Poet Of The Week

Abigail Welhouse

     May 18–24, 2015

Abigail Welhouse is the author of Bad Baby (dancing girl press, 2015). Her writing has appeared in the Toast, Morning News, Rumpus, Lyre Lyre, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the City College of New York, sends Secret Poems, and would like to talk to you on Twitter @welhouse.

Dawson Gets a Haircut

 
and suddenly gets way hotter in season five
and I’m like, whoa, why are all the others
not remarking on your haircut like they would in real life?

Sorry if this poem contains spoilers.
I just need to talk about this haircut.
It represents the shift from 90s floppy sloppy hair
to 00s dapper adult. This haircut is a coming of age story. This haircut saves lives.

In the 90s, boys had hair that flipped into their eyes.
A modified bowl-cut, almost. They wore white t-shirts
and button-down Hawaiian shirts, unbuttoned. Everyone
in Wisconsin pretended that they were surfers. There was no ocean.

Now, the ocean is a smell I can chase,
and walk along, past rollerbladers and dogs,
but stopping at the dogs, past fishermen,
hooks only for sport, all the way to the bridge,
to the couple making out on a park bench.

If I stand long enough,
maybe the ocean will give
my hair a sea salt spray
for beachy waves. Could I bottle it
and sell it to rich people?

Quit telling me to breathe.
I don’t want to relax.
I just want to huff ocean.
I skipped church in favor of baptism.
This is the new holy water.

 
—From Bad Baby, dancing girl press, 2015 (originally published in Midwestern Gothic).

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I never watched Dawson’s Creek when it was on television, but I watched the entire series on Netflix last year. I’d come home from work, make pizza and watch Dawson’s Creek. It felt like such a huge luxury, especially because I’d recently finished graduate school and finally had some more evenings free. (I worked multiple part-time jobs through graduate school and transitioned into full-time work my last year.) It’s really time-consuming to watch a series like that! So I thought, I should at least write some poems with some of my thoughts about it so it feels like a productive use of my time. (Isn’t it weird that many humans find that feeling important?)

The last three stanzas come from walking along the Belt Parkway Promenade near my apartment, which overlooks Gravesend Bay and the Verrazano Bridge. (For the unfamiliar, that’s the bridge in Saturday Night Fever. The other great Saturday Night Fever landmark near me is Lenny’s Pizza on 86th Street, which I highly recommend. Also, they have photos on the wall of John Travolta scarfing pizza in the movie.)

What are you working on right now?

My first chapbook, Bad Baby, came out recently from dancing girl press. Now I’m at work on another chapbook, Too Many Humans of New York, and a full-length manuscript, Immaculate, which includes the Virgin Mary, Eve and James Dean as characters.

My other project is The Secret Poems of Abigail Welhouse, the email list where I send out new poems before the rest of the internet sees them.

I’m also writing plays, turning poems into plays, and turning plays into poems. It’s tough for me to decide sometimes what genre writing wants to live in. Well, I don’t always have to decide.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me starts with coffee, eggs, hash browns, bacon and someone else doing the dishes. A great day also includes writing, reading, hanging out on the Coney Island boardwalk, going to a museum, riding a horse, teaching a horseback riding lesson, watching an outdoor movie on a cool summer night, and/or talking to someone who makes me think. And on any good day, I learn something.

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

I’ve lived in Brooklyn for five and a half years. Right now I live in Bath Beach, a few stops away from Coney Island. I like that I can see water as soon as I step outside, and I can hear the sounds of boats. The noise from my window at night is the best of any apartment I’ve ever lived in. I should record it.

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I lived in Brooklyn Heights for three months subletting from one of my former writing professors. I came off a Greyhound bus with a backpack following a three-month trip around the country in the fall of 2009. That’s another story, or many stories. I’ve tried to write about that trip many times, and in particular, a moment when a couple that my friends and I met at a camping ground handed us a gun and didn’t tell us right away that it was loaded. There is one poem in Bad Baby that came out of that trip (“Birds, Teeth”).

My second apartment was in Bed-Stuy. Two former college classmates were sharing a room, and one moved out with two months to go on the lease. He gave me an incredibly great deal to finish out the year ($200/month). I worked part-time at a flower store, and on Valentine’s Day, they let me take home all the leftover flowers. I used almost every glass in the apartment as a vase.

My third apartment was in Sunset Park, or Greenwood Heights, or South Slope, depending on who you ask. I was around the corner from this great bar called 718, where I could walk in as a woman by myself and make neighborhood friends without feeling strange. A few of my friends who lived in Harlem fell in love with this place after I had a birthday party there—that was the birthday party when I asked all the men to wear suits—and started going there, too, convenience be damned. Last year, I ran into my favorite bartender working at another bar. He remembered my name and we did a shot together. That’s the only bar where I’ve ever been a regular.

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

In Brooklyn there are moments when I think, “This is why I’m here.” They usually happen when I’m out with friends, especially poet friends, and I think how lucky I am to live somewhere with so many smart people who are interested in the same things that I’m interested in.

Also, there’s that moment of irritation that happens when there are two events that I really want to go to on the same night, which happens all the time. It’s irritating, and sometimes I want to punch my calendar, but it’s also a reminder that Brooklyn is different. If I lived almost anywhere else, that wouldn’t happen as often as it does. So I remind myself, it’s a good problem to have.

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

I’ll go with alive, which makes this question more manageable for me. Joanna Valente is killing it right now, and she has three different projects coming out in the next year. I admire how bold she is in her work.

This question and all other questions about favorites make me anxious and turn me into a parody of Rob Gordon in High Fidelity trying to come up with his top five albums.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

All of them. But I want to give a special mention to stores in south Brooklyn, like The BookMark in Bay Ridge. Also, I love that you can pick up a book to read on the beach at Coney Island if you stop at Brooklyn Rock on the way.

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

I write a lot of fragments on the subway. My ride to work is about an hour on the D train, and I used to have a great habit of writing three pages longhand every morning on the train. Julia Cameron calls this “Morning Pages” in her book The Artist’s Way. Then I fell out of the habit when I got a free subscription to The Wall Street Journal. When my subscription lapses next month, I’m going to start doing it again.

My ideal place to read would have to be the beach at Coney Island when it’s not that crowded, and I have at least three corn dogs next to me, with barbecue sauce.

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

I love riding the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island. I recently heard about this group called Parachute Literary Arts that sent poets to read to people riding the Wonder Wheel, which I think is brilliant.

I love walking around without an agenda and letting myself be open to whatever I find.

Also, I love the Russian couple in my neighborhood that runs my dry cleaning and tailoring place. They are completely delightful. I bring my clothes in with barbecue stains, and they say, “How was the barbecue?” No judgment.

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

I loved both of Jillian Weise’s books, The Amputee’s Guide to Sex and The Book of Goodbyes. Also, I’m a huge fan of Amy Gerstler. I’m currently enjoying Cate Marvin’s new book, Oracle, which is sharp and witty and unafraid.

Here are three poems I recently read and loved: Wendy Xu’s poem “Notes for an Opening”, Morgan Parker’s “Welcome to the Jungle” and Alexandra Smyth’s “The Body As Provocation”.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate Brooklyn,
And what I wait in line with you to see in Prospect Park,
For every concert to me will never be as good as Janelle
     Monae and St. Vincent with
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 Morning

 
Wake me and take me to the bodega, love
Or leave me here and bring back a pen,
some bagels, and a headphone jack.
Drive me like a father
Catch me like a Dodger
Run from sin
but it’ll chase you to rob
you. Be born again like Biggie.
This is Brooklyn.

Why Brooklyn?

There are so many worlds inside it to visit.