The title of your new collection is Feminists Are Passing from Our Lives. Where does it come from and is this a book about feminists?

I used the title of one of my favorite poems in the manuscript, which is a parody of Philip Levine’s poem, “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives” which was published in the 1960’s. Levine’s speaker is a pig being taken to market to be sold for meat. The pig can sense his fate and speaks with a dignity we wouldn’t expect from any being under those circumstances.

With what’s been happening in the lives of American women, whose health care rights are under threat, who are still not paid equally for our work, and who are being targeted by extremist groups in the “manosphere,” I sometimes feel like that pig, properly fattened on title 9, on access to safe healthcare and a good education, now being guided into a future that looks a lot like the past. It’s a cautionary. It’s also an accounting of growing old.

Poetry or Making Love?

 That’s a tough call and I might have to dodge the question by insisting they’re the same thing. I’ve always said the connection between a writer and a reader is like a settled relationship – one in which you take your time, learn about each other, go back and start again when needed. The connection between a speaker and an audience on the other hand is like a wild one night stand.

 

What is it about poetry as opposed to other genres?

I guess it’s the wordplay; the truly infinite number of ways that exist for using language and syntax in poetry that other genres don’t allow. Poetry by its own nature adheres to something ineffable and far more embracing than the Chicago Style Manuel. Restrictions that hinder creativity annoy me anyway. Poetry, on the other hand, is viscerally and emotionally freeing.

As a long time choreographer and teacher of improvised performance arts, I learned from the very beginning that any individual’s freely flowing and naturally occurring continuum of creative thought and action is hindered only by their own private wounds and learned or imposed behaviors. Most teaching of improvisation actually involves unlearning habitual patterns. And all writing at its inception is improvised. For me writing poetry is remedial work for the creative spirit. I love that work. The need for it, is at the core of my driving interest in writing poetry for the last 20 years.

Photo credit: A Pavhk

You are about to release your third book, prey. Tell us everything.

prey is a themed full-length poetry collection centered around navigating a culture of predation. It details various predatory relationships from childhood onward, drawing parallels between human and nonhuman predators. The book seeks to expose the depth of trauma caused by physical, psychological, and sexual abuse—exploring what it is to become prey.

 

How’s the erotic poetry business?

Funny you should ask. JUNKIE WIFE, my erotic chapbook chronicling my first, dysfunctional, drug-fueled marriage, has just been published by Moon Tide Press, with a foreword by the great Bill Mohr. I’m reading all over town. (Details on my website.)

Let’s start with that cover – it is both lovely and bizarre. Where did it come from?

Isn’t it? It’s an illustration from an early 17th-century anatomy textbook on fetal formation by Adriaan van Spiegel and Giulio Casseri I came across in the process of researching historical medical texts. The governing idea of this manuscript was the concept of maternal imagination – that a mother’s thoughts and experiences, especially traumatic ones, affect fetal formation and can be responsible for monstrous births. This illustration seemed to embody both of those – specific anatomical detail of pregnancy combined with that imaginative presentation of the baby blooming from the mother’s abdomen. And I love how the book designer curled the mother’s hand around the C.

Why is there a fish on your book cover?

I like the idea of shooting fish in a barrel, or even a stream. The feeling that I am constantly overdoing it, living with a sense of desperation and the easy way out, which is often messy.

Terry, you have a new poetry collection titled Ruin Porn. What’s the story behind that title?

“Ruin Porn” is a term coined by Detroit writer/photographer Jim Griffioen in Vice Magazine; he critiques the aestheticizing of destruction, which he saw firsthand in many artists’ responses to the devastation within the city of Detroit. By focusing on the “beauty” of abandoned and crumbling buildings and neighborhoods, we ignore the human and economic costs to the communities.

At the same time, we are in the midst of profound disintegration of our society and our culture—the dissolution of gender roles, fragmentation in social relationships and in the psyche, degradation of the environment and of civil society, and the decay of the spirit. I can’t imagine what else to be writing about. “I cannot turn my eyes away…”

When did you start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry in high school as a way to deal with my depression. I realized much later (at the age of 30) that I was a lesbian, but back in high school all I knew was that I felt different and was unhappy. Most of what I wrote wasn’t very good—it was just a way for me to process my feelings. I continued to write poetry in college and I still have notebooks full of poems I wrote over thirty years ago. Interestingly, some of my poems from this period of my life are about same-sex attraction. In my own hand writing! And yet my mind was not ready to accept (and celebrate) who I was.

Since the prospect of a conversation with myself bored me, I decided to talk with my good friend and fellow poet Jackie Hymes—thanks, Jackie!

How did you come to write poetry? Or, what drew you to poetry?

Like most writers, probably, I’ve always been a voracious reader. And I’ve been fascinated by poetry pretty much as long as I can remember. My parents always had plenty of books in the house, including some old literature anthologies and poetry collections from when they were students. I remember I enjoyed reading through Robert Frost in particular, and also Anne Sexton and this collection of Romantic poetry. Keats in particular seemed to have this interesting charge that kept my attention. It didn’t occur to me that poetry was not a popular interest.

It wasn’t until early in college that I realized there were contemporary poets who worked seriously on their craft and sort of made a living from it (though we all know how that works). Though I flirted with other areas of study like mechanical engineering (I wanted to work on cars), I was always most passionate about reading and writing–and I found in poetry an intellectual and emotional challenge that captivated me.

Fast-forward some years and I couldn’t imagine not writing poetry. It’s such an integral part of my life and I think that will always be the way it is. It’s in my blood; poetry as an art seems to want something from me, though I’m still not sure what.

photograph by Cat Gwynn

Why write about the Souplantation?

For a decade of my life, it was the place that was most home.

 

How did you come to write poetry?

When I was nine and eleven, I wanted to be like John Lennon, but most of my lyrics had a simple drumbeat and no melody. I think I realized I was actually writing poems at the age of twenty-three. I guess it’s always been in there.

Photograph by Andrea Augé

What got you started with poetry?

Well, there sure wasn’t anything literary going on in my early environment. But I was exposed to great music, especially the Latin music popular in the Fifties. My parents had met in Atlantic City in the late Forties, when Boardwalk hotels had Cuban bands playing in ballrooms with crowded dancefloors every night. So I wound up bouncing to Mambo records as a toddler. Along with this, I was living in a hotbed of immigrant anxiety hopping with explosive feuds—my father’s parents had it in for my mother, and she hated them right back. The shame endured by the Jews of Eastern Europe was spilling into family dynamics, spouting from the pores of these people so blindly anxious to belong, and I got drenched in the vitriol. I was myself of course anxious to belong, to be seen and known through the blaze of the arguments, through the constant crossfire of blame.

 

Haven’t we done this before?

We have. I think back in 2011. Actually, I know it to be so because I googled it.

 

Why do you sometimes introduce yourself as an elegaic poet?

All poetry is about loss—of people, places, moments—and therefore about time, isn’t it? And that means it’s also about those little moments of joy, when the direction of loss is reversed. As for example, in my poem, “Thaw” in Shimmer, when “the fog / in my mouth melted / like spun sugar” and I recollected the name —“even more beautiful / than the tree”—“liquidambar,” which I had been completely unable to summon.

Memory is so often my subject. I love the Proustian moment—some triggering thing—and an entire past world blossoms open. My memories of the past sometimes seem like paintings I can re-examine, in which I can discover new things.

I have an Updike-ian feeling for the way the music, books, and fashions of our prime moment in time flow swiftly into the past, taking our very sense of self with them.