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When did you write your first poem?

I wrote my first poem in 1967 when I was a freshman at the University of Southern California. It was my first time away from home, the war in Viet Nam was going full force and I was a confused, angst-filled adolescent who didn’t know what I thought about anything. I had a huge crush on my French professor, Dr. Robin Blake, and one day — I usually sat in the front row of class — he saw that I had scribbled the beginnings of a poem on my notebook. He stopped and picked the poem up off the notebook and said to the class that Ms. Bogen had written a poem and that it was pretty good. For the rest of the semester, I would strategically leave poems on the side of my notebook although he never singled me out again. I probably would have stopped writing but at the end of my freshman year I became the first freshman to ever win the (college) award from the Academy of American Poets at USC.

1.
I tell you the skin alone cannot contain
the brawl of a generation —
we burned flags before the helmets
and the dogs rabid with our parents’ teeth.
Then we locked arms, swaying
and cheered when the match struck.
We watched, swore the jelly of napalm
would not silence the corpses
pulled from rice paddies in another world.

AlexusErin1

 

When did you start writing poetry?

I was drawn to poetry quite young. In the first grade I wrote a ‘poetry collection’- think rhyming couplets and magic marker drawings. When my teacher caught onto how I was spending my time, she allowed me to go ‘on tour’ to all the other first grade classes to present my work. This was my first poetry reading. I continued to read poetry throughout childhood and into adolescence, where I got simultaneously got very into sonnets (penning a few on the kitchen floor of my childhood in cleaning solution) and pop punk lyrics (Fall Out Boy, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday). Even a few years away from its general angst, I’m still a big fan of the genre- there is something piercing, illuminating and revealing (from a cultural standpoint) about a lot of pop punk and emo’s lyrical themes and qualities. More recently, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the poetry of hip hop- hip hop is doing a lot of important work right now. I would be remiss to not mention the lyrical and performative prowess of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper.

For a moment, we captured all possible danger with flypaper,
speaking frankly about desire as though it was the charred remains of a forest, reset.
Lightning dashed, flame rose and fell and we were left

only with the evidence
that we were a doing a good job,
a kind thing by telling the truth. Our walking culled doubt,

eased the strain
of hand-in-glove disease that warps
the kissing corner and locks

If you laugh at some sacred object you change it. Useful onerosity.

Disbelieving and drinking are always present tense. I mean
what is hard and what responds—my horse and her water. I can be
anywhere, I used to think, happy.

Why would anyone travel when you could be in a field
with one person?

When you left, I swallowed a lemon whole.
I didn’t know what else to do. I knew
to bless but how among the swanky,
dishonest slobs! I do not say these things about you. “I
am the auto salesman and lóve you.” Dear!

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford

 

What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?

No one will ever remember how clean I kept my toilets; use your time for something else.

I. Alive in Naked Earth

Holding shovel is a boy—not boy so much as a body growing.
How his skin—patch of ground—is like a bed. What can’t be
sown in youth? Clean well mouth—spring of throat. New. My

skin’s a stained sheet tied to a dry-line. I’ve asked him, to fold &
bury me? He’ll do as instructed. Spade corner to garden corner.
Hands of earth against my mouth—there was a time I believed

in the all consuming. I want to believe again. Holding a shovel,
is a boy. Buried alive, I reclaim something:
                                            remember when love smelled like rain?

 

It’s so good to get a chance to talk to you about your first book of poems, Trouble the Water. So I wanna try something a bit different. I’m not that interested in asking the usual questions and just talking about writing. Let’s talk about your influences outside of literature as a way to frame the conversation.

Yes! Thank God. Haha.

I look for you on the storm-smoothed shore,
               glittering where the moon tows itself
across the bay. Cool air fills my lungs with mint

as I walk past sea oats, past sea grapes
               in tidal pools. Waves spread
like playing cards—a flush the land can’t beat—

and the sea keeps upping the ante: first,
               quartz and crysolite, then breakwaters
and wooden weirs, then the land itself,

an erosion so ceaseless I too want to give
               my body, wholly, to something else.
Camped by a fire, you call to me.

jane's pic of liz

 

Why Chaos Theories? What is the significance of the title?

Many tenets from chaos theory appear in these poems. After reading a little bit about it, I became obsessed with the way in which chaos is actually a type of order. This contradiction continues to fascinate me and seems an apt metaphor for human emotions and relationships, and maybe even a metaphor for the writing process – or at least my process: through my poems I attempt to force order onto the disorder of the world. Plus I love all of the scientific language: strange attractors, bifurcations, butterfly effect, turbulence, dynamic systems, sensitivity to initial conditions, and on and on… There is so much gorgeous language to mine.

One can’t predict what happens next, yet even
chaos breeds patterns of a sort: sly singles

at the bar, nocturnal creatures stalking shadows,
cars cruising for motion’s sake. I’m speaking out

of turn again. We all are sensitive
to first impressions, but initial conditions

shift swiftly and with little impetus.
I found him digging ditches in summer heat,

and soon we’d made declarations, smiled broadly
for photographs. It wasn’t meant to be

 

Do you imagine an ideal reader?

The ideal reader is someone who, upon reading a poem, goes immediately to find someone, another ideal reader, and she says, “Listen to this!” and reads the poem aloud as if she herself had written it. I grew up with parents who said often, “Listen to this!” And I listened. Maybe I’m someone’s ideal reader—I hope so!

What she wanted was a bearded man
to tease her, all those tight curls
between her legs scratching, tickling.
She would hold him as she would

an amphora, scenes painted onto it:
a boar with scythe tusks, a chariot
high-wheeled and eager, a naked driver
curved indelicately, his horse a puzzle

of arcs. Or she would hold him as Salome
offered up St. John, his head open-mouthed,
on a platter. No, she’d hold his head,
alive, the tongue arced and silent.

Breakwater

By Derrick Austin

Poem

In the photograph, my grandfather stands
               in sepia water off Mont Saint-Michel,
barely older than I, having chased wine

and women. Fresh from the Italian Campaign,
               swaggering on the shore,
he points at his brother beyond the frame

(killed a year later by cops who mistook him
               for another black man)
watching lambs whose salty meat is prized

in Normandy, whole racks for christenings.
               You could taste the tide, he says.
Which means what exactly? That he could taste

authorphotolargersize

 

Who is Soraya?

My poetic other who has been inspiring me since around 2003. Ah, revealing error, I meant to say 2013, when I wrote this book, but 2003 is actually the year I began seriously publishing in journals and started composing my first books, although I’d been writing full-time for about eight years prior to that. So 2003 was really the year I felt legitimized as a writer and knew for sure that was to be my career until the end come what may. Anyway, Soraya gave me license a few years ago to indulge in the exuberance of language, to break the shackles of narrative sense, to abandon linear logic, to give way to the free play of pure pleasure. Soraya is unrestrained joy, lack of inhibition, poly-everything, chockfull of every gluttonous pleasure countering the made-up envelope and container of our mortal lives. Soraya is immortality, lack of finite being, the dissolution of my congealed identities in the very processes of imagining and writing.