Stay tuned all month for poet interviews in honor of National Poetry Month.
1) Why poetry?
I’m not so sure about poetry, but I’m pretty sure about the space of composition. For a long time, I was frustrated by what felt like a refusal of coherence in my writing. But really, the poems, I think, have been trying to teach me about all of these tones that are extant and rare; the poems ask me to accept their awkwardnesses, to stay in discomfort and see what would open up. So poetry as form because tone, and how tone pushes me to love and wakes up my heart and my throat. Because I’m interested in challenging oppressions in all forms, including the subtle. Because poems can hold a lot as echo chambers of consciousness, working through relations across time and space. Also, the kinetics of composition awaken. So, it’s like a mind-body-spirit practice that helps me resonate to withstand, which I hope can also somehow translate to others. Because part of composing involves receiving, which feels a lot like mercy, and I need mercy. Because poems want to happen.
2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less important & relevant today?
Yes and yes. I feel poems come up through the earth or the ocean or a plant or animal or some fragment of something unidentifiable shot through the air. So there’s something about the intelligence or sentience or rhythm of beings and places that make poetry, and that will always provide the condition for making poetry, although perhaps not for humans, as we are making the planet unlivable for our future selves, and perhaps not for other life forms, whose extinctions we are perpetuating.
Relevant and important because of the powers it affords, that can help us, if we can listen, to be rearranged toward a Polaris. Relevant and important to communicate and connect. Relevant and important to witness and process our individual and collective traumas. Relevant and important to disturb the deep structures of language and internalized logics that perpetuate suffering. Relevant and important to make the beings we’ll become.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.
Joanne Kyger has been an important poet for me since I first read Strange Big Moon thirteen years ago, perhaps not coincidentally the same time I started to write poems and discover things in them. Her poems listen to place and its transformations, tracking consciousness and the variousness of time and tone. They attend to beloveds who have died, and witness and honor the non-human animal world. Kyger’s poetry reminds me there is space in the poem for everything, and the “Passage from mind to page is/ frankly open”. In addition, I am continually learning from the complex and mysterious poems of Bei Dao (though I can only read his poems in translation). These are poems I need to sit/live with for awhile to metabolize shifts from opacity to transparency in image and tone. Dao’s poems process political oppression, dreams, daily life, and the poem, itself, in a reckoning with something like hope. These poems remind me of mystery, and of dwelling in the indeterminate: “to be lost is a kind of leaving/ and poetry rectifying life/ rectifies poetry’s echo” (trans. Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong).
4) Tell us about one lesser-known contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.
I’m currently reading and loving Mg Roberts’ Anemal Uter Meck. As a reader, I slip between species and cellular intelligences, loving, trying, harmed and haunted within the current and the rhetoric of diagnosis. Each word or line-moment is like a stich poked up from somewhere before threading back through the page — a stich that is also the flight pattern of thought and vision: “Are we but stout, short-necked birds with soft swellings at the base of our nostrils? Or the inherent flexibility of composed dots. Pixels of atomized light bending and folding create a mirrored effect – the through and blue of an iceberg – reconfiguring our selves into watermelt or absorption.”
I’m also currently reading and loving Caroline Knapp’s manuscript, Tanzsprachen [Dance-Language], to be published by Little Red Leaves later this year (be on the look-out!). These poems choreograph interspecies sensing with bees. When I read them, in each word, I feel a soft, kindred, quiet, vulnerable and powerful sensation, not unlike when a bee flies by close enough to brush my skin. Sounds fluttering as desire and purpose become one.
5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
Here is an excerpt from a thing I’m working on right now, composed of a series of impressions that have come into my life as the poem, and kind of inspired by the theory of moonlets.
tongue depressor’s tree
turn my knots into roses
the realm just beyond traffic
sitting in its smoke
working into someone
under the sea, into the war
glimpsing the surface from below
What moss, dreaming, closes over.
To have and be wants in your face.
You have the opportunity to take what is relevant with you.
Every exit looks like my exit
There was a real scorpion in my dream
All season assurance tires
The problem is we care
Does exhaustion begin to describe it
We do not have a nourishing circumstance
To pretend beyond the voice
A dream the core is strong
little nest full of translucent eggs
between where you’re wrestled and where you’re fraught
[lets go of the bouquet]
an atmospheric river keeping its roots
muffled over the skyward branches
all I see is the teal
breathless paints and chirping
makes you want to know
crusty ruling and crusty ruler
your pain will land late
or disappear like the others
we are trained to imagine
above the radar or below the radar
something that could be lost in the remote
carries you down
in a hemisphere that jolts
soothing up the canals
[lets go of the bouquet]
elisions of place
the dried herbs relax in water
while the living herbs sink in rain
I’m too distracted by your vibe
to listen to your song
I turned into a tulip
the political flower
or was I a lily
Last rush of beauteous energies
Tell me something that’s outside of the present
Recur to yourself until you puke
“The world deserves instant healing.” (Alice Notley)
I know I don’t understand healing
Breeding flowers for political poems
At night, the plants I cut come back to me – spirea, penstemon, tea rose
Laura Woltag dwells, listens & writes in the SF Bay Area. Her most recent chapbook is Hush Hyletics (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs). Her poems have been installed along the Deer Creek Trail in Nevada City by Unmanned Minerals, and appear in print in Macaroni Necklace, Where Eagles Dare, Try, OMG!, and the anthology It’s Night in San Francisco but it’s Sunny In Oakland. She teaches literature and critical thinking in Bay Area community colleges, and sometimes publishes poetry through her tiny press, gavia immer.