poet interview

Two Poets, Straight and Queer, Find Common Ground in Femme ID and Content

susana2-smallerlynn

In this Q&A, poets Susana H. Case, winner of the bronze IPPY in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Drugstore Blue (Five Oaks Press, 2017) and Lynn McGee, whose latest collection is Tracks (Broadstone Books, 2019), ask each other about their work, and touch on topics including the tender eroticism of scars, historic fights for gender expression, the death poem as love poem, absorbing the New York City subway into the acceptance of loss, femme identity both queer and straight, and more.   

SC: Death and potential mortality hover over your work—in the poems about your sister in Tracks and in the poems in Sober Cooking about your lover’s transplant. Emily Dickinson wrote she could not stop for death, a death she personified in her poem as a gentleman caller. You have, in a way, stopped for death in your poems, yet death in these is no gentleman caller. Can you talk a little bit about the imagery you’ve used in your writing about death?

LM: My poems about death are love poems. I don’t think we stop interacting with people, once they’re gone, but off course, without their response, we skew the interaction, in a sense, to serve our grief. We commemorate details of the person we’ve lost and spin the significance of those details. I should stop saying “we,” and take responsibility here for myself and my process. In Tracks, many of the poems—my work is image-centric—were triggered by observations I made, on my daily New York City subway commute during a period of sadness and recovery. It can be a meditative time, that communal ride, and privacy, I’ve learned, is a state of mind. Likewise, the content of many of the poems in my first full-length collection, Sober Cooking, was triggered by details of domestic life that grounded me when I was out of my mind with sadness, having been banned from my lover’s hospital room by her family. Also during that time, my father died. Those experiences became portals through which the poems emerged.

SC: If I ask about death, of course I have to ask about sex. Erotic sex is very difficult to write about well and “Scar,” in Sober Cooking, for example, is an extremely erotic poem. I say that as a hetero woman about what I know of course to be a poem about a female partner. That doesn’t seem to make a difference in its erotic character. Should it?

LM: It feels affirming to me, when a heterosexual woman recognizes the eroticism in “Scar,” which is a love poem from one woman to another who has had a mastectomy: “dark track where your breast / once was …” The poem is about intimacy, which of course transcends sexual preference. The speaker in “Scar” is granting another person “all kind of access” to her body—it is a display of trust, and if the reader finds that delivery of trust, that negotiation of power to be erotic, then I think that reader will find “Scar” to be an erotic poem. That said, I write about attraction knowing full well that not all readers share with me, an appreciation for the same signifiers that trigger sexual interest—but they understand the poems through the lens of their own experience. In Tracks, coming from the lens of my own experience, I convey in several poems my attraction to women whose presentation puts them on the “blue” side of the gender-expression wheel. For example, in “Details Heading Downtown,” I write of one woman who has caught my interest on the train: “Straight people would call her / ‘handsome’— / salt-and-pepper sideburns, / button-down shirt … / … wingtip boots / elegant cuffs…” In Sober Cooking, there is actually a poem that serves as a kind of homage to the bedroom closets of my butch lovers, comparing myself in “Pinkish Hue” to the comically picky George Costanza character in the TV show Seinfeldwho insists any woman he dates has “a cheek with a pinkish hue”—my version being, “Does she have a closet of button-down / shirts?She has to have a closet / of button-down shirts.” While gently poking fun at my own quite-specific preference, I’m also acknowledging the universality of preference, and perhaps its arbitrary mysteriousness. I accepted a long time ago, the nature of my attraction to women, and that was a kind of coming out, in and of itself.

Tracks

SC: Tracks is not a collection of poems “about” New York, but the New York City subway system is a unifying device in the manuscript. I know you to have a love-hate relationship with the city. In what ways does that find its way into your poetry, in particular the poems in Tracks?

LM: I’ve heard people describe New York City as a character in certain movies and I think it is a character in the work of many poets. It certainly looms so at times in Tracks, but serves more as catalyst than focus. Every poem for me starts in the body, and in the environment that holds the body, past and present. I moved to New York in 1986 for graduate school, and left only once, for a couple years when my sister died and my parents were charged with the care of her children. Those two years in Dallas were the most lonely of my life—and it’s not that Dallas doesn’t have its charms, it’s just that I felt like an outsider, despite the demographic sameness I shared with most people I ran into in the university and high school where I taught, and in my parents’ neighborhood. In New York, there is a splendid range of difference among those of us who live here, and yet I feel we are somehow in the same boat, faced with whatever is our version of the struggle to preserve civility, privacy, safety and compassion as we seek housing, jobs, friends—and physically push together to get where we are going, on the train. I hate it and love it, as you said.

Drugstore Blue

LM: One of the things that draw me into Drugstore Blue is your nuanced reimagining of icons like Marilyn Monroe. You identify women who have been relegated, culturally, to a narrative that secures their visibility but erases their individuality—and then you create a glimpse of who that woman might really have been. There’s something liberating to read a poem like that. How does it feel, to write those poems?

SC: I’m focused on the ways in which women are objectified, but, of course, don’t want to write didactic poetry and don’t want all of my poems to focus on the negative consequences of gender inequality. I’m been a bit obsessed with Marilyn, it seems, as I’ve written three poems about her, one of which appears in Drugstore Blue. I was staying at a hotel in DC, which at that time, had that iconic statue of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itchstanding over a subway grate by J. Seward Johnson, her dress lifting up. It was gigantic and a tourist attraction, and I would pass it in the morning when I was disheveled and grumpy and hadn’t yet had coffee. People wanted to be photographed with the sculpture, which didn’t interest me all that much, as, though I try for some glam once I’m awake, I don’t think I can compete with Marilyn, but it got me thinking of her life and identifying with some features of it: how do we persist and how do we get ourselves taken seriously? And then what happens as we age, with all those unforeseen consequences as to visibility and invisibility? I’m keyed into the tragedy in the Marilyn poem, but that’s not always the case. I’ve written a poem about Hedy Lamarr, also in Drugstore Blue, which ends with her running through the woods, nude in her film, Ecstasy. That poem focuses on how bright she was, not on the kind of sadness that was present, of course, in Marilyn Monroe’s life. I’m not all that interested in celebrity, but I am interested in that power imbalance and so I came at the Marilyn poems through that interest. I’m interested in famous people very little, but I am interested in who is really behind an iconic image, the wizard behind the screen. Beauty is fascinating because it’s liberating, but it can also be horribly constricting. Of course, given the choice, who wouldn’t opt for it? But it comes with baggage. I’m more interested in the baggage than in the beauty in my poems. Confronting that baggage is freeing; it suggests a kind of  “fuck you” to those who profit off of someone else’s physical advantage and who want to control it and/or who want to assert their own gender advantage. That experience of others trying to control your narrative is a universal part of experience, but more so for women, as well as other power minorities. I try to come at women’s experience from that direction. Plus, I’m interested in gender as performance. In the academic position I had before I came to the university with which I’m currently affiliated, some of my male colleagues at lunch one day jokingly declared that they were presenting me with an honorary penis, since apparently my behavior was not considered feminine enough. There were some issues, as I recall, concerning who was going to be the first author on a paper. There is pretty much nothing about me that doesn’t scream Feminine with a capital F, and I remained the first author of the paper. I guess that’s not performing gender to everyone’s specifications, but you can see why I’d be conscious of gender inequality. Well, any woman who is conscious, of necessity, has to be.

lynn 2

LM: In a poem about Juana La Larga of Guatemala, who was subjected to dehumanizing cruelty by doctors for the size of her clitoris, you bring the reader into a quietly defiant moment of acceptance for La Larga and others who have been punished for being different: “Tonight I light a candle to all surprises/of the body…” In my view, this quality of your work equates to powerful consensus building. Do you agree? 

SC: I think we all write from a point of view, and sometimes from a point of view that isn’t our own necessarily—in a persona poem, for example—but I’m hesitant to try to generate support for my point of view. I feel more comfortable just laying it out. If someone feels the same way, fine. That person will identify with the work, relate to the work, etc. If not, I’m not trying to have a conversation geared toward conversion. I may put something out there because I think people may not know—the industrial chemicals that make roses a desirable commodity, but poison the women, and their children, who are involved in the harvest, in “Cayambe Valley Greenhouses,” for example, and in my personal life, people generally know not to buy me cut roses, because sadly I can’t look at them without thinking about birth defects, but otherwise not so much. I’m more into writing about my responses. I like the idea of the body’s surprises, of celebrating difference. Anything else is boring. Yes, Juana La Larga was an actual person, Juana Aguilar, possibly of ambiguous gender, or to phrase it better, somewhere in the middle of our artificial gender dichotomy—it was a long time ago, over two hundred years—but for that she ends up in court? It started out, actually, as a sodomy case, as she was having sex with both men and women. The court thought it important to categorize her definitively as male or female. Interestingly, the defense strategy was to argue that she couldn’t have committed sodomy as sodomy required she be male or female and she was neither, and it was a successful defense. It’s good to have a clever lawyer! For that, a newspaper at the time published stats on what a normal clitoris should look like and how big it should be. What are you supposed to do with that information? What are you supposed to do when you don’t fit? Who gets to decide these things and how do they get away with this? I respect Aguilar’s dignity in the circumstances. But I’m not trying to suggest via my poetry that anyone else feel that way. Well, if it were easy to change minds that way, then okay, sure, I guess I would.

LM: As an older queer woman who came up as a femme lesbian, I feel a kinship with your straight-woman’s nostalgia about “wanting the gaze”; about the allure of drugstore cosmetic displays and yearning to emulate women like fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. I realize this question is worthy of a book-length response, at the very least, but if you feel like tackling it—what are your thoughts on gender, sexuality and the emergence of style? 

Susana_H_Case_website3

SC: I think I’ve alluded to some of that in responding to the first two questions, but yes, the gaze is important, has been important to me. I don’t see it as some kind of false consciousness. I think it’s both possible and desirable to gaze back. I have always liked men, maybe too much. And I have been fortunate to have met many good ones—though clearly from my poems, which are sometimes semi-autobiographical, not always. Self-expression is important to me. It represents a kind of freedom. I have no interest in negating that freedom to decorate myself however I wish, in the same way that I have an interest in decorating my environment. I don’t consider it frivolous at all, but rather an art form, a choice in how I live my life that I am fortunate to be able to make as an urban middle-class professional in an industrialized country, and I don’t want to be shamed for the makeup, the heels or anything else. I don’t live somewhere where I will likely get beaten or killed for such things, fortunately, and I also don’t consider it a form of tyranny. Life is short—we need as much pleasure in it as we can make for ourselves. And it doesn’t require having to buy expensive clothing. Last time I saw a Vivienne Westwood coat at Century 21 (a clothing discounter), it was tagged at $400, and if you want to throw money at your clothes, there’s one right now on her website for about $1800. I wasn’t interested in buying either—but remember, the speaker in “Bleached Blonde with Spiked Dog Collar,” the poem written for Vivienne Westwood, says at the end that really all she wants is to be able to stop traffic in a latex négligée. She doesn’t need the coat. And I think I need to add that, though it is more discouraged in this culture for men to self-decorate, I think it’s perfectly legitimate and interesting. It’s a form of creative play. We need more play in our lives, particularly as the quality of life goes downhill through external political forces that we can’t fully control. We’re not going to have another chance at it. Well, I think my ability to stop traffic dressed like that has come and gone anyway, but it’s the idea that’s important to me. An actual latex outfit would be way too uncomfortable. It’s a metaphor.

LM: Many of the poems in Drugstore Blue capture the pivotal moment when a romantic relationship goes wrong. That unraveling could be embodied in a man smashing a radio, or the point when being with a younger lover “begins to seem like shoplifting.” However they present, these moments seem to have something to do with the shifting of power. I can relate, though my lovers have been women. Am I onto something, in your work, or just seeing it through the lens of my own experience?

SC: Ha-ha. The universal experience of both women and men, however their partners are gendered. I write a lot about love going wrong. A good friend of mine, another poet who reads early drafts of my work, suggested to me that I write about that going wrong part with much more facility than when I try to write a love poem about something going right. Maybe it’s the imperfections which make that subject most interesting to me. Yes, the power shifts—sometimes. In “Summer of Love,” the poem which contains the man smashing a radio, that might be the very beginning of the shift to the speaker in the poem taking charge of her life, but it still takes a while. In “Hold Me Like You’ll Never Let Me Go,” the poem with the line about shoplifting, it’s not so much that the power has shifted as that the speaker is tired of her (okay, very inappropriate) fling and quotidian things like food take over desire in her mind. It’s just time to stop fooling around. But everything goes wrong in its own way. Maybe when love goes right, it follows a stylized ideal that is harder to write about in an interesting way. The going wrong parts are often quirkier. and since I use a lot of self-deprecating humor at times, what better theme for viewing my own foibles? I’m not embarrassed to put my imperfections out there—they provide great material for poems. It’s possible to mine both tragedy and comedy for subject matter, sometimes at the same time.

BIOS

SusanaHCase5

Susana H. Case is the author of six books of poetry, most recently, Erasure, Syria, (Recto y Verson Editions, 2018) and Drugstore Blue (Five Oaks Press, 2017, winner of an IPPY Award), as well as four chapbooks, two of which won prizes. One of her collections, The Scottish Café, from Slapering Hol Press, was re-released in a dual-language English-Polish version, Kawiarnia Szkocka by Opole University Press in Poland. Her poems appear widely in magazines and anthologies including recent publications in CalyxThe Cortland ReviewFourteen HillsPortland ReviewPotomac Review,  RattleRHINO and others. Dr. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology in New York City.

lynn 3

Lynn McGee is the author of the poetry collection Tracks (Broadstone Books, 2019); Sober Cooking (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016), and two award-winning poetry chapbooks: Heirloom Bulldog (Bright Hill Press, 2015) and Bonanza (Slapering Hol Press, 1997). Her poems are forthcoming in UpstreetLavender Review and The Tampa Review, and have appeared in the Potomac ReviewThe American Poetry ReviewSouthern Poetry ReviewLiterary MamaPainted Bride QuarterlyOntario Review and others. Lynn earned an MFA in Poetry at Columbia University and has taught writing at George Washington University, Columbia University, Brooklyn College/CUNY and others. A 2015 Nominee for the Best of the Net award, Lynn received the Heart of the Center Award from the LGBT Community Center in New York City for starting their first adult literacy class. Today she is a communications manager at Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York.

.

.

 

 

An Interview with Poet John D. Robinson

john 5John D Robinson is renowned UK poet: with hundreds of poems published in small press zines and online literary journals including : The Raw Art Review, Rusty Truck: Outlaw Poetry: North Of Oxford: Tuck Magazine: Misfits Magazine: The Sunflower Collective: Winamop: Bear Creek Haiku: Chicago Record: The Legendary: Paper and Ink Zine: Algebra Of Owls: Full Of Crow: The Beatnik Cowboy: The Clockwise Cat:  The Scum Gentry: Message In A Bottle: Horror Sleaze ,Trash: Your One Phone Call: In Between Hangovers:  Rasputin: Revolution John: Vox Poetica: Hand Job Zine:  48th Street Press: Poems-For-All: Philosophical Idiot:  The Peeking Cat: Midnight Lane Boutique: Underground Books: Dead Snakes: Yellow Mama: Bareback Lit: Eunoia Review: Hobo Camp Review.
.
Interview by g emil reutter
.

GER: You have said that two of your major influences were the poet Josephine Austin and Jack Kerouac. How so?

john 2

JDR: I had began to write poetry from about aged 16 or so: I told no one, I didn’t know of any other poets: talk of poetry was not done: it was soccer: music: movies: girls and alcohol; Josephine Austin: 1934-2014: had been published by the big publishing houses in London: she was friend’s with Robert Graves and would visit him at his Mallorca home, Josephine was also friend’s with poet Brian Patten: Josephine would organize poetry readings throughout the local area and established an annual  ‘International Poetry Festival’: she also produced a poetry magazine : First Time’ which gave showcase to many poets over the years: I attended one of the Festivals: I was shy and awkward but Josephine approached me during the intermission and asked if I wrote poetry: I showed her some of my poems: She asked if she could read a couple during the next session: and that was the beginning of our friendship that lasted over 3 decades: Josephine and her husband Brian were always very encouraging and I think their influence gave me the courage to become a publisher: about the same time I met Josephine, it was suggested by a female codeine swallowing charlatan that I should read ‘On The Road’: this book and what subsequently followed changed me: it opened up horizons for me: I read just about everything I could get my hands on that was beat connected which has lasted to this day: It was Kerouac’s self-drive and commitment and belief of himself as a writer that swept me up, the sense of spiritual exploration and riding the railways and roads seemed romantic: I wanted to taste it somehow.

GER: How important was it to you to engage the local poetry scene and workshops in your development as a poet?

.

JDR: Thinking back I feel that it was very educating to participate in local poetry readings: mostly they were riotous drinking sessions: but the opportunity to hear the work of other poets and how they delivered /vocalised their work was valuable: it wasn’t always enjoyable: At that time I enjoyed reading, these days I rarely read in public: these days I am something of a recluse: I held/taught and introduced  poetry workshops in the local college and this was something that I truly enjoyed: I spent a great deal of time working on a programme that would be fun and easy to take part, remembering that poetry isn’t a part of many lives, it was important to present something that was accessible.

john 4

GER: As a young man you engaged in the study of poets and poetry. How did this study influence your development as a poet?

.

JDR: Pre-internet days I would spend hours in the public library reading through endless poetry collections and anthologies, taking notes of the poets that interested me and then I would read biographies of the poets: With few exceptions, I have very rarely read established UK poets and have always been very much more comfortable reading American poets: I have read at various times different schools/disciplines of poetry: surrealist: concrete: classical:  meat/beat and have been to some degree, influenced by them all.

john 1

GER: You have published several chapbooks in addition to several more as a cooperative effort. Tell us about the process as a poet in addition to what led you to engage in cooperative publication?

.

JDR: I try and write every day, sometimes I don’t manage it: sometimes it is not worthy work and I will discard: I may revise a poem several times, sometimes the poems do not need any editing: I hand write my poems: pen and notebook: I do not compose poetry on an electronic keyboard: I relish the opportunity to work with other poets: The Holy&intoxicated Publications Poetry Card Series provides me with the opportunity to reach out to selected poets for a contribution: a friendship develops and the chance to produce a split chapbook of poetry sometimes surfaces: creating and publishing books is something that I love doing. The chance to share the pages with another poet is always an exciting journey including reaching out to an artist for the cover art and collaborating the material and editing it into book form.

outlaw

GER: The poet John Dorsey said in a recent interview concerning Outlaw Poetry, “…I guess I don’t really like the term, it was made up by some marketing executive, really, there’s academia and then everyone else, and I guess that means me. These days an outlaw is anyone who loves with their whole heart.” What say you?

.

JDR: I’d go along with John Dorsey on this one: Outlaw can be interpreted variedly and widely, as most things can: Robert Graves replied to the question: ‘what is the secret of writing poetry?’ ‘It must be written with Love-Magic’: so this fits with Dorsey’s statement: there will always be ‘labels’ ‘schools’ ‘fashions’ but if it is good, quality poetry it doesn’t matter what the label is.

john 3

GER: Publisher Bill Henderson of the Pushcart Anthology stated in 2012, “I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous—great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.” I took this to be elitist and condescending to poets who do work their poetry and believe the internet has opened up opportunities for those voices that would be ignored by folks like Henderson. What say you?

.

JDR: I think the opportunity to have your work published online is not damaging in any way; this is the time we are in: the internet has given rise to a large number of ‘poetry journals and literary and artistic publications’ and the number of ‘paper zines’ is I think in a healthy state also: there is something special about ‘holding/handling’ a printed zine/book publication: so I am happy with both options of publishing: either way, I am always very thankful and grateful for any of my work to appear in either presentation.

john 7

GER: How important is it to get your poetry published and do you receive any response upon publication?

.

JDR: ‘Publish or perish’ said Bukowski: and there is a lot of truth in this: small press poets and presses come and go with some frequency: I will write for 2 or 3 months and then focus on selecting and sending out the work to various and numerous online/paper publications: I often receive emails commenting on my work, generally they are positive comments for which I am thankful for of course: about 3 years ago I decided that I’d like to get a poem, at least, published somewhere every month and I have been fortunate enough to have achieved this so far.

.

GER: What poets do you currently read and why?

.

JDR: I always have books by Doug Draime: Steve Richmond: d a levy, William Wantling: close by:  I read a great deal of small press poets: publications by Holy&intoxicated Publications are by invitation only and I spend a lot of time reading for future poets and potential Holy&intoxicated Publications: something I never tire of.

.

GER: How would you describe the poetry of John D. Robinson?

.

JDR: Honest: no bullshit.

.

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

hang in there

JDR: I am working on a chapbook by Doug Draime: some of the poems have not appeared in print form before and I am very excited about this publication: also a chapbook by the UK poet Adrian Manning: and chapbooks by Tohm Bakelas and David Boski: and George Anderson:  and Martin Appleby: all fine poets: I also have the Holy&intoxicated Publications Poetry Cards series to concentrate on as well as Broadsides:

 ‘Uncollected Press’ USA  will shortly be publishing my first full collection: ‘Hang In There’: www.therawartreview.com

Chapbooks by John D. Robinson

Cowboy Hats & Railways (Scars Press 2016)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1537539019/ref=x_gr_w_bb_sout?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_sout-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1537539019&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

When You Hear The Bell, There’s Nowhere To Hide (Holy&intoxicated Publications 2016)

https://www.amazon.com/When-Hear-Bell-Theres-Nowhere/dp/0993206808

An Outlaw In The Making (Scars Publications 2017)

https://www.amazon.com/Outlaw-Making-John-D-Robinson/dp/1981468188

These Poems Stole Your Lunch Money with Bradley Mason Hamlin  (Holy&intoxicated Publications 2017)

https://www.amazon.com/These-Poems-Stole-Lunch-Money/dp/0993206875

Looking Down Both Barrels with Adrian Manning  (Holy&intoxicated Publications 2017)

https://www.amazon.in/Looking-Barrels-Adrian-Manning-Robinson/dp/0993206867

Hitting Home (Iron Lung Press 2018)

https://ironlungpress.bigcartel.com/product/hitting-home-by-john-d-robinson

In Pursuit Of  Shadows (Analog Submission Press 2018)

https://www.analogsubmission.com/product/the-pursuit-of-shadows-by-john-d-robinson

In Between The Curves  with Charles Joseph  (Holy&intoxicated Publications 2018)

https://www.amazon.ca/Between-Curves-Charles-Joseph-Robinson/dp/0993206891

Echoes Of Diablo  (Concrete Meat Press 2018)

http://adrianmanning.wixsite.com/concretemeatpress/single-post/2018/08/16/New-Chapbook-by-John-D-Robinson

Too Many Drinks Ago  (Paper & Ink Zine Publication 2018)

https://paperandinkzine.bigcartel.com/product/too-many-drinks-ago-by-john-d-robinson

Romance, Renegades & Riots  with James Gwill Thomas  (Analog Submission Press 2018)

https://www.analogsubmission.com/product/romance-renegades-riots-by-gwil-james-thomas-john-d-robinson

.

g emil reutter is a writer of stories and poems and can be found at: http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

.

Past Interviews at North of Oxford

chimera frank

An Interview with Frank Wilson

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/an-interview-with-frank-wilson/

Lynn Lifshin 2

An Interview with Lyn Lifshin

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/an-interview-with-lyn-lifshin/

IMG_0418

An Interview with Bradley D. Snow

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/an-interview-with-bradley-d-snow-living-with-lead-an-environmental-history-of-idahos-coeur-dalenes-1885-2011/

DJ 315-11.tif

©  Martin Desht 1995-2018

An Interview with Martin Desht

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/an-interview-with-martin-desht/

Karen Corinne Herceg on the Joe Dans Radio Show July 26th at 11 a.m.

Karen Corinne Herceg

Poet Karen Corinne Herceg, a contributor to North of Oxford , will appear on the Joe Dans Morning Show with Donna Reis. The show will air on July 26th at 11 a.m. You can listen on line at www.wtbq.com

An Interview with Lyn Lifshin

Lynn Lifshin 2

Lyn Lifshin has published  over 130 books and chapbooks including 3 from Black Sparrow Press: Cold Comfort, Before It’s Light and Another Woman Who Looks Like Me. Before Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle, Lifshin published her prize winning book about the short lived beautiful race horse Ruffian, The Licorice Daughter: My Year With Ruffian and  Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness.  Recent books include Ballroom, All the Poets Who Have Touched Me, Living and Dead. All True, Especially The Lies, Light At the End: The Jesus Poems, Katrina, Mirrors, Persphone, Lost In The Fog,  Knife Edge & Absinthe: The Tango Poems .  NYQ books published A Girl Goes into The Woods. Also  just out: For the Roses poems after Joni Mitchell and Hitchcock Hotel from Danse Macabre. Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle.  And Tangled as the Alphabet,– The Istanbul Poems from NightBallet Press Just released as well  Malala,   the dvd of Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass. The Marilyn Poems was just released from Rubber Boots Press. An update to her Gale Research Autobiography is out: Lips, Blues, Blue Lace: On The Outside. Also just out is a dvd of the documentary film about her: Lyn Lifshin: Not Made Of Glass. Just out: Femme Eterna  and Moving Through Stained Glass: the Maple Poems. Forthcoming: Degas Little Dancer and Winter Poems from Kind of a Hurricane Press, Paintings and Poems, from Tangerine press (just out)  and The Silk Road from Night Ballet, alivelikealoadedgun from Transcendent Zero Press Just Out and forthcoming Refugees   http://www.lynlifshin.com/

.

  • g emil reutter

.

The Interview

Lynn Lifshin

GER: What brought you to poetry and who were your inspirations?

LL: As a child I was read to a lot and I remember one of my favorite books was the collection of poetry, NOW WE ARE SIX, with its poetry of Tattoo the Cat, Alexander the beetle his grandmother let out, and Anne, Anne playing in the willows. I still have that book. When I was about 3, driving from Barre, VT to Middlebury, VT I am told I said “it looks like the trees are dancing.”  My mother, who named me Rosalyn Diane, a name she thought would be appropriate for an actress, something I think she always wanted to be herself, sighed, “well then maybe she will be a poet.”

 In elementary school, because I read and wrote well, I skipped from first to third grade. There, I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Flag. Each morning she brought in something—a branch of apple blossoms, colored stones, prints of famous paintings and asked us to write about them. I still have those blue books with hand written poems about apple blossoms, water fowl, snow in April. One day I copied a poem of Blake’s and told my mother I had written it. Since Middlebury was a small town it wasn’t unusual that my mother ran into my teacher and told her what an inspiration she’d been—how I had written a poem with words in it she didn’t even know I knew. By Monday I had to write my  poem with those particular words in them: rill, descending, nigh.

In college I never felt I could write enough so didn’t take any writing courses. But I did write a few poems over summer. Robert Frost, who spent the summer in Ripton, VT, often wandered around Middlebury in baggy green pants carrying a bag of strawberries. Like my father, he was a taciturn, quiet man and would only let my father, who worked in my uncle’s department store, wait on him. My father one time showed him one of my poems and Frost wrote on it. “wonderful images—bring me some more poems.” By the time I had any more poems, Frost was dead. In my first year of college I fell in love with Federico Garcia Lorca and in graduate school, Dylan Thomas. And later Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin.

GER: You never attended a workshop yet you have taught numerous workshops. What value do you place in workshops?

 LL: For so many writers who start writing on their own, maybe a workshop is a great place to try out poems and stories, meet other writers, start a magazine. At times I think these workshops become so insulated they only publish their own poems but I suppose there are good things coming out of them. When I started writing, I wouldn’t have any idea of where to even look for a writing workshop.

Lyn Lifshin Reading

GER:  Do you use a particular formula in creating your poems?

LL: Not really. I did an article for Writers Digest about the many way I’ve started poems and there are so many. I like assignments: people looking for poems on a certain subject. That often triggers a who series of poems on that subject. A forthcoming book, THE SILK ROAD came  from a request for poems about silk and spices. Requests for poems on certain subjects often turn into whole books: poems about Jesus, (JESUS ALIVE AND IN THE FLESH)  (poems about dick for a day, mother and daughter poems, (TANGLED VINES) and (THE DAUGHTER I DON’T HAVE.) Marilyn Monroe (MARILYN MONROE) political poems (BLUE TATTOO), Barbie  poems (BARBIE), Malala (MALALA). So often when I am asked for a poem on a subject it seems I couldn’t stop and wrote not one or two poems but a series. FOR THE ROSES came from a request for poems about Joni Mitchell. Sadly the week the book was  released, the editor-publisher became sick and died –I had received only about ten copies of the book and no one could find the others or discover the key to printing more copies—so the few that are out are truly collectors’ copies. ) I paid to have a group reprinted but sadly the book didn’t get the attention it should had though I think it is still on Amazon and I have a few copies;  an Obama file came from two requests for two books on Obama that came out just around his election. I never submitted that file anywhere else.

LittleDancercover

GER: Tell us about your latest release, Little Dancer–The Degas Poems.

 LL:  I’d always loved ballet- in Middlebury there was not much of a chance to take classes. For a year or two a lovely, exotic dancer from Paris, Mrs. Berge—later we learned she was Mrs. Berger who had come to escape the Holocaust. I was a chubby 8 year old but I loved the classes and she gave me a tiara and costume she wore in the Metropolitan Opera that I still have and cherish. Though I still take ballet barre, now my passion is ballroom and Argentine tango. The original statue of the little dance is in the National Gallery in Washington DC and I wrote the  poems after seeing a  play based on Degas and the little dancer.

AliveLikeALoadedGun

GER: In 2014 Femme Eterna was released followed by #AliveLikeALoadedGun  in 2016. Could you share with us your thoughts on these books?

LL: Classical images and themes haven’t been a mainstay of my work. But an artist wanted to collaborate on a project for THE WOMEN’S MUSEUM. She had an idea of showing women thru the ages and how they each had some area of power. We planned to begin with the earliest well known women and work up to the present.  We each picked out a number of women in myth and history and she began working on paintings and I worked on poems. I started with Enheduanna because I knew nothing about her. It was fun. I loved the fact that she was not only the first woman who signed her name to what she had written but she was also a poet. I loved reading about the Euphrates, imagining her shiny dark lips as she wrote on her lapis lazuli tablet. I was impressed, imagining the patience and time it must have taken to write with a stylus and in cuneiform. When I was in Turkey, I saw a stylus of similar cuneiforms and was even more amazed at Enheduanna’s accomplishments.   It was easy to identify with Scheherazade, another story teller, who imagination kept her alive. I learned so much about Nefertiti’s life, her power, her heart breaks. It was very different for me to focus on the myths and history of these special women. The project my artist friend and I were working on never happened. More recently we talked about resurrecting a project that would combine our poetic and artistic works.     

ALIVELIKEALOADEDGUN came together in a rather traditional way. The editor-producer wrote me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a book. I sent him several, (many—I probably drowned him in files) of new poems and he made the selection.       

GER: Over 135 of your books have been published and after decades of writing you remain prolific. To what do you attribute the continued flow of creativity?

LL: I’m really not sure. In the cabinet over my desk are about 59 hand written notebooks—spiral notebooks with about 70 pages each of poems so if I never write another poem, I will have more than enough to type up for years!. I am still writing. Two of my poems that I felt were strong were just accepted by a magazine that felt they were some of the strongest I’ve written.

 For a while I was fascinated with horse racing and three of my strongest books came from that subject: THE LICORICE DAUGHTER: A YEAR WITH RUFFIAN; BARBARO: UNBROKEN; SECRETARIAT:THE RED FREAK, THE MIRACLE. Before that, many of the poems were family poems, poems about people. My three Black sparrow books have many poems about family: COLD COMFORT, BEFORE IT’S LIGHT and ANOTHER WOMAN WHO LOOKS LIKE ME. And I did a series of books about places: AUDDLEY END, THE OLD HOUSE ON THE CROTON, SHAKER HOUSE POEMS, PLYMOUTH WOMEN, THE OLD HOUSES, PLYMOUTH. I’ve also done many nature themed books NUTLEY POND and MOVING THRU STAINED GLASS—THE MAPLE POEMS.

lifshin hat

 GER: How has the poetry scene changed since you first came on the scene?

 LL: In so many way. The many advanced degrees in poetry at many schools has created little enclaves or cliques of poets.  Submission has changed with Submittable being the main way of sending poems. In early anthologies RISING TIDES and PSYCHE:THE POETRIC FEMININE  –anthologies that go from Emily Dickinson to the present include my work while there are only about 5  other contemporary poets. But I’ve never won a Push Cart. Or had a poem on Garrison Keillor’s daily poem program.

GER: So I hear you like to tango. Do you find any similarities between the art of the dance and the art of words?

LL: I suppose there are—tango never came as easily as poetry but I’ve loved it as much. On my web site there is a tango dance I’ve done after only half a year of classes. But I wish I did more. I do have a book of tango poems; (all written before I did any tango dancing) KNIFE EDGE & ABSINTH:THE TANGO POEMS. And BALLROOM, another of my favorites, is also from the press where the editor died—I do have some copies and I hope Amazon does too. It all is rather ephemeral isn’t it? I do have a movie LYN LIFSHIN: NOT MADE OF GLASS and I used to tape all my poems only to realize my tape recorder wasn’t very good. But there are some readings of poems on my web site http://www.lynlifshin.com and a reading and interview at the Library of Congress and is on my web site.

Watch Lyn Lifshin doing the Argentine Tango!

.
2  Poems
.
IT’S BEEN SO LONG
.
since I’ve dreamed
anything that was
not nightmare
.
This spring
with goslings in
the roses, tulips
.
and crocuses pushing
color thru crystal
ice, I hardly
.
notice the wood
ducks. I don’t hear
geese in flight.
 
I used to dream
goose music, scan
black ripples
 
walking back
from the pond.
Before I photographed
 
the last light
glowing in dark
woods
 
the sun gulped.
Just one tree
on fire as
 
if glowing
from within
.
THE MAD GIRL LONGS TO SEE THE VERMILLION MOON
 .
a word she used in a freshman
comp class and was told it
didn’t exist. She wants that
moon, exotic as the long gone
sailor’s eyes, the ripples at
Lake Dunmore glowed in more
years ago than she can believe.
She doesn’t want just any
moon but a moon the color
of her cries, garnet and tangerine,
a Harvest Moon that will turn
her bare arms and thighs
rouge as he did. Later, she opens
the blinds. She’d almost
forgotten about the moon but
suddenly something pulls her from
the quilts to the window and
it was there, as if waiting for her
in her dream, a moon
as in love with secrets as she is,
letting mysteries bleed into
the shadows of her bedroom,
into the round blond
vanity and hassock she once
watched her mother stand behind
her braiding her hair, Otter
Falls crashing in the distance into
the whirlpool she isn’t sure
came from other worlds
or from her own imagination
.

To learn more about Lynn Lifshin please visit her at:  http://www.lynlifshin.com/ 

 .
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter
.