Wednesday, November 29, 2023

TtD supplement #253 : seven questions for Dessa Bayrock

Dessa Bayrock lives in Ottawa with two cats, one of whom is very loud and almost always nearby. She ran post ghost press for two years and has published three chapbooks: IS IT ABOUT RUINS AND GHOSTS?, The Trick to Feeling Safe at Home, and Worry & Fuck. She recently completed a doctorate about Canadian literary awards. You can find her, or at least more about her, at dessabayrock.com, or at @dessayo on Instagram.

Her poem “Winter Poem” appears in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Winter Poem.”

A: Years ago I read a post online from a stranger that said something like I beg you to find ways of marking time that do not rely on the calendar, which link you more deeply to the natural world. It said something like notice the way the trees and flowers respond to the changing seasons. Mark the patterns of birds floating north for the summer and south for the winter. I chewed this idea over and over and to be honest I'm still chewing on it, but I've come to the conclusion that this stranger was describing a kind of personal almanac, which is an idea that really appealed to me. After all, I've always been interested in the idea of time as a palimpsest, with every year laying over the previous one. Sometimes these layers allow things to leak through; sometimes it's like jam soaking into the edges of a book, and sometimes it's more like a greased piece of paper through which I can see the shifting figures and shadows of my previous years as I overlap them.

All this to say: one of my favourite additions to my personal almanac is my habit of writing a new year's poem, which happens at a funny kind of crossroads: the year turns over, according to the calendar, but the season is hitting its stride in earnest. It's a strange little intersection where the season says I'm only just hitting my peak while the calendar says we are starting something new. It's a continuation; it's an interruption. It's an interesting time to write a poem.

As with most of my poems, many parts of this are metaphorical but also quite literal, and specifically the central image of the boots: at the beginning of the season, I broke the zipper on my heavy duty winter boots and also ripped open the side seam on my traditional autumn / early winter Blundstones. Both went to the cobbler, who lost them for months, and in the meantime I had nothing to wear on my feet. I spent the first half of the winter in three different pairs of borrowed boots, each of which failed me in their own way: I wore a hole through the bottom of the first pair, slipped around in the too-big second pair and had a dramatic fall that I think fractured something in my elbow, and the third pair fit well and stayed water-tight but had absolutely no insulation, and I froze my feet over and over again every time I stepped outside.  

Winter has never been my favourite season; I hate feeling trapped inside when the weather is bad, and I forget to eat, and every year I have at least one major slip and fall that leaves me gasping breathlessly up at the sky like a beached fish. Writing this poem was a way to write out all the ways the season was trying to trip me up, to rip me up, and all the ways I was still, nevertheless, relentlessly moving forward. And sure, it's not all good; spring means the revelation of everything that's been rotting under the snow before it means flowers. I guess I tried to write this poem in a way that felt sympathetic to winter, that tried to relate the season back in a way that winter would recognize — but also in a way that felt hopeful in a way that winter rarely does, to me. It feels a bit like a compromise, I guess — the same way that new year's seems to be a compromise between the season ramping up and the year ending.

When I wrote this poem, it felt like it had been the hardest winter of my life. And it had been — but it was a winter before Covid, and several winters in lockdown showed me how much more difficult and strange a winter season could be. All the same, in all the hard winters I've experienced since, this poem has felt a bit like a loving road map from my past self. See? She says. Spring always comes. And sooner or later the cobbler will find your boots in the back of the shop and call you to pick them up.

Q: How does this poem compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: This poem is honestly one of my favourites from the last few years — a piece that feels pretty representative of what I try to do in my poems, and what I’ve been trying to do for a while, which is namely: unlock the universal through the specific. Sometimes, as I said above, this makes them much more literal than figurative, and I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea — I once got a rejection from a well-known Canadian literary mag that basically (and kindly) said: have you tried being less literal? And yeah, I have, and I don’t like it. My favourite poems have always had a clear narrative path, a reliance moreso on simile than metaphor or other abstract imagery, and take on a kind of “braided” form where a central image spins out into several different paths before coming back together at the end. I like my poems to feel conversational, and honest, and this poem accomplishes that goal in a way that I, personally, find satisfying. Which in the end is what I think poetry has to be: first and foremost for myself, and whether or not other people like it is up to them.

Q: What first drew you to this kind of conversational approach? And what do you feel might be possible through this that might not be otherwise, say, if you were “less literal”?

A: I first started thinking and working in this conversational approach because of Kayla Czaga, whose poems are likewise conversational narratives in a way. I was immediately struck – and immediately in love with – the way that she inserts the names of real people from her life into her poems, which seemed to unlock something for me. I’d read poems for ages where poets would reference someone they knew but obscure the name, in a Poem for A___ kind of way. For a long time I respected that utility, but seeing the way that Czaga ignored it or defied it broke things open for me: You don’t have to obscure or hide from the reader. I use this kind of conversational narrative approach to build intimacy, leaning into the idea of telling a story rather than building literary impressions the reader is left to interpret themselves. I think it’s important, maybe now more than ever, to show the reader that the poet is a real person on the other side of the poem. Poems aren’t just thought experiments or art created in a vacuum – they’re moments in time that have been pressed between waxed paper like flowers so they can be saved, seen from all angles, studied, remembered. And, like Czaga, I now use the real names of my friends (with permission!) when they appear in my poems. The poem wouldn’t exist without them, so why would I hide it? It feels like another way of being open with the reader and coming to them in good faith: listen, I’m telling you the truth here, as best as I can. There are other places where truth becomes foggy in poems – but there’s no need to invent places for that to happen. I think it’s stronger if it happens naturally.

Q: You mention Kayla Czaga: have you any other models for this kind of work?

A: Ada Limón comes to mind; Sabrina Benaim maybe, although she plays with space on the page much more than I do; Chloe N. Clark, although the worlds of her poems are often a little unsettling rather than the more straight-forward worlds of my poems.

Q: With three chapbooks under your belt, as well as your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My first chapbook (IS IT ABOUT RUINS AND GHOSTS?, Ghost City Press 2019) is still very dear to me, but feels very representative of my poetry when I was just starting out – like Conyer Clayton’s but the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves, those poems were a way to reckon with the jungle of literal nightmares that descended every night for almost two years. When I return to these poems, I’m struck – especially given what we’ve been talking about – about my use of you in these poems -- a figure that the reader slips into, but a slippery you that refers to six or seven different people throughout the chapbook. I don’t use anyone’s name, except in the acknowledgements, which feels like a way of creating distance between me and the reader. You can't know what I’m talking about for sure, these poems tell the reader, as though to pass the confusion of my nightmares onto them. I still use you in a fair number of poems – but for quite some time now it has meant me, as though I’m writing a poem to myself. (Which, to be fair, I usually am.) So this is an interesting evolution, to me – instead of using you to create distance (I’m over here and you are over there and you don’t even know who you are), I’ve started using you to create intimacy (You, by which I mean me, by which I invite you into me, because we are the same, and here is what we are feeling).

In some ways these poems feel tentative to me, even as they feel fierce – I was pushing into new ways of writing in response to these nightmares, but also felt like challenging them on the page was giving them more power. Poems felt then to me like songs in a musical: a necessary expression of something that refused to be curtailed by mere dialogue alone. These poems say: I have something to write about and I don’t know what it is just yet. They feel a bit like dumping a tote bag on a table and saying does anyone see my keys in here? I think that’s valid, and that’s useful to some extent, but now I’m looking forward to how I might imagine poetic projects differently. I’m in the early stages of formulating a project on a theme that I can trace through others’ works and through historical records and wrestle with in different modes of writing and thinking, kind of in the vein of A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam, which feels like a meaningful and interesting way of levelling up my work. Poems responding to the poet’s own emotions can only go so far, I think – it’s time to find other frameworks and ideas to build into.

Q: While you do reference “songs in a musical,” I wonder about the music of your lyric, even within the first-person conversational. How aware are you, if at all, of sound and flow and music as you write?

A: Oh, yes. Very aware! I generally draft quickly, and try not to be precious about line length or flow or things like internal rhyme, but once I start editing it’s all about the flow of a piece – any story has a good flow. I read my poems out loud over and over and over again while I’m working on them, trying to make sure it sounds the way I want. I have a pretty good sense of meter, or at least I think I do, because I come from a background of sonnet-writing; sonnets were all I wrote for years and years and years, deadly formal, iambic pentameter, the whole nine yards. There’s something so beautifully insistent about the flow of a sonnet, about the math and structure of it, and while my poems now are decidedly less formal I really try to retain that sensibility of rhythm and flow. Sometimes I’ll work on a poem for ages, and it looks great on the page – but it gets stuck in my mouth when I try to read it out. So back in the box it goes until I can make it line up with my sense of what it should be.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: A poem I turn to over and over and over again is the first poem in Tara-Michelle Ziniuk’s collection Whatever, Iceberg, which is called “What if love existed but you didn’t have your notification settings turned on?”. It’s basically just a series of playful questions which take on a kind of urgency as the poem progresses, as the questions become rephrased, as the meaning of the poem both develops and devolves. The last stanza goes: If a relationship happened but one party fell off the face of the earth? Was the earth love? Was falling? Was soil? Was traffic? Was a plane? Was a face? Was your face love? It was to me.

That last four-word statement is the only non-question in the poem, and I cried abruptly when I first read it, the same way your body knows to immediately physiologically shoot out exactly two tears from each eye when you get your nose pierced. Although TMZ writes a more abstract narrative in this poem than I would, there’s something so beautifully shifting about its colours and impressions. And then that last line – whew. Like watching dancers whirling across a stage and suddenly, beautifully all stop in the same moment. Finally you can see the image – but also the image has disappeared, because the true image was its motion. I think this poem is exactly like that. I think a lot of good art is like that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

TtD supplement #252 : seven questions for Andy Weaver

Andy Weaver’s fourth book of poetry, The Loom, is forthcoming from the University of Calgary Press. Recent publications are the chapbooks So/I (above/ground; longlisted for the 2022 Nelson Ball Prize) and Ligament/Ligature (Model Press). He teaches creative writing, contemporary poetry, and poetics at York University.

His poems “Still,” “Earworms and Eye Rhymes” and “The Language of Obsolescence” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Still,” “Earworms and Eye Rhymes” and “The Language of Obsolescence.”

A: These three poems come from my forthcoming book, The Loom (U of Calgary Press), which is comprised of three long poems about becoming a father and raising two sons. These poems are from the third poem, “The Bridge,” which is written to/about my youngest son. Like many of the parts of the poems, these pieces meditate on the interrelationship of language and experience in relation to love, parenting, and identity.

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I’ve been working over the last 7-8 years to reconnect more to lyric poetry. Starting out back in the 1990s, I was trained almost exclusively in lyric poetry. Then grad school exploded my understanding of poetry and I became really interested in experimental poetry. Over the years since, my work had moved away from lyric to a pretty abstract investigation of language and other abstractions—my third book, This, went pretty far in this direction. I’ve been working to move back closer to the lyric. At the same time, I’m not very comfortable with writing lyric poetry, and I find that discomfort interesting and productive. So these poems are part of my recent attempt to be more lyrical but without trusting all that much in the lyric I.

Q: What is it about writing lyric that makes you uncomfortable? And if you are uncomfortable, why not simply move into another direction entirely?

A: Lyric poetry doesn’t have to foreground the I, and it doesn’t have to be a veiled discussion of the writer’s personality/opinion—but I think it still often does both. I tend to like poetry that foregrounds ideas and investigation over emotions and certainty, and I generally think that the world has had enough of white straight men writing about the life of being a straight white man. So, the challenge of writing about the experience of becoming a parent was, for me, about trying to write something that was generalized and intellectualized but not completely abstract or cold. At first, the project wasn’t going to be lyric at all, but the poems were too dry and emotionless, so the lyric provided an access point back to emotion and actuality that the poems needed—but I have been trying to make sure that the poems don’t give in to emotion or personal actuality too much.

Q: Do you have any models for the kind of work you’re attempting?

A: When I first started the project, my guiding principle was trying to write something that combined John Ashbery and Robert Duncan—Ashbery’s refusal to really discuss anything directly with Duncan’s political interest and open use of his life (Duncan is my favourite poet, but I tend to like his politics and wordplay—his mysticism can go too far for me). The last few years, I’ve been reading a lot of Ann Lauterbach and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and I like how they write what I think of as meditative poems that never really say what they are meditating on. I think they manage to do that more deftly than I can—for better or worse, I find that I need to have some central idea or concern or experience to function as a kind of central spoke that structures the piece. For these poems, it’s parenting, love, and language.

Q: When I was first thinking overtly of composing parenting poems, I drew on work by poets such as Margaret Christakos, Pattie McCarthy, Rachel Zucker and Farid Matuk, among others. Have you any specific models for this kind of work?

A: I’ve read Christakos, McCarthy, and Zucker, but I didn’t have specific models. Originally, I thought of the poems as meditations on a specific type of love, rather than specifically parenting poems; I still tend to think of them that way, though there ended up being a lot more specifically “parenting” moments included than I expected there would be.

Q: You present the impression that you compose poems, and poetry manuscripts, as full-length projects. How did you land at this particular approach?

A: My last few projects have been book-length in scope, yes. At first, it was a challenge I set myself, to see if I could do it (the result was my third book, This), and I liked the opportunity to keep looking at an idea or issue from multiple perspectives. The Loom presented itself because I had kids, and I was fascinated by them but also by the change to myself and to my worldview by becoming a parent. Since that book has been completed a few years ago, I've mostly gone back to smaller poems that work individually.

Q: With three published books and another forthcoming, as well as your current works-in-progress, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: I'm really not that sure how I’ve progressed as a writer. I’ve definitely progressed as a reader of poetry—I read much more widely now than I did years ago, and I hope that breadth has complicated my own writing and keeps it from settling into easy patterns. I think the lyric/experimental divide that has been in my work from the start is still there. I’d like to work to at least partially bridge that divide and find a more successful middle ground that incorporates aspects of both. At the same time, I also still want to write pieces that are more firmly one or the other. I have a few longer projects that are in progress, so I hope those will continue well. For the moment, at least, I like that I don’t really know how to categorize my writing.  

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: In my day job, I tend to focus on Black Mountain, especially Duncan, Creeley, Olson, and Cage. Those four seem to stay evergreen to me. I also love H.D., and perhaps surprisingly, Pablo Neruda.

I like to read Dianne Seuss, Maureen N. McLane, Jordan Abel, Erin Mouré, Dionne Brand. More recently, I’ve been going back multiple times to dip in and out of Helen Hajnoczky’s Frost and Pollen and Nicole Markotic’s After Beowulf, both of which are just confusingly excellent. But when my own writing is stalled, I tend to head to philosophy and literary criticism to kickstart my brain and get it back to focusing on language and its possibilities. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

TtD supplement #251 : six questions for Robyn Schelenz

Robyn Schelenz is from Birdsboro, Pennsylvania. Her poems are at Maudlin House, The Nervous Breakdown, Words and Sports Quarterly, Gone Lawn and elsewhere. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she works when not doing the bidding of her dog, Donut. Special thanks to Bending Genres and Benjamin Niespodziany for hosting the workshop in which “It was (a new world record)” came about, and to Ben for his thoughtful edits. Her new chapbook, Natural Healing, is new from Bottlecap Press.

Her poems “It was (a new world record),” “Ice” and “Wildlife” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “It was (a new world record),” “Ice” and “Wildlife.”

A: About two weeks into this year, I took a workshop with Benjamin Niespodziany at Bending Genres (both great). Ben shared stuff from Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi (“about the author”) and Sabrina Orah Mark (“Box Three, Spool Five”) and other people I hadn’t read! The first poem came out of there and was surely influenced by those discoveries. I lay on the floor in my parents’ guest room and that came out.

That kick-started the love of the prose poem for me. It’s a really interesting form that allows you to do things I like to do in all poems (compression) in a way that allows you to get away with some really maximalist stuff. You can also play with people’s expectations of the story they think they will receive in that form. Particularly with pronouns — I can introduce “they”s and “we”s that play a role in events without really explaining themselves. Which is basically how life feels to me (why I was a sociology undergrad!). There's some autobiographical stuff under the exaggerated framework in “It was” but it’s all stuff it wouldn’t be fair for me to claim in reality. Childishly wanting people to applaud your sorrow and family being the first to ignore that is funny, to me. The only fact in it is how elephants grow.

“Ice” I wrote in the winter walking my dog in San Francisco where I live and there is NO ice. But there is fog … as a northeasterner, you’re trained to expect it as you go through life in the winter. Wherever ice is, it generates a story, I think. I could read a huge anthology about ice.

“Wildlife” continues a theme – I think transitions and fears can be humorous. Sometimes there are things we are afraid of or would be humiliated by that we can easily imagine and play over in our heads. The world is usually more complex than we think and therefore we are, too. I would love being a brown oxford in the dark corner of someone’s home.

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: For a while I’ve been sort of obsessed with juxtaposing natural figures with consumerism in hopefully interesting ways. one of the things that came out of the workshop as well was a little snippet about trees going shopping. that could obviously get heavy-handed. but i can’t be the only person who’s looked at a strip mall with its decorative fauna and felt like i’m in a half story. i think surrealism and absurdism can help us tell stories about our natural world which is in an increasingly surreal state. so i have a little chapbook coming out from Bottlecap Press called Natural Healing that leans into all that. Horses going to therapy, bulls relieving anxiety by compulsively shopping, trees going to space, bowling pins being hospitalized when they fall down. I think we are in a very anxious place about how our world is, how we can fix it, and if we even can at all. and hopefully opening imaginative space helps people think about this. Jason Heroux in his books does a great job of animating the world in surprising and empathetic ways. I got his books this spring and was like Oh my god! his work is so pleasing yet so heartbreaking.

the short prose poem form is key to a lot of that work. i think it offers some reassurance even if it screws with expectations – paragraph logic is so much of our daily lives. it propels inevitability. and there is also a little of, “don’t worry, this will soon be over,” haha. Which can also generate a little … light doom.

Q: How do you see or consider your unit of composition? Are you the author of poems, of chapbook-length manuscripts or of eventual book-length manuscripts? Do your poems begin as solitary creatures that eventually cluster, or pieces of a much larger whole?

A: I’ve usually got a bunch of loners, though much as in high school, loners find each other. I’ve got a bunch with “prose poem” buttons on their backpacks. Some with certain tones. A few overtly political. The most recent cycle I’ve been doing is the first time an idea, or even a title, “Natural Healing,” animated a whole and prompted poems on top of what was previously gathered. Which was fun, prompting myself to continue to poetically imagine and dig into that particular vein. It’s like a bunch of poems running around wearing the same hat. And I’m the coach whistling on the sidelines. Working on a larger scale is still beyond my poetic muscles. I enrolled in an MFA just this fall, aka a few weeks ago, in hopes of improving my poetic discipline, organization, muscles, etc. To really think intelligently about how a manuscript can be made. It’s at Saint Mary’s in California with Matthew Zapruder, whose book Why Poetry was really important to me. It’s been really stimulating.

Q: What was it about Zapruder’s book that struck? And how have you been incorporating those prompts into your own work?

A: I think I spent my teens and 20s getting an unorthodox poetic education. I was really drawn to writers like Apollonaire that I couldn’t read in French. (I only know English, despite attempts at learning half a dozen languages over my life). I loved the blogs of Momus and of Gilles Weinzaepflen, as well as Gilles’ poetic narratives in song under the name Toog (“The General Says” is still a favorite). I never felt like I had an entry point into American poetry or even English-language poetry. Maybe I was scared! But I really liked the heavy estrangement of reading stuff that was in Google Translate, back when it was way less precise. Or by select translators. Christophe Tarkos’ long poem “Toto,” which is translated in “Ma Langue Est Poétique,” is probably still the poem that fascinates me most. Yeah, I know it’s translated, but it puts me in a different perceptual space than anything else I’ve ever read! Some of this was a reaction to a high school friend writing in a very Yeats and Eliot-influenced style and that being the sole definition of poetry. So therefore, I was, by his definition, a prose stylist! But, I was drawn to poetry. So I had to go find my own models.

I think Why Poetry helped re-introduce me to American poetry and introduced the concept that finding your own particular models and influences are part of the work of being a poet. It’s not a waste of time or barrier to your own uniqueness. It was an education in language and how individual poems fit into poetry as a cultural resource and how they all feed into each other in a way that makes space for all sorts of individual styles or schools. It also introduced me, meaningfully, to what finding your audience and finding your community really are. I mean, we live in a spiritual wasteland, getting any poetic food is delicious. But sometimes you encounter stuff that makes you go, this is it, this tastes amazing! And that genuine interest is the beginning of finding an audience AND a community, I think.

I mean, I found your blogs, rob, through random queries about poetry many times over the years, even as a very, very young poet. It’s such a great and vital education on its own of the limitless possibility of poems. Funny enough, I reached out to Gilles/Toog about poetry once and he referred me to Jennifer K. Dick, a DUSIE author. And she was so helpful in providing the kind of advice about community and audience that I'm echoing. Take workshops, or send letters. Passenger pigeons. People in the poetry world are generous, I think. But it’s helpful to have language to talk about what you really like and what your aesthetic is, and Zapruder’s book gave me a great foundation to start thinking about that.

Being a poet is a social affair as well as a personal one. It’s also like being queer -- you have to find your people. Even if it takes a long time. And then you have to summon up the courage to say hi. (I say this as a queer person from Amish country, I would know, haha). Hi can be a big word! But just go for it. Good things start with Hi.

Q: Have any of your poems begun to cluster into groups that might evolve into manuscripts, or are you not there yet? How do you see your poems in relation to each other?

A: I’m still really in love with the idea of short forms. Chapbooks are like charcuterie for me; you have this delicious transitional meal. You may think you know what you're getting but you don’t actually know half the time, and there’s an emphasis on form. You appreciate it in a different way. That being said, this perspective is probably informed by our warped attention span as a culture and in me personally.

With a manuscript, I’m attracted to titles. I like the idea of a title always sort of standing behind individual poems in a collection, informing the interpretation. I haven’t yet come up with the name that would call what I’ve currently got to attention and prompt them to arrange themselves in a longer form. I could imagine a three section book, maybe. Natural Healing, Natural Disaster, and Displacement/Revenge ... or whatever I would call spaghetti drowning the world, like in my poem in Dusie. And then once I get that out of my system, I think I’d like to do something really different, experiment and problematize my way of writing. Like planting crops in a field. You need to and want to change it up.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

Q: Oh good question … I love picking up Amanda Nadelberg’s Bright Brave Phenomena. Salamun’s “Mute and Time” always gets me with its fourth line. I first read that in translation at Del Ray Cross’ Shampoo Poetry, which has unlimited treasures in it. (Some jerk messed with the old domain but you can read it here http://shampoo-poetry.com/ ) I love this one poem by Erica Ehrenberg. Cort Day’s collection The Chime is one I always want to know where it is in my house. Graham Irvin’s Liver Mush is just visceral and cool and reminds me to be my version of that.

I love work that reminds me to be playful, joyful and precise all at the same time. Precisely playful. It’s an aspiration.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

TtD supplement #250 : seven questions for Noah Berlatsky

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer and the author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941/48 (Rutgers UP 2014). Poetry chapbooks include It’s Fab (Origami Poetry Project 2023), No Devotions (LJMcD Communications 2023) and a forthcoming full length, Not Akhmatova (Ben Yehuda Press). His chapbook Send $19.99 for Supplements and Freedom: Collages and Uncreative Writing, is brand-new from above/ground press.

His poems “King of Kong,” “Row Your Cab,” “Practice Makes Kenny G,” “Australia” and “Stuffed Unicorn” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “King of Kong,” “Row Your Cab,” “Practice Makes Kenny G,” “Australia” and “Stuffed Unicorn.”

A: This group of poems is all over the place! I started writing 30 years ago, with a 15-20 year break in the middle, but I've only had any “success”, even by poetry standards of success, in the last couple years. That means I have a lot (a lot!) of poems lying around I never got to publish. It’s a heterogenous blob of abortive semi-experimental burble, of which these poems are a small unrepresentative cross-section.

I think “Row Your Cab,” is the oldest one here; it’s from 1997 as near as I can tell.  I was reading/thinking about/inspired by/parodying the New York Schol poets, especially John Ashbery probably, (though I don't know that it sounds much like him) and maybe Ron Padgett? I just picked four words I found funny/weird and wrote little nonsense glorps with them. I was young(er) and thought I was feisty.

“Australia” is I think from a year or two later—maybe 2000-2001? The main influence here is the Chicago theater troupe Barrel of Monkeys, which worked with children to write very short stories and then turned them into these amazing nonsense surreal stream-of-consciousness short short plays. I found their work wonderful and exhilarating, and wrote a bunch of prose poems trying to capture that manic, bonk-your-head-like-a-coconut energy. I think we had also taken a trip to Australia around this time, so we had in fact seen tree cows in the wild.

Fast forward to 2022, when I’m writing poems with the vague, unexpected hope that someone might publish them. I saw Penny Lane's wonderful documentary “Listening to Kenny G” at the end of 2021. The movie pushes you to think about why certain art is supposed to be bland and mainstream, and explores just how weird Kenny G is as an artist who in some ways seems to like practice more than music itself. As a Jewish maybe neurodivergent artist obsessed with repetition and process, it really spoke to me. So I wrote a poem about that. Not sure why the goldfish are in there, but I guess they seemed right.

“King of Kong,” was inspired  I think most directly by the movie “The Reef: Stalked” which I reviewed at the Chicago Reader. But also inspired just by the general Hollywood thing where we're always imagining some monster as a threat to the planet when it's been clear for a long time that the biggest threat to the planet is us. Also I enjoyed fitting all those weird supervillain/monster names into a sonnet.

“Stuffed Unicorn” is part of a series of I guess quasi-cubist, Gertrude Stein-inspired sketches of small objects lying around our house. Not sure if my wife bought the plush toy for our daughter or if she just thought it was cute and wanted it for herself? In any case, these were great fun to write.

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I think my poetry is united in that I tend to pick up a fairly specific influence or idea and then run with it. Which means that it can look pretty different depending on what the influence or idea happens to be.

Right now I’m writing a whole bunch of nonense/surreal/New York school sonnets which take snippets of language from various places and turn it into word slurry. Clark Coolidge’s “88 Sonnets” was the most direct inspiration—though I think I’m only going to get up to 61 or so, I’m running out of steam. They’re related to “Row Your Cab,” though they work more like the poems in the chapbook I’m publishing with you, “Send $19.99 for Supplements and Freedom.”

I also just wrote a bunch of dada sound poet things somewhat inspired by the poems of petro ck who edits the wonderful site dadakuku, and somewhat, though more abstractly, inspired by Basho’s famous frog poem. They’re not much like anything I’ve written before...though the repetition echoes the Kenny G poem a bit?

Q: You mention an influence from the New York School; what is it about their work that strikes, that you wish to engage with in your own work?

A: It’s a somewhat anxious influence...John Ashbery’s snooty impenetrability irritated me for a long time, though I think I’ve more or less made my peace with it now. But my creative writing program at Oberlin didn’t really focus on a lot of avant garde experimental traditions, and the New York School poets were the people I knew about/had access to who saw poetry as a game or a series of weird jokes and pratfalls rather than as an expression of sincere romantic suchness. I like sincere romantic suchness too, sometimes, but I can also find it restrictive and oppressive. A lot of my poems are more head than heart (though I’m pretty passionate about the head) and the New York School was one way of finding that out or exploring that.

I recently read the wonderful Craig Dworkin/Kenneth Goldsmith anthology from 2011 Against Expression which is about uncreative appropriation/collage writing. That’s more my jam, and I wish I’d known there were people out there doing that when I began my own collage experiments in 1998-99 or so. But I didn’t, and the New York School was the closest I could get. So I appreciate them for that, even if I wouldn’t exactly say I feel like that’s my tradition.

Q: Which leads into the obvious question: who would you consider your tradition?

A: I guess I did set myself up for that. What Craig Dworkin calls uncreative writing—collage, appropriation, erasure, and so forth—really speaks to me. But that also means I’m just a packrat and often just sound like whatever I last read.

Q: I’m curious about your engagement with “collage, appropriation, erasure, and so forth,” as you say. What do you feel is possible through such forms that might not have been possible otherwise?

A: I should say first that my engagement with uncreative writing is in large part that it just sends me; it’s pretty visceral. When I first saw Rory Macbeth’s poem *The Bible (alphabetized)* which is just what it says and has like six pages or something of “be be be be be be be be be be be be be be be be be”—I just love that. What a crazy thing to do.

So there’s that. More theoretically, I think uncreative writing is a way to get away from a romantic confessional “I” and turn words or language into a game, or a mockery, or to bounce different language bits off each other and watch them clash or melt.

I just released a chapbook from LJMcD Communication called No Devotions which is a bunch of erasures of Mary Oliver poems. I really don’t like Mary Oliver much for all the reasons you wouldn’t—glib exhortation makes me itch. But at the same time I appreciate and respect that a lot of people get something from her. Manipulating her text is a way to make fun of her writing a bit, but also to try to find something in it that speaks to me or that I can appreciate the way other people seem to.

Would it be possible to do that in a more confessional vein? I mean, maybe (I just sort of did it in the above paragraph, right?) But for me it was more fun and more meaningful to try to talk about it in a way that took me out of the equation, perhaps because that mirrors the way I feel like I’m not really able to enter into Oliver’s poems.

Q: I like that example of Macbeth, a name I haven’t heard before. The piece you describe reminds me of finding, some thirty years ago or so in a Canadian literary journal as part of a special “sound poetry” issue, someone had reworked the words of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in alphabetical order, so the recording begins “a a a at at at an,” and so forth, thus striking the narrative out entirely for the sake of seemingly-arbitrary sound. Absolutely marvellous. I’ve been years attempting to figure out who that was and try and get my hands on a recording of it again, but no luck yet.

So how do you approach a poem, then, in terms of composition: do you approach from the level of sound or of language, or of seeking a way to mangle and manipulate and simply see what comes?

A: The Macbeth is in the anthology I mentioned, Against Expression, along with lots of other goodies.

I wanted to add to my last answer that uncreative writing can often be algorithmic-my Mary Oliver erasures remove all words with a letter of my name—and that makes writing a poem into a kind of puzzle or filling in a form. It feels like playing Tetris or crossing things off a list. It’s very comforting (which is what some people get from Mary Oliver, I think)

Which is a segue into your next question…I approach poems all different ways I think?

I guess they more often start with an idea than a sound or image, but that can be a topic I want to write about (as with “King Of Kong”) or a procedure (like “Row Your Cab”) or something I want to imitate. I get a lot of ideas reading poetry, where I’ll want to respond to an argument or play with a style.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I don’t have a great answer to this! As I said, I kind of jump off of whatever next thing I’m reading at the moment, rather than going back to things. I’ve got a project inspired by Anna Akhmatova which involved revisiting her work a lot over the past year or so, and a similar thing with Adelaide Crapsey’s cinquains. And I’ve been returning to that Against Expression anthology I mentioned on and off since I got it a year or so back.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Touch the Donkey : thirty-ninth issue,

The thirty-ninth issue is now available, with new poems by Robyn Schelenz, Andy Weaver, Dessa Bayrock, Anselm Berrigan, Noah Berlatsky, Rasiqra Revulva and Alana Solin.

Eight dollars (includes shipping). While you're enjoying our Hall of Wonders, your car unfortunately will be subject to repeated break-ins.

Friday, October 6, 2023

TtD supplement #249 : seven questions for Miranda Mellis

Miranda Mellis is the author of Crocosmia (forthcoming, Nightboat Books); The Revolutionary; Demystifications; The Instead (with Emily Abendroth); The Quarry; The Spokes; None of This Is Real; Materialisms; and The Revisionist. Originally from San Francisco, she now lives in the woods in Olympia and teaches at Evergreen State College. mirandamellis.com

Her poems “Utopia,” “No One Told Us” and “on the difference between choreography and improvisation” appear in the thirty-eighth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Utopia,” “No One Told Us” and “on the difference between choreography and improvisation.”

A: “No One Told Us” explores how difficult it can be to take in and relate to material realities and alterities–however actual, persistent, present, and communicative–for those raised to think and read reductively, and literally, for example, those who read the bible as literal.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t wisdom traditions with prescient sacred texts that illuminate reality. In The Lost Steps (1953) Alejo Carpentier described the sacred K’iche’ text Popol vuh as “the only cosmogony ever to have intuited the threat of the machine and the tragedy of the sorcerer’s apprentice.” The “doll people” / robots of the Popol vuh (which you can read as AI or as people who behave mechanistically without heart) are punished for exploiting animals, whereas in the bible Adam is given ‘dominion’ – leave to dominate. Domination reified as ‘natural’ and the overinflation of the singular authority figure (‘the cult of the soul’) forecloses openness to the multidudinous play of voices which together generate open ended questions and living knowledge, which is shapeshifting and changeful. This, in addition to a dearth of affordances for democratic power sharing, in a political economy dominated by the imperatives of capital, is impasse-making. That is, the poem is about mystification.

“On the Difference Between Choreography and Improvisation” takes up the possibility of animal liberation as an artwork that combines choreography (a plan, a scheme, a developed ethics, a useable concept, a mobile framework) and improvisation (the kairos moment; the time of action, with its energy of response and imminent intensity, opening the window, leaping out of the lab).

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I’m writing a novel, Crocosmia [due out from Nightboat in 2025]. The poems are transiences–switches that open and close with quick little currents. The novel, by comparison, is (an) enduring. It entails, for me, unusual writing problems. Or, a poem is poring over a card, a novel is building a house of cards.

Writing poems feels as intimate as thinking and breathing, whereas writing a novel (at least at the moment) feels like constantly falling, with no ground in sight. It feels impossible!

Q: If poems are poring over cards, how do you see your unit of composition? Are you the author of poems, of chapbook-length manuscripts or of book-length manuscripts? Do your poems begin as solitary creatures that eventually cluster, or pieces of a much larger whole?

A: The poems ‘begin as solitary creatures’ as you nicely put it. Most often they remain that, alone on the page in a file or on a piece of paper somewhere forever, lost to the middens of time or my chaos. The poems in Unconsciousness Raising clustered, like magnetic filings, over a concerted period of time during which I just found myself writing, or catching, poems, one after another, without knowing exactly why they were flying in the window. Almost like a kind of harvest, these poems . . . fruiting bodies!

Q: Do you have any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? Are there particular writers or works at the back of your head as you write?

A: Bob Glück’s sentences are a model for me of how much poetry, mutability, and emotional complexity a completely original sentence can hold, from sorrow to comedy. I like a sentence that swerves unexpectedly. At the level of story, from the beginning of my life as a reader I was ‘imprinted’ (how a young animal learns who and what to trust, described as a process of being written upon!) by such a wide and various readings that I wouldn’t know how to locate a singular model. That said, I feel kinship with what I’ll call mutant feminism, for example, Les Guérillères by Monique Wittig, as well as the radical, prefigurative, anarchist Ursula Le Guin novel The Dispossessed, which was formative.

Prefiguration, prolepsis, and enactment are keywords for what I am attempting in my current novel, while living in a complex forest ecosystem which is regularly subject to the harms of clear cutting is motivating the political desire and rage the novel enacts, and seeps into its style, as well as the imagery.

Q: What is it specifically about the lyric sentence—something I’ve been the past decade exploring as well, via models such as Rosmarie Waldrop, Anna Gurton-Wachter and Julie Carr, for example—that appeals? What do you feel is possible through this level of sentence-attention that might not be possible through, say, a scattered or fragmented line-break?

A: Long ago I read an interview with Lydia Davis about translating Proust and in that wonderful conversation she says, a sentence is a thought. We could ask, of a sentence, what kind of thought is this? How many layers of thought can a sentence hold? In the case of Proust, or, for that matter, Marquez, Beckett, Nanni Balestrini, or Thomas Bernhard, where sentences can be chapter length, or book length, we could say that thought is unending, not periodic, so, no periods. Line breaks and scatters give us gaps, breathlines, pauses, emptinesses, breakdowns, ruptures, quietnesses, simultaneity. In “Bewilderment” Fanny Howe writes “Like a scroll or a comic book that shows the same exact characters in multiple points and situations, the look of the daily world was governed only by which point you happened to be focused on at a particular time. Everything was occurring at once. So what if the globe is round? The manifest reality is flat.” If everything is occurring at once, then what shall the subject, so to speak, predicate, and how? For Howe in that essay it’s an ethical, ontological, and spiritual question. Making choices doesn’t end bewilderment, characters, as she writes, remain as uncertain at the end as they are at the beginning.

Like many writers, I also have been making collages and painting for decades, a welcome break from discursivity and conceptuality, a different kind of sense-making and improvisation, yet there is something similar, at times, about the kinds of moves you might make with an image as the moves you might make with sentences–being surprised by a comedic accident, or some unexpected candor, digression or errantry that is satisfyingly exact, open and generative. When a sentence can be experienced as complete, lucid, and yet unfinished and alive at the same time, that’s what delights.

To try to answer your last question regarding what might be “possible through this level of sentence-attention that might not be possible through, say, a scattered or fragmented line-break” I wonder if it has something to do with our expectations of sentences, the pointed way a sentence addresses the reader, in contrast with the poem’s more ambiguous sense of address? We expect the poem to do something unexpected, we know that we don’t know where it will go. Perhaps with a sentence, when it does something unexpected, we are more surprised, for example when the second clause relates only in the most elliptical way to the first, and the third one goes somewhere else entirely. I’d wager that people who do this kind of thing with prose sentences by and large began (and continue) as writers of poems. In other words, poetry is a constant.

A sentence that seems to exceed its various parts, that feels like the work of more than one writer, as if multiple instruments are sounding, combines the pleasures of prose with the pleasure of music, which is to say, of poetry.

Q: With a handful of books and chapbooks under your belt over the past fifteen years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: In terms of changes, The Revolutionary (Albion Books, 2022) was a departure for me in two ways: it was autobiographical and, unlike other books and chapbooks, which took a while to write and even longer to be published, The Revolutionary was written in a short amount of time and published directly after it was written, during (and partially about) my father’s illness, and after his death in 2022. Crocosmia is my focus at the moment. I have been collaborating on an epistolary piece with Rick Moody, a kind of correspondence of short essays. I don’t know where that will wind up, but I do know I’d like to do more collaborations of all kinds on and beyond the page.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I can’t help but circle back to and refind Etel Adnan, Cesar Aira, Alexander Kluge, Bob Glück, Thalia Field, Renee Gladman, Michael Eigen, Lisa Robertson, Cecilia Vicuña, Shahrnush Parsipur, Lorraine Daston, Giorgia Agamben, Walter Benjamin, Knausgard, Kafka, Lacan, and lately Alejandro Zambra. Along with tarot and the I-Ching, over the years I dip in and out of The Shaman’s Body, by Arnold Mindell, a kind of handbook. I find his articulation of the ‘second attention’ helpful in all kinds of ways. Most recently I read, with great pleasure, About Ed by Bob Glück, City of Incurable Women by Maud Casey, and Glacial Decoys by Luke Roberts. As far as essays, Patricia Lockwood and Jenny Diski are particular favorites.

For research for Crocosmia, most recently I’ve been reading Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body, by Elizabeth A. Wilson, Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World by Gaia Vince, Hexen 2039 by Suzanne Treister, and various writings by Suzanne Simard, Isabelle Stengers, and Karen Barad. An article on fulminology (the study of the science of lightning) and various readings on ecological remediation and cooperativism have been useful.

Friday, September 29, 2023

TtD supplement #248 : seven questions for Meghan Kemp-Gee

Meghan Kemp-Gee is the author of The Animal in the Room (Coach House Books, 2023), What I Meant to Ask: A Chapbook (Alien Buddha Press, 2022) and The Bones and Eggs and Beets (Small Harbor Editions, forthcoming), as well as a chapbook forthcoming with above/ground press. She also co-created Contested Strip, the world’s best comic about ultimate frisbee (and soon to be a graphic novel). She is a PhD candidate at UNB Fredericton and lives in North Vancouver. You can find her on Twitter @MadMollGreen.

Her poems “Blanket,” “Bike Lock,” “Ice Packs,” “Plane Ticket,” “Winter Coat” and “New Clothes” appear in the thirty-eight issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Blanket,” “Bike Lock,” “Ice Packs,” “Plane Ticket,” “Winter Coat” and “New Clothes.”

A: I wrote these early in September 2021. I remember sitting in a wooden chair on the front porch of my AirBnB during a sudden late-summer rainstorm. I’d just arrived in Fredericton to start my PhD program at UNB. I’d just biked back across the river from campus. I was excited to be there, but I was also completely bewildered, stressed out, and lonely. I didn’t really know anyone in New Brunswick yet. I’d never even been there before! I didn’t know where I was going to live yet, because I’d just moved from Los Angeles to Vancouver to Nanaimo to Vancouver to Fredericton in less than six months, so I was pretty tired of packing up and moving and unpacking. I was reading Phyllis Webb’s “Naked Poems” for Triny Finlay’s poetry class. Reading great poetry always inspires me to write! I don’t know exactly why, but Webb’s work made me want to write something simple, straightforward, just to get my thoughts straight, and that’s where this “Things to Buy in New Brunswick” got its start: inspired by my big list of things I had to buy to replace the stuff I’d left behind in LA or North Vancouver. Looking back, I think that big list of things to buy was my way of itemizing the big leap of faith it takes to land in a brand new place and start all over again.

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I just finished writing a big manuscript called Nebulas about astronomy and afterlives, and right now I’m composing some poems about famous athletes. So these “New Brunswick” poems contrast sharply with those in terms of topic and scope – they’re a lot more personal, intimate, and “small” by comparison with a nebula or a celebrity athlete! But I think there are definitely some prose techniques I’m trying out in these poems that I’m continuing to use and develop in all my work. In general, I really enjoy how prose forms contrast with formal elements like repetition and reversal, rhyme and meter. If you do it right, I think you can create interesting tensions between visual and aural forms!

Q: I’ve always considered, at least in my own work, visual placement to be notational: that if I wish for something to be read or sound a particular way, then it requires a particular placement upon the page (whereas jwcurry has argued as notation as being far more fluid). What is your approach or consideration for how things are placed upon the page, and subsequently read aloud and/or heard?

Honestly, this is a question that I feel I haven’t fully resolved yet. I think my visual poetic practice is still very much in development, catching up to my own knowledge and theories about the relationship between sound and image.

Over a year ago, I was taking a poetry class with Sue Sinclair and some outstanding creative writers at UNB. It was probably the best writing workshop I’ve ever been part of; it was a small class full of outstanding poets who also happened to be wonderful, friendly, supportive people and brilliant, brilliant readers. I remember one particular moment where the other students were discussing a single line from one of my poems. They were noting the fact that this was the longest line in the poem, and analyzing that. And I was sitting there, thinking “What the heck are they talking about? It’s exactly the same length as all the others.” But then I realized: they’re not talking about the length the way *I* think about line length. They’re not counting feet or syllables. They’re responding to the line visually.

And I’m so grateful for experiences like that, because they really challenge how I was schooled as a poetry reader and poetry writer, and they challenge my own biases as someone who (like you) thinks of visual elements more as “notation” for the primary purpose of the poem, which is to work through sound.

That was a valuable reality check for me, not just because it’s good to be aware of how differently different readers read our work. It’s also a good reality check because in my teaching life, I’m keenly interested in the theory of image/text, and how different kinds of composition work as multimodal texts. When I’ve taught multimodal composition and visual composition in college classes, I always encourage my students to think about how texts produce meaning visually. But as a poet who’s actively publishing in all kinds of journals, for practical reasons, I feel I have to actively not-think about those considerations a bit. Poets generally get at least a little bit of input about how our work is presented and laid out on the page, but ultimately there are going to be visual and design elements you’re not in charge of – or at least that are going to be determined in collaboration with your editors, printers, etc.

In the future, I think I’ll be a lot more interested in composing more multimodal forms, including visual poetry. A few months ago I wrote a chapbook that’s kind of a mashup between sound poetry, erasure poetry, and fuzzy photocopies of old manuscripts; I’m still a beginner doing work like that, but I loved it and I’d like to try more!

So this is all just to say that... I genuinely struggle with this question! I think I’m still evolving, and I have more to learn. I have a pretty strong sense that my poetic practice has yet to catch up to my theories about pedagogy, composition, and multimodality. But I don’t know what that “catching up” is eventually going to look like.

Q: You give the impression that you compose in clusters or projects, whether as chapbook-length or larger manuscripts. How do you approach composition? Are you a poet of individual pieces that collaborate to form larger structures, or are you a poet of larger structures from the get-go?

A: I used to be very poem-focused. I loved the idea of each individual poem as a perfect, self-contained unit. And I still like that! It’s one of the things I love most about reading poetry, especially short poems – the way that you can walk into a poem and shut the door, like it’s a perfect little room.

While I'm still interested in reading and writing single poems like that, I have become more interested in groups and sequences. I think it all started with The Animal in the Room, actually. In the second year of my MFA at Chapman University I had an idea to write a few poems about deer, and then the whole collection just spontaneously grew all these branches and new directions and limbs from there. Once I’d written that way once, I wanted to do it again! And I also learned a lot from the process of editing The Animal in the Room. In our first convo about the manuscript, my editor Susan Holbrook made this amazing suggestion to add a few more prose poems to the collection, so that they could act as a connective tissue.

When I wrote another full-length manuscript last year, I was very intentional about that strategy – weaving and interrupting and reweaving sequences and connections throughout. I like the word “intertextual,” meaning poems that connect with each other, both within a collection and beyond. Collage, braiding, cut-and-paste, mosaic, clouds and nebulas – those composition metaphors really inspire me right now!

Q: With a full-length collection and two chapbooks under your belt, as well as your current work(s)-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you feel your work headed?

A: Since completing my MFA in 2017, I think that my work has been trending towards longer sequences – chapbook-length and full-length collections. That’s a bit funny and ironic for me, because I really define myself as a “short-form” kind of poet! But maybe I am growing towards being more of a longer-form type of person, and I’m open to that growth. No matter what I’m writing, I really believe that you have to listen to the poems and let them guide you where they want to go – they’re always smarter and more interesting than you are. So I’m going to keep trying to do that.

I’ve recently read a couple of novels-in-verse that really dazzled me, including DA Lockhart’s awesome Bearmen Descend Upon Gimli. I’ve started to wonder, could I try to write something like this? Maybe someday?

Q: You seem very interested in examining the boundaries of genre and form, whether from within or between. What drives, or even sparked, this interest?

A: I won’t say that form is everything to me as a poet... but it might be pretty close to everything. I think that form was one of the main reasons I originally wanted to write poetry. I’ve always found great satisfaction in the crafty, technical, physical part of writing, whether it’s the puzzles and miraculous surprises you find in received forms, or whether it’s leaning into your formal structures to try to invent something new or pleasing.

In terms of “borders,” I think that forms by definition have borders. Forms require something to demarcate space, time, and sound – and even when you don't choose those structures, they have a way of choosing themselves, of choosing you! In my practice, I think all poetry – whether you want to call it “formal” or not – is about pushing against a border, or tenderly caressing one, or trying to locate one, or destroy one. Once you’re in contact or friction with one of those borders, you can do whatever you want with it – obey it, avoid it, put your shoulder against it, bend it, break it.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: There are several poets and several books that just can’t fail to inspire me and get me writing. I’ve never read “Song of Myself” without wanting to write something about it afterwards. Glück’s The Wild Iris is definitely another one like that, and Rankine’s Citizen is another. But I think statistically the all-time champ for me is Elizabeth Bishop. So many of my poems are about her poems, trying to talk to her, asking her questions. A buddy and I used to joke about painting our nails to match the cover of her Complete Works. I feel like there’s about a million new poems I could write hidden in that book.