April 30–May 6, 2018
Emily Brandt is the author of three chapbooks: Sleeptalk or Not At All (Horse Less Press), ManWorld (dancing girl press) and Behind Teeth (Recreation League). Her poems have recently appeared in Gigantic Sequins, LitHub, the Recluse, Washington Square Review and other journals. Emily is a cofounding editor of No, Dear and web acquisitions editor for VIDA. She lives and teaches in Brooklyn, close to both her Sicilian and Polish roots. “Experiments with Voice Encoder” appears in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, released last spring.
Experiments with Voice Encoder
The air is incapable of holding anything
or the air holds multiple dimensions
as in acid trip, as in nightwalk.
All the people stayed home today despite the beautiful weather
and I watched from the front door as the mailman
walked by, his letterbag encased in a metal rolling device
for convenience, because some part of the system loves him
and respects his knees and his shoulders.
After work I stop playing, I go straight to work again
on my art my pretty pictures my sound recordings
and leaf rubbings. I put all of the homemade instruments
on display and will tour them soon enough. Soon enough.
I pay my dues to my union and do math. They make three million dollars
per month and I wonder where everything went wrong.
At work, a man does something mediocre and we throw a parade.
We release our discordant voices into static and electrified air.
We empty the bedpans of our future selves. We are widows.
I pulled on some leggings today as a means of survival
and traveled to the back porch or the patio or lanai. The plants
are still dead like planets of another dimension.
If a woman kills plants, it symbolizes abortion.
Anything a woman does is shit compared to man.
I said that through the Vocoder and now I feel much better.
The vibrations are messing with somebody’s Pacemaker.
The vibrations are messing with somebody’s head
and the resulting rash itches as much as it burns.
If I swallow my money in the morning and you lift up my arms
at night, silver dollars will spill from my mouth
and the cocktail waitress will bring us free drinks,
red ones like I got in Reno. I saw wild horses on a hill.
They ran onto the road and over my car and onto
a rainbow and then the sky opened. They ran in.
I filled the story into a form where it said last name
and my credit report came back perfect. Top ten
in the country of fish fries and angel tattoos.
An angel tattoo is often a symbol for abortion
so next time you see one on someone
you’ll know what to ask.
—Originally published in Sink Review #13, Fall 2014.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Voice encoders break down a human voice into disparate electric signals that later can be resynthesized. Fascinating. Like brains, in a sense. Like poetry, too. “Experiments with Voice Encoder” was written after messing around with a Vocoder and while listening to Autechre, who take electricity and make some of the most unsettling and evocative sounds. I took the poem where the music took me—inevitably to my subconscious where Reno and angel tattoos were working some things out. If you want to hear it performed through a Vocoder, you can go here.
What are you working on right now?
Right now? Planting my garden: mint, broccoli rabe, tomatoes, hot peppers, basil; and pruning the roses and the fig tree. Soon? My sister Maria is also a writer (fiction and plays) and she and I do a June writing collaboration—well, we collaborate on process, not on product. We spoke this morning about this year’s structure, which I’m really really excited about, but I don’t want to jinx it.
What’s a good day for you?
Coffee (don’t drink it often), and then put this body in the ocean.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
My mom was raised here. My family’s not far. When I graduated from college in 2002, Brooklyn felt like the only place I wanted to be.
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’ve lived in Williamsburg since 2002, less than a mile from where my maternal great-grandparents lived when they arrived here from Sicily near the turn of the century. I like feeling close to them and my grandparents, especially when I hit up the old-school Italian pastry shop, bread shop, delis. My paternal grandparents lived on the east end of Long Island, but came frequently to Greenpoint for the Polish markets, which is just a short walk from me. I feel tied to my ancestors’ immigration stories in this place.
I don’t need to tell you how it’s changing because, well, you probably already know that this neighborhood is one of the most extreme examples of gentrification around. The other day, I walked to the old diner on Graham to bring visiting friends there for breakfast. Closed! Done. Gone. People, families, businesses get displaced so consistently here. The neighborhood is almost unrecognizable from when I moved here, let alone from my mother’s childhood memories of it. When I go back to the town I grew up in, on Long Island, so little has changed by comparison. And the town out east where my grandparents lived has barely changed since my dad was a kid. Time moves more quickly here, disguised as progress, when maybe it’s more like disease.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
The first time I ate a pizza made by Domenico at Di Fara, I—totally seriously—wept in my station wagon right after. The pizza was that good, and the experience of watching Dom pull the pie from the oven with his bare hands, cut each basil leaf, stoop over it with his olive oil can, oh man, it was too much.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
The poetry community here means everything to me. Means connecting with people exploring and speaking truths, people who are also agonizing over language’s power and flaws. People who aren’t afraid.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
The list is really long. I will say that this past year has been the ten-year anniversary of No, Dear, a magazine I coedit that publishes NYC poets. I’ve been so deeply inspired by our team: Alex Cuff, t’ai freedom ford, Jen Hyde and Leila Ortiz—some of my dearest friends and the most fucking amazing poets and people on this earth. And our guest editors over the years, too: Marina Blitshteyn, Mahogany L. Browne, Steven Karl, Monica McClure, Caitie Moore, Ekoko Omadeke, Morgan Parker, Montana Ray, Levi Rubeck and Paige Taggart.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I was lucky to work closely with so many amazing mentors at NYU’s MFA program: Anne Carson and Robert Currie, Sharon Olds, Yusef Komunyakaa, Rachel Zucker, Meghan O’Rourke, Deborah Landau, Edward Hirsch, Matthew Rohrer and more. So much of their teaching, their voices, their wisdom resonates with me when I write. Recently I’ve been meditating on Anne Carson’s encouragement to more deeply explore rage. But beyond these amazing teachers, my mentors also include my friends and my students and the poets, living and dead, whom I read. I feel really really grateful to know so many brilliant people who every day challenge and inspire.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
The last three books that absolutely floored me are Samantha Zighelboim’s The Fat Sonnets, t’ai freedom ford’s how to get over, and Chase Berggrun’s R E D. Each hit me extraordinarily deep emotionally, and each astonished me with its skill.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I’ve read and meditated on Muriel Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead” many times now, but I still have not read U.S. 1 in full. Which is bananas.
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?
Lately I’ve been reading and rereading single poems, out loud. Usually I simultaneously read multiple books, across genres—always at least one poetry, one nonfiction, one sacred or philosophic. I dogear a lot of pages. Rarely take notes anymore, though I used to. I don’t have a reading plan, but I do have a big “to read” stack that is constantly growing. And always always always physical books.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I don’t know. But I will think about it.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
On the subway. And at Wendy’s Subway in Bushwick.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
My backyard. The ferry. My favorite place to be is on a boat. I dream about boats constantly. Also any place in my neighborhood where I can let my Long Island accent fly free, shout out to Emily’s Pork Store! (I’m a vegetarian.) (A colleague recently told me this joke: Q: How do you know if someone’s a vegetarian? A: Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.)
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman with words of your own choosing:
I celebrate _________ ,
And what I __________ you ___________,
For every ___________ me as good ___________ you.
I celebrate silence
No matter how many amazing places I travel to, I can’t find anywhere better.