Your poems Elegy VII (Metaphors for Grief) and Elegy VIII (Last Moment) appear in Memorious 13. Can you tell us a little about how the poems came to be?
After my mother died, I didn’t want to write about her death. I was very suspicious of writing about grief. I had been warned that writing about grief can feel like grieving, but in fact be a suspension of grief. One poet told me that when he finished the poems about his father’s death, he actually had to re-start the grieving process. I waited a long time, almost a year, before I wrote about her death, and then the elegies all came fairly quickly. It ended up being a sequence of nine poems that then became eight poems. I wrote them in a library, which is not where I usually write poems. I thought: Fine, I’m a poet, I write through things, I’ll write through this. So when it was time, I sat down and did it.
The poems take on even more resonance and intensity when you read them together, and I love the ways in which they build upon each other. Are you working on a series of elegies?
Thank you for saying that—I was hoping the sequence would build. I wanted the elegies to chronicle the bizarre qualities of grief. I hope that taken together, they trace the weirdness of adjusting to a world with a missing parent. One of the poems is called “the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Joke” and it’s about how even the best guidance through grief fails. I was close to my mother, and our relationship wasn’t very conflicted. I loved her, and I know she loved me. I know she was proud of me, and I feel like we pretty much said everything that needed saying. I think that Freud’s distinction between melancholy and mourning is very useful and that his construction of the two is quite accurate. I’m mourning my mother; I’m not melancholic. The sequence of elegies is the middle section of my next book. With other sequences, like the Physics and the Anatomy poems, they’ve kept coming, and now they extend across books. But I think I’m finished with the elegies. I’m sure my mom will be in my poems, but I doubt those poems will be elegies.
What are you reading now?
I’m working on a dissertation, so a lot of what I’m reading has to do with that. I spent this afternoon with George Plimpton’s oral biography of Truman Capote, Dennis Altman’s The Homosexualization of America, The Americanization of the Homosexual, and Elisabeth Badinter’s Dead End Feminism. In terms of poetry, I can’t wait to get my hands on Kathy Graber’s new book, and Anne Carson’s Nox is on my desk waiting for me to open it. I just read Dante Michaeux’s Amorous Shepherd—totally worth the wait. I keep trying to figure out how Brenda Shaughnessy’s combines such a light touch with such complete control. I keep going back to Auden and Merrill. I’ve also been reading a lot of Derek Jarman—I love how all of his books feel completely continuous and overlapping.
What are you working on now?
Well, the dissertation, obviously. But I’m also trying to work on poems that address the movements that informed Twentieth Century poetry. I’m glad “The Age of Manifestos” has passed, but there’s so much energy in the belief of someone like Pound or Tzara. They’re so sure they’ve found the right way to write and that everyone needs to follow their lead. It’s a dead end if you believe it—for yourself and your work—but I’ve always had an agnostic’s faith. There’s this wonderful Damien Hirst quote where he explains a piece by saying that he wants people to believe in art the way they believe in medicine. The poems I’m working on now are about trying to believe in poetry like that, or rather, what happens if you try to believe in poetry like that.