“Frankly, I’m Not Doing Well” By Daniel Crocker

 

Frankly, I’m Not Doing Well

By Daniel Crocker

 

    A week ago, a little after 3am,  I stood up from my laptop, pulled off my robe, took off my shirt, grabbed the scissors that had been calling to me from my desk for weeks, and  I cut my upper left arm exactly twenty times. It was the first time I’d cut in years, and as far as self-harm goes, it wasn’t so bad. In my early twenties,  I would cut myself over 100 times—arms, legs, torso. This time I got away with twenty. Not my best work by any means. Nothing that would leave a scar. Not really.

    A week ago, cutting was an orgasm. The keen edge of a blade brought me back to the here and now. It’s private. That’s why I cut in places no one can see—until they do.

   Early in our marriage, Margaret found my stash of bloody paper towels.

   What is this? She wanted to know.  What could I say? I rolled up my sleeves and showed her. She cried, and I didn’t cut again for years.

    A week ago, I told Margaret that I thought I needed to go to the hospital. I was shaking and on the verge of tears. I’m not much of a crier. It got her attention. I was standing in my bathrobe and Pikachu hat that tends to reduce my anxiety by a minuscule amount.

    I think I need to go to the hospital, I said. Margaret stood there a moment, taking me in. Thinking.

    All they’ll do, she said, is keep you full of drugs for three days and let you out. She had a point.

    Maybe you start back on your meds and call your shrink on Monday.

    Okay, I said. Later that night, I went through rapid, severe mood swings—mania, rage, euphoria, depression and back again. That night, I cut myself twenty times on my upper left arm. Continue reading

“Betty Doesn’t Know Who She Loves More” By Daniel Crocker

 

Betty Doesn’t Know Who She Loves More

Bruce is the sensitive type
a little nervous but
It’s nice when someone
really listens

Honestly, most of the time
she probably prefers him
Hulk tries, but his thoughts get
muddled. They go from rage
to depression and back again

But Bruce can be a little boring
at times with his talk of
quantum physics, cures and
medication

Hulk has something
and it’s not just the ripped
abs and cantaloupe biceps

Hulk once
knocked a man through
a wall for her

The man died

That says something, doesn’t it
That he would end everything
a man could possibly be so easily
wipe out a billion timelines

and maybe she just couldn’t
love one without the other

Both Bruce and Hulk
know their place
Neither are very happy with it
but it is what it is

and she knows something
they don’t. She knows they are in
love with each other. She couldn’t
force them to part. No, she’ll have both.
Thanks.

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This poem appears in Daniel Crocker’s book Gamma Rays. For more information, check out this interview between our Managing Editor Chase Dimock and Daniel Crocker about his collection of Hulk inspired poetry.

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About the Author: Daniel Crocker’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Hobart, Big Muddy, New World Writing, Stirring, Juked, The Chiron Review, The Mas Tequila Review and over 100 others. His books include Like a Fish (full length) and The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood (e-chap with thousands of downloads) both from Sundress Publications. Green Bean Press published several of his books in the ’90s and early 2000s. These include People Everyday and Other Poems, Long Live the 2 of Spadesthe novel The Cornstalk Man and the short story collection Do Not Look Directly Into Me. He has also published several chapbooks through various presses. His newest full length collection of poetry, Shit House Rat, was published by Spartan Press in September of 2017. Stubborn Mule Press published Leadwood: New and Selected Poems—1998-2018 in October 2018. He was the first winner of the Gerald Locklin Prize in poetry. He is the editor of The Cape Rock (Southeast Missouri State University) and the co-editor of Trailer Park Quarterly. He’s also the host of the podcast, Sanesplaining, about poetry, mental illness and nerd stuff.

Leadwood: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

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Leadwood: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

 

In Leadwood, Daniel Crocker surveys twenty years of his work as a poet. Ranging from the metaphysical significance of the McRib to courageous deep dives into bipolar disorder, Crocker’s book is more than a collection of poems; it’s a chronicle of a poet’s maturation and a man’s coming to terms with his upbringing and identity.

Leadwood is the Daniel Crocker origin story. He was born among the long closed lead mines and chat dumps that littered his rural Missouri hometown. He confronts poverty, bigotry, and religious zealotry along with personal tragedies that shaped him as man and a writer. As a middle aged poet, Crocker depicts the lingering effects of Leadwood, balancing nostalgia and care for his home with trauma. In his newest poems, he gives us stirring insight into his relationship with bipolar disorder.

No matter his age, his work has always been confessional and brave. Crocker is a rural Anne Sexton, a Sylvia Plath raised on Sesame Street and WWE wrestling, a John Berryman in the Wal-Mart aisles, a Robert Lowell with a smirk and morbid punchlines.

 

Chase Dimock: Although this is a collection of your work from the past two decades, you decided to give the book a title: Leadwood. Once the reader hits the first poem “Where We Come From,” they will learn that Leadwood is the name of your small hometown. Why did you decide that this one word would be descriptive of two decades worth of your work? What does understanding Leadwood as a town achieve toward understanding Daniel Crocker as a poet?

Daniel Crocker: This kind of dates back to my very first full length book, People Everyday and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), which I dedicated to  Leadwood. Later, me and my wife, Margaret, would do a chapbook together called “My Favorite Hell.” It was put out by Alpha Beat Press. We used the Leadwood population sign as our cover art. So, I guess Leadwood has had a hold on me from the beginning.

Like you said, it’s my hometown. I think most of us are shaped by where we grew up–for better or worse. Most of my formative experiences happened there, and I’ve written a lot about them.  And, I certainly have love/hate relationship with Leadwood. I have many great childhood memories, but also worries about lead poisoning and the ecological disaster that my home town is. Mostly, however, I wanted to make sure that the voices of my small town, and by extension other small towns, aren’t lost. There are small towns all over the country that have been ravaged and left behind by corporations–whether it’s Leadwood, which was founded by a lead mining company who later up and left the town with huge piles of chat (lead and dust) that were as big as football stadiums. The cancer rate there is extremely high. The soil has been tested there was found to be 10,000 more times the lead in the soil that is considered safe. Continue reading

Mania Makes Me A Better Poet

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Mania Makes Me A Better Poet

By Daniel Crocker

 

I paced up and down the front porch on a rare, cool Missouri night.

“The government wants me to take pills,” I told my wife. She asked why, but I didn’t have an answer. Part of me knew it wasn’t true. Part of me wasn’t convinced. My thoughts shifted rapidly.

“Do you ever wonder about that guy from the Oak Ridge Boys? You know, the one with the big beard?”  I had also suddenly become obsessed by William Lee Golden. I was worried about him.

“Do you think he feels trapped? Like, he wishes he could shave off that scraggly damned beard and be free of if.”

 I wondered if he’d ever regretted growing that beard, probably sometime in his early twenties, and regretted it.

“He has to think his fans just won’t get the real Oak Ridge Boys experience without it? And what about John Berryman? Did he have the same problem? Is that why he jumped off that bridge?”

This was just a few days before I broke down, went to a clinic, and got help for bipolar 1 disorder. The symptoms had been ramping up for months—compulsive intrusive thoughts and rituals—I’m going to kill myself tomorrow was a favorite of mine, running on a loop in my mind.  I was trucking along on little to no sleep or food. My speech was pressured.  The mania had started out fun. I was creative. I felt unstoppable. I had the energy to do some work.  In the end it always gets scary. It devolves into anxiety, paranoia and the occasional mild delusion.  In the end, however, I got a hell of a poem about William Lee Golden out of it.

The truth is, mania makes me a better poet, although it’s taboo to say so. Not among other bipolar people. We’ll readily admit to each other that we love parts of our mania. We usually just don’t tell the sane people in our lives. They look at us shocked, or sad, or worse. Sometimes they look at us with anger. Our loved ones have seen the wake of destruction left behind by mania. I’ve hurt plenty of people myself while manic, including my significant other. I swear by my medications now. They keep me stable, if not fully content. Sometimes something is missing.

Unless you’ve been through it, you just can’t understand how mania feels. It’s like being on speed and booze at the same time—except better. Your mind, at least for a while, is laser-focused. You actually have the desire and energy to want to create—or do whatever it is that you do. Depression, on the other hand, is a creativity killer. It can be hard to get out of bed, much less write a poem. Mania, when it hits just right, calls for hours of steady work. Continue reading

The Incredible Bipolar Hulk: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

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The Incredible Bipolar Hulk:

A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

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The genius of The Incredible Hulk is that everyone can identify with him. All people have a reservoir of anger inside them, and we all know the painful discipline of managing anger, lest it erupt into senseless rage. The Hulk Smash is the fantasy of acting on our anger with a violent ferocity that mirrors the inner, emotional experience of pain.

In his latest chapbook, Gamma Rays, Daniel Crocker identifies with the Hulk as a metaphor for the experience of bipolar disorder. As It Ought To Be debuted Crocker’s Hulk poem “The Incredible Hulk Tries to Write a Poem” last January. For Crocker, the Hulk is more than just a momentary outburst; he is an enduring persona who embodies the manic energy of bipolar disorder. Crocker’s poems humanize the Hulk, and in turn, provide insight into the mind of the bipolar person as they navigate the impulses within them. I had a chance to ask Crocker about the Hulk and how he personifies the bipolar experience in his poetry.

 

Chase Dimock:  The first question on anyone’s mind when they first look at your cover is going to be “Why the Hulk?” In the past, you’ve written poems in which you take on the personas of Cookie Monster, Skeletor, and George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life among others. What is it about the Hulk that made him worthy of an entire collection of poetry? What does taking on his persona uniquely achieve among your pantheon of pop culture icons?

 

Daniel Crocker: The simple answer is, I love the Hulk. I wrote one Hulk poem, the one where he goes shopping after taking klonopin, and then I couldn’t stop for awhile. I was filtering everything through the Hulk. I originally thought I might end up with a full length, but after about 20 poems I realized I was kind of done with the story I wanted to tell. But, he’s a great metaphor. Any negative aspect of your personality, especially those that center around losing control, that’s basically the Hulk. He’s the things you bury deep. In a lot of ways this books is about coming to terms with that.

So I used it as a metaphor for my bipolar disorder because you never know when you’re going to have another episode. You just try to keep them at bay with medication. Then I started thinking about what it means to navigate love and a relationship when you have this hanging over your head–when you’re not always sure you’re going to wake up okay. Unlike Shit House Rat, however, this is more about coming to terms with it. It is, I think, a happy book with a happy ending.

 

Chase Dimock: The Hulk has been incarnated as a comic, a cartoon, a TV show, and several movies. I know the TV show version of the Hulk the best because I grew up watching reruns. In that version, he’s somewhat of a loner who tries to manage his rage alone and channel it toward productive ways to help the people he runs into. The show always ends with “The Lonely Man Theme.” It seems like your Hulk is more like the Hulk from the comics, which places him in a romantic relationship with Betty. Why was it important to focus so many of your poems on the Hulk in a relationship?

 

Daniel Crocker: In the end, it’s a book about navigating a relationship while having a mental illness. In my favorite runs of the Hulk, Bruce was always afraid of his anger coming out. He would do anything to keep the Hulk away–even though it’s a part of him. He was so obsessed with finding a cure that his relationship with Betty would be strained. When I was diagnosed with bipolar, I read up everything I could on it. So, I understand that level of obsession. I also, of course, worry that my symptoms could come back at any time—even while on medication.  So, I hope it shows the impact of bipolar disorder on one’s immediate family as well as just the person who has it. In the end, though, it’s just coming to terms with the monster inside of you–whatever that may be.

Continue reading

It Ain’t No Lie, Baby

“The Bi Mind” digital collage by Chase Dimock

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It Ain’t No Lie, Baby

By Daniel Crocker

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My first boyfriend killed himself. We didn’t call ourselves boyfriends, but we went to the movies together, went to dinner together, and had a lot of sex. Part of the reason we didn’t call ourselves for what we really were is that it was the ’90s and things then weren’t what they are now. More than that I think, even though he was out of the closet, was my insistence that I wasn’t gay. And I wasn’t and am not. I was a bit of a coward, though.

I didn’t realize at the time that there was another option or, as it turns out, countless other options. And who knows, maybe I’m being presumptuous to think that he would have wanted to call me his boyfriend. He was beautiful and wild and unpredictable. He had a lot of suitors. Still, I do sometimes wonder if things would have been different if I, at that time, could have just went all in so to speak.

It wouldn’t be until several years later that I came out to my friends as a bisexual male—something seemingly as rare as a unicorn. That’s when things got weird. Some of my friends shrugged, and said, “So?” That was the best response possible, and I appreciate each and every one of them. Others weren’t sold on the idea. How is that possible, they wondered, you’re married to a woman.

The reaction from my gay friends could be even more baffling. I heard the old standby, “Bi now, gay later” plenty. That one didn’t bother me at first because so many gay men I knew at the time did go through a period where they told people they were bisexual. They were just testing the waters. But, five years later, it started to get a little old. When I agreed to sit on a panel hosted by the university I attended as the “representative bisexual” most of the questions I got were variations of, “What does your wife think about you cheating on her with men?” My relationship is monogamous I said . . . over and over and over.

My oldest friend, a guy I grew up with, went to church with, love like a brother, had one of the hardest times believing it. His dad was a preacher. Once, when we were young, we were having a conversation about homosexuality in my bedroom. He had not yet come out of the closet and wouldn’t until his early twenties, but it was something we’d talk about now and again. Maybe he was seeing how I would react, but I believe him when he says he just hadn’t been able to admit it to himself yet. We lived in a community that was violently homophobic.

“Look,” I said. “If I was gay I’d march up and down the street telling people. There’s nothing wrong with it.” I don’t know where I got this attitude. Not from my parents, any adult I knew, and certainly not from my hellfire and brimstone church. A church where, mind you, I made the mistake of wearing an earring. The preacher, looking right at me the entire time, went on a rant against homosexuality before saying, “When I was a kid, if a boy had an earring it meant one thing. It still means that today.” Amens all around.

I think what my friend meant when he told me I wasn’t bisexual was that he really expected, if I were, that I would be marching up and down the street telling people. I still love him. He’s incredibly accepting of who I am. We’ve been friends for thirty years. We Skype on Sundays to watch a classic episode of Doctor Who—a tradition started when we’d watch it Sunday nights on PBS. But, I digress. However, I wondered that if he, someone who knew some of the men I had slept with, didn’t buy it, why, I thought, would anyone else?

Continue reading

“The Incredible Hulk Tries to Write a Poem” By Daniel Crocker

 

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The Incredible Hulk Tries to Write a Poem

but his cucumber fingers
keep getting in the way

He smashed the keyboard
all to hell and pencils
mean broken lead and splinters

Pens make a mess that nobody
wants to clean up
Hulk is used to it
He’s made so many messes

There’s that boy he kissed and then turned away
There was a woman before Betty who got tired
of dishes thrown against the wall and Bruce’s
wails of agony. It’s just too much, she said

Hulk has so much he wants to say
It lives and breathes inside his green skin
where it will stay for what might
as well be eternity

He wants to write a love poem for Betty Ross
He wants to write 1,000 poems of apology
for Betty and all the rest left in the wake of his anger

If he could just write his way out of this
entire mess, untangle this knot
maybe they would forgive him, he thinks

But Bruce knows forgiveness isn’t
given easily and if it comes
it’s not going to be the result
of a goddamn poem

Forgiveness comes through silence
or doesn’t come at all.

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About the Author: Daniel Crocker is the author of three collections of poetry, a novel, and a collection of short stories. His latest book, Shit House Rat, was published in 2017 by Spartan Press. His book Like a Fish is available from Sundress Publications, and his e-chap, The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood, can be downloaded for free from the Sundress site. His work has appeared in New World Writing, The Good Men Project, The Chiron Review, The Kentucky Review and over 100 others. He’s the editor of The Cape Rock, co-editor of Trailer Park Quarterly and the Co-host of the Sanesplaining podcast.

 

Check out our interview with Daniel Crocker on his book of Hulk poems, “Gamma Rays.”

 

More Hulk poetry by Daniel Crocker:

“Betty Doesn’t Know Who She Loves More”