Poet Of The Week

Emily Blair

     March 13–19, 2017

Emily Blair’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, cream city review, Indiana Review, Juked, Mississippi Review and WSQ, among others. She received a New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship in poetry in 2014 and in fiction in 2006, and she is the author of the illustrated chapbook Idaville (Booklyn, 2010). Also a visual artist, she creates multimedia books and collaborates with social practice artist Michelle Illuminato as Next Question. “I Love Soap Operas” is forthcoming in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology.

I Love Soap Operas

 
and of all the characters on all the soaps
my favorite might be Paul from As the World Turns.
Paul never changes his mind and he’s not afraid of anything,
not dental appointments or dinner dates
or being declared dead a third time.
When he gets a note from his nemesis
that says Meet Me at Shadow Cliff
Paul doesn’t suggest a more public place.
He rushes right off.
Wouldn’t it be good to be Paul?
If I were Paul, I would no longer waste time
googling rare diseases or asking myself if I should shift careers
and go back to school because the only course I’d be taking is
a collision course with destiny.
I wouldn’t be nervous.
I would stand here on this lofty ledge
and get all up in your face
and when you turn away from me I’d talk to your back
pausing weirdly
after every statement
so my words sink in.
And I wouldn’t wonder how and when to end
our conversation without being awkward,
in fact I’d be willing to let
I’ll take you down with me
be my final words.
So even when I feel my fingers slipping
on crumbling rock
I won’t rethink my strategy,
I’ll plunge decisively into the cold water
and then pop up not knowing who I am
even after weeks of recuperation in a remote cabin
under the care of a mysterious nurse who tells me don’t try to talk
and hides my wallet for reasons of her own so when I reappear in town
to watch my own memorial service from behind a pillar
it will be the first I’ve heard of all of my misdeeds,
but rather than take the time to reassess and set new life goals
I’ll decide to do it all again,
and this time I’ll take you down with me.

 

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem took years of research. But I didn’t mind, since I do love soaps. I love the low production values and the way they make even clichés strange—there’s a lot of room left for the viewer. And everyone involved in soaps is working really hard at this art form that many people consider obsolete, so it’s a bit like poetry. Most of all, it makes me really happy when people come back from the dead.

The first version of the poem used the full name of the character: Paul Ryan. I realized that was confusing—I’m not interested in real-life villainy and recklessness.

What are you working on right now?

I have a drawing project and two chapbook-length projects supposedly underway. Those larger endeavors have proved to be a great way to get other chores done, like laundry, or revising random poems that are kicking around. I try to force myself to step away from a poem that’s not working, to not look at it for a few weeks. It can be hard not to keep returning to the scene of the crime, but the passage of time is like magic for editing.

What’s a good day for you?

Honestly, my best days are right after I have gotten through something unpleasant that I was dreading, like a party or a presentation. But more in the spirit of the question, I really like to look at art with friends and family.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

An old Dodge Lancer and a dream. The car was eventually stolen, but I still have the dream.

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 Park Slope where I’ve been for the past seven or eight years. Before that I lived in Bushwick and Williamsburg. I enjoyed all of these neighborhoods, though of course they are all relentlessly changing. I wish it were easier to get from one neighborhood to another so that moves within Brooklyn didn’t feel so final. I grew up in a small town and my heart still tells me that everyone I know should be within walking distance.

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

I think of walking around my neighborhood on the rainy day after the election. Coming from a part of the country that is solidly red, I was thankful for the shared gloom.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I’m really grateful for what Jason Koo has done with Brooklyn Poets. I’ve met so many great people through this organization. I’m also happy to be part of Sweet Action, which Julie Hart and Mirielle Clifford founded. I’ve learned different crucial things from everyone in that poetry group. And I’m lucky to have met Dell Lemmon and Arden Levine in classes at Poets House and to have been able to exchange work with them over the years. I think community is something poetry does really well in general. I have great admiration for the many people I know who organize events in addition to writing poetry.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Julie Hart keeps so many of us going with her wonderful talent and good will. And I’m delighted to know Dell Lemmon and Cynthia Manick, whose first books, Single Woman and Blue Hallelujahs, were published in the past year and are both amazing.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I’m reluctant to burden anyone with the label of mentor, which seems like it entails some kind of responsibility for whatever I’m putting out there. I studied visual arts as an undergraduate and graduate student, and I’m thankful to artists Phyllis McGibbon and Laurie Beth Clark, who taught me to seek the proper form for each concept, and to my good friend Michelle Illuminato, who taught me how to make art less like homework. My artistic practice has always incorporated writing, and I started taking writing classes to figure out what I was doing with that, because after all I still do like homework. The first poetry classes I took were at the New School from the excellent poets and teachers Matt Rohrer and Kathy Ossip, and then I got to take another class from Kathy at Poets House. Through Brooklyn Poets I’ve been able to study with Leigh Stein, Wendy Xu, Bianca Stone, Emily Skillings and Simone Kearney. I appreciate all these people for devoting their time and energy to teaching as well as creating.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I read So Much Synth by Brenda Shaughnessy and Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis after attending an amazing AWP panel they were both on, organized by Cate Marvin. Because poems are a document of the thinking process, they can become an index of uncertainty. I like to see how poets like these two come to a few conclusions and show that it doesn’t mean a shutting down of possibilities.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

I will never finish Bob Hicok’s Elegy Owed, because each poem seems to contain an entire world. So after I read one, I feel like I’m done for the day. I really need to stop renewing this library book and buy a copy.

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 plan my reading meticulously, then read a random book that I’ve picked up at the library. I like this image you’ve provided, of “dip[ping] in and out of multiple books”—it sounds active and self-assured. Not like it would lead to misplacing books all over the apartment. “Where’s my book?” I’ll say, and my partner will answer correctly, “It’s probably underneath something.” Digital books get around some of these problems of storage and organization, and of dust. They are fantastic for underlining, since you can export your highlights. But they are still not great for poetry or images.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’m not sure if I’ve ever written a poem where I was the actual protagonist. Judging from how uncomfortable this interview makes me, I’m probably not going to any time soon.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

The subway was good, but now I can get work emails there also.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love the libraries. I feel lucky to be in walking distance of the Central branch.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the central muscle of the circulatory system,
And what I heart you may see as the core of a cabbage,
For every crux, kernel, root and spirit of me as good as sings
     “Crazy On You.”

Why Brooklyn?

I ask myself this question whenever we pay the rent. But I can no longer imagine moving. (I don’t want to pack all those books that I’m in the middle of reading.)