Fixer, HarperCollins, 2023

Beginnings: What prompted this book? What were you thinking about, how is it the same or different from previous work? 

Edgar Kunz: After Tap Out was published in 2019, I went into a deep slump. I would go months and months without making anything, without feeling like making anything. And when the spark of a poem did come, I’d work it to death, just wring all the magic out of it, then go back to not writing. 

Then in January of last year, housesitting for friends outside Brattleboro, three miles down a slushy dirt road, my sweetheart and I got into a good rhythm: we’d wake up, start a fire in the wood stove, put on some music, make coffee, read, fry up a few eggs, go for a walk in the snow, stoke the fire, let the cat in, read some more, and so on — some real cliché-but-dreamy cabin-in-the-woods type stuff. I remember putting my book down and writing a few lines — We’re breaking into your apartment/through your bedroom window — and thinking, okay, that’s pretty good, actually. 

An hour later, I’d written a surreal little poem, and then that poem made me think of the start of another poem, and then another, and in the span of a few days I had nine or ten of these little guys, all eighteen lines, all cohering around this period I hadn’t written about yet: the weeks after my dad died, when I went back home and my brothers and I cleared out his apartment, organized the funeral, tried to make sense of it.

Our friends came back to Vermont early and we all tested negative and allowed ourselves to go out to a beautiful dinner together and of course we all got Covid. So, K and I drove back to Baltimore and isolated and I kept working on the poems, writing new ones, just totally on fire. And by the end of January, I had a manuscript. And by the end of February, I had sold it to Ecco.

What was your favorite thing about writing it? What gave you the most satisfaction, what was energizing or enlivening about it? 

EK: I loved writing the long central poem, “Fixer.” It was disorienting and thrilling. I’d never written a poem that quickly or that long (it’s a sequence of 11 parts), and I’d never found a form (nine couplets, ~3-4 beat lines) that obsessed me like this one did. I found myself working in a more associative way than usual — I could make these great shifts between sections that I wouldn’t have allowed myself to make inside of a typical poem. And because the sections could lean on each other, and part of their power derived from their unpredictability one to the next, I found myself writing funnier, weirder, more mysteriously, just letting people — my brothers, the clerk at Savers, an old family friend — say what they had to say. The result is still surprising to me. It’s like that Eamon Grennan poem where the hawk plucks the robin from the bush — I cried out and was carried off.  

Was there a section or poem or part of the book that you felt doubtful about including or that was particularly challenging to you to write? 

EK: I decided early on that I would finally try and write about being in love, and I was immediately discouraged. The poems all felt corny or false. 

I eventually found a way in, I think, not by my usual trick of narrowing the scope of the poem down to a few suggestive details, but by allowing the poems to be durational, to stretch out and wind their way toward some changed understanding. 

Grady Chambers’ poems really helped me with this, and poems by John Murillo, Meg Fernandes, Margaret Ross. The love poems in Fixer are some of the best poems in the book, I think — maybe especially “Night Heron.” I read that one every time I give a reading now.

What are some lines, phrases or images from the book that stay with you, either because they capture something that feels very true, or they came to you in a way that felt whole and surprising?

EK: I’m especially happy with how omnivorous and rangy the poems are, how much they let in. My temp job taste-testing dips and the odds of AI replacing baseball umpires. An arsonist burning down condos in Oakland and my neighbor’s conspiracy theories. What a piano tuner told me on a plane. Finding a sword in my dad’s apartment. Harry Belafonte. The Goo Goo Dolls. Maybe the piano tuner especially, who spoke the end of the last poem in the “Fixer” sequence on a cross-country Spirit Airlines flight almost word-for-word. I knew that writing toward a given ending almost never works (I had tried and failed many times), but then I found myself with a promising half-poem and no good ideas for how to move forward, so I went back through the Notes app on my phone and found those lines I’d transcribed and bang. It was a way of shocking myself out of my usual rhythms: instead of following the first half to its natural conclusion — whatever probably-boring grasping-after-insight that would have been — those captured lines interrupt the poem and startle me into saying something fresher. 

Can you share a few other books or music that influenced you in the writing of this book? Do you think these influences will be visible to your readers? Would you like them to be? 

EK: No idea if these are visible in the work — let me know! — but here’s a glimpse of what I was obsessed with while writing and revising Fixer:

The Magic Lantern’s album The Reckoning Bell

Christine Schutt’s book A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer

Magda Szabó’s book The Door

Yusef Kamaal’s album Black Focus

Nate DiMeo’s podcast The Memory Palace

Claudia Rankine’s book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

Albert and David Maysles’ film Grey Gardens

Kazuo Ishiguro’s book Remains of the Day

Madvillain’s album Madvillainy

Jack Gilbert’s book Monolithos

Martin Scorsese’s concert film The Last Waltz

Louise Glück’s book Faithful and Virtuous Night

Big Thief’s album Capacity

Max Richter’s album Recomposed: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons

Claudia Emerson’s book Late Wife

Cassandra Jenkins’ album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

Edgar Kunz is the author of Fixer (Ecco, 2023) and Tap Out (Ecco, 2019), a New York Times New and Noteworthy pick. He has been an NEA Fellow, a MacDowell Fellow, and a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. New poems appear in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, APR, and Oxford American. He lives in Baltimore and teaches at Goucher College.