June 22–28, 2015
John Ashbery describes Amy King’s I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press, 2011), one of Boston Globe’s Best Poetry Books of 2011, as bringing “abstractions to brilliant, jagged life, emerging into rather than out of the busyness of living.” King teaches English and creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College and serves on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Co-winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize, she also recently joined the ranks of Ann Patchett, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rachel Carson and Pearl Buck as winner of the Women’s National Book Association Award. King will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series on July 2 at Smack Mellon in DUMBO with Sampson Starkweather and Timothy Liu.
Two If By Land, I Do
Do you want revision, air
without clouds, do you want some
time to, do you think of sun’s flesh,
Do you want sinking like an anchor or
Do you want what I want,
Soap for shoulder bone,
Do you want cleansing to begin,
Do you want gelatinous microbes
to torment your undone sin,
Do you want a shapely wooden leg
in a home far away
from your prescriptive land,
Do you want like everyone wants
to lie between
self expression & smashing dishes
or the raccoon beside the freezer,
Do you believe this the easiest
way to give back what’s given:
growth among the weeds,
connoisseurs of criminal beauty,
enamel licking teeth,
a metal tasting tongue to speak
these words that might be said, or do
you the material fact of body eat too?
—From I Want to Make You Safe, Litmus Press, 2011 (originally published in Jacket 35).
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wish I could. I rarely recall writing my own poems and often don’t even recognize them later. I’ve experienced people reading lines and titles to me—of my own work—and responding with, ‘That’s good! Who wrote it?’
I can speculate and say this is a poem about the way meaning limns. And how things, including words, limn meaning. The world actualizing and actualizing the world. The raccoon beside the freezer is illuminating because it does not belong at first blush. It stands in juxtaposition, in contrast, but then again, if the freezer is outside, as my grandparent’s was on the carport in Georgia, it stands to reason that one could go there and find the raccoon waiting in case of food. That which beckons within can come to be without. The rest of the poem is more obvious with its limning of how meaning makes a world and maybe even the raccoon is too obvious for words. One poem does not fit all. We overlay dreams with details.
I also like the way the poet, then-me, brings in a shapely wooden leg and asks the reader, now-me, if I want it in a home far away from my prescriptive leg. Am I now a pirate on a fancy peg leg from a children’s book making my way into a land where I shirk the status quo? I also ask myself if I want like everyone wants to lie between self expression and smashing dishes. That truly depends on the day of the week and where the pieces land. An exclamation of breaking dishes fits a specific mood, usually accompanying an excited exchange, whereas the self expression might be more of a contemplative and even navel-gazing act, especially if I am not in some way reaching out substantially to the other, whomever that may be at the time.
I also like Ashok Karra’s way into the poem here.
What are you working on right now?
I am finishing up a manuscript called Strange Beauty. It’s about aesthetic engagement on a daily but not necessarily pragmatic basis.
I’m also brewing the poetry pronouncements I’ll be making on the Poetry Foundation site throughout August. Stay tuned.
I’m also working my way through Ken Chen’s brilliant essay, “Authenticity Obsession, or Conceptualism as Minstrel Show.”
What’s a good day for you?
I like to socialize, I like alone time, I like to write, I like to teach, I like to go for walks, I like to watch TV, I like to educate myself, I like to discuss current events, I like to help others, I like to beautify the world, I like to reduce waste and debt, I like to eat delicious food, I like to read poetry and theory, I like to connect intimately, I like to enjoy an arc of things. A good day is being able to do maybe three or four in balance and not feel worn out and to go to sleep deeply on my woman’s belly.
So you live close to, but not in Brooklyn. Explain yourself. Where’s home for you? What’s it like being a poet there? As Jay Z might ask, Can you live?
I moved to Williamsburg in 1997. I lived there for 13 years. I have a solid, sordid, spectacular history in Brooklyn. I should write a memoir and call it The Mayor of Williamsburg. I am not modest. I now live on the same land mass as Brooklyn, further East on what is known as Long Island as well as living upstate on a mountain in Phoenicia in the Catskills and I regularly stay in Baltimore too. I move between many places, mostly teaching and doing art in the form of poetry and exchange. No matter how hard I try, home has never been one singular state of mind or place.
How often do you come to Brooklyn? What neighborhoods do you go to? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I read monthly in Brooklyn from Dumbo to Red Hook to Williamsburg to ‘East Williamsburg’ to to to. I go wherever I am asked. My visits now mostly revolve around poetry and poets. My impressions are that, despite the horrid rent and cost increases, Brooklyn magically continues to call to writers & artists & musicians to spend an average of two years there. Why? Music carries on. Galleries grow and die and grow again. Poetry like weeds pushes out of the minds’ cracks. Culture happens and becomes like nothing else anywhere makes it.
When I moved to the city, my first thoughts were that there is so much. So much varying culture and difference rubs up against itself that surely fusions and fissions are part of the call to dwell and make things in this density. You face your fears, find new ideas and in some ways become someone else. It is inevitable & vertiginous & fecund ground. You are thrown off the balance of your entire history, your selfhood, and you birth what you never planned. And just like traveling helps you figure out who you are, so does the diverse dizzying joint called Brooklyn.
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
Adam Tobin’s Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights is a lovely repository and host to so many readings. Word on Franklin Street is a gracious hotspot for poetry. Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop is the hook-up. Mellow Pages is not a bookstore but worth a mention as a library and reading room, which is cousin to the bookstore and worthy of literary engagement.
Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn?
Spuyten Duyvil is a bar that has justly featured in several of my poems. I used to sit at the now-defunct Verb Café for hours on end back in the day. Now I prefer not hanging in Williamsburg. I’d rather end up at any number of cafés in Red Hook or DUMBO. And while you’re in DUMBO, go listen to the latest poets at Cave Canem; listening is reading by ear.
Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
Walking along the Williamsburg shore (featured here). Lesbian Herstory Archives is good for an afternoon of perusing. MoCADA is my next stop.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
I don’t play favorites, esp poets, but I love some poems by Amber Atiya, Ana Božičević, Ken Chen, Harmony Holiday, Patricia Spears Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Lynn Melnick, Morgan Parker, Trace Peterson, Metta Sama and David Tomas Martinez.
Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?
proxy – r. erica doyle
Counternarratives – John Keene
I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast – Melissa Studdard
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate my jejunum,
And what I consume you become too,
For every hyena swallowing me as good erupts
as laughter from 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.
I did two to tango:
The more woman she is the more female father.
The more ambulance she plants the more gravity Dodger.
Her lungs shove fires up the backdraft, Jack.
Swan napkins levitate the hearts they rob
when all that follows is the beginning of sin.
From gristle of ear & brown paper skin, the acoustics of pen
turn our maps on with a cursive love
from storehouse secrets I rent in Brooklyn.
Weakness rides a lunar track, forking her tongue up, no Biggie.
I martyr any mother just like a father
on the day we fake rent like a mad draft Dodger.
I’m an enigma on the ass of the universe, Jack.
I’ll take what’s yours until you rob
me back. Queer as fuck, I’m your downpayment for sin.
I make stupid poems at the cliché of a pen.
Do or get done by the Big Apple love,
Eat yr heart out Manhattan, my entrails are Brooklyn.
At least your voice is little. Mine stands a Biggie.
Why not? If it’s calling, go. You’ll find a way to make it work and it’s never forever. No suit lasts that long. But you can dance in it and be sexy and find your groove until it tatters. You’ll never regret going. But you’ll regret never going.