Tommye Blount is the author of What Are We Not For, published by Bull City Press in 2016. A graduate of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, he has been the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from Cave Canem and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He is from Detroit, Michigan. His poem “Icarus Does the Dishes” can be found here. It appears along with another poem in the Mar/Apr 2018 issue of the Kenyon Review.
What was your original impetus for writing “Icarus Does the Dishes”?
Often one is told don’t write about your parents, or even your family, for that matter. The thinking, I guess, is: no one really cares about such a small sentimental narrative. And another thing: we really don’t need another darn poem with Icarus and Daedalus floating around in it, do we? This poem was a challenge to myself: follow the bad idea to see where it might lead me.
Weaving in the visage of the minotaur, the father-son relationship, the feeling of entrapment, and the name of Icarus, this poem ties in many threads from the story of the mythic Icarus. The sun is mentioned briefly towards the end as something which your Icarus turns to, but if you had to say, what exactly is the sun melting the wax wings of this piece?
In writing this poem, the notion of scale was something with which I wanted to play. The myth of Icarus and Daedalus’s escape is so large, especially when compared against this very small narrative of a son taking care of his father. I wanted a complete inversion of those proportions: the minotaur is small; the stars are small; and the sun, too, is small. But the sun is so small that it sits, or rather its reflection sits really, in the gray dishwater. When the son turns toward it, I don’t think he’s looking for the sun at all—it’s the dishwater, and the duty associated it with it, that is his prime concern. The sun could disappear and he wouldn’t even notice.
Unlike the myth, it seems that Icarus the son is the one more capable and likely to live longer than his father. What does this reversal of power do to these figures as they are set up in lives presumably contemporary to their readers’?
This goes back to what I mentioned earlier—I wanted to play with scale in this poem. I have done the same for the dynamic between the father and son. Where in the myth, Daedalus held the power to save them both, here the son has the power to save them both. In playing with scale in this way, I hope, this small sentimental narrative is torqued by the trappings of myth, thus the stakes and repercussions of the son’s choices reverberate beyond the trivial life.
Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?
Other visual arts too, but I steal a lot from theater and film. It has less to do with their subject matter, but more to do with how they utilize their mediums to communicate. Think of the way sometimes the same actor will play different roles in a single play. For me, this would speak to
a kind of rhyme. This is why the idea of collaboration, especially with dancers, is a dream of mine.
What project(s) are you working on now, or next?
Right now, I am working on my first full-length manuscript. It’s heading in a direction I had not expected from me. Ha!