Behind the Words: Jacob Collins-Wilson

Posted by on Dec 20, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Jacob Collins-Wilson

The oil rig as aphid. The diver’s child learning to dive. Jacob Collins-Wilson’s poem “On the Gulf in Alabama” is a two-part study of what stands, static, off shore, and what plumbs the depths, ever moving. 

Kelly Samuels: Tell me about the chosen structure, specifically the two parts. When did you decide to do that? How did it come about?

Jacob Collins-Wilson: the two parts came about simply from time. i wrote the first part either during or right after i took a trip with my dad and his two brothers to visit my great uncle who lives on an inlet of the gulf. i love stars and the oil rigs are these false stars at night that i don’t like, but they also didn’t ask to be, so the first part of the poem is wondering what they want, but, like most poetry, is probably more about what i want/don’t want. and so the poem stayed one part for a while, about six months, but stayed in mind b/c i love the gulf and the warm water (i’m from the pacific northwest) and then i remember someone posted a video on youtube of joanna newsom debuting her song divers, which i think was called the diver’s wife at the time, and i was blown away by it and it felt so close to what i was writing about, so i revisited the poem inspired by her song (music is a big part of my life, though mostly hardcore/metal, but her creativity always makes me feel more creative).

How conscious were you of the connections/conversation between the two parts—the divers, the aphid imagery? Was that initial or was it developed in revision?

not much, at all. hadn’t thought about that until you mentioned it. i viewed the aphid as much more visually, of their legs to body ratio, which is true of a lot of insects, but the word aphid is solid so i went that way. the sucking or taking from another source similarity hadn’t occurred to me. the connection that i had initially was that both the oil rigs and the child diver are not in control of their actions/dreams/realities, they’re both forced into a life. but your point, i think, is true and interesting. 

The contrast between humans and structures/machines is evident in how stationary the rig is versus the mobility of the divers and their children. The speaker seems to have admiration for the divers—what they are capable of—while also pointing out what the rigs cannot do, and yet there is the comparison of the rigs to something of the natural world (aphids) and their personification, including the last two lines of Part I. Is the reader to take away any respect for the rig? Did you feel any in composing the poem? 

i feel respect for the engineering, the working, the time and energy and attention spent on oil rigs, in conception, design, execution, extraction, but also disappointment for oil rigs as a fact. i feel that with anything altered by something external, which is everything, really. for the rigs: they serve our purposes, and there’s disappointment in the lack of control inanimate and subjugated animates have. but my feelings come much more from a privilege of loving stars and infinite, dark seas which oil rigs pollute. every time i go to the gulf, i see more rigs. but i’m just as disappointed in my own hand in making them necessary. lastly, i feel the same about the capable divers in the second part as the oil rigs in the first, as i said before. both are subjugated.

How much research was involved in writing this poem?

zero. i’m not a big researcher for writing. i love learning, but have only deliberately researched something for a poem/story once or twice. i don’t mind being wrong because i’m just having fun writing. 

What poets would you say have influenced your writing? In what ways?

larry levis was the first poet who blew me away, his book winter stars is great, and his next three books, including the posthumous release, are great too. his work influences me to write beyond an action or surface, to write about infinite and intangible things. carolyn forche is from another planet and all her books seem impossible to me. her work influences me to write about anything but myself, and to see purpose and love in others perspective, or evil and darkness, depending.

This poem was published in Issue 4. What have you been working on since?

well, i had to look up this poem to see when i wrote it, which was 2013-2014, so: a lot. i wrote a manuscript for my mfa, a manuscript of only baseball/family poems, a manuscript of a single epic poem, and i’ve written two novel manuscripts. recently i’ve been writing flash stories and non-fiction and some short stories which is a form i’ve never liked or written until last year. right now, i’m working on a couple sci-fi pieces, a genre i’ve always loved but never written until now.

thanks for spending time with the poem, and for your insights and questions.

Kelly R. Samuels is the author of the full-length collection All the Time in the World (Kelsay Books, 2021) and two chapbooks: Words Some of Us Rarely Use and Zeena/Zenobia Speaks. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee with work recently appearing in The Massachusetts Review, Random Sample, and The Tusculum Review. She lives in the Upper Midwest.