Stay tuned all month for poet interviews in honor of National Poetry Month.
1) Why poetry?
Poetry lets us play with the salamanders hiding out in the humid dirt pockets under rocks. It’s empathy and studied dissociation, both vigorously. It lets you see around the corners around which you’re hiding from yourself. But you might be ten years younger, or you might be your grandmother. Running away from home before you learn how to speak. Imagining something else. I fall asleep in its yard, and wake up the mole on my back. It might be where we go when we die. Like glass in a crucible. Where language goes both to touch itself and hate its body, all at once. It is the only-child’s sibling. Or language caught in puberty: its emotions are absolute, but you can tell when it speaks it’s still trying to figure out what it feels. A hatchling chick gluing its egg back together before it can open its eyes. Poetry is never certain, so it is always alive – the stillborn child in the family tree. The opposable thumb of thought. Poetry is a kind of weather that makes you scratch your head, like rainfall under the sea.
2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less relevant today?
Poetry never matters to many people at once, but for those to whom it does matter, it matters disproportionately. Like some night when you’ve forgotten how to believe in yourself, and a friend tells you, “In the meantime, I’ll believe in you enough for the both of us.”
If poetry were an interminable game of darts, which I guess it is, you could say there’s a different face on the dartboard today than there was yesterday. A poet is one who, laughing, takes notes when you take a baseball bat instead of darts to that face, when you burn the whole bar down just to watch that face burn.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.
I have always felt deeply inspired by Rosmarie Waldrop, for the universal generosity of her practice(s).
4) Tell us about one contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.
Desiree C. Bailey is working today in New York, writing in and between poetry & fiction. Lately, her stories have been striking an impossible (and enviable) balance for me: on the one hand, they offer felt & scathing commentaries on the structures of our world, but, on the other, their language sings in the pitch of pure poetry. On top of teaching, she has recently been working on a poem cycle focused on the Haitian Revolution, working to, in her words, “view the revolution from ‘below’, the water, the body, the subterranean, the spirit, etc.” And aside from that, developing her short story “In Dirt or Saltwater” – which I feel very fortunate to have published in a short story collection with O’clock Press – into a novel.
To give a deeper sense of Desiree’s poetics, here is a comment she made on her poem, “A Retrograde”: This poem rose up out of the histories, experiences, and ideas to which I constantly return: the maroon communities of the Caribbean and Brazil that challenged the dominance of the plantation slavery system, the psychic trauma of a severed lineage, the historical violence that often resides in beautiful landscapes, the passing down of folklore, rites, and ways seeing, the ocean as a mother, the ocean as a city of ancestors or as a balm. I pose questions in this poem: Is the liberation of the body tied to the liberation of the land? What happens to the mind when the land is warped? And vice versa? What are the consequences of cultural amnesia? How do we close the distance between the past and the present? How can we open multiple ways of seeing?
If you ever have the chance to see Desiree read in person, don’t miss out – she really brings a room to life.
5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
Pierrot’s Fingernails is a work in progress that thinks about: needling for perceived weakness, hating for perceived strength, repurposing unfashionable vocabulary encountered in translation projects, autoflagellation, interstitial sexuality, repression, the toxin that is heartbreak, the insufficiency of description, universal illegibility, the poetics of boners, laughing without smiling, how to personify the feeling of being unable to get it up, mocking the urge to lament the “suppression” that comes with occupying certain hegemonic subjectivities. I tried to create a character through which I could be cruel to myself (for many of these things) and, through this cruelty, laugh at myself, shed skin, grow more consciously. It was published in Folder, an online/print magazine edited by Daniel Brian Jones, who has been gathering an very interesting & unexpected series of monthly features for the past year and a half or so.
Kit Schluter lives in Mexico City. His translation of Marcel Schwob’s 1892 short story collection The King in the Golden Mask marks the book’s first appearance in English, and will be published by Wakefield Press this June. Other forthcoming translations include: Michel Surya’s Dead End (Solar Luxuriance, Fall 2017) and Anne Kawala’s Screwball (Canarium Books, Spring 2018). Tw: @dedreytnien.