Welcome to our new seasonal Contributor Spotlight Bonanza! After fourteen years of publishing poetry, our contributor list continues to grow, encompassing poets at all stages of their publishing careers. This is the first of what will be a regular seasonal round-up of new collections by previous Memorious contributors.
I asked each of these fifteen poets to tell us a little about the book or to give us the story behind a poem in the book or to answer a question that they would have liked to be asked about the book. Here’s what they had to say.
Hadara Bar-Nadav, The New Nudity (Saturnalia)
“The poems in The New Nudity shock everyday objects to life. In these chiseled, electrically-charged poems, a ladder, wineglass, and spine ignite into being. The poem “Door” was inspired by Guillaume Apollinaire’s “La Porte” (“The Door”). In his poem, Apollinaire personifies the hotel door, which “smiles terribly.” The door suffers emotions such as loss and grief. In the end, the door is cast as a hard-working, unappreciated, forgotten mother-figure who is desperate for adventure and possibly love. In writing my own poem “Door,” I studied a hotel door and considered what she had witnessed, all the people that had passed through her. I used personification and first-person point of view so that the door has a voice, though this sense of voice is complicated. The door is trapped (“tongueless,” “mute,” “[h]ung by two pins”) but is simultaneously powerful. She has the power to “unleash” her “triangle of shadows” and recognizes that all must pass through her and her threshold to the world beyond. She owns the darkness and will make her anger known, haunting those who do not honor her.” You can sample her poem “Cloud” from The New Nudity in Memorious 28.
Michael Bazzett, The Interrogation (Milkweed)
A Brief Transcript of an Interview That Never Happened
Q: Is it true that ten of the first twelve words in a word-cloud of your book, The Interrogation, spell out, in order, the following sentence? “One man will just say, I’m body, words, light & time.”
A: Yes, actually.
Q: Would it be fair to say the blindly burrowing mole might be seen as the dæmon of this book, where the world is turned upside down, the earth below our feet becomes the night sky, and Mr. Mole and his fellow moles become “slow comets / with tiny pink hands”?
Q: Is it true that some of these poems that are taken as darkly ironic fables actually began life as love poems?
A: (Nods head.) Yeah.
Q: Is it true that you’re a bit wary of how the commodification of art can recreate capitalism’s destructive hierarchies in lit culture and, in an ideal world, you’d rather just trade copies of your books for a glass of whiskey, a kind smile, or a beautiful little limestone fossil of a trilobite?
David Daniel, Ornaments (Pitt Poetry Series)
“The title poem was written in the waiting room of a mediator’s office after I’d been banished for fifteen minutes—that turned out to be an hour—from the negotiations. All but the last few lines were drafted then. There’s a longer and better story that won’t quite fit here, but it was certainly the most emotionally complex origin story that I have.” You can read the title poem here, and the opening poem of the collection in Issue 15 of Memorious.
Douglas Haynes, Last Word (Finishing Line Press)
“One of the projects of After Jubilee was to write a Black woman’s history of what it was like to be alive in that murky time after emancipation and before the Civil Rights movement. The majority of the poems in this book are persona and all but two of the voices are Black women. One of the reasons I wanted to hear Black women from this time speak is because I had spent a lot of time listening to blues music and work songs from the early 1900’s trying to get a feel for the time period and all of the musicians were men. And I remember, in particular, listening to work songs recorded at Parchman Farm, with commanding lines like “be my woman girl I’ll be your man,” and “it take a good looking woman to make a good looking whore,” and wondering what must it have been like to live in a world where men’s voices are so loud, needy, and aggressive, (not unlike our present day) while yours are still stifled and overlooked. I wanted to hear them speak back to some of that neediness and censor so I wrote this book as an exercise in imagining Black women singing their own songs. ” You can read a pair of poems from After JubileeTwelfth House and find a poem of Janae’s in Memorious 28.
Sara Rose Nordgren, Darwin’s Mother (Pitt Poetry Series)
“I was in the scary place – the lull between finishing my first book and conceiving of my second. My friend, Charlie Conley, and I were walking in the dunes in Provincetown, talking about books, and I was trying – for the first time – to articulate why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the novel I’d read more times than any other. It was life and death, predictably – a fascination with the seed of life, what it is, what it means when it’s there or when it’s not. That night, the opening lines “We have discovered a monster/ in bits and pieces” came to me, and the first poem of what would become Darwin’s Mother was born. Like Victor Frankenstein in Ingolstadt, I immersed myself in scientific and philosophical texts over the following days and years, wanting (hubristically) to grasp the narrative of the origins of life. At the same time, the other side of knowledge – dream and magic, superstition and God, beauty, and the lost history of women – came surging back against this knowledge like a counterwave, mixing with it.” Here’s a link to the “Darwin’s Mother” sequence in The Adroit Journal. You can also find her work in Memorious 18.
Joseph O. Legaspi, Threshold (CavanKerry Press)
“When I sent in my second manuscript to my publisher, CavanKerry Press, it bore a different title. And it was a different, unfocused book altogether. Luckily, my publisher talked me through it because she believed in the potential of my poems. The title, Threshold, didn’t make itself known until the second radical overhaul. Themes emerged, not only of passageways and metamorphosis, but, most surprisingly, of weddings and marriage. Being a queer person, marriage was never a part of the equation—albeit I love going to weddings, nowadays, it’s the only opportunity for me to dance—until, of course, gay marriage became a legal reality. Although I have wedding poems in the collection from more than a decade ago, so I suppose it’s been an obsession. The institution baffled and mystified me. My parents’ marriage was not one to emulate. But now that I’m reveling in it, I must say it is a constant source of revelation and daily domestic comfort.” The poem “Our Mothers,” from Threshold, is available to read in Memorious 26.
Eric Pankey, Augury (Milkweed)
“Many of the poems in AUGURY were originally drafted in Menerbes, France where I was honored with a fellowship from the Brown Foundation that included a residency at The Dora Maar House. This was 2013. Many of the poems with the word speculation in the title and the whole of the long prose poem sequence at the book’s end had their start there in Provence, where I resided in the little hilltop village in the former residence of Dora Maar, the amazing surrealist photograph and artist. Maar is also famous as one of Picasso’s partners and models. I worked long days, often with three writing sessions– up early, then after lunch, then after dinner. It was one of the most productive times I have ever had and the fact that it was in a stunningly beautiful place and grand house with a excellent library made it all seem more like a dream than real life.” Sample some poems by Eric Pankey in Memorious 28 and Memorious 16.
Kiki Petrosino, Witch Wife (Sarabande)
Beth Woodcome Platow, Little Myths (National Poetry Review Press)
“I remember saying when I was 21 that one of my goals was to publish a book by the time I was 25. Obviously, given that I’m 41 and that this is my first book, my journey took a different path. Due to that path, Little Myths spans almost twenty years of selected works. It starts out with poems that are more internal about lost love, familial turmoil, and complex romantic relationships and ends with poems focused on my daughter and a more external vision of the world. I think they show my growth as a person and as a writer.” You can read the opening poem of the collection in Memorious 6.
Tara Skurtu, The Amoeba Game (Eyewear Publishing)
“The Amoeba Game is an intercontinental, cyclic journey that begins with a superstition in six lines: “Șoricel.” The Romanian diminutive of mouse, this “șoricel” in the mouth of a sleeping child is also the soul of this child, timing its escape route, too clever to be caught. This eerie little epigraphic game of soul and mouse launches the book into and out of a Florida childhood with the world’s most imaginative dad, a strange game of possibility that later comes to represent poetry and life, a catechism that doesn’t add up, visiting an incarcerated sibling that I want to protect but can’t, wondering about a nearly forgotten Romanian family history, the process of healing and the uncertain forecast of newly restored health. The Amoeba Game departs from, as Gail Mazur puts it perfectly, “a loving family’s disarray, to the dream and reality of life—and love—in Romania.” But it’s a “șoricel” kind of love—did I mention this was a cyclic journey? And we’re left with a postscript, an epilogue expressing the necessity of art, of writing: It hurts / to go through walls, says // a poem beside the painting— / But how necessary after all.” Read “Soricel” in Memorious 22.
Maggie Smith, Good Bones (Tupelo Press)
Good Bones (Tupelo Press) is Maggie Smith’s third book of poems. Elizabeth Lund, poetry critic for the Washington Post, writes, “The title poem…went viral this year because its central theme—wanting to believe in the goodness of the world for the sake of one’s children—connected with so many people. The other pieces in this collection…provide a fuller understanding of the complexities faced by the speaker, who tries to teach everything a child needs for survival, while admitting, “’What can I say but stay/ alive? You’re new, and there’s too much to learn.’” The poem “Rough Air” is set on an airplane, and the speaker’s meditation on motherhood, protection, and danger leads to the mention of Maria Rader, who was killed with her infant and husband when the pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 locked the cockpit and flew the plane into a mountain. The mother-speaker comes to accept that there is no “magic” protecting mothers and children, no benevolent power who would intervene. “Rough Air,” for me, is about accepting that we are at the mercy of circumstance. The poem closes with: “I am in the sky, but do not pray to me. I have no power here.” Here’s “Rough Air” and also Smith’s poem “Your Tongue” in Memorious 25.
Jennifer Tseng, Not so dear Jenny (Bateau Press)
Jennifer sent us this response, which was first published in Foundry. “The poems are excerpted from my manuscript Not so dear Jenny, a collection I made with my Chinese father’s English letters. I have a box of letters he wrote me over a period of twenty+ years. While I was working on the poems, I’d sit in my room & read letter after letter. When I found a sentence I liked, I’d write it at the top of the page. Then I’d wait and see what happened. To me. To the sentence. My father’s first language was Mandarin. In theory, he wrote the letters in English so that I could understand them, though many of the sentences are riddled with errors, some to the point of being unintelligible. At some point, I began to cleave to his mistakes, to play with his English usage, his turns of phrase, some of which are quite beautiful. His words appear in italics throughout. The poems belong to both of us. I couldn’t have made them without him & I suppose that was the point. I wanted to enact what it means to simultaneously lose someone and commune with them ― the paradox of grief and all it gives us.“” Read one of the poems from the collection, “I never read a word Toni Morrison wrote,” in Memorious 27.
Kathleen Winter, I Will Not Kick My Friends (Elixir Press)
“Why are the poems in this book all over the map when it comes to structure, tone, accessibility? How did you put them together? How nice to get to toss the very pitch I’d like to swing at–thanks, Memorious. I’ve been accused of wanting to have my cake and eat it too, and I guess that’s the case. (Whitman’s with me on this one.) I get a kick out of writing in a wide range of styles and registers–it would bore me to do otherwise, and the inspired part of my brain sends poems that operate at very different levels of complexity, opacity, and humor. That leads to wild variations even within a book, and even within the four sections of this collection. The sections are based on subject matter: film, other writings, science and museums. Within those groupings you’ll find fragmentation, tight short lyrics, a prose poem or two, a pantoum, invented and subverted forms. Deathly seriousness, and jokes at the expense of Eden. I hope music is what holds these poems together for my readers, as it does for me in the making.”Sample two poems from the collection in Memorious: “in the museum of the legion of honor” in Issue 24 and “Rosemary, Pansies, Fennel, Columbines” in Memorious 13.
Erica Wright, All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned (Black Lawrence Press)
“The so-called “mother of forensic science” is Frances Glessner Lee, a police captain who made dollhouse recreations of crime scenes to use as teaching tools. The meticulous dioramas are currently on display at the Renwick Gallery in D.C., and I’ve been twice already. I hope to go again next month, so let me know when you’re in town. If All the Bayou Stories End in Drowned has a predominant theme, it’s how fragile we all are—getting up and pursuing our dreams while we might be taken out by a falling A/C unit or a mohave rattlesnake. Guns, diseases, car crashes. Slippery stairs or a gas leak. When you start to consider all the different ways that we can die, it’s actually quite remarkable that we try anything at all. One poem from the collection, “Spontaneous Human Combustion,” was in some ways a relief to write because I don’t actually believe in this phenomena. I have never, not once, worried about dying this way. A dear friend of mine is sold on the theory, though, and sends me links for proof. In the end, the poem is about how we can embrace the unknown/unknowable.” You can sample a poem from the collection over at Verse Daily. You can also find a poem by Erica Wright back in Memorious 8.
Other new contributor releases with current or forthcoming spotlight interviews here on the blog include Traci Brimhall’s Saudade, newly released by Copper Canyon, and Angela Ball’s Talking Pillow, just out from Pitt Poetry Series. For more full-length interviews with poets and fiction writers, including our recent interview with Edwidge Danticat, visit our magazine.