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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.

What is the best part about being considered an “erotic” poet?

People automatically assume I’m having great sex.

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Who are you? And also, why do you write? Actually, why don’t you just write me a poem right now?

Poetry is: an artifact of the shining me, the radiant, the torn: the execution of that self: the contending with who do I think I am to live so freely here: walking this riverbed: kneeling in dirt: putting my lips to cemetery stone: loving the glow of metacarpal bones under me, in my stumbling: decay: in my children: their spines: their flows: their jaws: my God, where are you blinking?: because I am among the abandoned: scattered: fragmented: a broken word: do you know what I mean by broken?: because even swallowing: even: broken: witness: heard: any song: any move into slow: the dead hold out their palms: I approach as lamb: for food: for daisies: for slaughter: for an end to thirst: for white blooms on my tongue: for being in a body: disembodied: embodied: an embodied spirit: the intersection: revenant against my teeth: a rosary for sorrow: a litany to see the dead in mirrors: joy in finger bones: if I lay me down: if I lay me down: because I have wished for death: but now I would go fighting: the poem is: my voice: my clawing for light: my internal song/scream/cry: it’s the part of me that will endure: here: can I believe that there is a skyward: that my bones float in it: unsheltered: here.

Why do I write poetry? It’s the part of me that will endure: here.

Photograph by Alexis Rhone Fancher

It’s the start of 2017 on Planet Earth. How’s it feel to be a poet right now?

Awful (it’s my job, not complaining) and awfully important. Not because I am so terribly important–I mean–I’m glad if I write work people find meaningful in some way, but right now, just attempting to feel the sublime moments of aesthetic arrest while coping with my fury and sadness concerning the political situation in America, specifically, the insanely fascistic douche-baggery operating in the White House and majority seats of the Capitol make bearing an authentic and carefree poet spirit through the world challenging, to say the least.

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Why did you choose the title “Marys of the Sea?”

Well, I love the ocean. It is vast and dangerous and calming and tumultuous—it is both familiar yet mysterious. Since the book itself is a retelling of my own experiences as a sexual assault survivor, of someone who had an abortion (as a result of the assault), I used the ocean as a metaphorical, and sometimes, physical landscape to the book.

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Have you ever done a self-interview before?

Isn’t that what writing is?

 

Are you going to answer every question with another question?

Is that a problem?

 

Do you write every day?

I read more than I write.

 

What are you reading right now?

I’m in the middle of Charles Martin’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and The Education of Henry Adams.

Hi, Karen. Thanks for taking time to talk to TNB today.

My Pleasure. This is way more fun than what I usually do while my kids are at school.

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Good Afternoon!

Good Afternoon! Writing to you from Miami—I’m in my hotel lobby. There is a beautiful strange wood ceiling, incense burning, and cacti. And everyone is walking through in bathing suits.

 

All your books are unique in the sense that you wrote them in English and French. Can you tell us about your process?

French is my mother tongue but English became the dominant language when I moved to the United States. Actually it took over even before, when I wrote my thesis on Henry James for my Masters at the Sorbonne. I was already an anglophile, having lived and studied in England, and I loved writing in English. So I wrote my first book in English. It was my first publisher’s idea that I present it as a bilingual collection. This turned out to be a brilliant idea because the books become a dance between languages.

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Where are you now?

In my apartment in New York City. Eating mac n’ cheese. I just got back from having a few beers with an old friend, TJ.

Whats the difference between poetry and other writing?

Poetry is writing minus the traffic lights, bridges, and boring parts.

 

Terry Wolverton: Douglas, I first spoke with you about the dis•articulations project at the opening for “Oasis,” an art exhibition at Descanso Gardens in which poets and artists made work that responded to the landscape. I described to you how each month I was asking a different Los Angeles poet to collaborate with me on a series of exchanges that would result in new poems by both of us. The process was this: We would each find four poetry prompts in the media (print, broadcast or social), something we did not generate. We would exchange those prompts and use them to do four different segments of “fevered writing” (timed writing, without specific intention, a word spill for 3 minutes.) Then we would exchange the fevered writing, and write new poems using the words given to us by the other. So your poem would be comprised of words I had given you; my poem would be comprised of words you had given me. We didn’t have to use every word we were given, but we couldn’t add any words.

I remember feeling shy about asking whether you might consider participating, and was over-the-moon thrilled when you said you would. What made you decide to say yes?

 

Douglas Kearney: We’ve known each other for a minute, Terry, and I remember fondly our discussion about your adaptation of Embers for opera. I think it gave us an insight into each other’s ways of approaching language. At the time of your invitation, if I recall correctly, I had been kind of off-the-grid, locally. Holed up. It was a good way to get back out with someone I respect but hadn’t worked with in a creative capacity for some time.

I mentioned at a Dis•Articulations reading that I connected the approach to sample chopping—like say, Bob James’ “Nautilus” as sampled by 9th Wonder on “Murray’s Revenge.” Were you drawing the project frame from any particular aesthetic traditions?

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Hi Ellyn,

Hi backatcha!

 

Tell us about your background.

As an incredibly shy kid growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I expressed myself through writing early in life. I scribbled stories about going to California and meeting Barry Manilow, I never imagined reading this work aloud.  I mean, I was too timid to order in restaurants or even to ask where the bathroom was.  My shyness, in part, stemmed from having a hyper-critical father (luckily my mother was loving and supportive), a proverbial dysfunctional family in general, and from enduring classmates’ criticism that I was “an unusual-looking girl.”

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What are three things you want the reader to know about GHOST / LANDSCAPE?

KMD: In the poems, you’ll find a bank robbery, a lock on the door, and a freezer we keep forgetting we keep in the basement. One (and only one) of these things is real.

Now that you’ve entered the landscape, don’t follow the paths that seem most clearly marked. They’ll lead you further away from the guesthouse (and the truth about the ghost).

Lastly, and most importantly, the conference we keep referring to was really an elaborate cover-up. Even the panels were just for show.

JG: Things keep changing, you know? One moment the news is on, and it’s such very bad news from so many quarters (1). And then you’re shopping for new shoes (2). Both of these things are honest and true things about living in the world (3).

I was reading something the other day (you might’ve seen it; it was passed around facebook) arguing against the current conception of empathy, that it’s too easily swayed by individuals in crisis and not enough by long-term goals. And it reminded me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Riker gets turned into a god, and loses his capacity for empathy. Like most things, it’s a negotiation.

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Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

I’ve always thought of high school or college teachers, but since you said, “growing up,” specifically, I thought of Miss Jackson, my school librarian. I still remember the day she let me graduate from “easy to read” books to “red tape” books (which were marked with red tape on the spines to indicate a higher grade level). It opened the world for me, and I’m forever grateful.