Poet Of The Week

Florencia Varela

     December 4–10, 2017

Florencia Varela’s poems have appeared in journals such as Washington Square, Gulf Coast, Western Humanities Review, Phantom Limb, Painted Bride Quarterly, jubilat, Diagram, Vinyl and Drunken Boat, among others. Her chapbook Outside of Sleep was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2012. She currently lives in Brooklyn. “Bimhuis” appears in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, released this past spring.

Bimhuis

 
I agree it’s hard to make a life here.

The song doesn’t live
past seven folds, stays gaslit.
Someone gives the drunks
in the park a harmonica;
imagine that spell.

Of all songs,
to land on caroling.

Of all songs,
its winter may soon kill me.

One more wrong key,
and my neighbor will be hanging
out the window again,
all red screams. Possessed, I move
every piece of furniture in the apartment
until my pacing changes its shape,
spinning, bewildered even—
a Scheherazade in ruins.

I was evolving, I was taking it personally.

 
—Originally published in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, Brooklyn Arts Press, 2017.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

The idea for “Bimhuis” started almost ten years ago, during a summer I was spending in Amsterdam. There was a jazz club we had heard of, allegedly called Bimhuis, but that we could never find, no matter how many times we walked across the city … we always ended up at Dam Square instead. The name of this elusive place became a personal white whale from there on out.

Years later, living in Brooklyn, I was often awakened by the drunks who made the park across the street their home for the night. I remembered, faintly, that my host in Amsterdam had explained the name of this venue as “house of noise”—to this day, I am not sure whether it was a literal translation or just her opinion of it.

The poem became a layering of interpretations of noise—from the drunks outside to the chaos inside.

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I am trying to focus time and energy into my manuscript, which I hope will find a home one of these days. I am also pushing myself to write in long-form more—an exercise of equal parts patience and terror.

What’s a good day for you?

These days a good day begins without a New York Times alert. The headlines aside, if I can get an hour or two of reading and another couple of hours of writing in, and somehow manage to remember taking the dog out, then that would be a good day.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I moved to New York for my MFA and lived in Morningside Heights for a year. A friend of a friend is coincidentally the owner of Word bookstore, which had just opened in Greenpoint around ten years ago. You can say I moved to Brooklyn for a bookstore.

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 Greenpoint for almost ten years, out of which almost nine have been in the same building, above a funeral home. This neighborhood and this apartment are, by far, the place I’ve lived in for the longest time in my entire life. My pocket of Greenpoint is farther from the subway, and though it has certainly changed over the years, it has not dramatically altered its feel—it remains very much a neighborhood and community.

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

I suppose this falls under “in between”—it happens every day. I take my dog, Sue, out for a walk every morning at 7 AM. We walk around the park twice. A group of older men walk the same perimeter every morning (albeit for much longer)—every day, without fail, they greet us. Once in a while, we’ll get a “Let’s go Mets!” It’s the only time we ever speak, and it feels right.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not? / Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

I’m combining two questions here … the idea of a poetry community has evolved to simply surrounding myself with incredible minds. I am very fortunate to have my favorite poets also be my closest friends. Two Brooklyn poets, Sarah V. Schweig and Brian Trimboli, stand out, remarkably (as well as Eric Kocher, whom I mostly just wish lived in Brooklyn rather than South Carolina). They are my favorite writers, as well as best readers and fierce editors. I owe a lot of poems to all of them.

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

Richard Howard taught me how to put together a sentence in a poem.

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

I just recently was gifted a copy of Brittany Perham’s Double Portrait—it’s stunning, and I keep returning to it. It’s been weeks.

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

The Aeneid.

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 usually keep two books in my bag—always physical books, never digital. I take notes, always, though never in books, always in a journal or my phone lately. I tend to focus in on one novel or memoir and a couple of poetry collections at one time.

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

When I grow up, I’d like to be able to sustain a poem for over forty pages.

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

The subway, the park across the street, but I will always prefer my home.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

There are too many. McGolrick Park, the now-shuttered Palace Café, Word bookstore, Coney Island, Guernsey Street, Prospect Park Zoo, the waterfront, the ferry, all the buildings across Greenpoint that used to be theaters and are now music venues, coffee shops, pharmacies (there’s at least five).

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the distance between me and the front door.
And what I measure, the beats to rescue, you bundle into a mess
     of thread

For every distance belonging to me as good distances you.

Why Brooklyn?

Where else, right now?