The Next Big Thing Interview

Thanks to Louise Mathias and Colleen Robertson Abel for tagging me on this meme, which is currently making the rounds. Or I think it is – it took me a while to get around to writing this thing up. Forthwith:

What is the working title of your book?

The Greenhouse. I thought, “Someone must have used this, right?” But no, or not for poetry. When the image came up I thought of Roethke: “The greenhouse is my symbol for the whole of life, a womb, a heaven-on-earth.” And yeah, it functions that way in more than one of my poems, but there’s also that thing about the heaviness of the air, the fogging up. I love the lushness of it, but I also get a little claustrophobic. Have I mentioned that my book deals in large part with the experience of parenting a young child?

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Four years of intense sleep deprivation.

OK. When I was getting my MFA, I told my thesis advisor, Marianne Boruch, that I was tired of the kinds of poems I was writing, but I had no idea how to write any other kind. I mean, I felt it was good work, but it wasn’t really surprising me any more – I knew my own voice, my tics and tricks, too well. And the poems got a lot of their energy from compression and control, which was something I valued – my heroes include Emily Dickinson and Kay Ryan – but I knew I wanted to stretch somehow. Marianne, who knew I was pregnant, just smiled: “Don’t worry. I have a feeling that when your life changes, your work will change.” Anyone who knows Marianne knows she is always right.

So now I’m writing these poems that are long, loose, multivocal, fragmented, full of lists and jokes and asides and God knows what else. Totally different from my first book, because they come from a totally different mind. I mean, having a child rewired my brain.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically and emotionally. I now know it’s not this way for everyone, but my son was super-intense and had serious sleep issues. I was massively exhausted, and completely transformed. And since I write poems that track consciousness across daily experience – well, the work changed big time. Be careful what you wish for.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?

“Character” would have to be a pretty loose term. I think you’d need a new kind of movie, like the feelies in Brave New World. Plus a couple of stand-up comics, an account, and a fleet of toy cars. You could probably shoot it in a weekend, though.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of this book?

I refuse to answer this question.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither. Who will publish it, though, I have no idea. I write slowly, so it’ll be a couple more years out. I’m trying to decide if I want to send out one section as a chapbook or not.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See above.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Still working on it. I’ve written what seems to be half of a book over the last five years, in between full-time mom-ing and full-time freelance editing. Life is a lot easier these days, though – having a school-age kid is a blast. I’m hoping to have a complete manuscript to send out by the end of 2014.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Somewhere along the way, I started losing nouns, which was quite frightening. But I got a great poem out of it.

Next Up:

I’m tagging Maya Jansen, Peg Alford Pursell, Genanne Walsh, Robert Thomas, and Marie Mutsuki Mockett.

Poems from Collaboration with Left Coast Chamber Ensemble

As part of this local chamber music series, Benvenue House director Tanya Tomkins commissioned me to write an original poem in response to Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht. This somehow evolved to include a translation of the Richard Dehmel poem that inspired Schoenberg and a craft talk on my process (which included references to both David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and the children’s cartoon Avatar). An engaged, passionate audience made the whole thing a lot of fun, while Left Coast’s performance bright out the authentic feeling in Schoenberg’s early piece.

Below is the translation (preceded by Dehmel’s German original) and my poem “Five Kinds of Light,” after Schoenberg and Dehmel.



Zwei Menschen gehn durch kahlen, kalten Hain;

der Mond läuft mit, sie schaun hinein.

Der Mond läuft über hohe Eichen;

kein Wölkchen trübt das Himmelslicht,

in das die schwarzen Zacken reichen.

Die Stimme eines Weibes spricht:


„Ich trag ein Kind, und nit von Dir,

ich geh in Sünde neben Dir.

Ich hab mich schwer an mir vergangen.

Ich glaubte nicht mehr an ein Glück

und hatte doch ein schwer Verlangen

nach Lebensinhalt, nach Mutterglück

und Pflicht; da hab ich mich erfrecht,

da ließ ich schaudernd mein Geschlecht

von einem fremden Mann umfangen,

und hab mich noch dafür gesegnet.

Nun hat das Leben sich gerächt:

nun bin ich Dir, o Dir, begegnet.“


Sie geht mit ungelenkem Schritt.

Sie schaut empor; der Mond läuft mit.

Ihr dunkler Blick ertrinkt in Licht.

Die Stimme eines Mannes spricht:


„Das Kind, das Du empfangen hast,

sei Deiner Seele keine Last,

o sieh, wie klar das Weltall schimmert!

Es ist ein Glanz um alles her;

Du treibst mit mir auf kaltem Meer,

doch eine eigne Wärme flimmert

von Dir in mich, von mir in Dich.

Die wird das fremde Kind verklären,

Du wirst es mir, von mir gebären;

Du hast den Glanz in mich gebracht,

Du hast mich selbst zum Kind gemacht.”


Er faßt sie um die starken Hüften.

Ihr Atem küßt sich in den Lüften.

Zwei Menschen gehn durch hohe, helle Nacht.


– Richard Dehmel, 1896



Two people walk through a bare, cold wood.

The moon keeps pace with them

and draws their gaze. It slides across the tops

of the oaks; no cloud obscures its glow.

The points of the boughs reach for its light.

The woman speaks.


I’m carrying a child, and not yours.

I walk in sin beside you. When I say sin –

I mean a sin against myself. I lost

the thread of happiness (I mean the possibility

of believing in its possibility). And yet I longed

For some meaning: a mother’s joys


And duties. And so – I dared.

Shuddering myself into a stranger’s arms.

Willed it, and made it a blessing. But life

has its ways of getting back at us.

Call it revenge: so here you are.


She walks, trips, makes her way onward.

She looks up; the moon is still there.

It sees her. It is drowning her in light.

It does not stop its seeing.

The man speaks.


May the child you conceived

Be no burden on your soul. Look

how the universe shines, on you

and on everything. We float together

on a cold sea. But even now that glow

moves inside you. It moves

from you into me, and me into you.


It will transfigure the child, a child

born with my light inside it.

And you have brought the light into me,

made me new, reborn in your glow.


He wraps his arms around her full hips.

Their breath entwines in the cool air.

They walk together into the high, bright night.


tr. Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet
Translation commissioned for Benvenue House performance of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, December 2012



it is ours driving up and over the heavily canted bridge, ours at night

not sleeping, ours sitting late in the office         staring into screens

we hear it

stumbling along the long rows of trees, moving to drown it out

stopping just enough to step forward

again into it

ours late nights up again with a sick child, terrified and amazed

at the headlights’ calm survey of the blinds, ours plunking it out on the keyboard

once again from the top despite a cascading lack of talent

for whatever miracle we have been asked to perform

it is lifting

and falling, it is a means

of being in the world                 (having lost the intermediary word:

body struck mute and radiant           seen)

in the theaters in the balconies of scuffed velvet           on the late-night couches

alone or together, swimming in irony or indulgence       under the flickering screen

and still through it all the tidal pull—

it makes a place               to pour ourselves into, it has shaped

our cells, it is handed back and forth

(sometimes contraband sometimes insistent offering)           and we submit

ourselves to it,

we feed it into our ears and our eyes

in a tangle of cables and tubes          under the overturned truck       on the riverbank

where they have given up the search
where the baseboards

have been scrubbed away under so many mops

where the ice

forms around a hole in the road


in the closet, in the box, under lock and key, under duress

alone in a room in front of a window

gathered with others at the altar of our celebration

waiting on streetcorners and in the backs of cars

sweeping the kitchen floor, glass slipped through our fingers

on the train holding an extra ticket

in the nursery           in the departure lounge           afterwards deep in the ordinary

time of strip malls and medians, kicking stones

around the shore of the half-dead lake       it is

broken and filtered and coming through despite what stones we pile up around our heads

it pushes us into the world with its insistent hands


poem commissioned for Left Coast Chamber Ensemble performance of
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, December 2012