If your bio were to appear in the New Yorker, what would it say?
I guess it would say that I was born in New Jersey and have lived here my whole life – all over the state – and that’s what I write about. It might also say that besides trying to be a poet I’ve had some diverse jobs in the past, a few being gravedigger, bartender, auto parts courier, and ice cream truck driver, and that finds its way into my work too. But I don’t expect to be in the New Yorker anytime soon. They pay you for poems, though, don’t they?
What’s your first move now that you’re graduating?
I’m going to keep working on my manuscript/book while avoiding employment. Maybe travel around the States a bit.
Of all the books you’ve read in the last two years, what are some that “knocked your head off”?
Two books that I keep recommending to other writers are “The Boilerplate Rhino” by David Quammen and “A Natural History of North American Trees” by Donald Peattie. They’re both collections of nature essays. I think its important whether you write poetry or fiction to read as much non-fiction as possible. In both of these books the prose is absolutely lyrical. Peattie actually studied French poetry at the U of Chicago before transferring to Harvard to study Botany, and I think he retained that lyrical ear. Quammen wrote a column in Outside for fifteen years, and takes the reader to Texas to hunt rattlesnakes or Bali for fresh durian. One essay, called “Impersonating Henry Thoreau,” is about how Thoreau created a character of himself in Walden. He wasn’t secluded at all. He walked into Concord every day to have lunch with his mother.
Has your perspective on the MFA degree changed at all?
It has. When I first started the program two years ago, I assumed I’d be leaving with a finished book in my hands. This turned out to not be the case. I’ve got something down on paper that I’m really proud of, but it needs more work before its a “book” to me. But that was the only big surprise, everything else was exactly what I imagined an MFA program to be. I loved it.
Do you have any advice for incoming students?
I’d say don’t waste the opportunity to take electives. I took a class called The City and Suburb in American History and it totally informed and changed the direction of my thesis. It made me look at the environment I grew up in – the suburbs – with a more critical eye, which led to new poems.
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Also, check out Brandon’s poem “Forty Roman Soldiers in 262” which appeared in Failbetter last Fall.