Start at the beginning. What’s your earliest memory?
Standing at the top of the basement stairs just after having learned how to walk and trying to make a break for it while my mother talked to a friend in the kitchen. She thwarted me at the last second and I thought, “I totally could have made it. Why would she wreck my fun.” Except I didn’t quite have that vocabulary yet, and I definitely would have fallen on my head.
Do you let your parents read your poetry?
No. Hi, mom.
I know I’m a grown-ass woman, but the idea of my parents being in my audience makes me feel squirmy and a little bit in trouble. I blame this on Catholicism and my mother’s oft-repeated childhood admonition that I should never do anything I wouldn’t do if she were standing right behind me. Turns out I do plenty of those things, so I have to make sure she isn’t standing behind me.
Enough about your mother. Do you know any poems by heart?
Only a few – one by Edna St. Vincent Millay, one by Margaret Atwood, one by Alice Fulton. There
are a lot more I want in my head – one by Sarah Manguso’s up next. I have an old friend who swears
by posting poems in the bathroom to memorize, but I haven’t gotten there yet. She’s probably a better human being than I am.
Why do you write any poetry at all, anyway?
I hate it when people say things like “because I can’t NOT write poems,” or “because the musem FOUND me in that coffeeshop.” I write poems because I like to and sometimes because I hate to, but
mostly because I really enjoy figuring things out and have been obsessed with language since I was
reading Nancy Drew books on my kindergarten nap mat. Anyway, it’s amazing…it hurts while you’re
practicing, like a good barre routine, and it’s exhilarating once you start to dance.
What do you see when you look up from your desk?
When I’m in my office at home, I see a print by indie artist Ashley Goldberg, a postcard of nuns
smoking, a picture of telephones from the December 1949 edition of LIFE magazine, and a
transparency of an ampersand that I found on the ground during a winter run. In my office on campus, I see a lot of calendars and sometimes my lifeforce ebbing away.
Did you always plan to teach?
Not even a little bit. In fact, the movie that has always made me break into a cold sweat more than
The Exorcist or any installment of Saw is Mr. Holland’s Opus. Teaching is great, yes, but I’m not for a
minute convinced that life is worth putting aside working on your art. It has to be about balance, about using what you get. My father is a professor, too, and I must have absorbed a certain love for the work through years of dinner table conversations about cranky deans and undergraduates wearing baseball caps. I taught my first class at age 12 (on study skills; I used transparencies) and have always had a hand in it since. There is an amazing energy that can happen in college seminars and workshops, when enough people are open to it.
What were you like when you were a student – say, in high school?
I was like a Catholic schoolgirl with very long hair and a very short skirt and some combat boots. I was a theater nerd, actually – I was in 20 productions during the four years, and I played flute in a couple of orchestras along with teaching music lessons and working at a music store. I still sing and do ballet, but persist in being surprised by people not first thinking of me as an actor or musician. I had wanted to be on the stage rather than the page.
Moving on. The chick flick. Discuss.
I mean, really, ladies…must we, in fact, eat and pray and love along with Julia Roberts? Is there something No Strings Attached is giving us that the classic Star Wars or Black Swan can’t?
Hm. Are all poets actually crazy?
There seems to be a suspicious amount of overlap in that particular Venn diagram. I haven’t yet carried out a scientific study but one day, God willing, I shall.
Are you crazy?
That depends on how many of my exes you’ve talked to.