Poet Of The Week

Lissa Kiernan

     November 17–23, 2014

Lissa Kiernan is the author of Two Faint Lines in the Violet, published by Negative Capability Press in July 2014. Her braided essay, Glass Needles & Goose Quills: Elementary Lessons in Atomic Properties, Nuclear Families, and Radical Poetics, is forthcoming from Haley’s. Lissa’s work can be found in numerous journals and anthologies including Podium Literary Journal of the 92nd St. Y, Terrain.org and The Yale Journal for the Humanities in Medicine, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Lissa is the founder and director of The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative, a leading provider of online poetry workshops, senior director of online communications for World Monuments Fund, a non-profit organization specializing in architectural preservation, and editor emeritus for Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal, where she served from 2006-2012. Along with her MFA from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine, Lissa holds an MA in Media Studies from The New School. Born in Athol, Massachusetts, she currently makes her home in Brooklyn, New York.

Author photo by Steve Remich

Riven

 
I burn away from your hospital room in another death-
defying taxi. Not cheap, but lately, I can’t fathom

the subway. City lights streak, blur your dwindling
face in a flash. I wiped you clean tonight, raddled

hands roughing your bedsored flesh, I sought out all
the folds. You, shamed numb by what you called accident,

buckled on your side, facing the wall. But to me,
it was just another incident in what has become

routine: this morning like last evening like tomorrow
afternoon, when I’ll climb dutifully to the eighth-floor

library, nod to Ranju, and borrow more magazines,
all of them issues you’ve already seen. And a long-

bulking something finally snaps open and you seethe:
am I the only one in this god-forsaken place who is sane?

So I’ll ply you with Xanax, Ativan, Ambien—
implore you to maintain

a mental image of that hallowed river.
Remember?

You’d plant yourself on a shallow rock,
close your eyes, and let her lave.

 
–From Two Faint Lines in the Violet, Negative Capability Press, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Much like your Jay Z challenge, this poem originated as a bouts-rimés (“rhymed ends”) prompt. The original end words were given to me by Amy King while taking part in her workshop “Making the Urban Poetic” at Poets House in its old location on Spring Street. The words somehow worked to release a pressure valve, giving me permission to wail/wallow for a while in my grief and frustration as caregiver to my father during his battle with a brain tumor. In later drafts, while playing with the poem’s architecture, I shifted the line-lengths, which resulted in most of the rhyme arriving internally rather than at the ends of lines, lending the more subtle effect the subject matter requires.

What are you working on right now?

I am in the midst of that euphoric agony that is the final draft before layout of a book. My Glass Needles & Goose Quills: Elementary Lessons in Atomic Properties, Nuclear Families, and Radical Poetics, a braided lyric essay, is forthcoming in spring 2015 from Haley’s.

What’s a good day for you?

Here’s a summer guilty pleasure: 1) Call car service to whisk me away to Manhattan Beach 2) Spend afternoon sunning, swimming, snoozing, reading, people-watching and writing, in that order, before 3) Finishing up with a cold beer and some littlenecks at Randazzo’s. If you try it, you must do it on the spur of the moment—preferably concurrent with blowing off work. This is at least half the fun.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

Using the proceeds from the sale of my entry-level Verne Q. Powell flute (sorry Mom), I moved to NYC in the summer of ’84, just after graduating from UMass, Amherst. I camped out in a railroad flat in Harlem for a month before being lured to Brooklyn by a good friend. Since then, I’ve rented in three locations in Park Slope, owned a co-op in Prospect Heights, rented in Brooklyn Heights, and with my husband, bought a beautiful 100-year-old Bay Ridge limestone in 1998.

What do you like most about it?

Bay Ridge may not have (ahem) an artisanal mayonnaise store, or (cough, cough) a haberdashery renowned for its Heisenberg hat, but that’s sort of its beauty. It has the slightly tattered beauty and unaltered authenticity of old school Brooklyn. It does not appear to have changed all that greatly since its Saturday Night Fever heyday. There’s a gorgeous shoreline seconds from my front door. I often bike along Shore Rd from Owl’s Head Park to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Sometimes I’ll take it further, to Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Coney Island. On the way back, there’s a hypnotic view of downtown Manhattan, Lady Liberty punctuating the silver-scraped sky.

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

Here’s both bad and good, two parts of an older four-part poem titled “July 4”:

1986

Crashing in Brooklyn. Garfield Street
pre-gentrification. Sweaty bodegas,
random gunshots. A & S Pork, Rocky’s
Pizza. I slipped out for a slice and a bottle
rocket skimmed my toes. Hauled
laundry to the corner and a roman candle
singed my shoulder. And finally, it struck me—
what these fireworks mummered.

1996

On President Street we steamed up the roof-
top while bootleg Italian shows threw down
below—rattling our lungs loose in chests,
filling our nostrils—all smoke & thick,
whistling screams. Our tongues traded
casualties: ash, grit, Schlitz, Snapple.
My legs straddled you, the water
tower, the whole East River.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

My favorite Brooklyn poets are a group of women I’ve been coffee-klatching with once a month for the past five years. Self-dubbed The Montauk Club Writers (because initially we got to hold our meetings at that swellegant Park Slope location), the group was formed by Lisabeth Greene, and includes the wonderful poets Avra Wing, Beth Umland, Andrea Hines, Gail Tuch and Barbara Bolton. A year or so into their inception, I stumbled into their fold and brazenly asked to crash their party. I’m so glad I did. Being in the regular company of these amazing women has been central to building confidence in my craft.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Freebird Birds (Columbia St Waterfront), Greenlight Books (Fort Greene), BookCourt (Cobble Hill), Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop (Dumbo).

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

Any public transportation—bus, subway, ferry—will do. I also like to write outside: Owl’s Head Park, Manhattan Beach, Coney Island and occasionally in bars or restaurant gardens at lunchtime, when nobody else in there.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

• Owl’s Head Park, Prospect Park, Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Brooklyn Bridge Park by the big chair and carousel
Bargemusic in Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I got married
• Housing Works in Brooklyn Heights for amazing secondhand shopping
• A night out with my husband Chris at Petit Oven, a Michelin-recommended restaurant a stone’s throw from my home, followed by live music—preferably Little Old Ladies—at Three Jolly Pigeons
Dim Sum in Sunset Park with my friend Jake
Owl’s Head Wine Bar in Bay Ridge, especially their monthly Bay Ridge Poetry Society open mic

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Book:
• Judith Vollmer’s Reactor (The University of Wisconsin Press)
• Nandini Dhar’s forthcoming chapbook Lullabies are Barbed Wire Nations (Two of Cups Press)
• Carlo Matos’s The Secret Correspondence of Loon and Fiasco (Mayapple Press)

Poem:
• Tarfia Faizullah’s “Kick in the Door” on your website.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate secondhand stores,
And what I drop off you should pick up,
For every handbag that looks tired to me as good as new
     beckons to
you.

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.

Interior Decoration

 
Out of the combined Victorian and father
influences grew the black walnut furniture of pre-Dodger
days. It was ugly, but at least it was original sin.
Partly as reaction against the Great Train Robbery,
      partly because the railroads opened up the pen,
the sturdy, plain, upright and uncomfortable mission
      furniture came to the fore along the Brooklyn
seaboard. Built by Spanish Catholic jacks
of all trades (an outgrowth of missionary style love-
      making) this antithesis of fussy production rescued
      a lot of bric-a-brac and what-nots from obscurity
      into eminence writ with a big “E.”

 
“Interior Decoration” borrows text from the 1943 magazine of the same name, part of the Encyclopedia Britannica Home Reading Guide series.

Why Brooklyn?

I ask her that every other day.