Poet Of The Week

Emily Moore

     July 4–10, 2016

Emily Moore teaches English, particularly the Poetry Workshop courses, at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, where she has been a full-time classroom teacher since 2001. In 2013, she developed the Kenyon Writing Workshop for Teachers and partnered with Poets House to create and teach a P-Credit course on the teaching of poetry. In 2012, she earned her PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center with a focus on Shakespeare. Her poems have been anthologized in Poetry: A Pocket Anthology, Dream Closet: Meditations on Childhood Space and Filled with Breath: 30 Sonnets by 30 Poets, and are forthcoming in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology. Poems of hers have also appeared in the New Yorker, Paris Review, Measure, Ploughshares, Yale Review and Pleiades, as well as on Poetry Daily, the Best American Poetry blog, Kenyon Review Online, Wicked Alice and NPR. A Debut Series Contest Winner, her chapbook Shuffle is available from Paper Nautilus Press. She may or may not be the only poet to read a sonnet involving Beyoncé on NPR.

O Hot Women of New York

O hot women of New York, it’s good to see you
in your spiky hairdos carrying your mugs
of coffee made at home—you are so frugal!
O butch pitcher barking at your infielders
in Prospect Park! O modern dance spectator
with the fly jacket and smart comments at the talk-back!
O dykey women I give eyes to on the street!
You are so foxy now that I’m no longer
on the market. Not that you noticed me
when you had the chance, you who chalked your pool cues
paying me no mind, who brushed me with messenger bags
as you pushed past me towards some hotter girl.
These days I’m spoken for, which is why I think
you look so gorgeous in your matchstick corduroys,
your wife-beaters in summer, your pinstriped suits at work.
O lesbians, I love the way you take it all so seriously,
your bike lane advocacy, your vegan options,
the tacky streamers you hang up in bars
I won’t be frequenting as much,
since as I said I’m taken.

–Originally published in Wicked Alice, Winter 2015.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

My usual process involves lots of rewriting and counting on fingers, but this poem was an anomaly. I always write along with my high school Poetry Workshop students, and this poem rose up out of a week of Frank O’Hara imitations we did during a late New York fall when I was engaged. Very few of my poems have been this loose or this easy to write.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve been writing about early motherhood lately, which is hard to do because I’m so steeped in it. Like many poets, I have a delay of five to ten years—somehow it takes that long for my memories to condense and shape themselves into poems—but these days I’m trying to write about experiences that are more immediate.

What’s a good day for you?

Time with my family, time with my students, time for myself and dinner out. Note that this day is physically impossible to achieve.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

My wife! I lived in Manhattan for a decade before crossing the East River for her.

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?

Despite the cliché, I love being a mom in Park Slope. Earlier this year I came across Victoria Redel’s poem “Economics,” which was the first poetic articulation I’ve seen of the neighborhood mom community I’ve been a part of these past few years. Here are the first three lines:

There were strollers, outgrown, circulated till a wheel fell off.

Anna’s infant RockaRoo went to Francesca then to Sophia
who gave it back to Anna when she had the twins.

That’s it!

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

My favorite Brooklyn experiences involve worlds colliding on the streets in unexpected ways—a coworker running into me running into my long lost college friend, two grandparents on a playground turning out to be the visiting parents of a friend from my moms group, that sort of thing.

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

I have loved being a part of the poetry community in Brooklyn! An opera singer friend of mine once described how a voice coach was a “pair of ears” for a singer, capable of detecting the slightest change and making the necessary adjustments. Every really good workshop or teacher or informal gathering of poets I’ve ever been a part of has had the ability to hear the beginning of something new and exciting, often something I had not noticed, and to lift it up and say “Here, this is where to go now.”

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

Jason Koo’s book Man on Extremely Small Island has the distinction of being the most often stolen from my classroom library. My friend Matthew Burgess and I have a long tradition of meeting up at Brookvin and talking poetry and teaching. D. Nurkse’s haunting Brooklyn poems are like nothing I’ve read. Kim Addonizio’s work gets me every time.

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

I had the astonishing good fortune to work with Paul Muldoon, James Richardson and Yusef Komunyakaa in college, and to work for Alice Quinn a few years out of school. All were tremendous to me, and it was James Richardson who stopped me on a path my sophomore year and nudged me towards submitting work to a handful of writing competitions—a moment that was the beginning of me thinking of myself as a writer.

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

Mohja Kahf’s work feels especially important right now, and her poem “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” really speaks to my students. Franny Choi’s “regarding the yellowface poet” blew my mind when it came out earlier this year. Roger Reeves has been another discovery—he’s the latest in the fleet of knockouts coming out of Cave Canem, which has to be one of the most dynamic poetry organizations in America right now. Jack Gilbert’s work is so close to my heart that I’ve never been able to teach it. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen transformed me both as a writer and a thinker.

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

I am a founding member of a kickass (and currently Brooklyn-based!) book club, the Gilded Lily, devoted to reading classics we feel guilty for not having read. This is our fifteenth year, and we’ve covered a lot of ground, knocking out everything from The Golden Notebook to The Count of Monte Cristo to Daniel Deronda. We recently read Giovanni’s Room and now I’ve got a handful of Baldwin books queued up on my library reserve.

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’m a physical book person though I also love how individual poems travel so far so fast during the digital age. Especially when it comes to poetry, I feel like the right poems and poets magically surface when you need them. Lately, all the mothers in my feed have been posting Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones,” and I remember Danez Smith’s “Dinosaurs in the Hood” speaking to my heart after yet another senseless killing of a young black boy.

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

When my daughter was an infant, I would strap her to my chest in the Ergo and write through her first nap of the day at Colson or Du Jour bakery in Park Slope. The combination of coffee, sugar and acute sleep deprivation was surprisingly productive.

What are some other Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

The Community Bookstore! Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop and its amazing lego bust of Walt Whitman! The shady, leafy “Tot Lot” in Prospect Park! Chavela’s for their chile rellenos (which are surely fundamental to great poetry)!

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate __________,

And what I __________ you ______________,

For every ____________ me as good __________ you.

It is so hard not to hear Whitman in these blanks! Stumped by this one, I’ll tell you instead that every term I have my students stand up on their desks, spread their arms and yawp out this section. It’s awesome.

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.

Another dodge: my chapbook Shuffle, a suite of poems I wrote involving music and the lesbian bar scene of my 20s, actually contains a poem with this same title (but alas, none of the rhymes). Thanks, Jay Z!