In Minivan Poems, writer Justin Grimbol did indeed put together an entire book of poems about his minivan. But in his newest collection Come Home We Love You Still (paperback), Grimbol not only compiled a book of poems with a similar narrative theme, but a structural one as well.
The poems in Come Home, We Love You Still are all free verse, but they’re also all comprised of conversations, and those line lines of conversation are not identified as to who is saying them. Where did you get the idea to write poems in this style?
I love talking. Most people think I talk too much. When I was young I would talk with my friends until the sun rose. I believe this is meaningful. The more you talk the more info seeps up and our basement dwellers crawl out and hang out and become our friends again. And I love the way dialogue looks on the page.
But it’s not really free verse. It’s more like prose poetry. But that’s a stuffy term. It’s just dialogue. The dialogue is poetic sometimes, so its poetry too. I love how dialogue reads when there is no “he said” or “she said” stuff. I love when it’s obvious who is talking without the author having to say whose talking.
So did you set out to write a bunch of poems in this conversational style, and then collect them into a book, or did you just happen to write a lot of poems in that style and then decide to collect them as Come Home, We Love You Still?
I have always wanted to write a book that is nothing but dialogue. I didn’t expect it to come out as poetry though. That was a surprise. Like smelling your own armpits and realizing how wonderful it smells, then thinking: “shit, why don’t people like this more?” Or maybe not really like that. But sorta like that.
How often did you try to write a poem in this style, only to have it just not work, so you rewrote it in a complete different style?
Well, first I wrote a few short novels that were dialogue heavy. And I mean really heavy. Some chapters had nothing but dialogue. It didn’t work though. There were too many characters. It just got confusing. But once I started writing them in short bursts, without attempting to turn them into novels, and I realized they work like poems, things started to come together quickly.
Just in terms of the pieces in Come Home, We Love You Still, not your other poems, what poets and which of their books do you see as being the biggest influence on both what you wrote about and how you wrote them?
Wyoming by Barry Gifford had a big influence on this book. Wyoming is a hundred some pages nothing but dialogue between a mother and son as they drive around the country. It’s a beautiful book. But that’s not a book of poetry.
Oh, and there is a great book called Braided Creek, written by Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison, who are two of my favorite poetry dudes. The book is a conversation written in poetry. Harrison would write a poem then send it to Kooser, then Kooser would write a short poem in response, send it to Harrison, then Harrison would respond with another poem. And it goes on and on like this back and forth and it’s really great.
That’s funny, back in my poetry writing days, there was a guy who would put together chapbooks where he’d write response poems to other people’s poems, and he did one of these books with me.
Anyway, as we discussed, the poems in Come Home, We Love You Still have the same kind of structure. But do they also have a common narrative theme like how the poems in your previous collection, Minivan Poems, were all about your minivan?
Yes. Theme: The poems in Come Home, We Love You Still are about the intimacy that comes from bickering and goofing around and talking nonsense. It’s also about marriage. All the poems are dialogues between my wife and I.
This seems like an obvious question, but why did you think the conversational style worked well with this theme?
Marriage is eighty percent talking and fighting and telling jokes and saying “I love you” over and over and over again. The other twenty percent is watching sitcoms, eating dinner, and trying to have interesting sex. At least that’s what early marriage is like. That’s what my marriage is like. I have only been married for four years and I have no kids. I’m sure once I’m pregnant, things will change. I mean, once she is pregnant things will change.
In our previous interview [which you can read here], you told me that the Fletch books were a bit influence on your writing, and that you read a bunch of them when writing Minivan Poems. What did you read while writing Come Home, We Love You Still, and how did they influences these poems?
Fletch also had a big influence on Come Home, We Love You Still. Fletch books are very dialogue heavy. Many mystery novels are. But Fletch has so much D. And it’s great D. Full of charm. It’s quirky too. So quirky. Quirky to the max. I mean, its fucking hilarious stuff. That’s the appeal. I don’t read Fletch novels for the mystery. I read them for the characters and dialogue. Fletch Won is his funniest novel. It has so much talking in it.
Atlatl Press, who are publishing Come Home, We Love You Still, say that these poems are, “as hilarious as they are heartfelt.” In terms of your sense of humor, who do you see as being the biggest inspirations, and do you think those people were an influence on the poems in Come Home, We Love You Still?
Roseanne. I grew up watching that kinda disgruntled, but sweet as hell family humor. Also I read a lot of old humorist writers, like Erma Bombeck. Real antiquated stuff. Garrison Keillor taught me a lot about how to tell jokes. Bukowski always. Stuff like that.
Like the pieces in Minivan Poems, the poems in Come Home, We Love You Still are untitled. Is this something that’s common to all our poetry, or it just coincidence that your two newest collections would feature untitled poems?
I have three books of poetry out and only one of them has titled poems. The poems in Minivan Poems were just too short [for titles]. Also, I wanted them to be read separately as a one long poem. So that’s why they lack titles.
With the dialogue poems I just like the idea of the inside of the books have nothing but dialogue in it. I guess the titles could be written as dialogue. But then the title would just be part of the poem. Which I guess all titles are anyway.
Lastly, while you and I have only ever talked about your poetry, you’ve also written prose. So, if someone enjoys Come Home, We Love You Still, which of your novels would you suggest they check out and why that one?
Hard Bodies. It’s another book about my wife and I living together. Bickering. Flirting. There is way more sex stuff in Hard Bodies. I mean, truly awkward sex stuff too. Spoiler alert. The last chapter is about my dad’s balls.