Tonight, after midnight
we are both outside, waiting
for the meteor shower that neither
of us can see.

On the phone
in the dark, in different
cities, we tell
the stories of each day–
a short walk across
the small bridge and
through the empty
parking lot, an hour
of writing and deleting lines
about your body, the bitter
smell of a downtown
coffee house, a longer walk
home, a glimpse
of you, but
it wasn’t you
crossing the street–

I’m sitting next to you
I say into the phone, and we are both
stretching and looking. I see you,
you say. Then we are both
quiet and searching, letting
our eyes adjust to the dark, breathing
and sighing together
waiting for something
to streak across the sky.

Does it bother you to be labeled as a confessional poet?

“Confessional,” in relation to poetry, seems to have become a dirty word, hasn’t it? Like the generation of girls who don’t want to call themselves feminists because they think it would mean that they hate men. It doesn’t bother me; I am a confessional poet. I write from experience. I write about the things I’ve done, the things I’ve witnessed, the things I’m looking for, the things I’ve lost. Is everything true? No. Is there truth in what the poems are looking for? I hope so.

 

Are you a feminist?

Yes.

 

Why do you think the confessional poem is still important?

Because it’s urgent. It’s intimate. It shows the reader something she can recognize.

 

So, is your speaker you?

She’s always a version of me.

 

How is she different?

Sometimes she’s more patient. Sometimes she’s more aggressive. Sometimes she can look someone right in the eye, in a way that I can’t. And sometimes she hides.

 

You also write persona poems, speaking through the voice of a lover, an ex, a lover’s ex, Andrea Yates, even. Can you talk about that?

There’s something very freeing about inhabiting another voice, looking at experience through different points of view, exploring identity by trying on different identities. It’s also a way of getting at the real truth of the experience you are trying to write about. The way my speaker sees things happening will be very different than how her lover does, her ex, her lover’s ex. This helps to inform not only what each of these women want, but will ultimately reveal what my speaker really wants, who she is, what she needs to say. These voices are all versions of me, too.

 

A lover, an ex, a lover’s ex, okay. But Andrea Yates?

Andrea Yates is a voice in my chapbook, Bleeding Yellow Light. When I came to her, I had been searching for new subject matter. I was working at the New York Post, reading Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination, in which he takes on the voice of the man Susan Smith claimed kidnapped her children. I was collecting headlines and bits of articles, hoping it all might lead me somewhere new. I tried on a few different voices before this one, but Andrea Yates’ story was so fascinating and terrifying. I thought by working through this voice and lens, I might find a new voice of my own.

 

Do you write poems about your own nervous breakdowns?

Yes. In fact, the worse shape I’m in, the more I’m writing.

 

Do you have nervous breakdowns over writing poems?

Yes. This is what I call a writing cycle.

 

What are you working on now? Tell us about your most current breakdown.

I can tell you that it has involved an electric typewriter and all nine seasons of The X-Files.We’ll see what that leads to. Stay tuned.

 

Dear Eve

By Heather Bartlett

Poem

The answer to your question is not
in the longing, the rage
and range
the reaching – what will you find
when your hand touches
something solid? Behind
the wooden door you close
and latch so carefully, as if the sound
of closing alone will echo
off the empty walls, the scent
of someone else’s breath is shut in
with you.
You are alone
as before she moved
her small body
under yours.
And here, inhaling
swallowing, holding it
as the poem you forgot
you’d already written, this is not
the love that carried you
away to this small suburban
space, where the dirty light
from under the door
illuminates only
what has fallen from your hand.