Ach. What a week. Raced back from NYC, jumped off the plane, and made it barely in time to see my son’s city championship cross-country meet. Jude did great—and where he got the hummingbird bone structure —much less the stamina and discipline to run for miles and miles through the boiling heat—I do not know. But he’s glorious to watch. Like, so beautiful I get weepy just standing there on the sidelines. I’m such a dope.
But a lot of my poet friends have babies due around now and I wish I could bottle that feeling for them and give them a little sip ahead of time as they’re anxiously contemplating all the energy they’re about to give up to something other than themselves.
It makes sense that for poets particularly this is so nerve-wracking—paying detailed attention to our interiors is the bread and butter of what we do—and yet, at least in my case, having one of the little beings who compel you to complicate that exhausting state of self-absorption has been nothing but a gift. I mean, sometimes a weighty gift, but a gift nonetheless.
The other highlight of the evening happened when we parents crowding the edge of the running trail realized we were standing within a few feet of the GRANDADDY OF ALL WATER MOCCASINS coiled up at the trunk of a nearby tree. He was all like, “Hey, Girl. Just chillin’ here, figuring which one of you imunna eat.” Really, even by Florida standards, this snake was HUGE.
And what is it about iPhones that make people think they’ve got some special force field around them while they’re trying to take a picture? Adam refers to the iPhone as a tool for natural selection. You wouldn’t believe the number of idiots who kept scooching closer to frame a better shot. But this is actually one of the things I like best about where I live: you get the strong feeling that nature is always one second away from staging a well-deserved coup on our invasive asses. That seems fair to me.
A statement with which I know Dana Levin would agree (see how I did that there?). Just recently I passed a delightful half hour staring at a sea otter with Dana. This is because we spend a lot of time in Port Townsend together (where I am the artistic director for the most wonderful summer writers conference in the world), and you can’t walk a mile there without bumping into deer, coyotes, eagles, otters, porpoise, raccoons, orca, etc. etc. It’s truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. Dana and I met there years ago when we were both invited as faculty for the conference.
I already knew Dana’s poems and admired them immensely—these being three much praised and influential collections of poetry from Copper Canyon Press. The poems have such a cerebral, critical intensity, are filled with such profound feeling and shattering expressions of elegy—that I was nervous to meet her. I worried that my “I Love Lucy” state-of-being would seem frivolous to such a penetrating mind.
But it turned out there was the most pleasurable cognitive dissonance when meeting Dana in person--she of the huge, easy laugh and sneakily ribald sense of humor. Dana is always the first person to suggest that a little bit of chocolate would make the dinner that much better. And that we’ll need a good bottle of wine to go with it, of course.
Perhaps it’s because of her close encounters with grief that Dana makes extra certain to enjoy this life. She has a gift for friendship, for directness and connection. She lets the stupid stuff roll off her back, because, you know, people. And in her new poems since 2011’s mind- blowingly good Sky Burial, it seems Dana is urging us to gather our rosebuds post haste, as chances are shit’s about to get extremely real in this world we humans have made. Like me, I think Dana is not-so-secretly on the side of the water moccasins.
I was reading a new poem of yours in Poetry magazine the other day—the terrific, eerie “Banana Palace”—though, because I hadn’t had coffee yet, I thought the poem was called “Banana Hammock.”
This really changed what I thought the poem was about.
Have you considered writing a poem called “Banana Hammock”? Maybe a companion piece to the original?
Y'know, a banana kinda looks like a hammock. I want you to know / how it felt to lay on it / deep in the curve of its hopefully unripe skin / because if it's ripe, you don't want to lay on it
...wait, did you mean that to be sexual?
(A pause while Erin finds the Urban Dictionary definition of “banana hammock” for Dana.)
A man's speedo swimsuit.
Look at all of the banana hammocks in Fort Lauderdale.
But you go ahead and handle your banana hammock the way you see fit, Dana.
And look at yooou! Whipping off that poem revision all spontaneous-like. You’re as good as Wayne Brady on What’s My Line! Jude really loves that show.
And speaking of shows, what’s your "I hope no one catches me watching this” show? Or are you one of those poets who pretend not to own a TV and spend their time rehabilitating one-pawed raccoons, or staring pensively at invisible art installations in Berlin?
I *love* television -- we're in a golden age of television, yada yada yada. Okay: I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer over and over. Currently I'm really into Hemlock Grove. Gimme as many vampire/werewolf/endangered teenagers as you can.
But don’t you find all the brain-melting machines—TVs, phones, computers-- disruptive to making poems? I mean, the world is exponentially nosier than it was even ten years ago. How do you stay focused? I feel like a hamster on Adderall most of the time with all my devices binging and whooping and making me feel guilty for not responding to someone within thirty seconds of contact.
I dunno, distraction really saves me. I can't sit with a poem for more than 20 minutes without having to get up and wash the dishes, pull bugs off plants, text you...
At AWP Boston I had this incredibly numinous experience of walking into the book fair and being *assailed* by pings and swooshes and tinkles and old telephone rings -- I just stood there listening to the cacophony of thousands of phones going off and it felt like "the now" or "the future" or a city of mechanical birds or the deeply human and the deeply technologized sautered together in some new way for humans to alert and alarm each other.
I didn't move for about five minutes (and got a lot of quizzical and dirty looks -- y'know, people were trying to *get in* to the book fair completely disrupting my numinous experience...)
Seriously. The AWP hotel acoustics get so intense that one year I found myself sprinting back to my room in order to to hide under the bathroom sink for about 15 minutes.
This really is the worst part of AWP for me. The din of 12,000 writers aerobically networking is deafening. Well this, and my complete inability to remember which faces and names go together. And why the hell do they give us nametags that require looking at someone's crotch to figure out who they are? Makes sneaking a peek very dicey. Christian Teresi, if you’re reading this, please stuff that in your suggestion box. Longer lanyards.
On a different subject, you seem a bit obsessed with morning glories. Lotta lotta pictures of morning glories on your FB page. Like, daily.
Given that morning glory is both my birth flower AND a noxious invasive weed, what symbolism are you trying to project with this monomania of yours?
It's all for you, Erin. I'm just trying to get your attention. You're so *busy* all the time.
But seriously: I've loved them forever. And I grew up in the desert, y'know, 110 degrees in the shade summer desert, so there weren't that many classic flowers that flourished there. Morning Glories are so ephemeral -- you have to catch 'em before Noon, when they fizzle, at least in Santa Fe. And they have this strange light that emits from their centers. Someone on Facebook asked me if they produce it or if it's reflected -- and I have *no idea*. I'd like to keep it, as with most phenomena, mysterious, so I won't look it up.
Plus everyone on FB who cares seems to like the morning glories best. I can't get no truck of likes with the less purple flowers. What is that? We're so "Oooh, purple, lemme give that a thumbs-up---"
I live for likes. Don't you?
I have a complicated relationship with likes. My vanity is certainly fluffed like a porn star when people feed me thumbs on Facebook. And yet, I get irritated that most of the content I actually care about—the political content, trying to get people to vote in mid-term elections, posting feminist articles that are VERY IMPORTANT TO THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY—these get a big “meh.” Or people feel sorry for me so I get a couple tepid, no comment likes. It’s as if I’ve just emitted a terrible noise in public and people politely look away until the smell passes. Then I put up a link to “Vegetables That Look Like LOL Cats That Look Like Hitler" and suddenly 250 people hit their buttons.
I’m at that point where I may try and get off Facebook. No doubt I’ll need a residential rehab program for empty-attention seekers.
Yeah, Twitter's like that too -- Patricia Lockwood tweeted something about eating Fozzie the Bear and got 675 favorites and 163 re-tweets (I just looked that up!) Brenda Hillman saying something serious about drone bombing in Iraq? 1 and 1. We're living at the decadent end of Empire, that's for sure.
Also, regarding AWP, don't you mean "shorter lanyards"? I mean, if we're trying to avoid crotch staring. How about AWP hats? Temporary tattoos displaying name and institutional affiliation across everyone's foreheads? The AWP Mark o' Cain...
Oh, right. I was seduced by the alliteration in “longer lanyards.” I meant shorter. Much shorter. Or maybe individual heralds to just follow writers around trumpeting their CVs and carrying their jousting poles. Sounds like a good MFA internship program in the making.
Here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about in relationship to you, Dana Levin: back in the day, there was a well-known posse of Hair Poets in the 90s and early two thousands. But it’s my impression that you—with your silver mane of Disney-princess-meets-Medusa curls--are one of the very last of the Great Hair Poets. I mean, Lucie Brock Broido is still rocking it with that hair she can wrap twice around her body, but the hair herd has sadly thinned.
Has the hair/poetry connection disappeared into myth? Have you ever had short hair? Would cutting it off have a Samson-like effect on your poetic output?
I *did* have short hair once: 1986, Junior year of college. I had one of those weird New Wave cuts: short in the back with two long tendrils on either side, bangs flopped over one eye. I must have looked like a Hasid with a bad haircut and gender issues.
The Samson effect...well, I had a bodyworker once tell me I should cut off all my hair to get rid of "old vibes" --- I looked at him with immense alarm...
A “bodyworker"? Wait, this is some kind of hippie Esperanto you’ve learned living in New Mexico, right?
Also, I challenge you to a competition for Worst New Wave Haircut. Mine was a crunchy-permed, asymmetrical mullet. I was transitioning from a Pat Benetar, trying to grow it into a Chrissie Hynde. It was so bad that I’m actually proud of it.
And no, I absolutely do NOT want to talk about drone bombings. Though, speaking of signs of the apocalypse, this brings me to the final question:
Your next book definitely has shadings of the apocalyptic in it. If you were to let five poets into your fall out shelter—NOT based on your personal affection for them—but based entirely on what survival/community skills they will bring to the Mad Max future--which contemporary poets would you choose and why?
Whoa! Survival/community skills? Okay: Derick Burleson, because he's burly and bearded and lives in Alaska and seems like he'd know how to do things like skin a radioactive deer for dinner; Gabrielle Calvocoressi, because she's so damned *nice* and can find the spiritual lesson in just about any trying experience and deliver it to the rest of us with charm and open-heartedness; Mark Bibbins *and* you, because between the two of you there'd be a secret cache of fine wine stowed somewhere, which seems like it would be *very necessary* in the fall-out shelter; then I'd save a spot for the first poet who finds him/herself dragging alone through the post-apocalyptic horror and happens to come upon the fall-out shelter and bangs and bangs and bangs to be let in -- I wouldn't be able to stop Gaby from opening the door.
Thank you, Dana Levin. This has been a very edifying conversation. I'll be happy to crawl inside the bunker with you and share my packest of dehydrated scrambled eggs.