Ori Fienberg + “Clockwork Dog” = MB8:

Posted By jatyler - 18th May 2011

Ori Fienberg + “Clockwork Dog” = MB8:

‘Clockwork Dog’ is built on a disparity of terms – ‘friendly friction’ / ‘retrieving discarded’ / etc. – how important is this discord to your poetry (or this poem)?

In poetry, and contemporary poetry in particular, I think that the pairing of disparate words and contrasting language is a common strategy. The goal, I’m pretty sure is to be evocative, but often it results in obfuscation. You could say the same about the very title and subject of this poem.  I understand that an initial reaction may be something along the lines of, what the hell is a “clockwork dog” anyway? Well, I don’t want my reader surrounded by a jangle of words, so while the exact form of the dog is left to the reader, by the end they have an idea of this dog’s motivations, and I think would agree that he is a “good dog.” So rather than discord, in this and other pieces I work to create chords from unlikely notes.

There is also an aggressive use of range in this piece – running the reader from a ‘tornado’ to a ‘merry-go-round’ – can you talk to us about what you hope this scaled-variation will do to readers?

Simply, the range makes the poem livelier and more engaging. The reader has the opportunity to fit their own rotations and clocks somewhere between bottle caps and planets, and make their own personal connections to time with the Clockwork Dog as a guide.

Why did you chose to close the piece with baseball metaphors, which are always loaded with free-time connotations, and how does that contrast with the title ‘Clockwork Dog’ and its denotations of punching the timecard?

In a geometrical sense there are other sports that the Clockwork Dog might be drawn to. For instance, he may like the backspin from a perfectly shot free throw, or the tight spiral on a thrown football, but I think he’s drawn to baseball because while most of the other examples in the poem are finite, baseball represents time unbound. Time measured not in coffee spoons, ringtones, or buzzers, but by living in and meditating on moments. During the baseball season day-light is at its longest and in a game there are no timeouts or limits. Baseball is filled with different representations of time, from less than a second for a single pitch, minutes for outs, to hours for extra innings, all while the players strive mightily to do the only thing that really counts for a win: complete a full rotation around the bases.

Here is a question I have for all of the MB8 poets: Why poetry as opposed to prose?

I’m always drawn to William Stafford’s response, that the prose poem is somehow more honest because it doesn’t seek to “bamboozle [the reader] with white space,” and like David Shumate, I also appreciate the relative “homeliness” of prose poetry. Prose poetry doesn’t put on airs. It’s more approachable. In the same vein, some would probably call the pieces I do, which often take the form of tiny stories or myths, “flash fiction,” but I aim for lyricism in my layering of language, and I feel I’m best able to achieve that when I approach my writing as a poet.

You bio says that you fall asleep by counting Iowans – how many are there?

As someone that has struggled with Insomnia I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about “counting to fall asleep” trope and I’ve determined that the actual number you count is far less important than what and how you count. Sheep are popular because they’re like zoomorphized pillows: so wooly and gentle. Iowans are generally speaking less wooly, but nearly as gentle. Also, outside of the metro (ha) regions like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowans are spread across the plains and gently rolling hills. So when you count Iowans to fall asleep you can’t help but also count cornstalks and acres.  I recommend it.

Read “Clockwork Dog” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.


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  1. […] called ‘Night Hungers’ in our #13, but before then you can catch him being interviewed over on Monkeybicycle about his piece ‘Clockwork Dog,’ which is included in Monkeybicycle8. He talks more about his […]

  2. […] the full interview visit the Monkeybicycle blog and and to read more by Ori Fienberg check out our reprint of his sequence […]