Tacoma poet Michael Haeflinger’s debut poetry collection, Low Static Rage, will be released at the end of September, kicked off by a reading at King’s Books on Sept. 27. The 70-page manuscript explores moments of tension, frustration, and dissatisfaction in 37 loosely related poems that Haeflinger wrote over the course of many years.
“I didn’t write the collection with any preconceived notions in mind,” Haeflinger said. “Over the years, I just write what’s on my mind, and then I start to notice through-lines and themes. The oldest poem (in the collection) might be seven or eight years old.”
In Low Static Rage, he said, many of the poems depict parent/son relationships, zeroing in on the narratives of sons who are on the run, or hiding, or who have disappeared. At the same time, the collection focuses on capturing fraught moments of tension that take place just before an act of violence.
“We don’t ever see anything explosive happen,” Haeflinger said, “but there’s this kind of quiet rage, like radio static, in the background of these poems.”
The collection is published by Blue Cactus Press, a local publishing boutique owned and run by Christina Butcher. Haeflinger and Butcher collaborated over the course of almost a year to whittle down a collection of about 100 poems into the 37 that made the final cut, identifying together along the way what the themes were and how the poems are in conversation with one another.
Haeflinger serves as the executive director of Write253, a nonprofit that provides creative writing opportunities to South Sound youth who otherwise may not have access to them. Teaching and writing poetry have been lifelong passions for him; seeing much of that passion culminate in a full-length manuscript, he said, feels good.
“I’m glad I was patient enough to let these poems develop, and to see that they belong together,” Haeflinger said. “I’ve been writing for 25 years — I’m not in a hurry.”
Though Haeflinger describes his poetry style as relatively mainstream — narrative and lyric — he said that he admires what experimental poetics can do and wanted to incorporate some kind of experimental nature into Low Static Rage. This impulse manifests in the book as five perforated pages scattered throughout that have instructions on the back of a poem for the reader to perform: “Remove poem from book at perforation,” and “draw a map of the neighborhood where you lived when you were 17.” Or, “Remove stanza from book at perforation,” and “affix stanza to a branch in a wooded area near where you live,” then “check on the stanza in a week . . . (and) again in one month. Mark the progress.”
This interactive nature in the book, Haeflinger said, gives readers a way to make contact with the poems beyond simply reading them. It also reflects the writer’s defiant attitude and his inclination to do something different.
“I wanted to do something that sort of undermines the notion of the preciousness of the poetry book,” he said. “I literally wanted to create some destructive element in my book, so people are meant to rip these pages out. There’s these little kinesthetic and tactile elements that make it somewhat of an art book without it completely being an art book.”
After his reading at King’s Books on Sept. 27, Haeflinger plans to go on a West Coast book tour, hitting towns in Oregon and southern Washington.