Why did you title your new collection Mary Oliver?

The short answer, what I tell people when approached at events, is that I’m using the name totemically. There’s an essay in the back of the collection, called “On Mary Oliver”, which deals with the title. Here’s a representative chunk:

“There is a gentle gibe here that I’m sure you’re picking up on. That’s definitely a layer of skin. Fame, ego, poetry and the interplay of these, as well as my own attitude surrounding them, are things I grapple with frequently, having to remind myself that I am not the center of the universe, that people deserve to be appreciated for their art, that this will result in hierarchies, and all of it’s okay, even if I disagree with the opinions of others, even if this isn’t what I want the world to look like, because I tried to control the world and many things wound up devastated. Giving the title over to another human’s name, specifically, a famous poet of perceived authority, has become a device through which I can do some of this grappling”.

I created an Instagram account for the book which features a FAQ, specifically around the title, because I foresaw a lot of feeling people could catch over using her name, especially as she passed away once the book was already with the printer. I haven’t caught as much shit as I thought I might, which is probably more a testament to my relative obscurity than anything else.

What is your favorite word?

Tangerine

 

How do you describe yourself in two adjectives?

Creative, receptive

 

What is your favorite topic of conversation?

Tell me about your dreams. Learn how to interpret dreams and apply your knowledge in waking life. Dreams are creativity in its purest form. The world of dreams is pure consciousness. Pure thinking. Pure creativity. I imagine that the reality it forms is much like the state of death. Take care to liink reality with other realities and present perception / feeling as an independent reality.

Talk to me about food, recipes, traditional dinners, corn, platanos, beans, tagines & couscous … Talk to me about HUITLACOCHE.

 

Why did you write Ways of Looking at a Woman?

I was working on a dissertation and I needed another way to procrastinate besides cat videos. I also wanted to explore some pressing questions I had about 1) women looking and being looked at, 2) how film and literary theory could help me answer these questions, and 3) how mothers fit into all of this.

 

So, can you tell us something about the title? I know this is your third collection of poetry to be published and I’ve always wondered about how authors choose a title. Your other two were interesting.

Well, like my previous book Moth Wing Tea, the title was actually taken from a chapbook I put together

probably over fifteen years ago. I didn’t realize it then, but these chapbooks were like wishes flung up to the stars. At that time, getting published was just a dream, and well, getting to put those old titles on an actual book is realizing that dream.

Why poetry?

In my early 20s, I started writing poetry as a way to cope with melancholy, challenge what wasn’t working out in love, work, life in general. I submitted to a mix of college literary journals and cultural magazines and received some acceptances. They gave me the drive to carry on, although some jobs and lifestyle changes got in the way of continuity. About fifteen years later, I started to write short stories and hoped to write a novel one day. Then my late mother suffered a massive stroke in 2006 and I found myself running back and forth between New York and Pennsylvania to help with caregiving. Time constraints led me to resume writing poetry and that’s where I’ve stayed. I consider my poems short short stories. I find it challenging in a positive way to tell a story in as few words as possible. Since 2013, I’ve belonged to an online poetry community called brevitas where 50+ poets share short poems (13 lines maximum) twice a month. I haven’t missed a submission since I started. Many brevitas poems appear in my latest poetry collections.

Since we mostly communicate through social media, texts and e-mails, I think the brevity of poetry makes it an optimal medium for reaching readers with a story, inspiration, some thought-provoking ideas. It doesn’t require a considerable investment in time.

What is it with you and the dreams?

That’s a pertinent question. That shows me you actually read my poem. Or wrote it. Either way, thank you.

The dreams have been a muse for a long time; maybe even forever, hence the poem’s title. The dream described in the poem is literally my earliest memory: all my toys dancing in a ring of light around my crib to the tune of It’s A Small World After All.

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.


The last time we talked we learned you were born in a log cabin and the illegitimate son of the Queen of England, what good that did anyone is hard to say, but I see you have another book coming out. Quite the coincidence.

I’ll say, and thanks for asking. Yes, it’s a horseracing, record collecting, and insane asylum novel called Whirlaway. It’s also about psychic evanescence, which is existing and not existing at the same time. It’s a funny book, I’ll add, but what else would you expect from the illegitimate son of an English Queen?

 

I understand you’ve used an unreliable narrator for perspective. What are you thoughts on this? Have you done this before?

Never intentionally. And I don’t like it as a rule. In my opinion, the writer should be doing the heavy lifting for the reader, being as clear and succinct and accessible as possible, but in Whirlaway my narrator is an escapee from a psychiatric hospital, a diagnosed and heavily-medicated schizophrenic, so I really had no choice. Poetry is supposedly the art of indirection, the way spaces become bridges and that sort of thing. Also at the heart of Whirlaway is a death mystery, and I found an unreliable narrator quite useful for this.

Your book is dedicated To Ceci. Who’s that?

She’s my mom.

 

So why not say, To Mom?

My sister and I have always called my parents by their first names. It’s always been the most natural thing for us—I think I tried calling them Mom and Dad once, and it felt weird and impersonal. When I was nine, one of my teachers asked my mom if “Ceci” meant “Mom” in Spanish, because she kept hearing us call her that. I thought, it is our word for Mom.

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.