June 6–12, 2022
Alyson Favilla received an M.Phil in Irish writing from Trinity College Dublin, and their work appears in several Irish and international publications including Diode, Poetry Ireland Review and the Tangerine. Favilla was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow this past fall for study in Natalie Eilbert’s MFA Application Bootcamp. Beginning in the fall of 2022, they will be attending the University of Mississippi as a Grisham Fellow in poetry.
Lately you say you’ve been fantasizing
about mussels in tomato broth, steamed
and plated like so many mouths singing,
so many pearlescent throats.
I don’t eat them—won’t—but I’m glad to
imagine your head tipped back, sipping the
meat from the shell.
Tongues discern salt, soft, sigh and
swallow, kisses complement white wine:
to tender the gesture you were taught
some twenty years ago, sidestepping
the cling of wormweed and bladderwrack,
clambering over rocky pools from which
an expert hand would retrieve a starfish,
overturned and shy, and hold it out,
its arms curled around its hungry center.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This poem (a failed sonnet) tumbled out overnight as I was texting the person who is now my girlfriend. It was one of those poems that, initially, just happened—the first draft came together in about ten minutes, and then I spent the rest of the night (and subsequently the better part of a year) refining it: copying it over from the notes app on my phone, seeing how it worked on a blank page, corralling longer phrases that were dangling at the ends of the lines. I was very consciously engaged with the work of Marilyn Hacker; at the time, I was reading Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons like a manual for lesbian courtship, and this poem was intended as a token, an offering. It’s a little embarrassing, but it worked.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a strange section in the manuscript that I hope will become my first book of poems. It’s a crown of sonnets, which I’m refiguring as a nest for the figure of King Sweeney. Sweeney is the (Anglicized) title character of a medieval Irish poem called Buile Shuibhne, cursed by St. Ronan to wander in madness until he meets his death on the point of a spear. In translations of the story, Sweeney becomes literally birdlike, and it’s that partial transformation, that chimeric in-betweenness or indeterminacy that really interests me. It feels analogous in some ways to the experience of being trans/non-binary.
What’s a good day for you?
Whenever I can get my anxious, stubborn dog to go for a decent walk, that’s a triumph.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
None of my friends ever wanted to come over for dinner when I was living in Queens.
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 live in Flatbush, right on Ocean Ave, which runs through the heart of Little Caribbean. I ended up in this neighborhood by accident, more or less—but, as it turns out, my apartment is just down the street from the building my great-grandparents lived (and died) in. So, while I’ve only been at this address for a year and a half, I feel like I’ve rounded out a chapter of family history. It’s not where I belong, long-term, but my neighbors, most of whom have lived in the neighborhood for decades, have been remarkably kind to this scrawny white kid who showed up mid-pandemic. No one’s anonymous in Flatbush.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Someone stole a package of 250 live crickets off my doorstep, which … I have to imagine wasn’t what they were hoping for when they opened the box.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I think of a poetry community as a collection of folks I could send a rough draft to, and be like, “What do you think? Do I keep going with this?” People who, likewise, think of me when they want someone else’s opinion, and who are mutually invested in refilling the well. I don’t really have that locally, although Brooklyn Poets has helped me tap into virtual networks of early-career poets doing really ambitious work.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Hart Crane lately—he was a copywriter, like I am, and the way he hijacks the grammar of advertising is delicious.
As far as contemporary folks go, Tawanda Mulalu (buy his book!!) fucking nails it every single time. He’s also a gracious reader. Plus, jealousy—of craft, of daring—is a powerful motivator.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
It wasn’t until graduate school, when I took a workshop with Colette Bryce, a wonderful Northern Irish poet, that I learned you could even make a full-time career in poetry. That was the first time I considered what it would mean to professionalize my commitment to craft. Colette writes with this wonderful frankness: her poems just take you in hand. And when her poems turn—hinging on a moment of dark humor, or an unexpected image, there’s a subterranean cunning at work. She’s very, very precise.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I just tore through Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness, which, in addition to being earnest and evocative in all the ways you’ve already heard from ten thousand reviewers, helped me prove to myself that my attention hasn’t been irredeemably maimed by technology. I can, actually, still just sit down and read.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I get shy, almost weirdly parsimonious, about contemporary work I think I might like too much. It’s as if, after learning just enough about a book or an author to suspect I’ll relate to what they’re doing, I can’t risk contact, like the book is a too-hot burner on the stove. torrin a. greathouse’s Wound from the Mouth of a Wound is one example. Beyond collections like that, I’ve had my roommate’s copy of A Little Life sitting—grimacing—on a bookshelf for over two years. At this point, I don’t even want to read it so much as it seems like a social liability not to have read it.
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 tend to have a novel, a work of literary criticism or biography, some poetry and theory in rotation at the same time. Right now, though, I’m trying to retrain myself to focus deeply on one thing. I don’t mind digital texts, but lately there’s too much opportunity for distraction when reading digitally. I’m a compulsive underliner and asterisk-er.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’m increasingly curious about situating character in poetry and moving away from the confessional in order to entertain different perspectives. The I is still my default position, and it’s a little tyrannical. I (case in point) would love to be able to point to a poem I’d written and say confidently, “The speaker isn’t me.”
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Setting up shop for longer periods of time in shared public spaces still feels a little fraught, but there’s always the Q train.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I’m particularly drawn to spaces where I can be more or less alone (a rare achievement, despite the atomizing pressure of the city’s streets, its subways) to practice what Mary Oliver called “an attitude of noticing.” I love the Prospect Park woodlands, where you can reliably spot six different species of woodpeckers hammering at the oaks and tulip trees. And the Marine Park Salt Marsh is a great place to wander; once you get off the bus out there, it feels fantastically far-flung. It’s also sometimes home to nesting ospreys. And who doesn’t want to look out over a maritime grassland, the grasses waving gently, almost tall enough to obscure the skyline, and see a big-ass hawk coming down to roost?
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the old-school butch,
And what I shove into my jeans you take in hand,
For every posture wears me as good as it looked on you.
At a certain age, with a certain kind of job and a certain kind of education, in a certain kind of relationship, it was almost inevitable. That is to say, it was my turn to live here, for a while.