Poet Of The Week

Alexis Pope

     October 20–26, 2014

Alexis Pope’s debut collection Soft Threat (Coconut Books, 2014) was selected for the Joanna Cargill First Book Prize. She is the author of three chapbooks, Bone Matter (The Lettered Streets Press, 2014), No Good (H_NGM_N, 2013) and girl erases girl (dancing girl press, 2013). Her poetry can be found in Denver Quarterly, Washington Square, Octopus, Coconut, Columbia Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Spoke Too Soon: A Journal of the Longer, Forklift, Ohio and Sixth Finch, among others. Her reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in HTML Giant and Entropy. She works as an editor for ILK, is involved with Belladonna* Collective, and is completing an MFA at Brooklyn College. She lives in Prospect Heights.

Moon and The Pilot Light, For You

We keep rewinding past the spot
we were looking to replay. Five years
in which I felt like a buoy. It’s clear now
that I mistook comfort for fatigue. The way
my hands cramp in the center and we can
no longer hold onto the raft. I am done
with floating. In the distance, a graph
displaying exactly where it all went wrong.
In the center a violet glow where we got lost
in the lavender. The field next to the river.
I can see the blue on my arms, the fresh dew
and new sun rising over my damp shoulders.
Where did you run? Behind me in the forest
I hear a wolf permeate the air with a resistance
I have only come to expect from you, my pet.
These rocks are slippery and my feet are not
calloused enough. I’m listening for compassion.
Instead I find more clover. A trampled sunflower
where our naked bodies should be. The sky bends
forward to make me feel less alone, but all I see
is the endless space, the empty planets. The river
is full, reaching into what I cannot see.
And in your eyes, I am familiar. This match
won’t light underwater. Together we ate
through years and so much bread
dipped in soup. A taste of neglect on my skin.
Time keeps getting closer and closer. My hair
needs washing. I need to stand up straight
and walk naked into the courtyard
so you can see me from your window.
I will rain onto the sidewalk and get lost inside
everything I imagine water to be.

–Originally published in Stoked, Vol. VI, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Oh, gosh. I’m trying to remember the making of this. I wrote this maybe a couple years ago now. I feel like so many of the poems in Soft Threat, where this one appears, are dealing or coping with the struggle of daily life. The grasping or aching for a change, but the constant lack of answers or resolution. There’s so much looking back. Every day, right? Every day there’s some memory reimagined. Sometimes it’s a happier time, sometimes not. And in every relationship we have, whether love or friendship or other, there is some dissolution, some breakapart/breakdown that needs to be worked through.

I often felt a floating-ness when writing these poems. And I see that here. In what I’m working on now there’s an intense drive, a painful expulsion or necessary excavation. I’m focusing more on femininity and the body and ritual. Here I see meditation, stasis, sorrow and loss. It ends naked, obviously. Because what else are we in our relationships, in our knowing of other people. Being human is weird.

What are you working on right now?

Too much!

I have a manuscript I’m trying to work with, move around. The working title is in lieu of suicide, but that probably won’t stick. There’s a chapbook (BODIES) I’m trying to place, and a newer one I just finished comprised of mostly “domestic poems” (which aren’t, like, exactly what they sound like). Also working on a series of “Ritual Training” poems, along with some shorter prose style pieces, and editing a few (super) long poems. In addition to all that, I’m trying to write more reviews. But my reviews are more like ‘readings’ or a ‘hey, let me take a walk with your poem and make out.’

Oh, I’m also finishing an MFA in Poetry at Brooklyn College, working with the amazing folks at Belladonna* and a handful of other poetry-related odd jobs. Sometimes I’m not sure we can ever do enough.

What’s a good day for you?

Wake up around 7am, grind some beans for the French press, walk my daughter the five blocks to school, walk back to my apartment and write. If it’s a really good day I have enough money to leave the house and grab more coffee elsewhere or *maybe* even buy something from Unnameable. Some of the best days involve nothing pressing, no deadlines, a really knockout book and some grass to sit on. That, or I’ll walk down to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or check out whatever is new at the Brooklyn Museum. Not a lot of days go like this, but when they do it’s pretty ok.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I moved to Brooklyn about a year and a half ago, and live in Prospect Heights. I did consider moving this past June, but my PTSD from getting this apartment in the first place was still too much to deal with. There’s a lot to like and dislike about this neighborhood. I mean, there’s no shortage of places to go and things to do, but I would like to be somewhere where I could, you know, be surrounded by less rich people.

When I moved here I didn’t really know anything about Brooklyn. As in, neighborhoods and such. I have like a running list of next places to live. But maybe that’s what NYC is. A constant search for the better place to be. Meaning, a place you can ‘afford’ and an apartment you can stand (or stretch out in). Right now my goal is, like, a closet and a bedroom with a window. So, you know, aiming high.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

This is hard because simply living here is always good, bad or in between. There are the ‘I love NY’ days and the ‘F*%$ New York’ days. I think the fact that everyone understands this is interesting. Last night, on my way to a friend’s place to have a wine and workshop thing, I was walking down Bergen (turning left on Grand) and was simultaneously thinking how beautiful and strange it was here. Like, the beauty I see in some industrial style buildings, some brownstones, some garbage blowing tumbleweed-style across the sidewalk at night. Anyway, I actually think that’s what I love: the constant involvement of the city in your life, the constant conversation you have with it. It’s sort of like this other person you live inside and sometimes hate but can’t (and don’t want to) escape. That’s normal though, when you’re living inside someone.

Also: the emergency room at Methodist Hospital at, like, 1am.

But really: finally walking out of the subway at midnight when you had to be in Manhattan for some weird obligation and you step out, and you’re in Brooklyn and you’re like ‘yeah, this is good.’

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Are there any poets in Brooklyn?

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Without a doubt Unnameable. I live a block from there, so after the first few months living here I had to ban myself from even walking in unless I could afford something. Because, honestly, there is no way to leave that place without buying at least three books. (Apparently I’m in a lot of love/hate relationships, one of which is walking through the rocks in their back space during a reading.) Also, there’s Berl’s which is such an amazing thing even to exist, and Mellow Pages because it’s the most welcoming and supportive spot. There’s always a friend there and an escape from the ‘typical’ poetry reading.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I’ve been writing mostly at home lately, but if I do go out to read and write I usually walk over to Sit & Wonder on Washington. The employees are generally sweet, they make a mean Americano, and play good music. I’ll try Outpost sometimes because they’re open later but the house music usually forces me out within an hour. Lincoln Station when I want wine with my poems, which is always. In the summer: parks. The train is probably the best place to get reading done, though.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

I love eating, so I’m in a pretty great city. Sunshine Company has the best cocktails ever and is worth the splurge for dinner or brunch, whathaveyou. The Grand Army Greenmarket on Saturdays, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Nighthawk Cinema, Ovenly, Brooklyn Label, McCarren Park, Prospect Park, Do or Dine, Dynaco. I mean, there’s a lot. The Narrows seems to be a spot I’ve been to frequently in the last couple months, and Tutu’s because a disco ball and really good fries. Basically: feed me.

But my favorite place is Claire Devoogd’s apartment. Do you know Claire? You should.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Recently finished Elizabeth Colen’s The Green Condition, which has been sitting inside me for a while now. About to open Claudia Rankine’s Citizen in the next day or so, which I’ve been putting off because I know I won’t move until I finish it. CD Wright’s One Big Self is the thing I’m going to sit down with today for a class I’m taking at Hunter. (I read Deepstep Come Shining last year and died.) OH! A couple months ago I went to the park with Janice Lee’s Damnation and can’t stop thinking about it. And ohmygod Coeur de Lion by Ariana Reines which I read for the first time (how did I not read this earlier?) a couple weeks ago. Some books you can’t underline shit because it would just be the whole book.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate

my blankness

And what I press

against you should hold

very close For every minute

you aren’t touching me

as good as I touch you.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

Brooklyn go hard

Biggie on a brick wall

Sin I swallow inside for love or

Something silver some pen that

Robs me of a past w/o a father

Flip over the Dodger’s game

Bright tongue in the solution

Find you under my bed

Why Brooklyn?

Where else is it this OK to be a writer, a poet especially. I’ve never felt so normal.