Devil’s Lake


Interview with Chris Green

Q: It seems nowadays that most poetry books are themed. Your previous two collections, The Sky Over Walgreen (2007) and Epiphany School (2009, both books from Mayapple Press), are incredible, and I suggest all readers go buy them. But with Résumé you definitely constructed the book with a theme—sort of an autobiography through jobs. First of all, what sparked the idea for you of a book of job poems? And also I'm curious what your thoughts are on themed books versus collections and how that changes the process.

…it was both heartening and disheartening to have a concept hanging over me. I was forever trying to fool myself into spontaneity.

The idea for Résumé came as I started worrying that my incredible, kind-hearted, artistic daughters may end up working in cubicles some day… maybe filling out grids, crunching numbers. There's nothing quite like the daily low-grade ass-kicking you get in a horrible office job. Anyway, my hopes for my daughters inspired me to poeticize various jobs and evaluate the meaning of work.

As you said, this is my first themed book. Two worries—I didn't want the book to be “informational” in the way poetry shouldn't be; I also didn't want to intentionally write “work” poems—I wanted to write poems that happened to be about work. Unlike writing my previous collections, it was both heartening and disheartening to have a concept hanging over me. I was forever trying to fool myself into spontaneity. Overall, I'm glad I tried it, but it was also like a fucking job!

Q: It should be noted that these are—for the most part—not your average jobs. Some are standard jobs, but some include: “Petting Tent Attendant,” “Target Changer at the Holiday Gun Club,” “Pimp's Assistant,” and a personal favorite of mine, “Lost Pet Psychic.” What I'd like to know is how you found yourself in these situations. Any stories?

…they were often deadly white-collar jobs: the melancholy poet in khaki pants and a stiff shirt.

I invented some of the craziest jobs in the book, but the really crazy jobs that I actually had were too crazy for poetry. And they weren't obviously outlandish; they were often deadly white-collar jobs: the melancholy poet in khaki pants and a stiff shirt. It's difficult to say what I did, though I did enjoy those Swiss Mint hot chocolate packets (with micro marshmallow pellets) in most break rooms.

Q: You dedicated the book to your children. Part of it reads: “this book is for my children… and for what I see ahead… learn to leave a job without being seen. may you never find yourself staring at your hands.” I could go on about your poems—as I often do with colleagues and students—but I'm interested in what that means to you.

Frost said that actuality and intimacy is the greatest aim an artist can have. Since I've had kids, most everything feels intimate and actual. Work consumes us, yet there's very little written about it, especially as poetry. On my best days, I write emotionally. I get emotional very quickly when I worry about my kids.

Q: Where does the job of Poet fit in?

Ah, well, and you've heard me say this before: I make tens and tens of dollars as a poet. I once heard Mark Strand say, “Real poets don't talk about poems. They talk about money and clothes.” Poor vain poets—where do we buy our scarves? Of course poetry doesn't pay, so what? So the following poem from Résumé:


It is winter. My daughter refuses to sleep. Looking our her window,
she says, “The night is dark and shabby.” Age 4, the poet
pondering the ways of melancholy. In vague moony light,
the wind gusts, snow blurs and whispers. She says, “It's cold
because there are no birds.” I ask if she knows what shabby means.
As if tiptoeing past me, she says, “Things undie in the spring.”

Q: You've begun working, I believe, on a collection inspired by Joe Brainerd's I Remember, in which you are interviewing veterans about their experiences. What was this process like, and where can we look out for the book as well as the rest of your work?

I Remember: Chicago Veterans of War—it weaves together the memories of fifty veterans of World Ware II, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Throughout the book, each veteran speaks in a series of “I remember” statements labeled not by a number, not a name. This anonymous structure foregrounds the similarities of all wars. The effect is of one veteran speaking of the shock and scale of every modern war.

The process of making the book was much more challenging than previous anthologies, where I simply asked by narcissistic writer-friends to send me work. The truth is many veterans don't want to remember. It was a matter of gaining their trust. I turned no one down—I accepted memories from any veteran brave enough to share them.

I Remember is published by the DePaul English Department's new press, Big Shoulders Books, whose mission is to make books that give voice to a community in Chicago that might not otherwise be heard; we then give the books away for free. You can request copies of any Big Shoulders book at

CHRIS GREEN is the author of three books of poetry, and his work has appeared in such publications as Poetry, The New York Times, New Letters, Verse, Nimrod, and Black Clock. He's edited four anthologies, including Brute Neighbors: Urban Nature Poetry, Prose & Photography. He founded LitCity, a comprehensive literary site for Chicago, and teaches in the English Department at DePaul University.