Poet Of The Week

Alina Gregorian

     September 29–October 5, 2014

Alina Gregorian is the author of Navigational Clouds, a forthcoming poetry chapbook from Monk Books, and Flying Bark, a forthcoming full-length collection of poetry from Coconut Books. She curates a video poetry series on The Huffington Post, curates Triptych Readings and co-edits the collaboration journal Bridge. She teaches at Rutgers University, and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Navigational Clouds

You wear a cravat on the most Indiana day.
When you go outside a person greets you,
someone with jpegs and a lot of external motivation.
You ask this person if they have a folder in the revolution.
This person shares stories about building houses in the sky.
Researching nouns in address books.
Forging through half existing galaxies,
and those found under the radar of strong arguments.
You ask this person if the weather is certain.
If the rain is solitude. If they know how a citizen feels
when placed in a hallway with no doors.
Does this person feel like this, too, you want to ask.
But instead you say: “Bring me to the border.”
And this person takes you to a ship, gives you laughter,
and paints molecules in your hair.

–From Navigational Clouds, Monk Books, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

“Navigational Clouds” is the title poem of my forthcoming chapbook with Monk Books.

I wrote the first draft of this poem when Allyson Paty invited me to participate in the first issue of Parallax (part of Singing Saw Press), where poets and visual artists are paired up to collaborate on broadsides. Bianca Stone and I were working together, and I sent her this poem for her to illustrate. In the earlier draft, this was a prose poem. I wasn’t happy with it, so I revised it and revised it until it became something else. I was very close to discarding the poem; it was that point in a revision where you keep editing the lines until like clay they become loose and unmanageable. Like remembering a dream as it falls away. The poem no longer looked real to me. But then I kept going until it did.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a collection of poems titled Unknown Pines in Berlin where I open up a German dictionary, choose random words, and then use them in my poems. It allows me to think of language as sound; if I don’t know what the German words mean, then I won’t feel pressured to use them in conventional ways.

Recently, I was listening to French jazz, and I was thinking the same thing: the vocals are just another instrument, like the guitar or keyboard. I don’t need to understand words any more than I need to understand the tapping drum.

This summer I finished a collection of dialogue poems, which are poems written with two voices. There is an element of spontaneity involved whenever I read them out loud with another person. There are no characters in these poems, and no action. Just dialogue.

I’m also working on some short stories.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day is waking up and eating a bagel and walking across at least one bridge.

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

I’ve been living in Brooklyn since 2006. And I live in Greenpoint now, right by the Pulaski Bridge. I walk across it every morning to get to the train. There’s a sunrise every morning, too.

What do you like most about it?

Subtle, unexpected sounds make me feel connected to a place, especially if the sounds are constant. In the country, I hear crickets at night. In Greenpoint, I hear church bells every hour, and it reminds me that I’m a person in the world.

I lived for a long while in Williamsburg, a short period of time in Kensington (my first Brooklyn apartment), and an even shorter period of time in Crown Heights (a three-month sublet during a very blissful summer before grad school).

I like seeing people on the street. And not just friends or acquaintances, whom I see often; I like seeing people I don’t know, but who have become familiar to me. Everyone keeps walking around like a moving mosaic. Someone just walked by with a square guitar.

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

An average day, just a Saturday or Sunday when no work is being done and when your entire task is to feed yourself and get some exercise, is a good Brooklyn day.

When I was in college, I would visit Brooklyn to go to parties, and I had a different idea of Brooklyn back then. It was a place teeming with possibility. There’s still possibility here, as there’s always been. But now I can embrace it calmly. In Brooklyn, people walk around. They drink decaffeinated tea. They sit on lawn chairs and look at passersby. Or they look at the sky.

Other good moments are when I return to Brooklyn after having been away for a day or a week or a month. I enjoy driving, and there’s something very independent about it—you’re being transported through time and space in a tiny capsule—but whenever I go back to Brooklyn after having an experience in a car, I feel more independent, or I feel another kind of independence. There aren’t a lot of people in my way, and I can just walk. I can walk on the street or on the sidewalk. I can get to so many places this way.

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

My first reaction was to say Walt Whitman (cliché) and my second reaction was to say my friends (cliché). Or maybe nothing about poetry is cliché.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

One of my favorite bookstores is Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop in DUMBO, a family run bookstore founded by Farrah Field and Jared White. Some of their walls are devoted to art, as part of their gallery space. Their tables are orange and filled with books.

There are other amazing Brooklyn bookstores (if you’re a bookstore, you’re amazing) including: Molasses Books, WORD and Unnameable Books.

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

Reading on an empty park bench, particularly if it’s sunny, is very enjoyable. It is difficult to do serious work outdoors, though, because being outside can be an immense distraction. There are many trees to consider. I prefer to work in stale university environments. Something about the fluorescent lights, the clean table surfaces and the general ‘study’ atmosphere is very comforting for me, and it helps me stay focused and work.

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

Since moving to Greenpoint, I’ve had the pleasure of going to Peter Pan on Manhattan Avenue, where they have great bagels and donuts. Another favorite spot is Transmitter Park, where you can sit on a bench and look at Manhattan.

But when you’re in Brooklyn and in love, you could go anywhere and be happy.

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

The last poem I read was on my way home on NJ Transit the other day: Ben Mirov’s “Black Glass Soliloquy.” Lyrics or lines from poems appear in my mind from time to time, like a reminder of the last time I felt the same emotion. This poem kept coming up lately, so I reread it.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the square,
And what I triangle you should circle,
For every shape you give to me as good belongs 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.

Blue Shapes

I just referenced Biggie.
I lent her a pen.
I said, “Where’d you get that hat, Jack?”
I wondered, “Where’s Rob?”
One word I never use in poems is love.
Writing poems is a sin.
I didn’t move to LA like the Dodgers.
I didn’t move to LA like my father.
On the train we think of Brooklyn.

* Written in collaboration with Brad Farberman

Why Brooklyn?

It’s a good place to start.