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Nick Flynn: Finding the emotional truth

August 12, 2011 | 10:46 am

Nick Flynn Nick Flynn is busy these days, so busy that the best way the Poetry Foundation could interview him was to catch up with him while he was on jury duty. The interviewer, Alizah Salario, was a little anxious -- the court had posted many rules about appropriate behavior, she wrote, but "nowhere does it say no fraternizing with poets on jury duty." So they went ahead.

Flynn talked about his poetry, which he'd read for an audience the night before; he's written a book of poems, "The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands ," that deals in part with his experiences listening to the testimony of detainees who were tortured at Abu Ghraib.

It was those moments of great humanity that were surprising to me and moving to me, and not the moments of torture, because I'd read so much about torture at that point. I knew these horrible things that happened. It's a strange thing. I think it's sort of inverted on daytime talk shows. They just reenact trauma, and you're supposed to have this emotional response from that. I think they don't really get it. They don't really get the subtlety of it, or the truth of how to release it or access it.

Flynn has thought about accessing truth beyond retelling trauma in his work as a memoirist. He's written two memoirs: "The Ticking is the Bomb" (2010) and "Another ... Night in Suck City" (2004). In his Poetry Foundation interview, he talked about what makes memoir interesting.

[Mo]st of the work, for creative nonfiction writing, is trying to sort out your perception of what happened, your memories of what happened, the emotional resonance of what happened. I'm really interested these days in seeing where there's some sort of an emotional charge in something and why. It's very odd when you start trying to track it, at a reading or watching art; suddenly there'll be some sort of welling of emotion, and it doesn't always correspond to anything you can point your finger to. It's usually very mysterious.

Flynn's book "Another ... Night in Suck City," about working in a Boston homeless shelter and crossing paths with his difficult, drunk father, is being made into a film by the director Paul Wietz. Paul Dano plays Flynn, and Robert DeNiro plays his father. The film is scheduled for release in 2012.


Festival of Books: The nature of poetry with Nick Flynn, Matthew Zapruder and David St. John

2001 L.A. Times Book Prize finalists: "Some Ether: Poems" by Nick Flynn

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Memoirist and poet Nick Flynn. Credit: Carolyn Cole /Los Angeles Times