An interview with Robert Carr

My correspondences with Robert Carr are check-ins and writing retreats. With whom else have I talked couplets then switched the banter to satyrs? Because of Bob, I’ve gained a botanical lexicon—his debut chapbook’s named Amaranth—Jack-in-the-pulpit the hyphens that highlight how we converse. Bob’s collection The Heavy of Human Clouds (3: A Taos Press, 2023) is a greenhouse paneled in stained glass. To this, the poet Sean Singer adds, “[its] translucent lines … stretch like foxes into nature.” Precision? Read Bob’s poem “Sugaring,” so deciduously attuned:

            I sense the ceaseless trees,

            bark and needle in the light

            of lengthening days, the crossed

            branch where flesh is gnashed


            away by winter wind, the skin

            I’d like to reach, to touch. The flowing


            maple sap, pale plastic tubes

            conducting artery and sugar,


            bleeding in connection.

            I taste the boil, smell the wave


            of syrup in the air, open up a vein,

            shape a life in broken bark.            

Don’t let a nimbus’s lack of kilogrammage fool you. Bob’s wisdom is “like the pupil of a bowman’s eye” (“A Ten for Two Faces”).

I discovered, in silence, that my senses seemed heightened, my powers of observation, clearer.



Jon Riccio: This is our third interview over an eight-year friendship as supportive as it is substantive. Whether we’re discussing Robert Mapplethorpe courtesy of Sonora Review or getting dessert-specific in Fairy Tale Review’s Rainbow Issue, your poem “At the Hatter’s Table” instructing us to 

Serve me on a platter washed in tears,


in sweat, in any other viscous liquid.

Write my name, and yours,


on an iced pink chest,

I’m grateful for your insights and thrilled when I come across your publication notices, including a recent post of three poems in Louisiana Literature. Fan-fact: I organize poetry books by height, meaning The Unbuttoned Eye falls between James Merrill’s Selected Poems and Chase Twichell’s Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New and Selected Poems. I’ll let you know where your second collection shelves as soon as I’m done writing favorite lines on notecards given to my poetry students—

I drop beetles 

in a bowl of soapy water.

The legs of jewels 

stop moving.  (“The Shortest Season”)

and “Born iris green, // he hears his eyes go blue and everything turns winter’s will / to bend and break.” (“Part of Something Frozen”)—two excerpts destined for gift treatment. The closing of your final poem in The Unbuttoned Ey


            the trim of a gun


            metal dock 

            Silent trigger


            not so hard to push

            off after all –  (“The Boat That Takes Me”)  

This dovetails with a forecast beginning The Heavy of Human Clouds:

“Our way is divided between tree rings and marrow, only subtle changes in temperature tell us if we walk toward sunlight or a storm.”

What new introspections arose between books one and two?

Robert Carr: Thank you, Jon. I’m a little startled by the passage of time, but so grateful we’ve invested in our friendship. It’s lovely to hear that, in your library, The Unbuttoned Eye is wedged between James Merrill and Chase Twichell! Such exceptional company. Your observation about the opening passage of The Heavy of Human Clouds is very on target. I’ll explore this idea more in our interview, but the blurring of lines between nature and the human body is central to the new poems – “tree rings and marrow” indeed. 

My first book, The Unbuttoned Eye, explores queer erotic identity through the first decades of the HIV pandemic. Those poems are in recurring dialogue with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In the second book, The Heavy of Human Clouds, sensual connection shifts from the sexual body to the aging body in direct contact with nature. The poems search for answers in family origins and intimacies between aging parents. How did I get there? 

The trip between book one and two was surprising, and started in dialogue with my publisher Andrea Watson, at 3: A Taos Press. Andrea feels strongly that a second collection is a unique opportunity for a poet to demonstrate their range, to share something new. She embraced the poems in The Heavy of Human Clouds but… made it very clear we had work to do. Andrea asked several critical questions: What is the center of this new collection? How are these poems distinct from the first book? Is your message, and your growth, clearly demonstrated to the reader? 

With this feedback in mind, I discovered the early draft of the second book contained “spillover” poems from The Unbuttoned Eye. My exploration of the queer erotic didn’t stop with publication of the first book, and several of these poems were in the early manuscript of The Heavy of Human Clouds. Not without a few expletives, I cut them. Once I checked my ego (a few of the queer erotic poems were well-published), the second book started to speak to me in its own voice. I went deeper with new poems for the manuscript. Specifically, once I fully committed to locating my body in nature (rather than with another man), the transition between my first and second book became clear. 

JR: We enter your six-sectioned poem “Banished from Flowers” “Contained by pestilence,” exiting amid “buzz killers” that “haunt in my containment.” Sequestration had the pandemic spotlight, a number of 2020-21 months where I was poetry-abbey and curbside food. Stanzas elevated to missalettes made isolation a doable syllable. Such reminiscences are why I appreciate section five all the more: “Under an outdoor shower, no one near, it’s kind of sexy when my fingers slide through unprotected knuckle. I’ve made peace with swelling. My rings, only removed when soaped.” How else does The Heavy of Human Clouds comment on intimacy parceled to nature?

 RC: “Banished from Flowers” uses prompts from an article in The New Yorker by Robert P. Baird, “What It Means to Contain and Mitigate the Coronavirus.” The article sets out steps to end the COVID-19 pandemic. In the surreal isolation of my central Maine home, I crafted my own set of responses to these recommendations. I discovered, in silence, that my senses seemed heightened, my powers of observation, clearer. In this pandemic environment, slow, deliberate, reevaluation of the body in connection to nature inspired many of the poems in The Heavy of Human Clouds

Does anything of value emerge from a global pandemic? Is there something worth embracing? Jon, you know that before turning to full-time writing, I spent 34 years as a public health infectious disease professional. I grapple with these questions and have concluded the answer is, yes. 

In recent years, my life seems bracketed by two great pandemics – AIDS and COVID-19. Beyond the horrors, I think there has been some change for the good. AIDS forced acknowledgement of the legitimacy of queer relationships. I don’t believe gay marriage would be a reality if the AIDS pandemic had not occurred. The COVID-19 experience is still quite new, but I think the experience of separation and silence will leave us with new insights.   

JR: Oh, the Carrian architecture in “Releasing the Swallow” (“steeples on the bird / church my husband painted.”) and “My Choosing” (“My husband built this / plastic-wrapped house, // vinyl mimicking a time when board / and batten required nail”), the latter’s “collection of glass eyes” preparing for “a culture / of collapsing tomatoes.” Then, there’s the précis for lovers that closes “Reminded of What I’ve Forgotten:” “Even my body will smell different if you go.” What balances do you consider when writing about your spouse? 

RC: For me, this question recalls the 2013 Sharon Olds interview in The Guardian regarding her collection, Stag’s Leap, a recounting of her journey through the end of a marriage. As reported in the article, “She is a poet who has always written about her life and never stalled at writing about its most intimate details but when, at 55, her marriage ended, she told her grown-up children she would not publish anything about the divorce for 10 years. It was ‘bad enough for them having a family poet in the house’ (a charming phrase, as if a poet were an inconvenient pet) without stealing time they needed to adjust to a crisis that affected them too.”

How does one fully engage the imagination while, at the same time, respecting the boundaries of intimate relationships? In just a few weeks, Stephen and I will celebrate 35 years together and we’re still negotiating what it means, in Sharon Olds’s words, “having a family poet in the house.” 

Jon, you’ve made an interesting selection of poems that include references to spouse, and my experience of “husband” in these poems varies considerably. “Reminded of What I’ve Forgotten” is a highly narrative recounting of a walk with our dog, and the dynamics of our marriage. Stephen is very present in this poem. In contrast, “Releasing the Swallow” and “My Choosing” are musings on isolation and the illusion of human control in the context of nature. While “husband” appears as a descriptive reference, a grounding force, my Stephen, the man I live my life with day to day, is not a presence in the poems. 

Writing is a practice, and in this practice I have nothing to lose. I write every day. I read the work of poets I admire every day. I’m not afraid. If a draft poem frightens me, I assume I must be onto something important.

JR: A collection I’ve consistently taught from is Michael McGriff’s Eternal Sentences (University of Arkansas Press, 2021), its constraint being one sentence per line. At most, the book’s poems are a page in length, often considerably less. In his preface to the book, Billy Collins describes these poems as “a box of sentences.” I distill McGriff’s work into formulas highlighting the importance of observation, statement, and conclusion, as with

Mikey’s in Jail

They caught him on camera.
They showed it on TV.
He shouldered in the door at Gas Qwik.
He took a package of diapers.
He took a log of Kodiak.
He emptied his pockets.
He left what he had on the counter.
As he ran through the store a freezer door opened.
Small handprints flared up on the glass.
The camera doesn’t lie the State will say.
Mikey will say it sure as hell don’t.


Title: Sets our expectations.
Sentence 1: Statement.
Sentence 2: Statement related to sentence one.
Sentence 3: Statement with interesting verb and store name.
Sentence 4: Statement / Theft #1.
Sentence 5: Statement / Theft #2. Product name.
Sentence 6: Statement of image.
Sentence 7: Statement related to sentence six.
Sentence 8: Statement of image.
Sentence 9: Image related to object in sentence eight.
Sentence 10: Statement in cliché legalese.
Sentence 11: Perpetrator’s agreement in vernacular.

Other McGriff end-sentences include “Soon I’ll go through a dead man’s pockets for the first time.” (“The Last Poem about the Moon”), “Wind against the house lying through its teeth.” (“Tonight I Am”), and “I’m a fiction that exists between a horse and a stand of white pines.” (“Ontological Tire Shop”). A few of your poems whose last sentences I starred tonally McGriff include “Corpse Mistaken for a Stone” (“Desire for touch is numb.”) and “Haint Blue” (“Underwater eyes / in woodgrain haunt me.”).

Revisiting The Unbuttoned Eye, I’m drawn to the how the details of “Less Light” reside in their sentences like patrons in opera balconies—


            Planting a mountain laurel, I strike a root

            the thickness of a wrist. Bones in my hand

            buck against the splintered handle of a shovel.


            A tingle watering heartwood, thick cord of spine

            dropped into a hole. A tiny shoot climbs out

            of my throat, reaches for the light beyond teeth.


            There is winter in the angle of the sunset.  

Did you approach the relationship between observation and statement differently in The Heavy of Human Clouds?

RC: The Heavy of Human Clouds is rooted in the central Maine landscape. I had to learn to listen in a different way, and this process had a significant impact on my experience of observation and statement in the poems. When writing the book, declarative statements, which you’re describing as tonally McGriff, often arrived through the language of the land. I hope this doesn’t sound too spooky, but I had several experiences where a sentence arrived on the page from somewhere unknown. I could call it the wind, or one of my dead, or God, but whatever that voice is, I don’t experience it as mine. 

Jon, I’m so glad you found “Less Light” in this discussion of both collections. This is a poem that started when I was walking in Maine and one of those voices announced the final line, “There is winter in the angle of the sunset.” “Less Light” is also a poem that pointed the way toward The Heavy of Human Clouds. In fact, in our editing process, I considered asking Andrea Watson if we should include this poem in the new book. 

One poem appears in all three of my collections. “Treading on Magnolias.” In the context of our discussion, I went back to consider this decision and found a tonally McGriff statement right in the middle of the poem: “Almost to a bird, they fell to earth / and died of fear.” I think I’m beginning to understand why this poem has followed me through three collections. It’s one of my first poems that merges nature and flesh. One of my first poems to consider death, through nature, as transformation. These ideas are at the center of my work. 

Treading On Magnolias

The white meat of magnolia blossom

was long on the hook since spring

insisted an unusual cool.

Then, a sun scorched crow

landed in branches

and clutched the pink parrots.

Almost to a bird, they fell to earth

and died of fear. Blush gray wings

silent, folded on a walkway.

Some fell fresh, roseate

children on a pyre. Others

gasped, the brown inhale of lung.

A walk, through fallen flowers

leaves foot-sign rot. Treads of boot

stamp – a lifeless burst of feather.

JR: Passages about lawn mowing feature in higher-stakes Cloud moments. Whether it’s interacting with “Grass, that beaten child, / [looking] upward into blue” (“Unanswered Prayers”), “[keeping] pace / through decapitated violets / as the living leap away” (“I’ve Finished Everything”), or your father who trims the yard while your mother’s “Floating on hypnotics” (“Morphine and Cut Grass”), blade constancy is more interlude than task. “Morphine and Cut Grass” resumes after “she felt her world narrow / to dandelion.” She muses on the smell of cut grass, “softly [casts] off / her bone chamber.” This schematic maps onto my understanding of mower parts: starter cord, air filter, and deck, among them. At what point in your writing trajectory did safety’s shut-off lever opt for obsoletion?

RC: This question makes me laugh because I’ve edited these poems with a brilliant poet, Lise Goett, and I remember one of her track-change comments: “The Carr men seem to do a lot of mowing!” 

My writing mower arrived late and is missing a few parts, including the safety shut-off. My first published poem arrived at age 56 and, though I’ve been blessed with some exceptional mentors, I have no formal academic training. Writing is a practice, and in this practice I have nothing to lose. I write every day. I read the work of poets I admire every day. I’m not afraid. If a draft poem frightens me, I assume I must be onto something important.   

At 64, time seems short and there is no time for safety in my writing. At the outset of my trajectory, poetry became the vehicle for understanding the extremes of queer male sexuality in the framework of the AIDS pandemic. I came to realize that, for 30 years as a public health professional, AIDS had derailed my exploration of imaginative writing. 

In my first book, The Unbuttoned Eye, I deliberately engaged in dialogue with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, his images from the BDSM community, his death from HIV disease in 1989. In the first collection I included a series of nude photos—my body as an artist’s model at the nadir of the AIDS pandemic. Some poets questioned this decision in terms of my emerging identity as a writer, but I knew those images were part of the dissection of my experience. No shut-off levers. 

With The Heavy of Human Clouds, I initially thought I was creating a simpler, quieter collection of poems, poems that placed me in the presence of nature, poems that revisited intimacy in my family of origin. I was wrong. As the manuscript developed, I found my assumptions about voices in the forest were misplaced and, if I developed the skills to listen—the trees howl, they are not whispering. I discovered that by exploring the intimacy between my parents I was touching something tender, and brutal, in myself. 

I had several experiences where a sentence arrived on the page from somewhere unknown. I could call it the wind, or one of my dead, or God, but whatever that voice is, I don’t experience it as mine.

JR: Having wrapped an ecocriticism-intense semester (bravo, student who taught me concepts of the Chthulucene), my antennae are especially pinging off the tercets in “Weeping Eye of Paper Birch”—

            Beside my drive,

            mushroom flesh weaves

            the eyes of cut birch


            branches. Pupils,

            bloody as birthmarks,

            squirrel scarred retinas.


            Over the largest peepers,

            green shield lichens

            tend to open wounds,


            swampy roots where tears are

            slow to dry.

            Knotted, mottle-skinned,


            the tree stares back in blight.

            I can’t hold that gaze.

            Reddened mushroom,


            so shy. I rest on layered needles,

            caress the open

            light of a cut branch,


            say farewell to scratches.

            A wisp of skin peels

            away and joins the pollen.

That line 10-11 break is why I love enjambment, stanza six’s caressed branch beams recommitting 

me to the verb’s role in imagery. “We have come to an understanding of ecopoetics as both a radicalized body of knowledge concerning how things appear to mind and how the human is located within this appearance,” Nasrullah Mambrol writes at That we have a weeping eye in your poem’s title enriches Mambrol’s statement. Are human-ecosystem partnerings easier for you to write than human-human?  

RC: One of the lessons I’m learning about ecopoetics is that if I maintain distance from the natural world, human-ecosystem partnerings, as you describe them, the poems come easily. And the poems are not very good. If, however, I find that inner voice, the voice that speaks from an unknown location in declarative statements, then, the poems touch something beyond human-human communication, something worth exploring.

I’d like to share the origins of my poem “Weeping Eye of Paper Birch.” 

In August of 2020, at the height of the new pandemic, I registered for an online course through the North Carolina Arboretum: “A Kingdom of Green: Finding a Poetry of Plants & Trees.” The course was led by my friend and mentor, Nickole Brown. Nickole was meticulous in guiding us into dialogue with trees. I chose a tree in the corner of our yard, an American Paper Birch. I spent an hour, or hours, each day, communing with that tree. I photographed it, listened, examined details with a magnifying loop, drew leaves in a notebook. I researched, researched, researched and came to know that tree in the language of science. Finally, I attempted to hear in the language of the tree. This exercise resulted in “Weeping Eye of Paper Birch.”

As for human-human partnerings, we’ve talked a bit about poems that include my husband. Stephen and I have a history and understanding of each other that allows me to write man-man love poems. I also write many queer erotic poems, separate from my husband. 

Jon, you opened our interview mentioning “At the Hatter’s Table” which appeared in Fairy Tale Review. “Serve me on a platter washed in tears, / in sweat, in any other viscous liquid.” In all honesty, writing human-human erotic partnerings comes easily because they are often written from a position of dissociation. This experience of writing outside of myself seems to be rooted in early sexual experiences and the necessity, in my youth, to distance myself from the threat of HIV infection. The elements of this reality will be a lifelong exploration. 

JR: Another poem whose spell I’ve fallen under is “Restoration”—

            On the floor of the pantry

            beside cans of cranberries

            and creamed corn, I sweep

            a pepper of droppings,

            arrange them in the letters

            of my made-up name.


            In mouse-pellet calligraphy,

            I spell, was here, build a castle

            of vegetables, a moat of lentils,

            a world in naptime, nuzzling

            a stuffed animal.


            My father, in the beehive oven,

            is pulling bricks. He holds them

            like heads of infants,

            calls work Restoration.


            Crumbled plaster, scrubbed 

            from his walk-in fireplace, the ash

            that lines his beehive.


            He carves and replaces

            the dentil molding of his mantel,

            carefully shaves each cherrywood

            tooth with a chisel.


            The beehive never bakes a loaf.

            Our house is filled

            with hammered iron, cooking

            tools of dead people hung on wrought

            iron hooks along the crane. 

Kitchen settings are a ten on difficulty’s scale, the clichés (poetry’s sieve holes) into which they might plummet. Both your poem and Laura Kasischke’s “The Cause of All My Suffering” balance surprise and the obvious. Her beginning lines—

My neighbor keeps a box of baby pigs
all winter in her kitchen. They are


motherless, always sleeping, sleepy
creatures of blood & fog, a vapor


of them wraps my house
in gauze, and the windows mist up


with their warm breath, their moist snores. They
watch her peel potatoes, boil


water from the floor, wearing
a steamy gown.

—nuance the expected heat, as does your “beehive oven.” Bricks “like heads of infants” give us a cradling father, his Restoration hinting painterly. The scene of his injury, which shapes a significant portion of your book, is also kitchen-based: “My sister found him / in front of the fridge” (“Driving to New Hampshire After Father Falls”). Along your hospital route

            A whitetail doe has kissed

            a 14-wheeler. Transformed

            onto butcher block,


            she is a raw canvas.

Was The Heavy of Human Clouds a book about parental interiority—room-to-room with some exceptions, such as the father’s lawn—contrasted with your speaker’s natural-world inclinations from the outset, or did these themes take shape during the assembly process?

RC: The Heavy of Human Clouds is organized in three sections. The second section presents a series of poems that trace the late-life history of my mother and father. When thinking about my response to the idea of parental interiority, I went back to the collection and tagged poems set outdoors and poems in the setting of room-to-room. Thank you again Jon, for your close read. I was startled to find that with three exceptions the entire second section of the book, including the introductory prose poem paragraph, is a series of interior settings. Almost without exception, sections one and three are set outdoors in the natural world. 

Andrea Watson at 3: A Taos Press and I spent several months attending to the book’s assembly process, and central themes became clear early on. Section one: the speaker’s experience of direct connection to the landscape in central Maine, a series of observations that dismantle and merge the body and nature. Section two: the speaker explores his relationship to mother and father toward the end of their lives. Observations of nature through childhood interiors. Section three: A return to the Maine landscape, but this time focused on impending endings. The deterioration of the speaker’s body and the destruction of the planet.  

In the editing process, we analyzed the sequence of poems by section. At one point Andrea asked me to tack the manuscript to a wall and label each poem by season. Her observation was that, particularly within sections of a manuscript, if the images in a poem jump across seasons, winter to summer and back to winter, for example, the reader can be pulled away from underlying narratives. This exercise proved more valuable than I expected, particularly for poems set in the home where season is not always readily apparent. 

I appreciate your comment about balancing surprise and the obvious in domestic settings. I’ll credit my dad for that, his obsession with restoration of 18th and 19th century homes. As we moved, approximately every seven years, from one beautiful wreck of a home to another, I was able to observe and learn the structure and history of New England homes. Walk-in fireplaces with beehive ovens, wrought iron cooking cranes, hand hewn beams—I appreciate the way these images find their way into my poems. 

JR: My annotation for “The Importance of Witness” is Bob’s ars enviro

            I’ve learned there’s nothing simple

            about truth or the size of eagles,

            lies that ride an icy wind, or the length

            of winter fish pulled from a lake.


            I’ve learned I’m a phony, at best,

            a storyteller when it comes to

            what you think I am.

            I’ve learned that in a life, perhaps,


            the only goal – while walking on a lake,

            reciting your book of poems, while filling

            water buckets in a coop – is to let

            someone in, who looks you in the face,


            smiles at the oh-so-subtle changes in lines

            around your mouth, and says – 


            Simply not true, that’s simply not true.

Is whole cloth the new reassurance?

RC: “The Importance of Witness” opens section three of The Heavy of Human Clouds, the section I’ve described as focusing on the Maine landscape and impending endings. 

Yes, there is reassurance in realities made of whole cloth. In this poem I’m trying to challenge my own, constructed, worldview. In part, the “someone” in this poem is my husband, Stephen, insisting that regardless of the language in my poetry—the couch I write about is blue, not red. There is also a broader “someone” addressed in this poem, a plea to be seen for my creative lies and my truth telling.   

My grandmother was fond of the Mark Twain quote “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” I summon her larger-than-life presence and flair for the dramatic when at my desk. I experience writing as a search for broad truths, calling on the imagination to prepare you for the possible. I’ve written poems about divorce and have never been divorced, poems about living with cancer and I have never had cancer. At readings, audience members have said, “That must have been so painful.” I reply, “Thank you,” but want to say “I’m so glad you like the poem. It never happened.”

My life seems bracketed by two great pandemics – AIDS and COVID-19. Beyond the horrors, I think there has been some change for the good. AIDS forced acknowledgement of the legitimacy of queer relationships. I don’t believe gay marriage would be a reality if the AIDS pandemic had not occurred. The COVID-19 experience is still quite new, but I think the experience of separation and silence will leave us with new insights.

JR: During a 2023 reading with the organization 1-Week Critique, you referenced your poem “Words in Body and Stone.” Its simile “Earth hemorrhages like a September” is month mojo. These sentences—“I’ve never kept a secret, even Mom’s. Heirlooms planted, I let the legends rot in light. I have spotless agates in my barn.”—brought out my wanna-knows. I traveled the Tiny Rituals blog, discovering that agate is “The Gemstone of Inward Journeys.” Later, I misread text at as “The mineral Age” instead of “The mineral Agate.” If The Heavy of Human Clouds is testament to your Mineral-Age poetry, what’s next?

RC: In our conversation at 1-Week Critique, I was commenting on the experience of not fully understanding what an image means, or why it’s in the poem. The image insists on remaining, although it may take years for me to understand it. In this poem, we have a statement from who knows where? “I have spotless agates in my barn.” What barn? And what are those agates? Your analysis of agates is fascinating, and not information I was aware of! “The Gemstone of Inward Journeys.” This is a wonderful example of the reader revealing to the poet what they were talking about. I think that’s something magical. 

Jon, as we approach the end of our interview, I want you to know that this is the kind of inquiry that I so value in our friendship. Whether, as in your case, poetry is a vehicle to unpack the realities of mental illness or, in my case, to unpack the consequences of multigenerational shame—there’s no holding back in this work. Your “wanna-knows” are important. So here we go—

To write “Words in Body and Stone,” I had to give myself permission to be rootless. I knew exactly what was driving it—secrets. A history of multigenerational shame regarding legitimacy, sexuality, and identity on the maternal side of my family. My exploration of this legacy is an inward journey I’ve just begun. Rather than a testament to my Mineral-Age poetry, I’m experiencing The Heavy of Human Clouds as a newly constructed mine. Shafts, escape routes, lode deposits that lead me to the next collection. 

I’m excited to share that Blue Memento, my fourth book of poems, will be published by Lily Poetry Review Press. This chapbook-length collection explores my complex relationship with my maternal grandmother, a woman who idolized everything male and, though often unstated, diminished everything female. The poems are written in the voice of a child, an only grandson. The chapbook is a next step and a beginning. There is so much more to write. 

JR: Thank you for your time and generosity, Bob. Remember your earlier-mentioned shelf-mates? Merrill’s book ends on “The laughter of old friends” (“Days of 1994”). The ultimate line of Twichell’s “Zazen and Opium” is “rain-shining their way to the water.” Essence of our interview much? How did I not know you were an actor with the Children’s Theater of Maine? What roles did you play? Are there any thespian warmups that get you into generative/revisionary mindsets?

RC: Ah! What a wonderful way to bring this conversation full circle. After graduating from Bates College in 1982, a moment before the devastation of AIDS arrived in rural communities, I set out on a well-known creative path—actor, waiter, model

As an actor with Children’s Theater of Maine, I loaded a van with sets and costumes and drove to perform at public schools between the Piscataqua River and the Canadian border. I’m afraid it’s a bit predictable, but I have a lovely 1983 review in The Portland Press Herald for my portrayal of Prince Charming in Cinderella. 

As a waiter, I was a disaster. Enough said. 

As a nude model, I earned $50 bucks a class at the Maine College of Art and connected with local visual artists. That’s where I met Max Mellenthin, the photographer and artist who shot the nudes in my first book, The Unbuttoned Eye. 

I haven’t thought of it in these terms, but perhaps my insistence on reading drafts aloud, focusing 

on breath, is a thespian warmup. I’m very aware of silences in poems, those pauses that allow the reader to insert their own experience. 

Jon, thanks to your insightful consideration I’ve realized that both of my full-length collections end at the exact same location, a dock on Annabessacook Lake here in Monmouth, Maine. “Silent trigger / not so hard to push / off after all –” (“The Boat That Takes Me”). “I’m on my back, float / beside a fall flared leaf, / legs wide, / drifting North.” (“I Contemplate a Passing Sky”). Thank you, Jon, for your poems, your courage, and your work. I look forward to joining you again, as we drift North.   


Robert Carr is a Pushcart- and Best of the Net-nominated poet whose work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Cortland Review, Crab Orchard Review, Lana Turner, Maine Review, Massachusetts Review, Rattle, Shenandoah, Tar River Poetry, and other publications. He is a 2022 Monson Arts resident; co-editor for the 2019 Ghana Literary Group anthology, Bodies and Scars; and a member of Writing the Land, an initiative pairing poets and land trusts in order to promote preservation. Carr’s collections include The Unbuttoned Eye (2019) and The Heavy of Human Clouds (2023), both with 3: A Taos Press, in addition to the chapbook Amaranth (Indolent Books, 2016).   

Jon Riccio teaches literature and creative writing at Western Michigan University and the University of West Alabama. His chapbook The Orchid in Lieu of a Horse is forthcoming from Seven Kitchens Press.