Writers can be particular about where they work. Some carve out corners in their homes with no distractions. Others work best in libraries or coffee shops.
Poet Kristofer Collins goes out of his way to write in bars — “the natural habitat of poems,” he says — with a beer in front of him.
“It’s not about the alcohol, it’s about the environment itself,” Collins says. “I like it a little dark. I like it noisy enough where I can’t listen to everything, so it all becomes a white noise around me, but not so noisy it’s like a jackhammer. I like enough people in the bar where I can observe, but I don’t want a crowded place, because it’s then hard to write and not draw attention.”
Collins’ new poetry collection, The River is Another Kind of Prayer: New and Selected Poems (Kung Fu Treachery Press), will be released March 24 at White Whale Bookstore in Bloomfield.
Collins, of Stanton Heights, admits his writing has taken a backseat lately because of the birth of his son, Cassidy, now 19 months. Writing in bars is now a rarity, especially since he’s a stay-at-home dad. But in the run-up to his child’s birth, Collins produced a series of poems about fatherhood and father figures.
“I honestly didn’t expect that,” Collins says of two such poems, “My Father Was a Kind of Country Song, Words My Father Never Taught Me” and “An Old Man Poem.”
Then two things happened, Collins explains: having a son and the election of Donald Trump.
“Both kind of dovetailed: impending fatherhood, and the world and country my son is coming into,” he says. “Those were two major pressures on me as I was writing. Knowing he was coming, it was really important to me that he knows who I was. It’s a book that introduces me from my 20s up until now, at 46, so he has an idea of who I was.”
Collins also admits that there’s a bit of nostalgia throughout the collection. Places that no longer exist, such as Graffiti, the former nightclub in North Oakland, and the Panther Hollow Inn, a mainstay for Pitt and CMU students until a few years ago, are memorialized, as is Hemingway’s Cafe, where Collins co-hosts a summer poetry series.
The poem “Panther Hollow Inn (1992)” blends Collins’ affinity for working-class themes and bars. But it’s a rarity for Collins in that it tells a story of men visiting the bar: they’d commandeer the same line of crumpled stools they’d held yesterday/lunch break carrying well until the dinner hour.
“I never try to look back in poems,” he says. “At least I didn’t for many years. I would write about what was in front of me or what was going on. … But I started looking back and trying to offer my son an idea of who I was and what was going on.
Kris Collins book launch for The River is Another Kind of Prayer. 7 p.m. Tue., March 24. White Whale Bookstore, 4754 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. Free; first-come, first-serve. whitewhalebookstore.com