Brendan Constantine reimagines the familiar and the mysterious, delicately balancing playfulness and poignancy, to create intriguing poems worth reading again and again. His performance style, meanwhile, is just as arresting. Watch him draw big laughs with a reading of “The Last Thing I Want To Do is Hurt You”:
…then, check out filmmaker Sarah Jensen’s adaptation of Constantine’s poem “The Translation”:
Reading Constantine’s poetry is like driving through a neighborhood that you lived in years ago: elements of the familiar are surprisingly, yet seamlessly interwoven with the new and unexpected. In his most recent book of poetry, Birthday Girl With Possum (2011), Constantine delivers a sort of poetic lecture series on famous figures, including Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Emmett Till, but these poems are not the dry, familiar histories hauled out in classrooms and referenced in textbooks.
“Lecture on Emmett Till” begins, “The measure of disorder is / called Entropy. It marks the difference between / the past & future, giving direction to time: / Emmett Till winks or waves or speaks / or says nothing to Carolyn Bryant.” Constantine moves effortlessly between references to ephemeral forces of the universe, and small details of the murder case, juxtaposing acceleration, orbits, and vacuums against “saying ‘Bye, Baby,” “eating candy” and “Teaching A Boy A Lesson.” Constantine imagines Till’s “remains” as “highly-charged, continuously re-nucleating / expanding with each revelation.” The final line of the poem, “Under this stress, some develop a halo,” collapses the historic and the scientific into the transcendent, brushing up against Emmett Till’s soul.
Constantine’s ability to mix and match seemingly unrelated motifs in beautifully effective ways is again present in “Aubade,” from Letters to Guns (2009), along with his sense of humor. The speaker of this poem riffs on the Miranda rights when addressing a lover: “My love, / you have the right to remain / silent. Anything you say / can and will be recorded / in my pillow….” Constantine’s humor is clever and sly, never drowning out the emotional heartbeat behind each poem.
We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.
For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org