"There are also many ways to die, sword/ on neck bone. Body in fire. The death inside of you opened, enfolding your heart,/ a bruised flower fruiting." (from "Rise Up")
What I Am Working On
Since 2012, I've been working on poems about the premature births of my two children and the legacy of my dead maternal grandmother, that of a seer, a woman who lived both a religious and superstitious life, and one who had troubled pregnancies. These poems resulted in two separate chapbooks, Absence of Stars (forthcoming 2015, dancing girl press & studio) and Little Deaths (forthcoming 2015, ELJ Publications). With those acceptances, I'm glad to be starting over with new subject matter that I'd like to work into a full-length collection eventually. While writing many of the poems about death and seeing, I was also reading a lot of Anne Carson's work, especially her God poems -- and considering how when you have a perception of an afterlife that co-exists with the present world, it's hard to not encounter it in your poems. One of my recent poems, "Marked" (forthcoming, December, MiPOesias), contains these lines:
This is how
the body seems at first, impenetrable –
yet, a woman still sings ghazals
from between your ribs.
My new work has been trending in this direction, how we interact with a spirit world, how we contend with death, and the ways in which the dead can inhabit us and how we can inhabit them.
Why My Work is Different
Ever since I "met" Jon Anderson's poetry many years ago, I loved what he said about his work, that it's not for everyone, that it's where he encounters himself and it's not always pleasant. That's why I write as well, to create a space of self-encounter, where I ask hard questions of myself and push beyond my boundaries. One of the best things that anyone ever said about my work was that she enters it and leaves changed, since she has learned something, even a small thing, about herself.
What I Write About
There are a lot of bones and birds in my poems, and enterings and departures and some returnings. My main concern in my poetry is to create a space of self-encounter, to write about subjects that aren't always comfortable. I don't write funny poems, ever. I write poems about self-confrontation, searching and revelation. I write poems about the female experience, and the one of a mother: Your body as creatrix, your body as one that will return to the earth. Your spiritual self and where it homes itself. The interaction between the physical and spiritual world, and the search for who God is, for the ecstasy that Teresa of Avila sought and found.
In 2012, after a long period of not-writing after my daughter was born severely intrauterine growth restricted and several weeks premature, I wrote a poem called "Necessary Work" about our time in the NICU. Poet Li-Young Lee selected this poem as the winner of Ruminate Magazine's Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize. About this poem, he wrote: "among the many virtues that recommend it are the vivid images, as well as a complicated music arising out of a deep unconscious word-counting and word-weighing. One can sense the poet sorting the music of thinking and feeling from the chaos of an outsized undifferentiated passion. But above all, it is the passion that I love about this poem, and how that passion is canalized by discipline to create a work of profound beauty."
I am a writer who thinks that you can teach craft and you can hone your craft, but that at the core of a poet is a certain realm of the unconscious where you encounter the Muse, if you're so lucky. That's the space where my poems come from as Young said, "from the chaos of an outsized undifferentiated passion ... that's canalized by discipline." The core of the poems come from that sort of altered state, which usually occurs late at night when I write alone. Then, after that, I drill into the poem to work out the lines, word choice and other things that make the final poem what it is.
I don't take writing for granted. Recently I've read interviews with Louise Gluck and Mark Strand, where they echo the same idea: How do I know I will ever write another poem, another book? The work feels like it comes from another place, channeled through our bodies and minds.
Tag & Thanks
Many thanks to Alessandra Bava, poet and translator extraordinaire, for inviting me to talk about my writing!
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.