The following is from an exercise from Carla Harryman’s class “The Long Poem & Serial Works” based off Joe Brainard’s I Remember. The title of this, “I,” is a working title.
I don’t enjoy talking about myself. I read books. I write poems. I drink beer. And smoke a lot of cigarettes. I prefer to listen to others talk about themselves and then ask questions.
I find Ezra Pound’s essays on poetry and craft more interesting than his poetry.
“I work hard not to let myself go.”
I hated school, especially language arts, as a child.
I hated when the teacher would call on me to read. I didn’t like the attention on me (and I still don’t). Once, I told the teacher I didn’t know how to read and she spanked me in front of the class.
I was obsessed with Charles Bukowski late in high school and during the first few years of college. I wrote all my papers and poems drunk on beer and then switched to wine (I discovered I didn’t have to piss every ten minutes).
I was on the Dean’s List in community college and received the Student Academic Achievement Award in English for being the most published writer in the school’s history.
I was in eighth grade when the planes hit. I told the language arts teacher I was sick (faking) so she sent me to the office (before the planes hit).
I remember a lot of crying (not me). I remember Heather crying because one of her relatives worked in the Pentagon. I remember my mother picked me up from the office. I don’t remember the weather that day. Or what excuse I gave her. I remember how long it took to find anything on television besides Full House reruns.
I wrote that in a poem for Christine Hume’s “Sound Poetry” class. I titled it “I mis(remember).” I remember, after writing this stanza:
[I mis(remember)] (how long it took to find anything on TV)—
what angles planes entered
exited, sounds produced as bodies Pollocked pavement—[…]
feeling exhilarated and somewhat unpatriotic and calm.
I am not a farmer.
I am the third John Farmer of the family. I was named after my father’s brother, John, and not his father, John.
I was almost a Brian. I wonder what my life would be like if I were a Brian.
I know I am because I am and I sing because I sing and that is the only way I know it happens.
I write in a place where I can gather shadows—a place where I can sing. I am never weary of the night returning in me. (I think never may be too strong a word.)
I don’t want to “give order to the world” in my writing. The world, as I see it, will never be in order and attempting to do such a thing is too much pressure on a poet. I mean it’s too much pressure on me. I will not stop anyone who wishes to do so, or has the time to do so. But I have neither the time nor patience nor savings to do so. I mean I don’t have the attention span required for such a job.
“I wasn’t lonely until post-modernity taught me the impossibility of being true.”
I am the product of stubborn, Irish, men. It’s somewhat depressing and, somehow, funny when reading sections of my grandfather’s will where he (deliberately) left my uncle and father out of it.
I remember my grandfather and father not speaking for five years when I was younger. My father can’t remember the reason. My grandfather lived five blocks away from us.
I am what I am because I inherited what I inherited.
“I left all those tender moments happily, happily in what solitude I have inherited with a few manly flaws.”
I like reconstructing poems from other writer’s poems using only their language. It’s a way for me to get out of “writer’s block” and to allow my mind to go where I wouldn’t allow it to go. I reconstructed this from one of Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets. I call it “I crave the fleeting sunbeam”:
I crave the fleeting sunbeam
flaring in your mouth,
I want to eat the color of your laugh,
your voice, and your hot heart—like a puma,
I prowl around the streets,
the liquid dawn does not nourish me,
bread disrupts me, all day
I pace through the shades of your lashes,
sniffing the twilight in your hair
[…] (and so on).
I remember the first time my father cried.
I remember the second time (he read a poem I published after grandfather’s death).
I remember how long it took me to write the first poem I published (about ten minutes). I remember thinking how easy writing poetry was (and now I know it was just “dumb luck”).
I remember the first time I made love to someone who wasn’t myself.
I remember, a week after his death, my grandmother had a stroke and my girlfriend left me.
I remember cups of coffee and snow and blankets and Camel cigarettes. I remember debilitating depression and sleeping for days.
I hate snow. I didn’t hate it when I was younger.
I remember the first time I saw a dead body. It was my grandmother. Lying face down on the floor next to her bed. I remember blood on the carpet. And being afraid to touch her.
I remember, as each year passed, expecting my grandmother to die.
I remember when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember chemotherapy. Clumps of hair falling out of her head. Oxygen tanks. White hospital rooms and stiff chairs.
I hated, as a child, the grocery store “Farmer Jack.” And when teachers call attendance last names first: “Farmer, John” (and I still hate it).
I remember trying to appreciate Andy Warhol’s work. (In high school, I believed the work was wonderful. It was “cool” to mention his name casually—as if saying it showed an understanding of it). I still don’t see what the big fuss is about.
I was never “cool” in high school.
I like growing a beard for something to hide behind.
I advised myself in poems (in “How to Be Happy: A Memo”): “[…] Give away as much of yourself / as your beard will allow—about forty percent.”
“I was distant because I mistrust my face.”
I believed (as a child) that if someone appeared in my dreams he or she was dreaming of me too.
I remember graffiti and broken windows. The gravel playground and fights and football and basketball.
I remember Rocky.
I remember my father teaching me how to defend myself and saying, “If someone pushes you, don’t push back, just knock him on his ass.”
I love coming across old quotes from old writers in old notebooks: I love tomorrow, it stays away so well.—William Stafford.
I remember birthday and Christmas gifts from grandfather wrapped in newspaper. Always books.
I faked sick for five straight days in elementary school. Mother took me to work (at a party store) somewhere off Southfield Freeway. I found the pistol behind the counter. She never left me behind the counter again.
I have trouble spitting out what I want to say. Or feeling. It’s due to a lifetime of high anxiety and ADHD and being taught as a young boy: Don’t speak unless spoken to.
I have learned to live with the distractions. And to welcome them.
“I am all I am comfortable with.”
I want to find the feeling before the utterance.
I am not concerned so much with what it means. I am concerned with how it feels.
I deny the accident. There is no accident. Everything is placed in particular places to serve certain purposes.
I have learned to look at life as one long joke and the joys of laughing at myself.
I write because I enjoy it. Every part of it. The shitty first drafts and shitty final drafts.
I never had the attention span (or patience) to write a poem that eclipsed two pages. Even one is a stretch.
I remember (wired) talking on rooftops with Neal about life and poetry, and trying to find its meaning as the moon fell in front of us and the sun rose behind us.
I hallucinated Buddha was in my bedroom telling me about life and what it’s all about and me telling him to be quiet. My parents would be waking soon.
“I am no ego.”
I remember (hallucinating) seeing my skin decay and change shape in a mirror.
“I went down to the garden of memory with clear eyes and a cold beer and saw a sudden glimpse of myself as being no one.”
  All things in quotation marks after this, unless specified, are fragments from poems (recent and old, experiments and found poems) that connect to what the “I” is talking about.