October 17–23, 2016
Simone Kearney is author of the chapbooks Days (Monk Books, forthcoming 2017) and In Threes, a limited-edition artist chapbook (Minute BOOKS, 2013). She was a 2014 recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in poetry and a 2010 recipient of an Amy Award from Poets & Writers. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Hunter College and an MFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She has been awarded residencies at the Lighthouse Works, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, the Edward F. Albee Foundation, the Woodstock Brydcliffe Guild and Ragdale. She currently teaches at Parsons School of Design and Ramapo college. As part of the Brooklyn Poets fall workshop term, Kearney and Emily Skillings will coteach Nest, Hut, Cellar: Practicing the Poetics of Space, beginning October 26.
Your head is an apple and you are a bird feeling squashed in
blue. Your head is a window you must face alone, rippling: its
rigidity is dictatorial. But what is the root? The meaning, core,
trunk? You’re a play of light, sweat, ruby, rubber, bagel, lemon,
used car, boiling springs, all I need, waiting for someone to bump
into you. Is that me feeling your decibels, slow pale eardrum
in the middle of your picture, the pinky-purple mille-fleur nouns
of your knees? Which side of this are you? Bleach of me swells
like a tuber. Pressing against limpet golf-ball blanks, you could
be wheat, hobbling up, air-cone, feeling what it’s like to feel rainy
borders that fizzle—hold on a minute now, you’re just rumors,
plural oyster greys, granular tang to be entered transparently
on good days, right? Where is the blind change of color? What
pinch of circle or tassel, giddy and worse? That’s you, not a baby,
but a heart open like fences lank in dunes, flapping, full with milks
of human kindness, turgid, rainbow, bullish, giant, fruitful, aperture.
–Originally published in PEN Poetry Series, 2014.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
When I wrote this poem, I was somewhere between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat. I tried to fool the poem into thinking that it was writing itself. Or as though I had my back to the poem and I was trying to remember its features as I was in the process of writing it. Or like trying to correctly render an object in the distance when your eyes are squinting and you’re not wearing the right contact lenses on top of it.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working back and forth between text and image-based work, and sometimes one thing informs or gets usurped by the other. In terms of the text side of things, I am expanding a long poem into book form. Everything I’m writing keeps getting longer and longer, pathologically so, maybe!
What’s a good day for you?
A day that involves a lot of walking without a destination, followed by a movie at night—something by Rohmer or Resnais since I’m on a big French-director-whose-name-starts-with-R kick.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I moved to Brooklyn for the first time into an apartment with the poet Bianca Stone. We wanted to write poems together in our living rooms, and decided to turn two living rooms—one in Ridgewood, the other in Morningside Heights—into a single one, and that ended up being in East Williamsburg—my first home in Brooklyn.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I live in Bed-Stuy, and love it. I can hear the call to prayer from my bedroom window. There are incredible roti and doubles a few blocks away. There are times here when the light and the brick remind me of Ireland. But as with a lot of neighborhoods that artists move into in Brooklyn, the immediate area where I live is also being quickly gentrified—so there is also the sense of possibly displacing people.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Walking on the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 AM and reading aloud “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane. I did that when I was 19 with the poet Adam Fitzgerald. We were both studying in Boston and we hopped on a Chinatown bus at 11 PM, got to New York, found the bridge, read the poem out loud and hopped back home on the bus before classes started the next morning in Boston. That has always been what Brooklyn meant to me at heart, because it was my first raw experience of it, in the middle of the night with the ghost of Hart Crane.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community to me means being able to go over to friends’ houses, or they come to my house, and we write poems. That’s one way to form a poetry community. I’ve found that here, and it’s one of the reasons why I keep coming back to Brooklyn. But houses and cowriting or writing side-by-side aside, I think an ever expansive community of voices is also what a poetry community should be about too, so that it never gets too comfortable with itself and the voices that comprise it, so that is always something I’m looking for.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I would say so many of my friends. Most of my friends happen to be poets, and they have been hugely important to me. I collaborated once with Christian Hawkey and that collaboration was very important for me because it opened up new possibilities of composition for me that I hadn’t imagined yet.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
All the poets, alive and dead, whom I read and reread. But as for teachers, Timothy Donnelly, Larry Fagin and Tom Sleigh were all mentors, and I studied with them. To me, their approach to writing and their take on how to conceive of poetry were all different enough that working with all three exposed me to the ways in which I might write a poem—working with all three exposed me to the idea that there was something continent in the act of making (if I had one particular teacher, I might end up writing differently than if I had another). Each of their aesthetics gave me different ideas about how to shape a poem. For example, I remember I brought the same poem to Larry Fagin and then to Tom Sleigh, and both suggested wildly different approaches to treating/editing the same poem. That really struck me at the time. I think the possibilities of saying the same thing multiple ways, or the sense that articulation is always fragile, tentative, possible to shift, morph, shape one way or another, grew from there, in part.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I would say Fanny Howe’s new book. It blew my mind. Just read the book and you’ll see.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I still have not read War and Peace. I’ve been meaning to read War and Peace ever since working in a bookstore in Cambridge, MA years ago, when this Irish guy studying at Harvard came into the store and told me about having been held at gunpoint in a bathtub at the back of a Venezuelan bank (I don’t know why there was a bathtub at the back of the bank), and, believing he was about to be shot, thinking to himself in desperation, “But I still haven’t read War and Peace!” Luckily he survived, and I don’t know if he went and redressed the problem subsequently by reading the book, but ever since hearing that story, I thought to myself, I must get to War and Peace (I love Anna Karenina as a book), but I still haven’t read it.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I’m always reading multiple, too many books. I love dipping into books, but also love getting deeply involved in a book cover to cover. I sometimes plan what I’ll read, sometimes let fate decide. I love recommendations, but I’m often led by subjects that I’m interested in in terms of what I choose to read. I can’t read digital texts, hardly, I am a fanatic for physical books and fetishize the smell of must in an old yellow book. Having moved around a lot, I always groan at the thought of all the heavy lifting I’ll have to do only because of my books, whenever I move. My books have led to so much excessive lugging, but still I love them, like needy pets. And I love defacing my books—I love to feel all sorts of emotions in the margins.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love libraries. Teaching at Parsons, I have access to the New School libraries, Cooper Union library and NYU libraries and it’s a dream.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love the Brooklyn Museum and getting lost there, the bridges, the shady nooks and all the parts that collide with water.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate windows, the way heat congeals to a standstill,
And what I see in you you see in me,
For every piece of sun getting distant from itself, poured into
vertical transparency, getting all fogged up, full of
mannequins, is in me as good as the soul-wobble, thin as light,
Because Bernadette Mayer was born here.