPACES)


for Bob Baxter

I pull for the lesser. I pull for pleasure. I pull for snakes.

I still pull for black quarterbacks and white point guards. I still pull for women drummers. I still pull for red poets and green academics. I pull for mean children. I pull for lazy criminals. I pull for the useless and the diligent. I pull for polar bears and ice sheets. I pull for aliens on other worlds. I pull for atheists on Sundays. I pull for Jews in Alabama, I pull for rebels at Harvard and I pull for the opera in America.

I pull for rural hip-hop and big-city bluegrass. I pull for calling in well. I pull for in sickness and I pull for in health. I pull when I ought to push: I pull on the brake; I pull rocks up mountains. I still pull for the overthrow of my dreams. I still pull for a revolution in fabric. I still pull for tender gossip.

I pulled pits, I pulled down, I pulled weeds. Okay, I never pulled time and I never pulled teeth, but I’ve been pulled in North Carolina and I’ve been pulled in the wrong direction.

I pull for Patchen and I pull for Brautigan. I pull for the caught between. I pull for no one you want to know. I pull for doubt, I think. I admit I pulled for Anderson. I admit I pulled for the quagmire. I admit I pulled a hamstring. I pulled for peace. I pulled on a joint. I pulled for a blizzard. I admit I’ve pulled for the success of the suicidal. I admit I’ve pulled for the drunk’s next drink. I admit I’ve pulled for my brother’s affair.

I pull for what I want and I pull for what I don’t.

I pull for pleasure, as I’ve said. I pull for pain. I pull for pain as a guide. I pull for the moment I’m not lying. I pull for the moment you know I’m not lying. I pull for a refusal. I pull for the team trailing boredom by a dozen at half. I pull for the woman making that espresso. I pull for the guy drawing that beer. I pull for the person at table three. I pull for dead cities. I pull for the small town on the edge of existence. I pull on the sentence. I pull your leg. I beg you to pull mine.

I could pull daisies and I could pull daily. I could pull tractors and could I pull trains? Could I pull the demon out of the depths? Could I pull the wool over the eyes of the gods? Could I pull my love out of the bed of the stranger? Could I pull for the stranger?

I can pull for whomever I want. I can pull for my grammar. I can pull and I want you to pull, too. I want you to pull to the east of my west. I want to pull and pull ‘til I’m pulled out of your range. PULL.

Oh, let’s pull together before the end comes near. Let’s pull the dead from the bottom of the well. Let’s pull at the seams of the nation until the nation begs for forgiveness. Let’s pull off our hoods and look in our eyes. On three I’ll pull off yours and you’ll pull off mine. One, two , three, pull.


Interview with Brian Lampkin

Amber:“Pull” is such an empowering piece; to what SPACES prompt is the poem in response?

Brian: The prompt titled“YES!” I try to make yes my default position on most matters. It leads to trouble, as you might imagine, but it’s also an effective practice for an engagement with art. Or perhaps more revealing, the great mistakes of my life have been errors of refusal and the great joys have resulted from a willingness to say yes. Though to be certain, some no’s have saved my life.

Amber: The poem reminds me of Ginsberg’s “Howl” – what inspired you to write a lengthy political piece?

Brian: I don’t know that I think of “Pull” as any more or less political than most other poems. The separation between the personal and political always seems more of a critical stance than a creative one. I have a kind of love/hate with the declamatory and incantatory. There’s a false power created in incantation that I am leery/weary of. But I am a great admirer of Ginsberg and I think you’re right to think of him in this poem.

Amber: You included a vast array of subject matter within your poem. How did you choose what would stay and what should be removed before settling on the final draft?

Brian: There is a propulsive force in “Pull” that demands a continual motion. The lifting of the pen from page or fingers from keyboard interferes with the rush forward. In that sense it’s more like the famous first performance of “Howl” where Kerouac is shouting “Go, go, go” as Ginsberg incantates. Not to say changes weren’t made or that “Pull” appeared fully formed in one sitting. It didn’t. But the poem has a pull of its own; language follows language in the course of creation. Subject matter is often subsumed to the needs of the writing. And I’m drawn to poems that refuse to limit their reach; I like poems that let synapses fire. I know of writers who make a list of words that apply to some subject they’ve predetermined to write about then find a way to plug those words into the poem. That approach does not interest me—except when it does. At some point in the writing of this poem I must have been keeping track (mentally) of different ways to play on pull, which is just another kind of predetermined list. It’s good to fail one’s own poetics.

Amber: I admire your blatant language and overall form; did you intend on writing the poem in this particular form?

Brian: Even the repetitions of “I pull” were at some early point unintentional. I remember thinking that rants were far too typically rails against some beast or another, and I wanted to turn that around, to embrace something. This was probably playing out in my off the page life as well. So the form just follows the needs of the poem, or vice-versa. One is the extension of the other, but I’ve never known which.

Amber: Finally, what are your thoughts on the importance of political poetry?

Brian: Again, it’s all political. I mean the act of writing poetry is for the most part an anti-capital approach. Charles Bernstein’s Negative Economy of Poetry posits that a blank piece of paper has certain value (1/2 of a cent or so) and that value is undermined the moment a poet writes upon the pristine page. The value of poetry exists somewhere beyond capital, and these days that’s as political as it gets. Hey, what am I getting paid for this poem? You see.


Brian Lampkin lives in Greensboro, NC where he is opening Scuppernong Books, a new bookstore and wine/coffee/beer establishment. His collaborations with the composer Mark Engebretson include “They Said,” a piece recently recorded by the quartet Sinister Resonance.