October 7–13, 2013
Amy Lawless is the author of two books of poetry, most recently My Dead (Octopus Books, 2013). Recent poems have appeared in Hyperallergic and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day feature. Her collaborations with Angela Veronica Wong have appeared in Pinwheel and Best American Poetry 2013, and her book reviews in BOMBlog and HTMLGIANT. She was a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in poetry.
An education can lead to an exciting career. An exciting career can lead to a positive self-image. A positive self-image can lead to pride. Pride can lead to hubris. Hubris can lead to manipulation by others. Manipulation by others can lead to career or personal life misfortune. Career or personal life misfortune can lead to negative self-image. Negative self-image can lead to disorders. Disorders can lead to drug abuse. Drug abuse can lead to hubris. Hubris can lead to a job on Wall Street. A job on Wall Street can lead to coke. Coke can lead to hubris. Hubris can lead to manipulation by others. Manipulation by others can lead to personal life failures. Personal life failures can lead to coke or divorce. Coke or divorce can lead to more coke. More coke can lead to feeling like a dog took a dump inside your brain. A dog taking a dump inside your brain can lead to disorders. Disorders can lead to mismanaged or lack of medical care. Mismanaged or lack of medical care can lead to job loss. Job loss can lead to tenuous housing. Tenuous housing can lead to homelessness. Homelessness can lead to foot problems. Foot problems can lead to gangrene. Gangrene can lead to amputation. Amputation can lead to phantom limb syndrome. Phantom limb syndrome can lead to dropping the cup. Dropping the cup can lead to a puddle of liquid. A puddle of liquid can lead to a slip. A slip can lead to a fall. A fall can lead to a hip fracture. A hip fracture can lead to hospitalization. Hospitalization can lead to an in-hospital MRSA style infection. An in-hospital MRSA style infection can lead to death. Death can lead to decomposition. Decomposition can lead to maggots and/or flies. Maggots and/or flies can lead to insect mating. Insect mating can lead to more insects.
–Originally published in Leveler (2011).
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I was riding the L train home from one of the colleges I was teaching at back to my apt in East Williamsburg a few years ago. On the subway wall I saw an ad for a for-profit college that I was then teaching at. (Have you read about for-profit education? Maybe don’t. It’s too terrifying.) The advertisement read “An education can lead to an exciting career.” I thought, Well it can, but also … it might not. And I thought of how an education can lead to nothing, or just something, and not necessarily what one intends to get out of it. If you really let the word CAN live in your sky for a moment, I mean … well anything CAN happen after the present moment. The possibilities are enormous. I thought of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this), and how the ad itself presented the promise of an event (an exciting career) in the form of a logical fallacy, which is something an educational institution should not do or promise. I thought of my students and how I believed I was providing them with a supposedly valuable skill (learning how to write), and I believed in the other writers in my department and their abilities to teach, but I wasn’t so sure about anything else—the whole educational experience the students were getting or what their degrees were worth or if they were learning anything at all. So the poem came out of that. I wrote the whole thing on the subway in 15 minutes. And I came home to my apartment in Williamsburg and tidied it up in the following month. I really abhor editing. I find it tedious and I’d much rather write a whole new poem than think and edit a poem. I must be strapped down to edit anything and whenever I finally do, if I do, I am crabby about it. I’m like a child who has to pick up her toys only when forced to by her mom and dad. So eventually I picked up my toys and the poem ended on more insects and that was somehow random. I was only satisfied by it when I thought about how when I am dead, bugs will eat my body. (You hear that! Bugs ONLY! No mammals!) I sometimes imagine a worm going in my ear and out of my desiccated eyeball. And I imagine a really, really hard working beetle feasting after a long day of other beetle work. And ants telling their Ant Queen about my divinely sweet musculature. And then the Ant Queen nods ever so subtly to denote that she wants some.
My dad called me up once on the phone and said that this poem reminds him of an episode arc of Breaking Bad. That was the coolest because my dad is the best. Seems timely that you would choose this poem somehow.
This poem does not appear in My Dead.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new collection of poems. I come up with a new name for it every week. This week it’s called Broadax. Annie Dillard said that to be a writer one “must go at one’s life with a broadax.” My new poems feel brutal to me in this way.
What’s a good day for you?
Wake up, drink coffee, go to yoga, text my sisters for like five hours about topics only funny to us and which include photos or videos of my nephew Freddie, eat some fruit, watch 5 hours of Netflix, write a poem, decide it sucks, change my mind, take a nap, and hang out with some friends. Laughing is important to me and I do it a lot.
How long did you live in Brooklyn? What neighborhood did you live in? What did you like most about it?
I lived in Brooklyn for five years: two years in South Slope, and then three years in East Williamsburg. I moved to the East Village a year ago because my building got sold and I had to move quickly and didn’t have the resources to find a place in my hood. I miss Brooklyn every day, but find myself going there like 2 or 3 times a week for various reasons—like readings or to see friends. What I like the most about Brooklyn are the trees, the poets, the way I can hold my arms out and spin and not hit anyone in the jaw like Julie Andrews’s jaw avoidance techniques on a hill in The Sound of Music. South Slope was fine. I don’t have any stories about it. I felt like I was always on the subway. I liked East Williamsburg because of the meditative walks I would take as well as the proximity to so many poet friends and events.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.
Having to move to Manhattan because the rent was too high.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
Ben Mirov. Although he does not live in Brooklyn anymore, I think Ben would agree that he may be dead and/or alive.
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
Berl’s Poetry Shop, obviously. Farrah Field and Jared White and their wee employ Roman run the best poetry bookstore in Brooklyn or possibly anywhere.
Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn?
When I lived in Williamsburg I used to like to go to The Blue Stove on Graham Ave, as it was near my apartment, but only when it was fairly empty. When it was full, one would be subjected to insufferable conversations (the kind one is subjected to anywhere in New York City, but especially Williamsburg) about where exactly in Spain one might backpack on daddy’s dime, or hear high-power boys’ club conversations about some really fishy iPhone app or appeasing the investors. Good lord! The things I’ve heard! Blue Stove has really great coffee and really good pie, and a really decent variety of cookies, and basically good vibes. I also really like its bathroom. To be frank, I think I would reward myself sometimes by using their bathroom just to feel the huggy glow of an imagined farmhouse grandmother who might have decorated it. But to be honest, when I lived in Brooklyn I did all my best pre-writing-thinking while walking down the street in the 5-10 minute walk from the Graham avenue subway stop to my apartment on Frost street. But I would mostly write at home.
Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
Oh how I love the dog parks!!!!!! I don’t have a dog, but I like dogs. I like how friendly they are. That’s a little creepy. I don’t go there and sit there and watch like a stalker. I actually never go there. I just want you to think I’m cool.
I like watching Ryan Gosling movies at Nighthawk Cinema as it makes me feel like a celebrity from 1929. Cabaret-style seating. I like walking across the Williamsburg Bridge when the weather is nice.
I like to go over to my friends’ apartments in Brooklyn and hang out.
I have a friend who lives in one of those asshole apartments right on the Williamsburg waterfront. It has a great roof. It’s fun to stare at the water and Manhattan. When I lived in Williamsburg I had a modest roof deck that would allow me to stare at Manhattan & its grandeur (from a more modest perspective).
Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?
I’m super into these poems by Mathias Svalina. I keep repeating this line “Christ! the nineties were such a long time ago!” over and over again in my head. He’s such a great poet and person.
I just finished Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and I’m jealous of it. So now I’m reading her other book called The Art of Cruelty, and also Taipei by Tao Lin (I like it!) and also Young Tambling by Kate Greenstreet. If I hold all three books open and laid out on a circular table I can walk around the table and read all three at the same time. I’m a fucking machine.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate AMY LAWLESS,
And what I AMY LAWLESS you should AMY LAWLESS,
For every AMY LAWLESS me as good AMY LAWLESS you.
There’s something really special happening in Brooklyn with poetry and writing. So many talented poets choose to work and live in Brooklyn and I am lucky to know and interact and be friends with them. I don’t know how it happened, but there is magic here. I may not (cough, cough) live in Brooklyn anymore, but all my poet friends either live, work, hang out in, or make Brooklyn a part of their literary lives and investigations so I still feel like a “Brooklyn poet” as Brooklyn is a big chunk of my literary life and setting for my investigations and conversations. I’m still in Brooklyn right here (you can’t see because this is text, but I’m pointing to my own heart).