August 25–31, 2014
Molly Rose Quinn was raised in Memphis, Tennessee and lives in Brooklyn. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Coconut, Four Way Review, Parallax, No, Dear, Underwater New York, Two Serious Ladies, the Fiddleback and other places. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of Lumina. She works as a producer of literary programs at Symphony Space in Manhattan. She also helps out with the Brooklyn Book Festival, the Moby-Dick Marathon NYC and the Atlas Review, and has taught writing with the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop and at WORD bookstore.
Author photo by T Kira Madden
where the pillar falls at the edge of morning the teachers
beg us to tug down our skirts they offer their palms
for our gumballs and your god is here to say that beauty
is easy like cutting teeth and your legs and your legs
and yours and I in the pew wish to scrape down
to nothing cuff myself kneel better and what could be
worthier hair voice and loudly I beg for ascendancy
dear classmates your legs in neat rows pray as you do
with fists up and the sun in here bare pray for safety
the teen saint she is the girl to win it all for I beg my
mariology as she sets the way that girl she never once
begged for sparing she begged for death like wine
she begged the best she supplicated she died this dying
begs for me I give it such pleasure and legs and the pew
and the alb and the bread and all other objects beg to be
candles when you are a candle you can beg to be lit
each of you in the pew you beg to be lit I’ll never shine
bigger as we know teenagers beg to be begged and we do
you girls you begged me to hold you begged me to take
what I took you beg bigger and better and for that
you’ll be queens the chimes chime and bells bell
and dear god I know I can be the greatest girl ever
by anointing all alone and being loved the very best
and she says what is so good about anger god killed
my son for himself I suppose and this halo it’s nothing
I asked for and of course she’ll be lying and your legs
and your legs and yours tanned and the best thing all year
–Originally published in Four Way Review, Spring 2013.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
The title refers to STABAT MATER DOLOROSA, a 13th Century hymn, a meditation on the suffering of Mary during the crucifixion of Christ. The most important word there is stabat. She mothers—she weeps—but the verb we give her is standing. Just standing. Still. Inactive. And we know, because we’ve been told, that this made her beautiful. This always seemed, to me, wildly inaccurate.
The setting I’m most familiar with is Pergolesi’s, which is for female voices with organ accompaniment. It’s an intensely creepy—and creeping—piece of composition, with an organ part that frequently resembles a vintage carousel tune.
I moved to Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 10, and I attended a church service every schoolday morning at my all-girls Christian school from then until I left for college. It wasn’t until last winter that I began to have a clearer grasp on what so disturbed me (and continues to) about the Christian tradition. Maybe disturb isn’t the right word. It might be disappoint. In many teachings, goodness is granted through supplication. I can see all my peers, all the angelic southern girls I knew growing up, kneeled over morning after morning. More than church this is a poem of womanhood. The legs and hair. Growing up there it was difficult for me to reconcile the projected ideals of womanhood with my own personality, my own desires. The women I knew in the South (many of whom, let me be clear, are extraordinarily beautiful inside and out), were much like this stabat mater dolorosa … pious, soft-spoken, humble, supplicating. I longed to be like them and I lusted for them. Of course many women I knew were nothing like this image, perhaps none of them at all. But that didn’t matter, the ideal pervaded, profoundly. Eventually, I realized they were innocent, so I threw them out of the poem and instead put in the girls-en-masse of Henry Darger, which was an essential link for me in this poem as well as many of my others.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a manuscript of poems that’s been with me for a good while; “Dolorosa” lives in the first part. The manuscript—which has no name and no home—plays out the events of my life during the years I lived in Memphis by colliding in other narratives of lost childhood, unkept girls, religious fervor and violence. Henry Darger, The Lord of the Flies, A High Wind in Jamaica, Marguerite Duras’ The Lover and a slew of others all provide the backdrop. In addition to the evangelism that “Dolorosa” intimates, Memphis is also a city of serious violence and racial and class tension. Several incidents of violence that occurred in and around my community feature centrally in these poems.
What’s a good day for you?
This is a hard question for me because I really have two kinds of days. I work full-time on the literary programs team at Symphony Space in Manhattan. We curate, market, and produce staged readings and author discussions, most of which are in our 800-seat not-for-profit theater on the UWS, and we also produce a fiction podcast/radio show. A good day there means I get to write an interesting person and ask them to do the things they are good at, and they say yes. It’s also emails and spreadsheets and industriousness. Other days, being good means me at my poems, alone, all day, feeling challenged and daunted and desperate and moved and hopeful. Very good days are the ones where these two modes work in tandem, and because I am unbelievably lucky, they oftentimes do.
How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for three years and two months. I fled to Brooklyn at the end of the coldest and most heartbroken winter of my life, into an apartment I wrote a check for, site-unseen, on the last day of the month, and I haven’t moved since. I live in the no-man’s-Bushwick/Williamsburg, near the intersection of Montrose Ave & Graham Ave.
What do I like most about it? Well, on a Saturday last winter, I rode my bike to eat brunch at Anella with some of my best friends in the world, and then we walked from Greenpoint down to Spoonbill for book shopping and we were all in our big winter jackets and I know Bedford sucks but as we approached I noticed the folding chalkboard sign in front of Spoonbill just said NEW MARY RUEFLE! and I mean, seriously.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.
I never know how to answer these kinds of questions—like, “today I massaged some kale while listening to vintage records that I bought at the record store I live above in my Bushwick apartment.” Ok, sure. I do plenty of those things, and so do lots of other people in Brooklyn, and I genuinely enjoy them. I love having cool places and people and objects around me, and many of those associations are linked to what the feeling of Brooklyn is allegedly all about. But if living in the Mississippi delta taught me anything, it’s that any gesture of inclusion is always equally exclusionary, no matter how innocent all the parties may be. Every single person or experience is just as violently different from every single other person or experience, every single place on the planet. I think maybe that is why I really, really do love Brooklyn—in Tennessee as a kid, I always thought everyone wanted to be exactly the same, and I was always looking for ways in which I could be like other people. And it’s not that I found in Brooklyn some kind of “home,” it’s more like living here explained to me the value of that not mattering even at all.
Oh, actually, there is this: Once my plumbing went out for a couple of days, and one night I awoke from a dead sleep around 2-3 AM, and walked a block to duckduck to utilize their ladies’ room.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
My friends. And I don’t mean that in an aw-shucks way at all. I honestly think that my writer friends in Brooklyn are some of the most intelligent, stylish and empathetic individuals that have ever existed and are making some of the best and most important poetry that has ever been made in any age. I find them incredibly intimidating. This goes for nearly all of my acquaintances and a lot of strangers too.
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
The fact that Berl’s exists seems reason enough for the city altogether.
Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
The subway. Natalie & Dolan’s rooftop.
Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
There is a speakeasy whose door I can see from my window right now, and in the winter you can get a drink so spicy you forget that your dry skin looks like Voldemort’s.
Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?
Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me. Hilton Als’ White Girls. Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. Bianca Stone’s Someone Else’s Wedding Vows. Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing. The era of white men is ending, thank golly.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate a tired rotary instructing me,
And what I long for you should neglect
For every summer becomes me as good as you.
My great-great grandparents on both sides made their way to the United States from Ireland in the 1880s. My grandparents were both born in Brooklyn—my grandmother in Greenpoint in 1928 and my grandfather in Bay Ridge in 1926. My father was born in “Williamsburgh General Hospital,” a place that no longer exists. When I was very little, I thought anyone (including television characters) that had that old-school Brooklyn accent was related to me, was some other cousin. The first time I ever came to Brooklyn (or, time that I remember) was about 3.5 years ago, to see a reading at WORD bookstore. A few blocks away is where my great-grandmother lived with her sisters and their families at the corner of Meserole & Diamond, where my grandmother was raised. They are legitimately the original GIRLS.