Nico Alvarado is a poet and middle school teacher who lives in Colorado. His most recent chapbook, The Collected Poems of Tim Riggins, is a collection of persona poems written from the perspective of Friday Night Lights heartthrob Tim Riggins.
Rebecca Marino: Of course I have to begin by asking, Why Tim Riggins? While Riggins is certainly iconic in my eyes, it feels like that might be because I’m from and I live in Texas.
Nico Alvarado: When my wife and I started watching Friday Night Lights, its chief virtue was that it was something we could both watch. (She prefers documentaries about, like, cults of snake-worshipers in suburban Connecticut; I like really bleak 80s British crime dramas. The overlap of our TV Venn diagram is a tiny sliver mostly occupied by David Simon and Tina Fey.) But once we were hooked on the show, I began to notice that her interest in Tim Riggins was, ah, more than professional. Some strong medicine was in order if I wanted to win back my girl, but how could I compete with such a beautiful (tragic, misunderstood, lustrously maned, soulful, abdominal) man? Sometime after we had watched all eight hundred episodes or whatever, we were driving down to New Mexico and chatting about this and that, and my wife said, apropos of nothing I recall, “You should write a Tim Riggins poem.” I rattled off a couple of titles, one of which (“Tim Riggins Speaks of Waterfalls”) stuck, another of which (“Tim Riggins Enters the Smallest Room Through the Smallest Door”) did not. Anyway, it seemed like a pretty good way to flirt with my wife, so I took it.
RM: Do you feel like you’re coming from a place of reverence with this work, or do you feel more like you’re poking a bit of fun/coming from a place of cynicism? Or both?
NA: What an interesting question. I don’t feel reverent toward Friday Night Lights in the least. Nor do I feel cynical toward it. I feel… affectionate. And other things. But I wasn’t trying to do exactly the same thing from poem to poem. Sometimes I was trying to write really heartfelt jokes. Sometimes I was using the mask of this television character to write something completely autobiographical. Sometimes I was just trying to get my wife to tell me I’m funny. It’s like, is Tim Riggins stupidly brilliant or just stupid? The dreamiest of boats or an alcoholic with great hair?
I will say that there are a number of lines in the chapbook that I recycled from poems I wrote (sometimes long ago) “as myself,” so if I’m making fun of Tim Riggins and Friday Night Lights I’m also making fun of myself even as I’m trying to find or fabricate correspondences between us.
RM: Is the persona poem an approach you’ve practiced before in your writing?
NA: Prior to this I don’t think I had written a textbook persona poem since I was in college, when I read John Berryman for the first time and was under the terrifying spell of “The Song of the Tortured Girl” and some others. But I guess I still subscribe to the somehow-quaint notion that every lyric poem is to some degree a persona poem, so maybe I’ve been practicing it all along.
RM: Tim Riggins is a pretty dynamic and complex character. Was it difficult to channel him for this work or did it come naturally?
NA: I’m not sure how to answer this question. Writing is almost always difficult for me. I take great comfort in the line (which the internet tells me is from Thomas Mann) about a writer being someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Boy, am I a real writer then.
RM: The chapbook as a whole is really fantastic, but the first poem I read from the series (before I had the chapbook) and the first poem in there is “Tim Riggins Speaks of Waterfalls”; was this the first poem you wrote in this collection? Did you go into it knowing that it would turn into a series?
NA: Thanks, man! Yeah, that was the first one. As I recall, I wrote it pretty quickly (over the course of a few evenings in the summer of 2013) and immediately began writing another one. There was an ease and a pleasure in dreaming up wacky, mock-ponderous titles and then trying to write the poem for that title. Many, many titles and poems were thrown out along the way. But at a certain point there was a big enough pile that I emailed my friends Brad and Lani (as a matter of fact, they were the ones who recommended FNL to us) and asked if they would want to publish them.
RM: Tyra or Lyla?
NA: Mary Margaret [Alvarado’s wife], obviously.
But for #33, only an absolute unreconstructed cretin would try to argue that Lyla Garrity has even a wisp of a ghost of a shadow of the soul of Tyra Collette.
RM: What are you reading? Do you have any book recommendations for us? What do you think Tim Riggins is reading/would recommend to us?
NA: I read lots of books at a time, usually in such tiny increments that I never finish them. An up-to-the-minute list would include Barchester Towers by Trollope (so good!); Cousin Bette by Balzac (kind of a slog!); Mary Ruefle’s new book of poems (the best!); Alice Fulton’s new book of poems (withholding judgment!); and a gorgeous new manuscript called Paradise by my friend Andy Stallings, a big portion of which he wrote in a single day (not possible!). I’m also really enjoying Kerry Howley’s Thrown, which is a total page-turner about the narrator’s obsession with mixed martial artist cage fighters, written in a souped-up and fun and contemporary 18th century British prose (good times!).
As for Tim Riggins, he is of course reading nothing and would recommend that you read nothing, too. Go out and get a beer and lighten up already. You’re going to die someday, you know?
Tim Riggins Speaks of Waterfalls
You want to know what it was like?
It was like my whole life had a fever.
Whole acres of me were on fire.
The sun talked dirty in my ear all night.
I couldn’t drive past a wheatfield without doing it violence.
I couldn’t even look at a bridge.
I used to go out in the brush sometimes,
So far out there no one could hear me,
And just burn.
I felt all right then.
I couldn’t hurt anyone else.
I was just a pillar of fire.
It wasn’t the burning so much as the loneliness.
It wasn’t the loneliness so much as the fear of being alone.
Christ look at you pouring from the rocks.
You’re so cold you’re boiling over.
You’ve got stars in your hair.
I don’t want to be around you.
I don’t want to drink you in.
I want to walk into the heart of you
And never walk back out.
Originally published in Gulf Coast.
Be sure to grab your own copy of The Collected Poems of Tim Riggins from Hell Yes Press. Texas forever, y’all.
Conflict of Interest Co-Editor Rebecca Marino loves reading these poems while drinking Lonestar, is a huge Friday Night Lights fan, and has “Texas Forever” (a famous Riggins saying) tattooed on her right thigh.