Recent Work By TNB Poetry

You say you haven’t been sleeping much. What do you do in the middle of the night when everyone else is snoring? 

That all depends on what’s going on around me and whether or not I am really awake when I get out of bed. I once got in my car and drove down Silver Ridge Avenue. I woke up at 5am, in the parking lot of the Astro Cafe right off the 5 freeway, in my nightgown, shivering! A huge rig pulled in next to me.  I will never forget the vibration of those particular eighteen wheels. That… woke me all the way up.

More recently I woke up and painted my bathroom blue. So much of what we do in life has no end, even when it’s over, the ripples continue to pop up and surprise us. Sometimes, I just need a task that has a clear sense of completion.  When the wall is done, the wall is done.  The next morning, I realized that I had painted water base over oil. My daughter looked in the mirror and said, “Mom, I feel like I’m combing my hair in the sky!”  Then I didn’t care so much about the paint snafu.

On a more average sleepless night, I light a candle, pour a glass of water, and write.

 

Your day job is as a data analyst. How do you reconcile the analytical mindset with the poetic mindset?

I haven’t found them to be in conflict. I often approach poems inspirationally to begin with, but the editing and revision process is very analytical, and the rigor and clarity of thought that I’ve developed in my work help me there. At the same time, I’ve found that writing poetry has improved my general communication skills a lot, and that helps me in my job.

Many people aren’t aware of the nuances of different ways of saying things, or don’t have large enough vocabularies to be able to make effective choices. As a poet, these are indispensable skills. But actually, these skills are useful in any kind of job where you have to communicate with other people. No matter how dry and factual the information you’re putting across, there is emotional content, and it’s very easy to change that or shade it by using different words.

So, it’s been a while.

About a year, I think—it hasn’t been that long.

 

What have you been doing with yourself?

Well, as you know, my second book, Obscure Classics of English Progressive Rock, came out in May.

 

It’s not… actually about prog rock… is it?

No. The title’s a bit of an inside joke on the long length of many of the poems. Sure, I dig Van der Graaf Generator a bit more than is actually healthy, but I can’t really imagine actually writing a collection about prog rock.

So your first collection of poetry, Oldest Mortal Myth, is coming out this month. What are some recent-ish first books of poetry you’ve loved? What about second books?

Oh, so many! First books I’ve admired include but are not limited to: Field Folly Snow by Cecily Parks, Into these Knots by Ashley Anna McHugh, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting by Anna Journey, 0°, 0° by Amit Majmudar, Rookery by Traci Brimhall, and Shore Ordered Ocean by Dora Malech.

How did you decide to write Dogs of Brooklyn?

I had written one poetry collection in undergrad at FSU and my first few years out of school living in New York. I published a few of the poems in literary magazines, but didn’t have much luck with a chapbook getting published. I then wrote a terrible spy novel and got an MFA. I think I was just teaching myself how to write but was disappointed when the novel also didn’t get published. I played in bands for a few years too, that went nowhere really. I was in a pretty hopeless place when I had a great conversation with my undergrad poetry professors, David Kirby and Barbara Hamby. They encouraged me to write about the dogs and my life in Brooklyn. Before that it really hadn’t occurred to me. So basically, a lot of failure led up to it. I figured even if this book went nowhere I would have honored the animals that I spent my days with and made their owners happy.

How do you feel?

Like not enough everything and too much something.

 

How will you feel this afternoon?

I’m trying to live in the moment, man.

Among contemporary poets, who are you reading and why?

I’ve just finished Macnolia, a wonderful collection of thematic poems by A. Van Jordan. Van Jordan’s work is a discourse on gender and race in the context of the life of a woman named Macnolia Cox Montiere. Macnolia’s life was shaped irrevocably when she, an African-American girl, was wrongfully denied top prize at the 1936 Akron Spelling Bee. Van Jordan does a wonderful job of exorcising ghosts in an effort to resurrect history and pay homage to an extraordinary individual. Additionally, the structure of his poetry, some of which is experimental, makes many of his poems truly haunting—and their message about the importance of revealing truth entirely vital.

Your poetry has been called dark, dangerous and mordant. How do you feel about that?

Part of me accepts it. Another part cringes—the way I did when a former boyfriend nicknamed me the “Shadow Queen.” I cringe, of course, because there’s truth in it.

Violence touched me early in childhood, and I’ve spent years grappling with what Jung termed the “shadow”—those blacker aspects of our humanity. You know, the ones we like to suppress, disown and project onto others.

Writing poetry, in particular, helps me to speak the unspeakable; to make meaning of the incomprehensible; to bring all that unconscious stuff into consciousness so it can be integrated and, ultimately, transformed.

Tell us about your book, The Insomniac’s House.

It is a chapbook about a character called Swampy Woman. I wrote a poem a year and a half ago and it had a person in it called Swampy Woman. Some time went by and then she showed up in another poem and I became enamored with her. The poems poured forth for quite a while after that. I wrote one almost every day for a month and then I was done with her as fast as she had begun. I have written a couple of more since then, but the flood has become a thin trickle.

Are you your poems?

No. Yes. An acquaintance once said to me, “I feel like I know you through your poems.” He doesn’t. A friend once said, “I didn’t like that poem because it’s not the Marilyn I know.” It wasn’t. My poems are generally a quick-heated amalgam of memory, imagination, musings, things I’ve seen, things I’ve thought I’ve seen, stuff I’ve read or my imperfect recollection of stuff I’ve read, people I’ve known and the stories I’ve heard. Every poem is a fiction, and like all good fiction, is true…ish.