Monday, November 22, 2021

TtD supplement #202 : seven questions for Melissa Eleftherion

Melissa Eleftherion is a cis queer human, a writer, a librarian, and a visual artist. She is the author of field guide to autobiography (The Operating System, 2018), & ten chapbooks, including trauma suture (above/ground press, 2020), & abalone (poems-for-all, 2021). Her poems & prose have been widely published in various journals including the Berkeley Poetry Review, Entropy, & La Vague. Born & raised in Brooklyn, Melissa created, developed, and co-curates The SF State Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange with Elise Ficarra. She now lives in Northern California where she manages the Ukiah Library, curates the LOBA Reading Series, and serves as the Poet Laureate of Ukiah 2021-2023. Recent work is available at www.apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com.

Her two poems “from Invasive Species,” and “marriage on the patio” and “suture 66” appear in the thirty-first issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the two poems “from Invasive Species,” and “marriage on the patio” and “suture 66.”

A: These poems were written during a 30/30 project called The Poeming where myself and 30 other poets wrote 31 erasures based on the works of various authors including Anne Rice, Christopher Pike, & Seanan McGuire to name a few. Found poems can have the uncanny ability to strike at the core of the unconscious tenor of what’s happening, whether in the world, the mind, or the body. I like experimenting with the treasures resonant in someone else’s language.

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

A: In Dec. 2020, I started an online writing group for women as a means of carving out time & space to write & hold each other accountable in kind ways. As a means of furthering my study of tarot & jumpstarting our writing, I draw a card at each meeting that serves as a writing prompt. This new series I’ve been working on pairs tarot & science to excavate whatever relationships or hidden meanings might exist beneath the surface. Ultimately, many of my poems tend to play with the idea of the found form, whether through erasure, or through exploring ecological relationships in an attempt to elucidate elemental mysteries.  

Q: One of my favourite poets, George Bowering, composed a serial poem based on a shuffle of the major arcana and court cards of the Swiss Tarot deck, published as Genève (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1971). What is it about the tarot that appeals as a writing prompt, and what were you discovering through your own process of composition?

A: I’ve been learning that tarot has been an aid to writing for generations. For instance, did you know that Plath worked with the tarot to write “Daddy”? It’s fascinating, really once you start delving to see how tarot has catalyzed many great works. One thing that appeals to me personally is the myriad uses with which one can incorporate the tarot in writing practice – the images alone can be quite generative, as well as the larger mystical meanings of the cards & their representations. Again, I think it’s a way of calling up the invisible. Of conjuring energetics & relationships that are present but possibly unseen or willingly ignored by the human eye. The act of divination can be a means of seeing, of casting a tiny light on what may or may not be unconscious, but is nonetheless alive.

Q: After ten chapbooks and a trade collection, as well as your current work-in-progress, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My 2nd full-length collection, gaslight gutter rainbows, works with the language of minerals and rocks to tell a story of the relationship between human & geological trauma, along with the sediment of betrayal that lingers in our foundation. Some language used in the field of mineralogy is oddly foreboding of various ways the Earth & humanity have been ravaged by capitalist greed (and grief). This book explores ways to catalyze this understanding, and move forward. It’s about trusting yourself enough to claw your way out. It’s also currently making the rounds on the rejection circuit. The tarot series I began last year has started to shape itself into a new full-length collection tentatively titled WITCH BIOTA. The poems in this book play with the interrelationship of various elements & branches of science with the tarot. Ultimately, I think the poems are getting more granular – from birds to plants to minerals to mycelia, lichen & bacteria. Microorganisms are whole universes of fascination.

Q: Are you noticing a shift in structure along with the evolution into further “granular” subject matter? Are your poems becoming more expansive, or densely-packed? Has the evolution purely been one of subject?

A: Yes, while each poem demands its own breath & structure – I’m noticing a shift with the new poems. Both the poems & the line itself have become more expansive. Having dedicated writing time has also impacted the length – whereas I have often written in accreted fragments due to necessity, these poems are more capacious because they’re no longer being marginalized.  

Q: Have you any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? What poets or works sit at the back of your head as you work?

A: No, I wouldn’t say I have any models for this new work. This might explain why they feel so experimental. Apart from the stacks of field guides and various decks & books on the tarot I am surrounded by at my writing desk, one poet that tends to reappear for me is Lorine Niedecker. I remember finding a copy of New Goose at the San Francisco Public Library back in 2002 or so when I first moved out to California, and my daily repertoire consisted of hanging out at the Main & figuring out my life. Niedecker’s poems really struck me for their brevity & candor, along with the nuanced way she encapsulated so many resonant meanings in a single line. Later, I found myself writing some of the early poems in Witch Biota while studying Niedecker with Hoa Nguyen.

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

A: To reenergize my work, I tend to read a mixture of both nonfiction and poetry. Some recent reads that I found particularly generative include The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture by Emanuele Coccia, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, & frank: sonnets by Diane Seuss. Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star is a book I return to, along with anything by Bhanu Kapil.

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