Molly: It always seems like so many things have happened in the time it takes to sit down between these conversations–so many decisions, so many things started, come to a close, so much in this big world. I’m amazed that it is autumn already and the trees here in Minnesota are ablaze. What I really want to hear about, though, is, Brett, about Jamaal May’s visit to your campus. I know it’s been a moving experience for you.
Brett: I had such a crazy week! At the University of St. Thomas, we have what’s called a “Common Context Week.” Every year, one book is chosen by the English department and that author comes to campus to give a reading and a lecture as well as a few Q&A sessions. This semester that book was HUM by Jamaal May. There were so many students at the reading I thought that little third-floor room was going to collapse. May is so engaging and cool that the students (and I) were sucked in. During one of the Q&A sessions, a student asked him for advice he’d give to aspiring writers and would-be poets. This advice has been clunking around in my head all week: you have to learn to like your own writing. He also mentioned, of course, that you need to read widely, and I’ve found myself catapulting back into poetry collections with a new fervor. This week alone I finished reading May’s book as well as NOX by Anne Carson, Ariel by Sylvia Plath, and I’ve just started reading Wind In a Box by Terrance Hayes. What are you guys reading right now? What’s rocked your world recently? (NOX Rocked my world!)
Jenn: Oh, I’m so envious, Brett! I’m teaching all online this semester, which is wonderfully flexible for my writing schedule, but I do miss the on-campus poetry events like this! Jamaal is so cool (I met him at a Warren Wilson graduation in North Carolina–we’re both alumni). You’re absolutely right though that we have access to poetry always, in our books! Let’s see, who’s rocked my world lately? Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s The Verging Cities, for sure. It’s a harrowing but gorgeously magical portrayal of the murdered women of Juarez and the speaker’s relationship with her undocumented partner, Angel. I’m also reading and absolutely adoring Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things and Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, both of which are finalists for The National Book Award. Several of the poems in these books have brought me to tears–I mean the ugly crying kind. In terms of craft and inspiration, I’m also reading Dominique Christina’s This is Women’s Work, which re-examines female archetypes and reads as part folklore, part powerful feminist poetry, and part incantatory Muse.
M: While on retreat with my collective this summer (we went to this wildflower-laden place in Wisconsin where we roasted marshmallows and watched thunderstorms), I finally finished Kerrin McCadden’s Landscape With Plywood Silhouettes, and I adored it. Each poem is so fantastic and steady. I also read Bhanu Kapil’s latest–Ban En Benlieue–and it will certainly, certainly haunt me for a good long while. I, too, re-read Ariel not long ago and it felt so stirring, so absolutely the right thing to read, to remind me of reading her half a lifetime ago, to think about how much can change in a young writer’s life, how much can change as that writer starts that tromp towards middle age with two little kids in tow.
B: Something that struck me particularly when re-reading Ariel were those damn bee poems. Somehow I had forgotten they were in there, and they’re some of her best, I think. Some of my favorites at least. Those damn bees.
M: She’s a good reminder of what’s at the heart of things in my reading and writing life–passionate, deeply felt works. When I think of that in juxtaposition with this issue, I think of the two from Jessica Guzman Alderman–when we read her submission, I remember writing, “I love her endings.” How amazing to end on such solid and surprising moments–“the bees already gone for weeks” and that haunted scrawled writing–a drifting, lingering end that roots right in the chest.
J: As I read submissions for Tinderbox, often what draws me in and calls me back to a poem is an ethereal quality, an urgency or obsession in the language that I think of as a haunting. I’m teaching a class on haunted and haunting poetry at the Rooster Moans Poetry Coop this month, created from what I’ve observed in my own tastes and tendencies over the past several years. Beyond the content, a poem can be crafted to create that kind of lingering that resonates with us long after we’ve finished reading. From this issue, Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s “Transference,” is a strong example of haunting created by what’s left unsaid, in the unspeakable. The scene of angel and daughter is chilling because of what’s suggested by the gaps in the narrative.
M: We just did an interview with Cynthia Marie Hoffman for her new book Paper Doll Fetus over on the Tinderbox Editions blog!
J: Oh, I recently read and loved that interview–her book is on my reading list (which keeps getting longer–there is so much amazing poetry out there I want to read. If only I could quit my day job and just read poems all day)!
B: Yes, I wish I had more time to dedicate to my reading list and all the books I’ve been lent that are sitting around the apartment. But what’s wonderful about Tinderbox (or what I love about it) is having these poems come to me, like little snacks. This issue is so good! I’m excited to re-read all of these little snacks.