Category Archives: Lyric Essentials

Lyric Essentials: Julie Marie Wade Reads Two Poems by Maureen Seaton

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose and a longtime reader of Maureen Seaton. When we sat down to talk about Seaton’s work, Wade had deeply valuable insight which took us down roads from the epiphanous to the Blunderbuss. Wade looks deep into the heart of Seaton’s work and evidences the grace and good humor with which she connects. This interview is as much a tribute to Seaton by Wade as it is an instructional for anyone who hasn’t yet considered the importance of Seaton’s wide-ranging body of works. This interview made me wish I were one of Wade’s students.

Black: What made you choose the work of Maureen Seaton?

Wade: I think there are poets each of us have needed for many years before we find them, and when their poems appear before us at last, the experience is almost mystical—a feeling of having known someone before you knew them, of being deeply affirmed by the epiphany of their presence in the world. Maureen Seaton is just such a mystical, epiphanous, much-needed poet for me.

I went to high school and college in the 1990s, at a time when Maureen was coming out as queer and coming into her own as a poet who worked as diligently in form (sonnets, villanelles, et al.) as she did in the most envelope-pushing, experimental spaces. She was taking risks, in her life and in her art, that I didn’t yet realize a person, let alone a woman-person, could take.

Somehow I did not encounter Maureen’s writing until after I had already taken the greatest plunge of my own life, though—not going through with my marriage to a man at the end of my first year of graduate school and continuing my journey through life with my true love, a woman named Angie, to whom I am now happily married.

Not long after that plunge, in 2003 or 2004, I read a poem by Denise Duhamel called “When I Was a Lesbian,” which I found stunning and thrilling, a poem which opened doors for me to imagine my own life as formerly (for all intents and purposes) heterosexual. I took that poem as an invitation to begin exploring more consciously the first twenty-two years of my life “when I was straight.” But what I didn’t realize until I delved deeper into the collaborative poetry written by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton (Exquisite Politics indeed!) was that Denise’s poem was written as a response to Maureen’s own “When I Was Straight,” which belongs to an ever-growing series of other poems—“When I Was Avant-garde,” “When I Was a Jersey Girl,” “When I Was Bi(nary),” etc.—that opened onto the vast landscape of Maureen’s work in conditional, circumstantial, and subjunctive spaces.

Years later, I had the privilege of meeting and coming to know both of these poets, long-time friends and collaborators, in real life, and I was audacious enough to ask them to bless my own book-length project, a collection of poems called When I Was Straight. Not only did they bless it—they blurbed it, collaboratively!

 

Black: Why these particular poems of Seaton’s?

Wade: I have never read a Maureen Seaton poem where I didn’t have the sensation, at one point and usually at many points, of hearing a gong reverberate inside my head. When I read Maureen’s “When I Was Straight,” the gong struck loudest at this moment: “there is no lover like a panicked lover.” It was one of those moments—the best moments for readers of poetry, I think, or readers of any literature—where I sketched in my notebook, How did she know?!?! There was a cosmos in that line, one I recognized in my own life but had never even attempted to name, let alone in such a concise and elegant (and witty—I love the omnipresence of Maureen’s sense of humor across her canon) way.

So I knew I wanted to record this poem because it was the first, though by no means the last, of Maureen’s poems to seize me in that visceral and oracular kind of way. Then, I started looking at other aspects of the poem, particularly the diction and the juxtapositions. Who describes heteronormativity as “that Old Boyfriend Theory of Headache and Blunderbuss”? Who uses the word “blunderbuss”? I started noticing the little sparks coming off of pairings like “linearity and menthol” (an abstraction paired with a potent concrete), “pretense and fellatio” (there again), and chewy Anglo-Saxon words and phrases like “crowded with cleavage,” “fickle,” and “winged clavicle.” Which is to say I fell in love with this poem on all levels: conceptually, sonically, stylistically. It’s also meta, as the poem performs its own “trapeze art and graceful aerobics.” The poem is that art, those aerobics.

For the second poem, I ran into the challenging fact of the enormous range and depth of Maureen’s body of work to date. With so many gongs striking inside my head, so much marginalia scribbled on every page, I decided to choose a poem that moves in diametrically different ways than “When I Was Straight.” That poem is pulled taut like a tightrope in its shape on the page—all those lovely tercets upon which the speaker-as-tightrope-walker is performing her remarkable feats, turning somersaults and riding unicycles and juggling torches. I wanted to showcase something different. There were so many poems I considered— “What She Thought,” “Impatiences,” “The Nomenclature of Wind,” “He Crossed the Hallway with a Soul in His Hand,” and “Red” standout among them—but in the end I chose “The Realm of the Wide” as exemplar of Maureen’s wide-realm poetics. Instead of a tightrope, this poem is the circus tent, a canopy she opens over the whole world of her knowing and longing and wondering. If this poem were a horoscope, it would describe something essential about every Zodiac sign.

 

Black: “The Realm of the Wide” is particularly unique in its scope. This is a winding long-poem with a lot of great turns. What about it do you want to call particular attention to?

Wade: Through all my years as a student, there was an incongruity—really a snobbishness—that I never understood in the realm of literary theory. We learned there was a school of criticism called reader response, but then we learned, both explicitly and in a variety of subtle ways, that this school didn’t “count” as a real school. We could deconstruct and post-structuralize. We could go through mimetic doors and intertextual doors and feminist doors in our examination of texts, but we couldn’t go through that primary door of our own personal experience of intellectual-emotional-visceral engagement. As a teacher of creative writing, I know I don’t stand a chance of encouraging my students to “write as readers”—to cultivate an awareness of their audience—without acknowledging and anticipating a reader’s response to their work. And if we are writers, we were readers first and also readers in a state of essential perpetuity, let’s hope! So how can I ask my students not to cross the threshold of reader response, which I value not only as a doorway to meaningful analysis but also as a doorway to meaningful emulation?

Which is to say: “The Realm of the Wide” speaks to me directly as a poet with similar intellectual and emotional investments to Maureen Seaton. It also speaks to me as a poet who is always studying the possibilities of poetic form and the elasticity of poetry as a genre. It speaks to me as a teacher of poetry for similar reasons—the thrilling range of invitations and permissions the text offers to fellow and future writers. This poem further addresses me as a person with multi-genre and hybrid-text infatuations and commitments. I wonder whether poem is really only one name this text might answer to. Is it a micro-lyric-essay, too? A micro-lyric-segmented-braided essay? Some or all of the above?

This imperative alone: “Feel yourself mingle with the word you love beside you.” That’s what poets do, and lyric essayists, too. The words are alive. They can lose cells and run temperatures.

I’m also obsessed with finding new ways to talk about the moon, something that crystallized for me when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s extraordinary memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. She invites readers to tell her something she hasn’t heard before about that much-romanticized heavenly body. Maureen does it here, seamlessly: “this moon has got me up the way someone comes in and drags you out of bed to play cards or eat mayonnaise on toast at 3 AM…” Yes! That way. That moon. Exactly.

There are bullet points in this poem, denoting the list from “baby pigs” to “a shaman in a wheelchair.” The blanks that follow the chorus of adjectives “Sorrowful,” “Joyful,” and “Glorious” are actual blanks, not the word “blank,” which changes the experience of reading the poem on the page versus listening to the poem read aloud. These visual poetics in Maureen’s work instantly transform the ranch house poem into a multi-floored mansion: rooms on top of rooms, a ceiling that is also a floor, etc.

And then the two quotes juxtaposed at the end, the high-art intellectual sound of Magritte’s statement about “symbolic meanings” and the profound yet directly accessible statement about vanilla attributed simply to “Nick,” the famous artist in conversation with the Everyman or Anyman. This is Maureen’s hierarchy-neutralizing power as a poet. She validates so many ways of knowing simultaneously. She rejects high horses. Her work is full of dark horses and wild horses. Her work epitomizes for me what Magritte means by “the inherent mystery” that many people sense in an image but are also frightened by because it can’t be easily named and thereby tamed. I find that inherent mystery everywhere in Maureen’s work, so I’m just holding up this poem as a representative example. When she says, “It mattered, but only slightly,” she is making a spectrum out of a taken-for-granted binary. If we are used to thinking of things mattering or things not mattering, as many of us are, then here come those surprising hoofbeats of “slight mattering,” the invitation to a thought experiment of mattering on a sliding scale.

Maureen’s is a luminous, curious, capacious, unrelenting mind. I would follow her anywhere because she has never used her intellect as a weapon or crafted her rigorous, expansive poems with only an elite readership in mind. On the contrary, I find Maureen Seaton to be one of Poetryland’s most generous guides. If she takes her readers into a swamp, she supplies the waders. She also grows and tends the orchids we are destined to find there.

Black: Does this work connect to your own in some way?

Wade: Perhaps more than any other poet, Maureen has taught me that you can write as and from all your varied versions of self, including the most seemingly contradictory. Many poets become known for writing a certain way, a certain kind of “signature style,” a recognizable shape to the content and/or appearance of their poems—but not Maureen. I think her poems are deeply fluid, within and across every book project and sometimes even within a single poem. These poems are queer in the truest and deepest sense of the word—spectral, rhizomatic, protean, “all-of-the-above” poems. And this fact alone has given me tremendous permissions in my own approach to writing. I’m not trying to make my work into something that stays put after it’s placed on the page. I want to make work that feels like a living organism, the way Maureen’s poems do. Instead of the poem (or lyric essay, or hybrid form) as art object, I want to learn how to make the most porous and anti-static kinds of creations. If the poem is likened to a painting on the wall—vivid and imagistic—let it also be a painting where the eyes move, where the frame slants, where it is never the same painting twice that the viewer looks upon.

I often talk to my students about entering their own writing “through the smallest door,” and sometimes the smallest door is a single word. I like to get as close as I can to individual words, and Maureen’s poems bless and press that enterprise further. One whole stanza from “The Realm of the Wide” consists of: “The word: Outlandish.” And what a word! I love the invitation to stare at the word, to see the “out” and the “land” and the “dish” in it just by lingering in that long pause. I’ve never asked Maureen if she is synesthetic, but her poems are, and as a synesthete who experiences the world of language in vivid colors, Maureen’s poetry amplifies my synesthetic experience of the world as well, adds another tier/floor/skylight. “You could jump the fire and ride to where the words are backdrafting,” she writes. How visceral and invigorating and absolutely true!

Finally, I think it’s Maureen’s own biomythography she’s drafting and revising and reimagining across these pages. (I hope Audre Lorde wouldn’t mind my invoking her term here, as I know Maureen and I both deeply admire and write as grateful readers of Lorde.) Maureen’s poems resist stasis because she has resisted stasis—staying put in any one role, category, or geographical location. Maureen is candid about falling into and out of love, marriage, divorce, sexual awakenings, motherhood, faith, doubt, and always, the complexities, dare I say “the inherent mysteries,” of gender, desire, and the body. There is much in her life’s reckoning and recurring themes that overlap with my own. In another salient capsule of experience that seems to denote the way she was raised, Maureen writes, “Everything/ should be Disney or saintly.” That was my first imperative, too. With every poem and hybrid form, Maureen is teaching me how to write my way beyond those initial strictures of conventional beauty, contrived happiness, and religious dogma.

Black: What are you working on now?

Wade: On the prose front, I’m writing essays for a collection called “The Regulars,” which is another slant on my own bildungsroman. At a certain point in time, I realized that I have stories I tell and stories I write, and it occurred to me that some of the stories I tell—which are often the most absurd glimpses of my childhood, darkly humorous but also intimidatingly sad—might have another kind of life on the page. The title is a reference, in the most literal sense, to being regular customers at the Old Spaghetti Factory every Sunday, my parents and I, but also to the relentless quest for normalcy—or at least to be perceived as normal and consequently likable, admirable, and good—that governed my upbringing. (“Everything/ should be Disney or saintly” indeed!) Angie, my spouse, suggested the title, which I love, and so I’ve been writing my way into some of my own personal oral tradition, the stories I have only shared with close friends who say, “Tell us about the time you had to …” or “What was it your parents did when …”

On the poetry front, I’m writing a lot of secular psalms for a sequence that I think will belong, eventually, to a collection called Quick Change Artist. That project might also subsume some or all of the poems from When I Was Straight, which illustrates the before-and-after experiences of someone, essentially the same someone, who was first perceived as heterosexual and trying very hard to tow many tacit heterosexual lines, and then who, in the second half of the project, reckons with all the new ways people respond to her as an out lesbian, a woman marked by sexual difference.

There’s also a hybrid-form memoir about food that I’ve been toying with for years called The Western Family. (I grew up on the West Coast, and the brand of most of the food products we ate in our home was “Western Family.” Food as source of pleasure, shame, ritual, family connectedness and family discord, and food as marker of a particular zeitgeist is something I intend to explore.) And eventually, I plan to write a collection of poems that mirrors the question-and-answer clues on Jeopardy!, the game show that seems to have played ceaselessly at the dinner table throughout my youth and is now playing throughout my adulthood, recording daily on our DVR, in fact!

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Maureen Seaton received her MFA at Vermont College and is the author of nine poetry collections and a memoir, Sex Talks to Girls among many other projects. Her work has notably appeared in Best Small Fictions and Best American Poetry among many other places. Seaton has received multiple awards and recognitions for her work. Among them, several Lambda awards, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection, Fisher was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2018. Seaton is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Miami, Florida.

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose, including Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures, Small Fires: Essays, Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems, When I Was Straight, Catechism: A Love Story, SIX, Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems, and the forthcoming The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose, co-authored with Denise Duhamel. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Florida International University in Miami.

Links to the good stuff:

Seaton at Black Lawrence Press

Seaton’s Newest Collection, Fisher

The Rumpus Interviews Maureen Seaton

Seaton at Lambda Literary

Julie Marie Wade’s Website

Julie Marie Wade at The Academy of American Poets

Julie Marie Wade at Tupelo Quarterly

Wade’s When I was Straight

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. She received her MFA at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter, edited by poet Andrea Gibson and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

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Lyric Essentials: Sarah Clark Reads Two Poems by Michael Wasson

Sarah Clark works in some of the most important areas of our industry. They are a VIDA board member and her work with Anomaly, Drunken Boat, and others has been outstanding. I swear they are busier than most anyone I know and yet she took the time to visit us here at LE with poems by Michael Wasson. We were able to talk about the colonializing of bodies in literature, discomfort, tropes, and so much more.

Black: What made you select these particular poems?

Clark: This is the question that I have been avoiding for weeks. Because it means having to answer a question that I didn’t want to and that you didn’t ask. I haven’t wanted to broach being asked to participate in this series when many readers, educators, and editors were wondering what to do now that Sherman Alexie has been accused of serial sexual misconduct. A startling number of people have asked, “Who will fill the void in Native American literature?” And I take issue with the idea that such a void ever could exist. There are so many extremely talented Native, First Nations writers (not to mention the many more indigenous writers across the American landmasses) who are, and have been, producing extraordinary work for decades.

The writer I almost chose was Ai.

Ai was the first Native writer I encountered in college who was unashamed to be mixed and unashamed to be queer. At this point in my life, certain Native (or Native-themed) literature had been passed my way. Because, since I was Native, wouldn’t I want to read the work of another Native author? But instead of feeling liberated, I felt chained to all of this turquoise, all of these fancydances, these misogynistic narrators encountering city life for the first time, these endless Educations of Little Tree, these writers who weren’t Native at all but felt it was their right to tell our stories.

There was something different about the way Ai wrote. She didn’t deal in those tropes. And, while their work isn’t formally comparable, when I found Wasson’s work for the first time, I felt a similar spark. It was like seeing a familiar face. It was like something unspoken—hope in a body of literature that I could relate to.

Black: What is your sense of Wasson’s work as a whole?

Clark: The most beautiful boneyard I’ve ever seen bloom.

A few years ago, I was hoping to work on a project, concerning a museum that had been selling postcards and displaying the remains of members of my tribe. I fell into a research hole, reading archaeological accounts of the dig sites where they gathered the bones, as well as the objects buried alongside these people. There were detailed descriptions of their bones. I hesitated, realizing I, too, was about to call them, simply, “the bones.” There was speculation about their heights, their diets, whether their pelvis bones suggested they had given birth before, whether one woman held an esteemed place in our tribe, because so many beads had been sewn to a shroud beside her.

I had to give up the project. My partner was driving me to the museum. I was going to see them. These people. Who had been seen so intimately by strangers.

I kept going back to one section of one anthropological journal. It’s standard practice to measure the bones. There was such dizzying detail. Every femur, every tooth, all quantified and numbered. Numbered.

I felt outside of my body, outside of what felt like this entire planet. That a thin line separated who I am from bone trivia.

My sense of Wasson’s work as a whole is that he’s grappling with questions familiar to many of us who are indigenous. The foremost of which is space. I’m not sure if it comes across when listening to these poems as opposed to seeing them on the page, Wasson makes expert use of space, and I can’t help but feel this is in part a reclamation.

Space has been taken from indigenous people in a variety of ways, most literally in the form of land, but also when it comes to seats at the table, and the temporal—there’s this idea that indigenous people are only real and valid when we embody certain traditional aspects of our respective tribes. I suppose it’s important to remind the readers here that we are after all over 500 nations across this landmass, but I digress. Wasson makes use of Nez Perce language as well as English, the language that ironically unites hundreds of tribes, yet Wasson’s work is never that which caters to tropes, to what is expected by non-Native audiences, the “Indian Poem” so to speak. Any indigenous people reading know what I mean.

Wasson’s work is a reclamation of the autonomy of indigenous thought, neither denying the traditional nor dependent upon it. Wasson’s work looks forward and inward.

Black: There is a tremendous force of/on/in the body within both of these works. Embodied seems like too soft a word for the way they resonate in the flesh. Is there a connection in this way to your own work?

Clark: Extremely. All of my work deals with the body in one way or another. For all of the times I’ve had to fight for my body, I now want nothing more than to fight for the bodies of others. For those with embodied experiences to tell their stories through poetry, essay—however a writer can feel their body is no longer erased or invalidated—that’s the work that I’m invested in, as an editor. I’m interested in the ghost stories of the living, and I’m interested in those of us who survive and reclaim our bodies day after day.

 

 

Black: Do poems grant us passage in the body of another?

Clark: It’s a colonial fetish to be granted passage into the body of an indigenous person (regardless of whether the author or I may want that to happen). However, I do believe in empathy and literature, and perhaps by truly opening oneself up to to the experiences of another, one may experience necessary growth not just as a person, but as a reader, a writer.

For that matter, I’m also interested in the ways that these poems do not grant passage into the body of another. The ways that a reader may feel lost or may realize they cannot relate. I think that there is great value in those truths and that it should not be a goal to always “skinwalk” as another, but to accept that there are lives that we for whatever reasons will never lead. To explore one’s own body and the connections that radiate out from it is always a good starting point for reading, writing, editing, and for being a fellow human being.

Black: What do you want readers to really notice when they hear or read these poems?

Clark: Any discomfort they might feel. And I hope they’ll hold onto that discomfort until it starts to make some sense. If any discomfort remains illegible, then that’s perfect. Because then, I’d want readers to turn to Wasson’s work, and really, truly listen. To abandon their gaze, as much as any of us can, and—bare and vulnerable, allow Wasson’s work to speak, uninterrupted.

 

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Michael Wasson’s poems appear or are forthcoming in DialogistPrairie Schooner, and Waxwing. He is Nimíipuu from the Nez Perce Reservation in Lenore, Idaho, and currently lives in Japan. (Bio from The Academy of American Poets.)

Sarah Clark is a disabled two-spirit Native editor, writer, and cultural consultant. They are a VIDA Board member, and Assistant Editor with the VIDA ReviewCo-Editor of the Bettering American Poetry series, and Managing Editor and Features & Reviews Editor at Anomaly

Clark curated Anomaly‘s GLITTERBRAIN folio and a forthcoming folio on Indigenous & Decolonial Futures & Futurisms, and edited Drunken Boat’s folios on Sound Art, “Desire & Interaction,” and a collection of global indigenous art and literature, “First Peoples, Plural.” They were co-editor of Apogee Journal‘s #NoDAPL #Still Here folio, and co-edited Apogee Journal‘s series “WE OUTLAST EMPIRE,” of work against imperialism, and “Place[meant]“, on place and meaning. Clark freelances, and has worked with a number of literary and arts publications and organizations, including The Atlas Review, Apogee Journalcontemptorary.org, Sundress Publications, Best of the Net, The Paris Review, and Blackbird. In her spare time, Clark has strong opinions and is very queer. They cannot pass a Turing test.

Links to the good stuff:

Michael Wasson on Lit Hub

Michael Wasson’s This American Ghost at YesYes Books

Michael Wasson at Passages North

Michael Wasson at Gulf Coast

Sarah Clark at VIDA

Sarah Clark at Anomaly

Sarah on Twitter

 

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. She received her MFA at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter, edited by poet Andrea Gibson and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

 

Lyric Essentials: Emma Trelles Reads Three Poems by Ada Limón

Poet Emma Trelles, author of Tropicalia (Notre Dame, 2011), came to chat about the extraordinary work of Ada Limón. We talked about horses, chaos, and the importance of Latinx poetry.

Black: Limón’s work impacts a lot of people and as a result, she enjoys well-earned success. What is in her work that you are particularly drawn to?

Trelles: There’s so much I admire about her work. She is a master of cadence in that she knows precisely where to expand and contract her lines to create a voice that reads to me instead of the other way around. I think it might be easy to miss this aspect of craft in her poems because the sound of them is deeply engaging, like having a conversation with a confidante. But it takes a lot of effort to create that ease and she renders this armature invisible. I’m also drawn to how her poems are both joyous and melancholy at once as if she is celebrating the experience of life instead of simply its victories. “In the Country of Resurrection” comes to mind; she begins with the mercy killing of a possum on a dark road and ends with a gush of morning light in the kitchen. In seven couplets, a shape that echoes this duality, she moves us through despair, and in the final two she speaks to the decisiveness, the choice, it takes to move forward. Her poems are survivors, and the ability to endure inspires me as an artist and a human every time I’m bludgeoned with another slab of bad news. We must continue.

 

Black: Horses are a recurring theme throughout the book, and we see it again here in “Downhearted.” This theme really hit home for many readers. Do you connect with it, also? And if so, why? Where does it take you?

Trelles: That’s interesting—I hadn’t thought about horses as a theme but more of how they fit into the prominence of the natural world in these poems. A terrible accident kills six horses in the first line of “Downhearted,” and this tragedy sets off a meditation about how we manage or manufacture sorrow even as we long for “the blood to return…the thrill and wind of the ride.” From beginning to end, this book houses creatures, landscapes, flora, the pleasures and failures of the body—they all are themselves, of course, but they also serve as fleshy signposts that point her, and us, toward ourselves and something bigger than ourselves. Namely, how we try and find meaning in chaos and how that process sustains us.

Black: Limón moves into prose poems off and on throughout the collection and we see it here in “The Quiet Machine.” What do you see as the purpose for this movement? How does this play with the other forms in the collection?

Trelles: I’ve thought a lot about how “The Quiet Machine” feels like an ars poetica to me and, now, looking at the other prose poems, I’m starting to suspect they all address writing in a way, or at least the feeling of making, and how that arrives through whir or stillness or somewhere in between. To me these poems serve as a deep pause; they slow down the hearty gallop of the book (which is astonishing for a collection of poems!) in a way that amplifies intimacy. Some of these poems felt like reading the pages of a secret notebook … 

Black: Do these connect in some way to or intersect with your own work?

Trelles: Oh yeah; my own writing also teems with trees and birds, sky and water. I’ve always been a great watcher of the natural world and my first book, Tropicalia, explores how the subtropics intersect with the built environments of South Florida and what it means to live in the midst of that thicket of concrete and lushness. I also connect to Ada Limón’s work because we are both Latinx writers who do not necessarily address our heritage in the ways that have come to be expected of us, such as through the lenses of ancestry or immigration, for example. I love reading those poems and greatly value the work of poets who write within this framework.

Perhaps now more than ever, Latinx poems are crucial to humanizing a population who is currently being criminalized in our country for no other reason than where we come from. With 57 million of us in the US, I’d also like to think there are lots of different ways to live and write as a Latinx poet, and these poems are important too because they show how we are not a monolith; our experiences are nuanced and singular and so is our creative work.

 

Black: Will you tell us about your work both completed and any current projects you’re working on?

Trelles: Well, it’s been a while since Tropicalia, won the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and was put out by the good folks at the University of Notre Dame Press. Since then, I moved to California and now program the Mission Poetry Series here in Santa Barbara. I’ve worked on a number of projects with Letras Latinas, most recently as an editor for its contribution to the Poetry Coalition, a national coalition of more than 20 organizations that promote the value poets bring to our culture and communities. I’ve been writing and publishing poems and hope to finish a working draft of my next manuscript by the end of this summer. There—’ve said it in print and now I’m beholden! I’ve also been collaborating with Alexandra Lytton Regalado on a series of poems inspired in part by the work and lives of women artists. In fact, I owe her an envoi and that’s the very next thing I’ll write.

Black: Thank you, Emma, for sitting down with me. And I’ll be hoping for that next collection, I can’t believe you committed to that in writing!

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Ada Limón is the author of five books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, and one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by The New York Times. Her other books include Lucky WreckThis Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency M.F.A program, and the 24Pearl Street online program for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She also works as a freelance writer in Lexington, Kentucky. Her new collection, The Carrying, will be released by Milkweed Editions in August of 2018. (Bio is from the author’s website.)

Emma Trelles is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and the author of Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, a finalist for Foreword/Indies poetry book of the year, and a recommended read by The Rumpus. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry, Best of the Net, Verse DailyPolitical Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity and others.  Recent poems appear in The Miami RailZócalo Public Square,and SWWIM.  A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, she lives with her husband in California, where she teaches at Santa Barbara City College and programs the Mission Poetry Series.

Links to the good stuff:

Limón’s Website

Limón at Compose Journal

Bright Dead Things at Milkweed

Limón at The Poetry Foundation

Trelles on SWWIM

Trelles at Zócalo

Trelles at Best American Poetry

Trelles’ Tropicalia at NDP

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, SWWIM, and New Mobility among others. She was awarded her MFA at Arizona State University and has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

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Lyric Essentials: Joanna C. Valente Reads Two Poems by Kim Hyesoon

Joanna C. Valente is a poet I have admired for some time. I’ve long wished I could absorb a smidgeon of their daring, their bold virtuosity, and their determination. So I was a little in awe when they agreed to sit down and talk to me. And they did not disappoint. Most people know by now that if I get to talk experimental poetics, I’m pretty happy, and Joanna came through, for sure.

Black: What brought Kim Hyesoon to your attention?

Valente: Cathy Park Hong! While I was getting my MFA at Sarah Lawrence, I took a workshop with Cathy my last semester and she had the class read one of Kim’s books (All the Garbage of the World, Unite!) which changed my entire world. I love poetry that is excessive and delves into the grotesque and also explores the female body (and bodies in general)—and it’s what I was trying to do myself (I was writing my thesis, which later became my third book, Marys of the Sea). So, it couldn’t have been better timing. Kim has been such an inspiration and influence on my work; I love her. Ever since, I’ve been reading and teaching her work for my workshops at Brooklyn Poets.

Black: What do you love about these particular poems?

Valente: There is this feeling that the speaker is talking to themselves, and to an extent, the void. Repeating words and images as a kind of chant or spell, or coping mechanism to the world around us, that is both beautiful and destructive. That feeling couldn’t be more real right now, sadly. The repetition is so strong and so emblematic of how humans think and feel in the world. Of course, Kim is also a master at using strange images that stick in your mind, which I’ve always been drawn to in art in general.

 

 

Black: In “Driving in a Downpour” there is this impulse that moves away from the declarative and into the interrogative form. There’s something humble in that decision. What is your take on this movement?

Valente: We ask questions often knowing the answer. I think that is what the speaker is doing here, wanting, perhaps, a different answer if they ask enough times. We also come to the truth more, and closer, when we ask questions, even if we do know the answer in the back of our heads. Questions make things, like feelings, real. They make us have to take ownership of what we feel, but also what we’re asking. Why things are the way they are, which Kim is doing in the lines:

“Why am I breathing like a lungfish, opening and closing my mouth, why have I lived so
long in the same body, am I sighing under my heavy dress, are my eyes open or closed,
in a night of a heavy rainfall why does the vast Andes appear in front of me again
and again?”

How heartbreaking, but so true and real are those lines? Why have I lived so long in the same body? Why am I sighing? Why am I breathing? While the speaker compares breath to a lungfish, the question really is, why am I breathing? Why am I alive? Why is my life like this? It’s so amazing, and so tense, and also so reflective of who we are and what we think. It’s about those thoughts that we would hardly admit to our friends and family because it’s hard to admit weakness or existential terror. Or just some uncomfortable or unsettling feelings in general. That impulse to make everything OK is so dangerous and so common.

Black: Can you talk a little bit about experimental poetry and in particular, what are your thoughts about its role in poetry today?

Valente: I think experimental art, not just poetry, but especially poetry in my case, is so important because it’s often political. When we experiment, we’re questioning ourselves, our positions, our views, and the world we live in. I can’t stress enough how important that is right now when the world seems to be collapsing, when it’s being shipped into a wreck. This is not to say that form poetry can’t be political or experimental, but I do think when we push ourselves beyond the conventional boundaries of language, we are pushing ourselves beyond what we normally do and see, beyond the linguistic worlds our brains are used to and live in. Creating new worlds, new thoughts, in language is how we move into more progressive spaces, in my opinion. Poetry has always been a form of protest for me.

Black: Does this work intersect with your own?

Valente: I’m all about pushing myself out of my own comfort zones in my poetry, often trying to write “ugly poems” or making “ugly” art for the sake of exploring real vulnerability, and not just a crafted vulnerability. This is not to say I don’t love Kim’s images or think they are beautiful in their own ways, but I don’t think the poems are trying to be pastorals for the mind. I think they’re trying to be real, and gritty and uncomfortable. I always strive to do the same in my work, even before I read Kim’s. It’s important for me, also, for every project I work on to be different and explore different themes or obsessions. I also love the use of persona, which Kim explores often as well, especially pertaining to bodies. As a non-binary femme, exploring bodies and gender and sex is definitely at the core of what I’m doing – especially through the use of persona, as a way to get outside my own lens as much as possible.

Balck: Will you tell me a little bit about your own work and current projects?

Valente: Too many things, because I love being busy! Right now, I’m working on a novel told in nonlinear vignettes, a sort of possession and ghost narrative focusing on sexual violence and nonbinary and transgender characters. It’s called “Baby Girl and Other Ghosts.” I’m also working on a poetry collection that is basically done, “White Men Tell Me Things About My Body,” and another called “Werner Catzog,” which will also be illustrated. As if that’s not enough, I’m collaborating with two friends, one on a project called “Metal Poems” (with Chris Antzoulis) and another called “Killer Bob: A Love Story” (with Matthue Roth). Besides all of that, I’ve been writing and drawing a lot, having completed a collage poetry collection this year (called “Too Dumb, Too Stupid”) and started an illustrative poetry/sketchbook project that is currently untitled. And somehow, I recorded an album with a friend, Andrew Ross, under the band name Ghost Mother, although we still have to master it; the release date is tentative. Apparently, I love ghosts being in titles, which is not something I set out to do at all!

Black: Thank you so much, Joanna, for sitting down with me and for shining a little more light on this important poet.

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Kim Hyesoon is a South Korean poet with nine books in English (most translated by the poet Don Mee Choi) and many more published in Korean. Hyesoon has received multiple prestigious awards for her poetry including the Daesan Poetry Award and the Midang Poetry Award.

Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.

 

Links to the good stuff:

Kim Hyesoon at World Literature Today

Kim Hyesoon in Guernica

Kim Hyesoon at the Poetry Foundation

Kim Hyesoon’s Page

Joanna C. Valente’s Page

Joanna C. Valente on Instagram

Joanna C. Valente on Twitter

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Anna Black was awarded her MFA at Arizona State University and her BA at Western Washington University. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Lyric Essentials: Dorothy Chan reads Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to Sirin”

Dorothy Chan is editor of The Southeast Review and just released her book, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), so it was a stroke of luck that she found time to sit down and chat about poetry. We covered a lot of ground—ranging from the long-standing tradition of bird poems to the strength of women and even Ava Gardner.

 

 

Black: What made you select this poem?

Chan: I couldn’t help myself. A poem with the opening lines, “What woman doesn’t want to be a goddess with wings / to fly over the world of men with their erections / of stone and steel, to go to war like Athena, / or become Aphrodite who could crumple men / with her eyes” is such a winner. I don’t think any lines can top these opening lines. I’m absolutely enthralled, and I think a cardinal rule of poetry is to always have your reader’s attention. I remember Alberto Ríos once saying in his Deep Revision class, “The line I’m reading should be the best line of the poem.” Every line of the poem needs to be the best line of the poem. Always. That’s what Barbara Hamby does.

 

 

Black: What is your sense of this newest collection of Hamby’s? Not that you need to write a review, but overall. What do you love about it?

Chan: I love that Hamby’s Bird Odyssey is all woman. I also love that it’s about travel and flight—women are goddesses, so let’s put our wings to use, let’s go on a mission, and let’s conquer the world! Speaking of missions, another big standout of the collection is “Elvis and Tolstoy Save the World,” which I had the pleasure of hearing Barbara read at this past AWP Tampa. I love its bold, matter-of-fact nature: “and if one more supernatural thing happens, my brain / might explode” and “And I think, Groupie? Black Sabbath has groupies, but Tolstoy? / And if I were going to be a groupie, I’d be following Chekhov / around, because he’s my idea of a guy I’d like to spend time with.” I also remember immediately falling in love with “Athena Ode” when I saw it in The New Yorker. In this poem, Hamby’s speaker calls Athena a “divine mixologist,” which I think is perfect. I like to compare the art of poetry to the art of mixology. Great poems are like very complex cocktails, the kind you order at a swanky Las Vegas bar, the kind that is literally set to fire—the kind that comes in a sexy glass that leads to a memorable night—and then of course you order a couple more rounds.

I’d also like to add that I’m also extremely attached to Hamby’s On the Street of Divine Love, particularly the poem, “Ode to Wasting Time and Drawing Donatello’s David.”

Black: Is there a connection to your own work either in this collection of Hamby’s or in some other way that her body of work might be influential to you?

Chan: Barbara is my mentor, and her work means so much to me. Again, I love how her poems are all woman. I admire her use of what she calls “word tango.” This “word tango” is extremely influential to me, and it also lends itself to longer lines as well as thoughtful associative leaps and language. Barbara has taught me so much about voice, and I appreciate her directness in asking students how they each define their own poetic voice. I think it’s important for every poet to define their voice succinctly.

More specifically, I’m thinking about the voice in “Fried Chicken Boiled Peanut Blues.” First of all, I love how Barbara works with food in her poetry—I mean, don’t we all wish there were more poems about food? Who doesn’t love food? And in this poem, Barbara’s speaker presents one of the best meals at Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis. The speaker is yearning for “every boiled peanut stand on Highway 319,” but then she makes an association that turns the poem into one about her family, in particular, her mother. Hamby’s leaping is always seamless.

Black: I’m seeing a lot of birds in poems and other works lately, are you? And if yes, what do you make of that?

Chan: Yes, I think birds continue to be popular in poetry. When contemporary poets write about birds, they are clearly also paying homage to an unofficial poetic tradition. It’s amazing how Poets.org has a whole section dedicated to bird poems. Anyway, I love how Barbara tackles the “bird tradition” head-on with the title, Bird Odyssey, and then with the section titles: I. Six Blackbirds on the Highway to Moscow, II. Three Vultures on the Blacktop to Memphis, and III. A Chickadee at Troy. Like anything, if you’re going to do it, be direct. That’s another aspect I enjoy about Barbara’s work.

Black: I love this line about the “glorious vagina mind”—Did you feel that personally, too?

Chan: Ah!! Such a great line! It’s so clever, isn’t it? Yes, I do feel that personally, too. Again, I think the best poetry is direct and confrontational, and if women are living in this society that men so want to continuously dominate, then let’s fight back with the very thing that those harmful men desire and turn it into a weapon. Every part of a woman’s body and mind and spirit makes her powerful. Women are strong as hell. They give birth to everyone’s fantasies and nightmares. I mean, Barbara’s speaker also mentions Ava Gardner. Think about Gardner on screen. She was once known as “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal,” and no one commanded a room quite like her.

Black: Tell me a little about your new book.

Chan: Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018) is led by a series of female speakers, mostly independent, bold, Chinese American women who want to reverse the male gaze, bringing attention to the female gaze and what’s sexy to a woman. The collection is a lot of fun.

Sometimes I joke that my poems can be summed up to “food and sex,” but if you think about it, those are such big topics, and food is inherently linked to both family and culture, and the discussion of sex evolves into a discussion of “traditional” vs. “nontraditional” Asian and Asian American perspectives. For instance, in my poem, “Ode to All My Flings Who Have Hated Dim Sum,” originally published in Hobart, my Chinese American female speaker is fed up with white boys calling her an “adventurous eater as I spit / out the bones from my chicken’s feet bathing in porridge, / though my grandmother orders the same dish / every morning in Kowloon.” Here, food and sex become tied yet again. The speaker is tired of explaining dim sum dishes to her flings because this pattern leads to the reduction of her culture. And in the end, she outright states, “I’m not your Asian cupcake, / your Chinese wet dream in a slit red slip and pink kimono. / I’m not your stuffed panda that dances when you poke / my button.”

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Dorothy Chan is the author of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018) and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, The Common, Diode, Quarterly West, Blackbird, and elsewhere. Chan is the editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.

Barbara Hamby is the author of many works including her most recent poetry collection Bird Odyssey (Pitt Poetry Series, 2018). Hamby has been awarded a Guggenheim, an NEA grant, the Iowa short fiction prize, the Vassar-Miller Prize, and other notables. She is a Distinguished University Scholar at Florida State University.

The good stuff:

Hamby at the Poetry Foundation

Some of Hamby’s Poems

An Interview with Hamby

Chan at AAP

Chan at Queen Mob’s

Chan at Ghost Ocean

 

Anna Black received her MFA at Arizona State University and her BA at Western Washington University. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Lyric Essentials: Andrea Scarpino Reads Adrienne Rich’s “What Kind of Times Are These” and “Five O’clock, January 2003”

Andrea Scarpino is the author of four books, the Poet Laureate of Michigan’s Upper Penninsula, is the co-founder of the Disability March, and more. Scarpino teaches at the University of Illinois Springfield, but despite what is almost certainly a packed schedule, she sat down with me to talk about Adrienne Rich and the ongoing need for these poems and this work.

Black: “What Kind of Times” is one I’ve reached for a few times in the last year. Most recently I read it again when Bears Ears and Grand Staircase were devoured. You too? What moves you to share these poems? Is it a love of them or their prescience or…?

Scarpino: I also return to Rich’s poems again and again! When I’m struggling in my writing, I read her poems to remind me to be brave. When I’m struggling with our political situation, I read her poems to remind me that resistance is possible and can take many forms. When I’m looking for new forms, I read her poems to study the ways in which she plays with form. Her career was so long and so varied that there really are poems in her canon for everyone! 

 

 

Black: Adrienne Rich might be considered “larger than life.” What is your sense of her life and career?

ScarpinoLarger than life definitely seems right, at least in some circles. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Cincinnati, she came to do a reading and some lectures, and I remember so vividly that the university booked her in one of the largest rooms on campus—this horrible concrete auditorium that sat like 700 people. The place was packed. Like, seriously packed! And when Rich was introduced and walked out onto the stage, she looked so small in such a huge space, but the entire audience stood up and applauded. She hadn’t spoken a word, and she received a standing ovation. And I burst into tears. It was the only time I have ever seen that reaction to a poet and the fact that she was also a feminist icon when I was really just learning about feminism was even more meaningful to me. Here was a woman telling the truth of her life, and being rewarded for doing so. It was incredibly powerful. 

I know Rich is derided in some circles—I had a graduate school professor who used to tell me my poetry was veering towards “the bad Adrienne Rich” which I always took as a compliment even though he intended it as a mean criticism—but I have always loved her courage, her sass, her wit, her clear-eyed look at the world around her. I hope people are still reading her in 100 years because she was really a game-changer for so many readers and writers and people interested in moving towards equality. 

Black: Has Rich influenced you and your work then? And, how?

Scarpino: Yes, absolutely! For one thing, she reminds me to tell my truth, to write bravely, to keep myself attuned to the world’s atrocities no matter how painful that can be. Especially as a middle-class white woman—white US culture definitely supports us in refusing to engage with the atrocities of the world. And especially as a white US poet. There have been these conversations for way too long in white US poetry about the division between the personal and the political where the personal is supported and uplifted and the political is derided and downplayed. If you’re interested in writing political poetry in the US, you have a harder road ahead of you in terms of publication and general acceptance by the “academy.” And Rich reminds me how limited those views are, that they are particularly white US American views and that most people in the world don’t share them. I find that incredibly empowering. 

Something I love about so many of her poems is that they follow Emily Dickinson’s dictum to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant—“ Take “Five O’Clock, January 2003.” That poem starts with soldiers “being hauled / into positions aimed at death” but immediately moves into a conversation about Ed Azevedo “half-awake in recovery / if he has his arm whole / and how much pain he must bear / under the drugs.” Rich never tells us who Azevedo is or why he is important to the speaker, and almost the entirety of the poem addresses his arm and what happened to him. A reader could forget entirely that the backdrop of the poem is war until we arrive at the end: “I didn’t say Your war is here.” That line always makes my stomach drop. It brings us so quickly back to war and the ways in which war creeps into our lives like an infection, a poison: it starts as a minor cut and ends with emergency surgery. 
 
And I love how Rich does this in so many of her poems: she tells us the truth, but from an angle, from a slant. She doesn’t explicitly say “war is a destructive poison” but we understand that from spending so much time with Azevedo’s arm. She does a similar thing in “What Kind of Times Are These” which ends, “because in times like these / to have you listen at all, it’s necessary / to talk about trees.” I hear Rich saying, look, I know you won’t listen when I talk about all that we’re disappearing, I know that’s uncomfortable to you, dear reader. So I’ll write about trees and hope that you understand I’m also writing about what’s missing from the trees. 

 

Black: Are there connections between these particular poems and your own work?

Scarpino: Definitely! I actually used that last quote as an epigraph to my book-length poem What the Willow Said As it Fell, which is a book about chronic pain and the medical establishment and the intersection of gender and medicine. And also, about willow trees and ash trees, both of which have traditionally been thought of as healing trees. Willow branches have a substance in them called salicin which is related to our modern day aspirin and which was used for thousands of years as a pain reliever—people in childbirth would chew on willow branches to help with the pain, for example. And in Norse culture, it was thought that if you passed a sick baby under the ash tree, the tree would heal the baby. And I loved the idea of using these two trees as foes, in a sense, to be able to focus some of the book on the trees instead of on unrelenting chronic pain. That is completely a strategy I learned from Rich! I basically took her advice literally—if I’m going to get a reader interested in reading about chronic pain for 70 pages, I better spend some time distracting them with trees. 

But more generally, Rich’s work has always reminded me that it is okay to write politically—in fact, it is necessary and important to write politically! So much of my formal education taught me to revere the personal without any acknowledgment that of course the personal is political and the political is personal. The two aren’t ever easily separated. If ICE is deporting your family, then the political is deeply personal. If the president is sending you to war, then the political is deeply personal. And Rich continues to remind me of that when I lose my way: tell your personal story with an attention to the political world in which you exist. It’s the only way. 

Black: What do you want readers to notice in particular in these poems?

Scarpino: I would love readers to notice their beauty, the beauty of Rich’s language, the beauty in a line. Even when writing about really hard subjects, Rich writes with an attention to image, to sound, to the movement of each line. They are works of intense beauty, and that is part of what draws me back to them again and again.

 

____________________________________________________________________

Andrea Scarpino is the author of the poetry collections Once Upon Wing Lake (Four Chambers Press, 2017), What the Willow Said as it Fell (Red Hen Press, 2016) and Once, Then (Red Hen Press, 2014). She received a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and an MFA from The Ohio State University. She has published in numerous journals, is co-editor of Nine Mile Magazine, and served as Poet Laureate of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 2015-2017. Her upcoming edited anthology is Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice (MSU Press).

Adrienne Rich was an intellectual, poet, writer, and activist, whose career spanned countless works. Her writing and activism have influenced some of the greatest minds working in literature and activism today.

____________________________________________________________________

The good stuff:

Adrienne Rich at the Poetry Foundation

“What Kind of Times Are These” at the Poetry Foundation

“Five O’clock, January 2003” at the Monthly Review

Adrienne Rich’s Obituary in the Times

Andrea Scarpino’s Website

What the Willow Said as it Fell, At Red Hen Press

An Interview with Andrea Scarpino at Wordgathering

The Disability March

____________________________________________________________________

Anna Black received an MFA from Arizona State University and a BA from Western Washington University. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

Felicia Zamora reads from House A by Jennifer S. Cheng

Felicia Zamora is the author of three books of poetry and two chapbooks, but more than that, she is an incredible supporter and champion of the works of other writers in a way that makes her an astonishing ally and a valued friend. On poetry she is well-read and searingly intelligent. So of course, I asked her to read for us here at LE and I was excited to see who she would choose to share.

Zamora chose Jennifer S. Cheng’s book House A (Omnidawn) and read three poems for us from this gorgeous book, evidencing her incredible generosity.

Black: What a great choice. What made you choose Jennifer S. Cheng to share with us?

Zamora: Cheng writes, “children experience memories as image and sound, which is to say they experience them as poetry.” Here is a book that builds poetry, history, memory, and home—inside each page, each utterance of longing.

House A is one of those books I ordered because I am a fan of Omnidawn Publishing and appreciate the new voices they bring to the conversation from new and emerging poets. Reading other women poets of color is important to my own writing as I am fueled by the experiences and worlds being created by these poets. These are necessary voices. Voices we all must hear. I was only a few poems into Cheng’s epistolary “Dear Mao” sequence and I was thinking, “Wow, I wish I had written this” which is my telltale sign that I love a book.

Cheng weaves intricate images that make a reader fall into these letters of searching. In “Letters to Mao” she writes, “Lost: the dark / spot inside my mother’s throat. Lost: house inside my seams.” Home is in the flesh. Home is in the history of family and culture. Home is in “the dark silhouette of my mother’s hair” and how her father taught her “to listen to the inside of a seashell.”

Black: Is the entire book in epistolary form?

Zamora: The book comprises of three sections with only the first section comprising of epistolary poems. In the middle and third sections, Cheng explores how one studies and organizes memory and place. She asks the reader to consider how one creates a home from scratch. She never loses sight of the act of building home in all its bodily and worldly means.

In the second section, “House A; Geometry B”, she writes:

“…the body of articulation occurs through

a house…

let us iterate it until it is its own

baseline. dislocation a house. longing as

location.”

This is transcendent work that Cheng accomplishes throughout these pages. She requires readers to rethink how we conceive of “home.” We enter into the journey of searching, not just by language, but by the universal language of mathematics, or ‘geometry’, and through the construction of voice and images, that keeps swimming back to how one makes sense of rootedness and a lack of rootedness.

Again in “House A; Geometry B” she writes:

“the body of a house:

sleeping fossil

geometric shell”

Black: Claudia Rankine said of the book, “Not since Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and Calvino’s invisible Cities have I encountered such attention to the construction of love and love’s capacity to transform unimagined locations.” And I’m intrigued by the locations she talks of. Can you speak a little bit to the idea of place in Cheng’s work?

Zamora: It is through loss that the voice finds home in the everyday moments, finds place as something she can stow away into memory and carry with her. These are hard and beautiful poems born of necessity. Poems of a life in question of place. How do place and life come together? How does place etch inside us, leaving its mark? Cheng demonstrates how a body in longing plucks what it must, creates out from love new definitions of place.

She writes:

“…home is a narrative we are both familiar/with…

So that ours was always a story of leaving and never an/

anchoring of place.”

As a reader, Cheng builds micro worlds in each poem in which readers are allowed to swim in and contemplate space and place. She creates a fluidity in both her ideas and her language. This book acts as history, like the water in our bodies, it stays with a person into memory.

In “Letters to Mao” she writes:

“Dear Mao,

I hope you understand that what I am doing is trying to give you a history

of water, which, like memory and sleep, is fluid and wafting in refracted

light. History as water, so that I am giving you something that spreads.”

In many ways, these prose blocks transport and mimic the theme of the book: how home becomes that which we carry inside. How, “Such residue, the way a ghost becomes a blueprint.” There are historical vestiges of place inside those who long.

“Dear Mao,

Phantom limb.

Cheng explores how displacement transforms a person, beyond a diasporic hunger of place, and the how the mind creates the necessary places for survival and love, in a world within us. However, even in the creation of, the voice is still haunted by history and absence; these ghosts in linger.

She says to Mao:

“…You were dust in my house. A

shadow underneath the floorboards.”

Black: What do you want to be certain a reader notices in this work?

Zamora: This is complex work: to unravel time and place in search of meaning in the journey of diasporic history, to speak of “the watery life of home” that goes beyond what Cheng says, “the ambiguity of homeland” that one does not possess in their own memory, for those memories belong to someone else. Connectivity to geography is that of spinning globes, tidewater, and ceramic horses.

She writes:

“…For homeland is something embalmed

in someone else’s memory, or it is a symbol, both close the heart

and a stranger you reach for in the middle of the night.”

Black: Do you see connections between either the poet and yourself or her work and your own?

Zamora: In House A, Cheng uses the form of prose poetry in the first section of the book to explore an intricate weaving of thoughts in compiled letters to Mao. The language in these poems combine narrative and lyric in electrifying and transformative ways, as well as the necessity of the experience being written for the reader to share. She writes, “If I could take a shadow and sew it to another until it formed a roof above my head.” This building of images, I mean, wow; this is world-building.

I’ve been drawn to the prose and prose-ish poem in my own poetry, because of the work the form requires of a writer: intimate attention to both the line and the sentence in simultaneity, and the poet must consider the role of each of these elements and how they function cohesively in the poem.

I also connect with Cheng’s work because she attends to the missing, the absent, the hole so authentically and with such necessity. She weaves the intricate fibers of language in these poems, and strums. My history was also shaped in absence and a different kind of displacement, so Cheng’s poems idea of home speaks to me and how home resides more inside my body than outside.

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Felicia Zamora’s books include Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame 2017), & in Open, Marvel (Parlor Press 2017), and Instrument of Gaps(Slope Editions 2018). She won the 2015Tomaž Šalamun Prize (Verse), authored two chapbooks, and was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Fort Collins, CO. Her poetry is found in Alaska Quarterly Review,Crazyhorse,Indiana Review, jubilat, Meridian, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Reviewand is the Education Programs Coordinator for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Jennifer S. Cheng received her BA from Brown University, MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, and MFA in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She is the author of MOON: Letters, Maps, Poems, selected by Bhanu Kapil as winner of the Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize (May 2018), HOUSE A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press), a chapbook in which fragments of text, photographs, found images, and white space influence one another to create meaning. A U.S. Fulbright scholar, Kundiman fellow, and Bread Loaf work-study scholar, she is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Award, the Ann Fields Poetry Award, the Mid-American Review Fineline Prize, and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her poetry and lyric essays appear in Tin House, AGNI, Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Volta, The Offing, Sonora Review, Seneca Review, Hong Kong 20/20 (a PEN HK anthology), and elsewhere. Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she currently lives in rapture of the coastal prairies of northern California. (Bio is from JSC’s website.)

Links to some good stuff:

Jennifer S. Cheng’s Website

Jennifer S. Cheng at Entropy Mag

From the Voice of a Lady in the Moon, a poem by JSC

Felicia Zamora’s Website

Zamora’s Poetry at Poetry Northwest

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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Lyric Essentials: Patricia Colleen Murphy Reads Terrance Hayes’ “Fire” and “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals”

Trish Murphy’s book, Hemming Flames is a deft exploration of trauma and incredibly difficult topics with a rich topography of image and language. Pretty much, I consider her a true adept at wielding her words. And this is exactly what she had to say about why she admires Terrance Hayes as a poet as well as loving his work. We got to talk about the surprise of his lines, and the way his stance makes the poem completely trustworthy.

 

 

 

Black: What draws you to Terrence Hayes as a poet?

Murphy: Terrance is a brilliant, generous, and funny human being. I love how many times his poems surprise me with unique phrases, strong images, but also deeply personal touches. In a reading he gave here in Phoenix in 2016 he said something that really moved me. He said that when he writes poems he keeps, “one foot in reality and one foot in imagination.” That is the way I like to posture myself as a poet as well.

His poems are full of musicality, masculinity, sensuality, whimsy, insight, AND moments of profound tenderness. How does he do it? He is a poet I read and wonder, how does his mind work? A line like, “Has your memory ever been / an unfenced country?” or “I know decent lies in the word descent.” There are so many moments in his work that I am thankful for. I picture him sitting at a desk—do these lines fall from the sky? How does he access them!?

Black: What is it about these poems that draw you to them? Do you connect with them personally, professionally, both? And in what ways?

Murphy: I’ll start with “Fire.” Now let’s be honest. I love dropping what I call the “M” bomb. There is no word quite like “mother” to stir emotion in the reader. It’s a cheat word in some ways because it’s so heavily weighted. I write about the mother a lot.

But I love the way the mother appears in Terrance’s work. In “Fire,” she is part of the landscape, but she is also a mythic savior. The way he reaches the mother as a topic is subtle and quiet and natural.

I do connect with this poem personally and professionally. When I’m reading submissions for my magazine [Superstition Review], or even when I am teaching writing of late, I talk about the 3 C’s: content, craft, and composition. In this poem there is a mastery across the board—the poem paints an image of a dream scene that allows the poet to portray the mother as a mythical hero. The poem is full of sensory detail and image and metaphor. And the writing at the word level is stunning. I love the line, “There was the calm & discretion / of giving up.”

In “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” we get even more evidence of craft—the language here takes on more sophistication and playfulness. I love the line “I will remember my / brief career as an infant.” I love how socially aware this poem is without being self-conscious or self-important. These poems are so deeply personal that the reader is drawn into the experience on an intimate level. In this particular poem, I am attracted to the use of repetition, the play with words, the imagery, the refrains. I have tried to write a poem like this.

 

 

Black: Do you see connections from “Fire” or “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” with your own poetry? And if so, how so?

Murphy: I can only say that I wish I could write like this. Maybe I have succeeded a few times with a few lines here and there.

Black: What are your feelings about the use of the first person in a poem?

Murphy: I write mostly in first person, though I do have several epistolatory poems. When I talk to students about first person in poetry, I talk about the main problem as I see it: that overuse of the “I blank” construction becomes repetitive and it also can indicate a level of self-centeredness. So in revision (or in editing even), I also recommend a ctrl-F for “I.” A lot of times sentences can be reworded so that they are simply more interesting.

What I like about these two poems and the way they use first person is that I feel so connected with the speaker. I believe the I. I believe the poet.

Black: What else would you like to point out about these poems? The language, the use of imagery? I’m interested in knowing what else moves you about his craft? What do you want students to take note of?

Murphy: It strikes me that the poets I admire most are the ones who take the time to imagine through to image. Perhaps that’s why I feel that these poems are so generous and thoughtful. The poet works through concept, “For house pets being American / is a cinch.” But also through image, “what I have eaten of you tastes like mint and damp clay, tastes exactly like the soil / I ate in my grandmother’s yard as a boy.” I really appreciate work that feels intentional and genuine, and Terrence Hayes is a poet who delivers every time.

__________________________________________

Patricia Colleen Murphy founded Superstition Review at Arizona State University, where she teaches creative writing and magazine production. Her book Hemming Flames (Utah State University Press) won the 2016 May Swenson Poetry Award judged by Stephen Dunn, and the 2017 Milt Kessler Poetry Award. A chapter from her memoir in progress was published as a chapbook by New Orleans Review. Her writing has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, American Poetry Review, and most recently in Copper Nickel, Black Warrior Review, North American Review, Smartish Pace, Burnside Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Hobart, decomP, Midway Journal, Armchair/Shotgun, and Natural Bridge. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Terrance Hayes is a MacArthur fellow, a National Book Award winner, and the author of six poetry collections including his newest, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assasin. Hayes has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, won the National Poetry Series in 2001, and has achieved many other landmark accolades. In 2017 he was made a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Links to some good stuff:

Terrance Hayes at the Poetry Foundation

Terrance Hayes’ Website

Terrance Hayes at the MacArthur Foundation

Trish at the Academy of American Poets

An Interview with Trish at Diode

 

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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Lyric Essentials: Jillian Weise Reads Constance Merritt’s “Bitches on the Bright Side” and “A Study in Perspective”

The Amputee’s Guide to Sex is a book I have loved for a long time. My copy is bent and creased with love and teaching. So it was a natural thing that Weise would come to mind for this series since I pretty much always want to know what she thinks about poetry. Thankfully, she was generous and offered up not one but TWO poems by Constance Merritt, giving us a chance to talk about everything from form to how to be disabled inside a poem.

Black: Why did you choose these particular poems to share?

Weise: “Bitches on the Bright Side” has that fantastic, colloquial title. Then the poem celebrates things we don’t often celebrate, like when you call someone and they don’t answer. I chose “A Study in Perspective” because it taught me how to be disabled inside a poem without pandering and without apologizing.

 

Black: Can you tell readers something about Constance Merritt and the collection you chose, A Protocol for Touch, which is her first of four?

Weise: I’ve never met Merritt, but I will be on a panel with her at Split This Rock in DC. The panel is “Against Death What Other Stay Than Love”: Disabled Poets Read and we will read alongside the poets Sandra Beasley, Meg Day and Khadijah Queen. This is on April 21 at 9:00 a.m. Can you tell I’m excited? Merritt’s most recent book, Blind Girl Grunt: The Selected Blues Lyrics and Other Poems, was published last year by Headmistress Press.

Black: Can you talk about form a little bit? “Bitches on the Bright Side” is a villanelle. What is gained in this poem by writing in form?

Weise: I like villanelles but I’m a bigger fan of invectives and talk-backs. I think of Merritt’s poem as a talk-back to Dylan Thomas’ villanelle “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” What’s gained is we have a Blind poet responding to lines written by Thomas like “Blind eyes could blaze” and “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” For me, this marks a significant shift in poetry. Merritt’s poem applies pressure not just to Dylan’s use of blindness, but to all the poets who come after, and still today: nondisabled poets who plunder disability for a sweet little simile.

Black: Is there a permission to be less driven happening in “Bitches on the Bright Side”? That seems audacious in a world which makes so many of us feel like we have to perform better than others to be seen as equal. Can you speak to this a little bit? Is there a relationship between this audacious permission and disability?

Weise: Oh yes, that too. I love how the poem is the antithesis of an overcoming narrative. Permit me to imagine I’m writing to a nondisabled audience, here, and don’t need to explain why “overcoming narratives” dominate and distort our lives.

Black: In “Study in Perspective,” Merritt beautifully exposes power dynamics, “We get away with what we can” she writes, exploring who gets to remain clothed and who must be exposed; who is given a gaze and who is the subject of the gaze—and this makes me think about your writing. Writing about disability as you do deals with many of these same concepts. Do you see a connection to your own work in these areas?

Weise: The poem is so incredible. I love the way section II is only the word “Nothing.” I love the way the speaker considers “passing” and race and Blindness and class. I love the way history collapses into a couplet. And what is going on with this beloved? About that line—“We get away with what we can”—it feels so relevant to any number of situations. This might be too banal, but I think the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference continues to exclude openly-claiming disabled and D/deaf writers from the 42 keynotes because they can. I get the sense that there are only two ways for disabled writers to keynote: 1) first you have to win the MacArthur “Genius” Award or 2) be secret disabled and don’t let your writing show it. To quote Merritt: “From a distance the boundaries stay clear.”

From another angle, the notion of “get[ting] away” with something has been so important to my own poetics. I’m aware of questions like “Can the poet get away with it?” which I take to mean “Can they do it? Is it something that we poets do or condone?” I created the YouTube series Tips for Writers by Tipsy Tullivan to both get away from ableism and get away with it.

(Photo is an image of “Tipsy Tullivan” (a woman with a pink bow around her neck and long blond hair with bangs) smiling as if she were speaking, beside Vanessa Carlisle, a woman with mid-length blond hair, large sunglasses, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. The pair poses in front of the wall of a pink house.)

Black: Are there lines or ideas you’d like to call attention to or talk about? Which are the lines which speak to you most?

Weise: Those last lines in “A Study in Perspective” are devastating. It is as though there’s an elision of the beloved’s question (“Why?”). The answer closes the poem: “And not because, as I have said, / I loved you more, or am most good, / Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable.”

_____________________________________

Jillian Weise is a poet, performance artist and disability rights activist. She is the author The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (2007), The Colony (2010) and The Book of Goodbyes (2013), which won the Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Gardner Award from BOA Editions. Her work has appeared in A Public Space, The Huffington Post, The New York Times and other publications. Her heteronym, Tipsy Tullivan, hosts a show called “Tips for Writers” on YouTube. Weise is the recipient of residencies and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Fulbright Program, the Lannan Foundation, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is an Associate Professor at Clemson University. Her next book is forthcoming from BOA in Fall 2019.

Constance Merritt is an American poet from Pine Bluff Arkansas who has won the Vassar Miller prize and a finalist for the William Carlos Williams award. Merritt is the author of four collections of poetry: Blind Girl Grunt: The Selected Blues Lyrics and Other Poems (Headmistress Press, 2017), Two Rooms (LSU Press, 2009), Blessings and Inclemencies (LSU Press, 2007) and A Protocol for Touch (UNT Press, 2000).

Links to the good stuff:

“Bitches on the Bright Side” Text

“A Study in Perspective” Text

Constance Merritt at Poets and Writers

Constance Merritt’s Fools Gold at the Poetry Foundation

Jillian Weise at the Poetry Foundation

Jillian Weise’s Website

Weise’s Poem, “Some Rights”

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo Reads “Antígona González” by Sara Uribe

Anna: Can you tell me a little bit about Antígona González?

Xochitl: Antígona González is a book of poetry from Mexican poet Sara Uribe and translated by John Pluecher that uses the classic Greek tragedy, Antigone by Sophocles, as a container to speak about the disappeared of Mexico. In the classic, Antigone is a princess that breaks her uncle’s edict in order to bury her brother Polynices after he has been declared a traitor and his dead body abandoned in the desert. In Antígona González, “Polynices is identified with the marginalized and disappeared,” while Antígona represents the sisters searching for their disappeared brothers: “I didn’t want to be Antigone / but it happened to me.”

Anna: Why did you select this particular poem to share?

Xochitl: I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and the immigrant journey and the dangers of the border are topics I write about. I wanted to honor work being written from Mexico and to honor work being written in Spanish. I picked this particular poem because it’s the opening piece, and it really gives you a sense of the collection. Also, the instruction to “Count them all” is so powerful. The Mexican and the US governments want us to look the other way and let the disappeared disappear, but it’s our job to count dead, to honor the them, and to say their names.

Anna: This poem left me shredded. Can you expand a little on the circumstances around Uribe’s work?

Xochitl: The work is about the job of honoring the dead and disappeared. In Mexico, men and women disappear everyday. According to this New York Times article, “at least 1,400 bodies were dug up from mass graves across the country between 2009 and 2014. And those are just a fraction of the 176,000 murders that police have counted here over the last decade.” It’s an every day reality and horror for many people in Mexico and even for some here in the US. Uribe uses the classic Antigone to speak about those left behind, those charged with with job of having to figure out a way to honor their missing family members. Antigone is a very power piece of work because it’s about breaking the law of the land in order to honor a higher law, which I might say is in itself a feminist act, and the same is true in Antígona González. Over a hundred thousand dead bodies and the government refuses to take responsibility for them, refuses to even acknowledge them or their families, so what does a sister, a mother, or a daughter do?

Anna: Is there a connection between this poem or the body of Uribe’s work and your own?

Xochitl: My first book, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016) was partially inspired by two weeks I spent volunteering with the Tucson-based humanitarian organization No More Deaths, so there are poems speaking to the deaths that occur along the border, but I don’t live with that fear and horror every day. In fact, I had to drive over 500 miles to the Tucson sector of the US-Mexico border to see it first hand. And when my two weeks were done, I got back in my 2008 Toyota Matrix and drove back to LA and back to my normal, everyday safe life. I think Uribe’s work is so important because it speaks to the pain and fear people go through every day in Mexico. It speaks to the dead. It forces the reader to look at the dead.

Anna: If you could draw some skill or idea from this work into your own, what would it be?

Xochitl: The way she speaks directly to the reader is intense. The collection is about the pain of searching for someone who has ceased existing. In Spanish they are called desaparecido, the disappeared, but the English translation doesn’t really have the same weight. Here in the US, we don’t really know this phenomenon. Between the drug cartels, the government, and the desert, thousands of people are disappearing, and there are no answers. We can’t really know what that’s like, but she asks us to know. She asks us to help her hold that weight, that body. I would like to be able to speak to the reader with authenticity the way she does.

Anna: If a student were to read this poem and notice only one thing, what should that be?

Xochitl: The humanity. Look how she says, “count both innocent and guilty… Count them all… Name them all as to say: this body could be mine.” There is something in that. All the people involved are losing something. All of them are apart of this. I think she’s saying find the humanity. If it’s a student of poetry, I would encourage them to look at who their “enemy” is and try to find the humanity in them. I once took a poetry class with Juan Felipe Herrera, and he encouraged me and the other poets to do just this. Very few people are pure evil, and what is there to learn from pure evil anyway? Humanity is much more honest and interesting.

Anna: And finally, tell me more about your work? Where can I find it? And what is something you’d want me to see in your work?

Xochitl: My fist collection, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016) shares my witness of the US-Mexico border as a volunteer of No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes and how that reflects on families’ immigrant journeys from Mexico to California in the 40s and 50s and then how that reflects back on me as a single, educated woman living in Los Angeles today. What I want readers to see is the real tragedies happening on our own soil every day and to hopefully experience some empathy. At the core, we are all the same, and the most any of us want is a safe place to call home, and there is nothing bad in that.

Anna: Thank you so much for being a part of Lyric Essentials, Xochitl. This is powerful, incredible work, and I’m honored you drew our attention to it, here.
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Sara Uribe’s book, Antígona González
From the Interpreter over at Queen Mob’s
Sara Uribe at Poetry Foundation

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, a first-generation Chicana and the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications, 2016). Bermejo is a Steinbeck Fellow, Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grantee. She’s received residencies from Hedgebrook, Ragdale, National Parks Arts Foundation and Poetry Foundation. Her work appears in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and American Poetry Review among others. A dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño, can be viewed at Latinopia. She is a cofounder of Women Who Submit and a member of Macondo Writers’ Workshop.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s Website
Bermejo at the Poetry Foundation
At Cultural Weekly
At Poets and Writers
Posada, Bermejo’s most recent book, now available at Sundress

Anna Lys Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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