Kathryn Starbuck is the author of Griefmania, from Sheep Meadow Press, 2006. (Read “Thinking of John Clare” from Griefmania here.) Her poems appear in The Best American Poems 2008, The New Republic, The Gettysburg Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, AGNI Online, Harvard Review and elsewhere. She edited two volumes of George Starbuck’s poems.
Starbuck’s poem “Often Things Went Wrong” appeared in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.
An excerpt from “Often Things Went Wrong”:
Can we retire
from sex just
as we retire
from a job?
After the jump, Starbuck reveals how Graham Greene inspired her (or did he?), as well as her most significant revision.
“Often Things Went Wrong”
I’ve no idea what I was thinking when I wrote “Often Things Went Wrong.” But reading it afterward, I immediately thought of Graham Greene. He was my favorite writer in the fifties and sixties with his novels and what he called his “entertainments,” which remain some of the finest works in the English language: political corruption, moral conundrums, churchy stuff, shady characters, sexual intrigue to beat the band. Things always go wrong in life — When do they go right, how right? — except in politics and look where that and George W. Bush, a.k.a. the Shrub, have got us. I thought of my many trips to viscous South and Central American jungles in the seventies and eighties and nineties, when things often went more wrong than right, and wondered if I’d get back in one piece. I thought of times much earlier when I’d messed up my life with men who were unworthy of me before I met the man of my dreams.
The hotel was
decked out with
the relics of gaiety.
The walls stopped
short of the ceiling.
Sounds like I was writing pure Graham Greene. He loved whorehouses. As for me? I love that the poem came to me unbidden and that Graham Greene still resides somewhere in me. The poem finally fell into place after one major revision. I had long and wrongly held the title line as the first line. When I switched it to the final line, the poem was finished.