by Daniel Fanelli
We at SPECS had the opportunity to interview poet Scott Fynboe, one of the many authors featured in our latest issue "Outsourcing." This interview was conducted in November 2012.
What was it about the Binghamton Massacre that caught your eye? Was it a matter of proximity to you living in New York at the time when it happened?
Proximity had something to do with it, yes. At the time, I was living in south Mississippi, and it was surreal to see images of my hometown on cable TV. Actually, it wasn’t just the city that got to me. It was the specific street. Front St. is one of those parts of the city I had walked many times in the past, and I knew each building, each store (both past and present). For example: A block away from the shooting was a solid independent record store next to an Irish bar I once took a girl to on our second date. I could visualize everything in a three block radius – along with the people I knew who worked and lived nearby.
So the poems were born out of trying to process each angle of the event, particularly a disembodied feeling which I described to a friend at the time as “I'm from there, but I'm not there.”
But there was also some bitterness in me. Not solely for what the shooter had done, but a sort of “great, so this is what we'll be known for.” In the past, Binghamton had been known for positive things. Then it faded from the pop consciousness – only to return to prominence because of a mass murder at an immigration center.
You juxtapose the loss of big corporate companies that gave the townies jobs and slowly killed off the life of this town, but did the massacre happen as a result of this?
I can only speculate on the role of economics in the massacre. As I recall, the primary motive was rooted in mental illness (the shooter, Jiverly Wong, was paranoid about police prosecution). However, Wong had lost his manufacturing job when the plant he worked at closed a few months prior.
After the major industries left in the 1990s, a depression settled over the town, and it hasn’t lifted. Each time I go back, I see it in my parent's generation and my friends who never left – a feeling of each day simply coming and going, with nothing to indicate change in any direction.
And I’m not alone in this observation. In 2011, a Gallup poll ranked Binghamton as one of “the most depressed cities in America” and that it tops the list for “least optimistic residents.”
Therefore I don’t think the loss of “big business” can be fully discounted. But, at the same time, I don’t feel like I’m qualified to do much more than muse on its influence.
You emphasize that information on the massacre could not be told properly except through talking to the locals. Do you feel though, that your poetry conveys a stronger sense of what happened in the massacre than the news publications which covered the massacre?
The nature of journalism is “move in, move out, move on.” (Move in when the news breaks, move out when it is over, move on to the next story.) The nature of Binghamton’s residents though, as I see it, is “move in, stay.” Or, sometimes, “move in, move out, move back.”
This goes back to something I said earlier, about being bitter when I started writing poems about the massacre. There was a fear in me that the “four Ws” of journalism would be all that “outsiders” would read about Binghamton in a newspaper. But there was, and is, more going on in that city. I did not see myself, though, as championing a cause – starting some kind of a “save this city” movement – so much as simply wanting to tell my readers more about the area than what a news story could cover.
Do you feel that your poems are a statement of the times in America and the Global Recession or a statement focusing solely on what happened to this town?
I’ve never really thought of myself as making a broad statement about global, political, or economic issues, be it in these particular poems or any others I write. I’m more interested in the smaller, internalized things – namely memory, pop culture, and personal history. But I think it’s cool that people can identify with these poems and the story I’m telling.
As I see it, these poems are about this incident. And this town as a whole. I’m proud of my roots. The first poem I wrote about the massacre opens with a quote from Rod Serling. In it, Rod states that Binghamton is his hometown, and no one can take that away from him. And I deeply feel that about my past – I was born and raised in Broome County. My mindset, my world view, and my personality were all formed there (altered as they may be now), and to deny my past is to deny everything I am. Yes, I may rip on the town in my poems, say some nasty things. I may speak of it with a sarcastic snarl in a conversation. But in between the lines of the poems is someone so in love with the place – the glory of its past and the good things still there – that he is unable to let go of even one shuttered store window.
Your poetry features some radical enjambments in both "Death Comes to Town" and "What Binghamton Puts on their Postcards," while "April 3, 8pm CT" appears to follow regular speech patterns. Could you talk about this?
I admit that a lot of my line breaks and enjambments are unusual, because they often come from a combination of gut intuition and my own speech patterns. I want my poems to be read aloud as well as be seen on a printed page. So when I’m drafting a piece, I tend to “talk my way through it,” meaning I’m reading it aloud over and over, trying to mimic or translate my vocal patterns into text.
For example, take these lines from “What Binghamton Puts…”
clutch on cigarette, smoke on his coat / like clouds on a September night
When I read that aloud, the second line “reads” as if I’m trying to figure out a way to describe it if I was conversing in, say, a diner. “You know, it looked sort of [pause] like clouds on a September night.”
I do have one hard and fast rule, though: Beware of the last word. The last word in a line carries weight in that the reader’s eye is naturally drawn to it, sometimes to the exclusion of the preceding ones. I’m conscious, then, of the word, often asking myself what it should be. Sometimes that choice goes against my natural speech pattern but is done for emphasis, such as using “Lockheed” and “Industry” in “Death Comes to Town.” In those cases, yes, the line break does heighten the drama.
Does the downward movement of the states in your poem "Death Comes to Town," (Virginia Carolina Georgia) mimic your move to South Florida?
The progression wasn’t so much a representation of my personal journey as a way to help the reader visualize the migration of business and the ones who traveled down the East Coast to relocate. Virginia is where I believe IBM relocated. But soon after, I remember hearing about people moving even farther south, down into the Carolinas. Almost as though Binghamtonians were spreading down the coast like kudzu. I stopped at Georgia because I couldn’t recall anyone – aside from me – moving to Florida.
Other than as retirees. And maybe as tourists.