Carl Quiz: Michael Bazzett ’88

Michael Bazzett ’88

Michael Bazzett ’88 likes to hang out in “liminal spaces.” “You know,” he says, “you’re in the car and there’s a flickering shadow in the field next to you, and for a second you think it’s an enormous animal running through the woods, but then you realize it’s just the shadow of your own car, dancing on the tree trunks. Many of my poems start there—in that moment where reason shuts off and wonder takes hold.”

A high school English teacher at the Blake School in Minneapolis, Bazzett recently won the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, presented by Minneapolis publisher Milkweed Editions. Milkweed will release his first collection, You Must Remember This, in November. Bazzett credits retired English professor Keith Harrison’s legendary Carleton poetry seminar for giving him the confidence to write. “Keith was the first person to take my writing seriously,” says Bazzett. “His Australian accent and resonant voice could make the most quotidian piece of doggerel sound gorgeous. He would occasionally hold class at the Rueb, where we’d read poetry over a pint of Guinness.”

Bazzett transforms our Carl Quiz into a work of pure poetry.   

Your work has been described as “frightening, hilarious, and dark.” Is that what you were going for?
That description delights me, but I would simply describe my work as honest. Well, as honest as I can make it, and sometimes that comes across as weird.

What up-and-coming poet should we all be reading?:
Jamaal May. Google “There Are Birds Here” and you’ll see why.

Who would you take out for dinner? Edgar Allan Poe, e. e. cummings, Tim Burton, or Jorge Luis Borges?
Jorge Luis Borges
We could talk about whether the fine meat we were eating fulfilled any sort of real hunger, or if our true desire was desire itself. The room would be constructed solely of mirrors and bookcases. Tim Burton could come by after for coffee.

Best time of day to write: early morning, mid-morning, afternoon, or middle of the night?
Early morning
That’s when you’re closest to dreams and the noise of the day hasn’t begun to fill in all the blank spaces in your mind.

Who is your favorite poet?
Wislawa Szymborska, hands down. Her work is philosophical, intelligent, and possesses a sly, mordant wit that I love. If joy can have a sardonic edge, she finds it. And vice versa. I have a black and white photo of her on the buffet in my dining room in hopes that people will think she’s my grandmother. I also love Zbigniew Herbert’s work. It’s possible my soul might be Polish.

What do you write with? Pen, pencil, or computer?
Most of my poems still begin in a handwritten scrawl, usually on the back of an envelope or an insert card from a magazine. I’m wary of putting them into Garamond too soon—it makes them look too polished.

Where do you write the best? Set the scene.
I’m horizontal, laptop resting on my belt buckle and propped against my bent legs. Little slips of paper with bits of poems litter my chest and the floor next to the couch. A cup of green tea is within easy reach. Debussy is drifting in from the next room. If the tea gets cold before I finish it, it’s a good morning.

Carleton landmark you’d write an ode to: Hill of Three Oaks, the Arb, Willis Hall, or Scoville Library?
The Arb
Can you give us a sample line or two? 
I composed a haiku about the Arb years ago. It’s on a tiny rice paper scroll, inside a wooden box with a brass clasp. And I buried it there in the Arb. Just for you. 



The Orangutan

They were more than a little embarrassed when it turned out their orangutan was electric.  

They’ve gotten so good with the musculature, said father, who knew?

Also the soft parts, said mother, who loved to stroke the wrinkled skin in the hinges of his body. Sometimes his flesh responded in the most surprising ways. And lord knows, she added, he ate more than his share of bananas.

But then they found them, mashed in a brown pile, melting in a syrupy mass stashed behind the furnace in the basement. He had always been a furtive monkey. Dozens of ants were trapped in the clear fluid leaking from the pile.

We couldn’t have come up with a better trap if we’d tried, shouted father, picking at the delicate carcasses.

Their daughter remained quiet through it all,
which they attributed to shock. When the baby was
born some months later, its face was eerily reminiscent
of a calculator.

I don’t know what to say, the girl announced, pressing the function key on her new son. Every time I run the numbers, I get a different answer.

—Michael Bazzett ’88

“The Orangutan” is included in You Must Remember This, a collection of Bazzett’s poetry that Milkweed Editions will release this fall.

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