Henry Goldkamp’s concrete poem “quikrete set in purgatory, mo” gives voice to the admixture of dank, know-nothing ignorance in this wonderful, miserable state of Missouri. And its ignorance-abating, bassakward diction is wet, too, as if just poured into a Missouri-shaped mold by a state highway crew. (Definitely click over to see the poem’s shape before or after viewing his video; and keep in mind the written form came before Henry and his friend turned the poem into a wonderful cartoon reading of the piece.)
Curious, I emailed Goldkamp to ask how this voice took shape and found its way into this visual form. Here’s what he shared with us about the voice as it poured from ear to syntax to form:
“If the content is a kind of fire, then the form's usually a dumpster. Lucky shot on this concrete poem, as this form was a fancy new blue one, hardly a scratch on it or stink to it—plus it came prepackaged with a can of gas in its belly. I was thinking of a quote from William Least Heat-Moon's road-tripper classic, Blue Highways: "A Missourian gets used to Southerners thinking him a Yankee, a Northerner considering him a cracker, a Westerner sneering at his effete Easternness, and the Easterner taking him for a cowhand." It's flyover country, hanged, drawn and quartered in each cardinal direction, by way of the brains of others who ain't ever been (that is, if they think of us at all). We all gotta be from somewhere, don't we? The result was a polyvocal confluence that could give the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers a run for their dirty money. As I spat out bits and pieces on a Word doc, I stepped back from it and was like, Holy smokes, that's pretty much the shape of the goddam state! A bit of space-bar chiseling, some line-break duct tape, and I got it close enough to be visually intelligible. So, "quikrete" started with the voice (or here, voices), as it usually does for my work, then my wonderful cats opened their eyes and were already in the right alley. It didn't even say "Here kitty kitty kitty" or rattle tuna cans or nothing! Just, ‘Tada! Come warm your paws by my trashfire!’”
Henry Goldkamp performs his life in New Orleans. Work appears or is forthcoming in Yemassee, Denver Quarterly, Idaho Review, DIAGRAM, New South, the minnesota review, and Best New Poets 2021, among others. More and more at henrygoldkamp.com.