Kyle Dargan on “Olympic Drive”
In this week’s Revisionings, Kyle Dargan shares the evolution of his poem “Olympic Drive” (published in February’s Poetry and available in-full online!) which—devastatingly—asks the reader to “imagine” reality as a dystopian sci-fi film pitch.
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This poem started out as a tweet—maybe the first four or so lines—after I’d been walking around Beverly Hills and the Miracle Mile region of Los Angeles. Someone responded to ask what it was excerpted from, and I said “nothing,” but I took that as a sign that maybe this was something I should expand—beyond that initial expression of sadness in reaction to the juxtaposition of opulence and destitution. (Not that such contrast is unique to Los Angeles—I’ve seen it around the world—but there is something particular about seeing it against Hollywood’s dreamy backdrop.) I took up at a café on Beverly Drive (the actual “Olympic” street is Olympic Boulevard and the title is an intersection of Beverly Drive and Olympic Boulevard, I guess) and pushed through a longer rough draft.
Thus the first “re-visioning” of the poem was the expansion into broader emotional and imaginative space. Rather than focusing on these individuals’ homelessness as an othering, pitiful state, I asked myself what if these people have stories they aspire to tell, just like many of the people who come to Hollywood with aspirations. What if they are not as different from those around them as their current lot suggests. (That “what if” eventually became the “let us suppose” pivot.)
Introducing the film motif was the most difficult evolution of this poem. I’d already been thinking a lot about desegregation, integration and the net impact on the African-American population and its various communities. I opened up to associative movement and allowed it to flesh out the concept of the imagined film. Originally, all the italicized text that described the film was just dropped into the poem, but as I read it over and over, I had to accept that it wasn’t all doing the same work. I needed to find a way to tag the different parts so that a reader would know how to navigate them. Thus, I added the in-text headings (“title,” “voiceover,” “tagline,” “plot”).
I feel satisfied with the ending, but the approach to the ending is probably something I am going to continue tinkering with. That last chunk of “the movie” is the most complicated and compressed—compressed because at that point, if I really allowed myself the indulgence, I could have really gone on about the plot of the movie. But what is the poem’s intent—to unravel this imagined movie or to put the idea of blockbuster filmmaking in conversation with the poverty and inequality that surrounds it? I think it is the latter for me, so I couldn’t go on and let the scope of the poem get away from the beginning—the inception during that walk—if that makes sense.
Even now, I am still not convinced that the poem works as well aloud as it does on the page. In the future, before it finds its way into a book, I may find a way to introduce more space to alter the pace of the poem’s progression. This is just one of those poems of mine that makes some drastic transitions which are easier to keep together in your mind if you are looking at the text rather than hearing it aloud, but, you know, one does this for the challenges.
A marked-up draft of the first page of Dargan’s “Olympic Drive” —
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Kyle Dargan is the author of four collections of poetry, Honest Engine (2015), Logorrhea Dementia (2010), Bouquet of Hungers (2007), and The Listening (2003)—all published by the University of Georgia Press. For his work, he has received the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Dargan has partnered with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities to produce poetry programming at the White House and Library of Congress. He’s worked with and supports a number of youth writing organizations, such as 826DC, Writopia Lab, and the Young Writers Workshop. He is currently an Associate Professor of literature and director of creative writing at American University, as well as the founder and editor of POST NO ILLS magazine.