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Aspen Matis
New York, NY
Aspen Matis is the author of the bestselling memoirs YOUR BLUE IS NOT MY BLUE and GIRL IN THE WOODS.
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Elaine Equi's witty, aphoristic, and innovative work has become nationally and internationally known. Her book, Ripple Effect: New & Selected Poems, was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award and shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Among her other titles are Sentences and Rain, Surface Tension, Decoy, Voice-Over, which won the San Francisco State University Poetry Award, and The Cloud of Knowable Things. She teaches at New York University and in the MFA Program at The New School. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Ms. Equi via email about her newest book of poetry, the poetic nature of eccentricity and mundanity, the themes that most fascinate and inspire her, and the bewitching powers of 17th century poet Robert Herrick. What is poetry’s greatest role in your inner life? Why do you write poems? Funny you should ask. I was just thinking that my inner life seems to have disappeared. I’m not quite sure why that happened, but I do know that I think of poetry as a tool for getting back in touch with it. By inner life, I mean some larger sense of self — what people used to call “soul” or “psyche.” I know meditation is helpful in that regard, and I do a little of that. But for me, the fastest and most reliable road inward is poetry. What do you see as poetry’s role in our present society? A unifying force? A destabilizing force of social and personal change? A reprieve from the mundanity and suffering of day-to-day existence? An access to greater empathy? A glimpse of inspiring beauty and truth? A compass that reveals new clarity of thought, redirecting our collective course? I think poetry can do all of those things. I like the way poetry can articulate moments we all experience that might otherwise go unnoticed. Haiku is a great form for making you more focused — mindful and appreciative of what’s going on around you. But I also love poetry that opens up imaginative and aesthetic space. I like fantasy and speculative realities — time travel, clones, dream worlds. What is the most radical thing a poet can do in her work? I am honestly not a very radical person. I’m just not the type. I consider myself more of an eccentric. I have a poem, “Ode to Weird,” that says “All poets are weird/ even when their poems/ try to appear normal.” I was being playful but also truthful. Recently, I’ve discovered there’s a whole critical movement devoted to defining and exploring the notion of weirdness. The late Mark Fisher has an excellent book, The Weird and the Eerie, on this subject. Stylistically, do you consider yourself a minimalist? I think I go on a little too much to be a true minimalist, but my writing is definitely informed by my love of short poems. Some of my favorite poets are Sappho, Basho, Issa, Williams, Niedecker, Creeley, Aram Saroyan, Joe Brainard, and Rae Armantrout. I like aphorisms, epigrams, fragments, haiku,... Continue reading
Posted 12 hours ago at The Best American Poetry
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Nin Andrews’ poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies including Ploughshares, Agni, The Paris Review, and four editions of Best American Poetry. The author of six chapbooks and six full-length poetry collections, she has won two Ohio individual artist grants, the Pearl Chapbook Contest, the Kent State University chapbook contest, and the Gerald Cable Poetry Award. She is also the editor of a book of translations of the Belgian poet, Henri Michaux, Someone Wants to Steal My Name. Her book, Why God Is a Woman, was published by BOA Editions in 2015. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Ms. Andrews via email about her newest book of poetry, her understanding of poetry’s position in our present society, poetry’s liberating role in her own life, the themes that most fascinate and inspire her, and her perspective on the most radical thing a poet can accomplish in her work. What is poetry’s greatest role in your inner life? Why do you write poems? I blame my mother for everything. She was a terrible mother, and the most wonderful mother imaginable. A semi-autistic dairy farmer, she despised touch and intimacy in all its guises and was better at handling calves than children. A brilliant linguist, she knew French, German, Latin and Ancient Greek, and studied with Richmond Lattimore in college. She spent countless hours reading aloud to her children in a voice like Katharine Hepburn’s, frequently returning to the Greek myths, the Odyssey, the Iliad. If she was anxious, as she was when I was sick (and I was sick often), she sat by my bed and read poetry. “What does it mean?” I’d ask. “Hush,” she’d answer. “And listen.” She never liked explanations. In my earliest memories, poetry and myths were part of my daily life and dreams. We had no TV or neighbors. The stories my mother read filled my imagination. They were part of how I understood the world. And they were magic, the only magic I knew. How could I not want to be a writer? What do you see as poetry’s role in our present society? A unifying force? A destabilizing force of social and personal change? A reprieve from the mundanity and suffering of day-to-day existence? An access to greater empathy? A glimpse of inspiring beauty and truth? A compass that reveals new clarity of thought, redirecting our collective course? Society—I’ve never been a fan of it. Even in elementary school, I remember studying the city states. Athens, the celebrated birthplace of democracy, was where women were the property of fathers or spouses. Sparta, the terrible warring polis, was where women were educated and athletic—and exercised in the nude (at least that’s what my mom said). I wanted to be Spartan, but without the warriors. I wanted to delete the warriors. But what would Sparta be without warriors? There’s so much of every society I’d like to delete. I’m not sure what role poets play in society. Does society care for poetry? Remember Plato... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Amy Gerstler is a critically acclaimed writer of fiction, poetry, and journalism whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Paris Review and The Best American Poetry. Her 1990 book Bitter Angel won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and her newest collection of poems, Index of Women, is forthcoming from Penguin in April of 2021. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Ms. Gerstler via email about her newest book of poetry, her perspective on poetry’s role in our present society, the themes that most fascinate and inspire her, her current work, and her experience of and feelings about editing The Best American Poetry 2010. What is poetry’s greatest role in your inner life? Why do you write poems? Joan Didion, in her essay, “Why I Write,” said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” That sums it up! I also write poems to have an excuse to wallow in subjects I’m compelled by, to attempt to get inside other characters / minds (in order to better understand them), to speak to about the dead and the vanished, and to commune with and stretch my imagination. What do you see as poetry’s role in our present society? A unifying force? A destabilizing force of social and personal change? A reprieve from the mundanity and suffering of day-to-day existence? An access to greater empathy? A glimpse of inspiring beauty and truth? A compass that reveals new clarity of thought, redirecting our collective course? Great list! All those things and more! Poetry can delight and comfort. Unsettle and expand consciousness. Help us comprehend/contend with being human. Allow us to pay little visits to each other’s wild minds. Keep us alert to the possibilities of language and how it differentiates and binds us together. What is the most radical thing a poet can do in her work? She can devote herself to following her own course, as writer, thinker, and emotional animal—whatever that may mean at different times in her life. She can cultivate and explore her own obsessions without letting anything or anybody stop her. Your forthcoming poetry collection, Index of Women (Penguin, April 2021), showcases exclusively female speakers in poems that wrestle with mortality, animality, love, gender, and the nature of humanity. What inspired this new collection on womanhood and the magic, meaning, humor, sorrow, and struggles of our days that create the hidden meaning of our lives? Dramatic monologues thrill me. Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology stunned me when I was young. All those vivid voices spouting dark truth from the grave! I love the poet Ai’s dramatic monologues. My interest in women’s voices, spoken or sung, and their stories and experiences was also generative. Coming across the ancient Greek poet Hesiod’s book Catalogue of Women was a fortunate and influential accident. Such an odd, compelling idea to compile a catalogue of women! I wondered... Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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January 21, 2021 You are the author of eight poetry collections, a short story collection, and a collection of non-fiction stories, and your first novel, Seeing-Eye Boy, was published in October of 2020. What inspired your transition from poet to novelist and the creation of this first book-length work? I got interested in YA fiction when my son Michael was approaching adolescence; it was at that point that I started getting him YA books, sometimes even reading them to him. That's when I realized that there was a lot of good writing and storytelling going on in that arena. The next step was to try my own hand at it. How has Irish music influenced you and your development as an artist? Irish music goes back further and deeper in my life than any other form of expression. I have a storehouse of songs and tunes in my head that I think help shape, most often in ways I’m not really conscious of, much of my writing. Where do poetry and music intersect? And where do they diverge? There’s a close relationship between poetry and song, which in humanity’s past often meant the same thing. Good poems have a deep musicality coded into them, just as great song lyrics often show an attention to the metaphoric concision of the best kind of poetic language. Obviously, not every poem makes a good song, and not every set of lyrics can stand alone as a poem. But Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and that made perfect sense to me. What themes and inquiries most fascinate and inspire you? I never think in terms of themes and inquiries. But sex and death, those twin pillars of poetic obsession, have not escaped my attention. Do the best books win the poetry prizes? Why do great works so often fall through the cracks of our literary foundation, into obscurity? When you have found the answers to those questions, please let me know. Do you have any wisdom or guidance you’d like to share with young poets? When I was a student, a long time ago, I loved the work, and the workings of the mind, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I still think, along with many others, that “Kubla Khan” is the best poem ever written in English. I also read and loved his prose, including his great classic, Biographia Literaria: Or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions. In the Biographia he writes, "With no other privilege than that of sympathy and sincere good wishes, I would address an affectionate exhortation to the youthful literati, grounded on my own experience. It will be but short; for the beginning, middle, and end converge to one charge: NEVER PURSUE LITERATURE AS A TRADE" [caps his]. I think that’s still good advice. What are you working on now? What creative pursuits most excite you? I'm finishing up work on a new manuscript of poems. I like writing poems. Writing something you’re happy with produces... Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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January 19, 2021 AM: What do you see as poetry’s role in our present society? A unifying force? A destabilizing force of social and personal change? A reprieve from the mundanity and suffering of day-to-day existence? An access to greater empathy? A glimpse of inspiring beauty and truth? A compass that reveals new clarity of thought, redirecting our collective course? MJ: Fascinating catalogue, all of which I have experienced over the years in reading and teaching poems, that in fact, are not mutually exclusive. Political poetry that I love, for example, pushes me toward a greater consciousness of complicated issues that point to imbalance of power and injustice, and many of them I’ve also found to be exact and beautiful in their lyricism. Yet almost always, with the best poems, I am awakened to language (its palpable presence in the body and mouth) and thus, too, sensory experience. I’ll add to that a growing sense of wonder that marks us as human beings. The best poems are multidimensional and multimodal in that way. Your most recent book of poems, The Absurd Man, confronts the struggle for meaning in a technological world and ponders the value and nature of creation in the face of meaninglessness. What, in your view, is the meaning of your life? Of course, on any given day I could answer this differently. You’ll have to forgive the lack of clarity as I truly believe the answer is far more complex than what will land here. In the past and today, I have talked about challenging the precincts of meaning, which takes a great dosage of critical intelligence and, believe it or not, love. I find meaning in the passionate pursuit of the “real” as Milosz phrases it. In writing poems, I am strongly committed to the possibility of uttering something that cracks and breaks through the veneer of my insecurities and fears, that pierces the armor I’ve built up that disconnects and alienates me from humanity. What is the most radical thing a poet can do in his or her work? We are bound, regrettably, by the strictures of language; meaning is its own prison, and thus, our lives become faint replicas of outdated ideas and what was previously discovered. No matter how beautiful the garden evoked in language, if it merely alludes to some biblical origin story then it is valueless, and quite possibly redundant. We rarely discuss the ethical imperative of “making it new.” Understandably, it is a weighty responsibility to put on poetry, a tall order as we say. Yet still, out of relevancy and quite possibly a spiritual urgency, a poet has to discover radical ways of picturing and sounding out this moment. That’s pretty far-reaching to me. In this way, poetry speaks to the living fact of being alive today. For example, some in our country believe it is 1776; I have been saying lately that we need a new image of patriotism so that we do not fall victim to a... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Jan 14, 2021