Poet Of The Week

Anne Livingston

     August 24–30, 2020

Anne Livingston is a queer poet currently living in North Carolina, where they’ve been teaching writing and comics to teenagers for the past two years. Their work is published or forthcoming in Iron Horse, Diode, Stone of Madness and Oakland Arts Review. They do not believe dandelions to be a weed. This past spring, Anne was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Robert Balun’s workshop on ecopoetics, Being a Being.

Author photo by Aly Phillips

The only reason I unpacked was the insomnia

 

My fingers were slow to light-switch but boxcutter found me easy

as a sacrament, pointed like a memory; I know what keeps best

in cardboard, I know it hurts worst to hold a piece of a piece.

So spare me the fishscale shards, spare me the promise-ringed tree,

I can’t sing that sharp of a song without a river in my palm,

I quit Jesus when I started receiving half-finished prophecies

like go without a where, or compass rose instead

of a rising sun to walk towards. There are the nights I fell

asleep, then there are the nights my floorboards were bored.

The day I moved in, my mirror broke before I could check

if I was still there. New neighbors stole glass from the trash

to build an unlucky ashtray as if there were any other kind,

as if there was a reflection left to care.

Grant me a ghost to give up, grant me a third eye to see

refracting brights, grant me a prayer to push

through a stream monitoring device, words to repeat

to children so they don’t need a nightlight. Every bedtime

story is only as good as what happens after you leave.

 

—Originally published in Iron Horse, 2018.

Brooklyn Poets · Anne Livingston, "The only reason I unpacked was the insomnia"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I wrote this poem in a bit of a fever. Obviously it shifted and changed, but the first draft came to me after a particularly bad dream in the middle of the night. I think I woke up and just typed this on my phone at 3 or 4 AM. Usually I have to tease poems out a bit more, play with the language and see where that takes me. But this was one of those rare poems that came to me. I’m incredibly bad at titles though, and I remember sitting in my professor Amorak Huey’s office, asking him what to call it. Amorak asked me what the poem was really about and I said it was about how I’d only unpacked my room because of my insomnia. And that was that.

What are you working on right now?

Lesson planning! I teach high school and this year requires rethinking and restructuring what it means to have a successful class. The plan is to begin the year with hybrid classes, but I’m trying to prepare for any of the possibilities.

What’s a good day for you?

A day where I don’t feel pain.

Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?

Home is more of an internal thing for me, as dorky as that sounds. I’ve moved around a lot, so it’s challenging to think of one place as mine, or of one city that I belong to. I was born in Detroit but I’m living in Asheville, North Carolina, right now. I spent a year living outside of Burnsville, NC, and it’s gorgeous there. You’re right next to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Estatoe River and all these spring-fed waterfalls. But it was difficult to adapt to the smallness of it. It was impossible not to run into someone on Hannah Branch Road, the one main road.

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

I haven’t been to Brooklyn since before the pandemic and I’m sure it feels changed from my own limited experiences. I stayed with a friend in Brooklyn last summer and ate some lovely picnic suppers in Prospect Park. I miss my friends who feel so much less reachable in person right now.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?

Poetry community is slippery, tricky to catch and hold on to. At least for me. I have a few trusted friends I’ve traded work with for years. They make all the difference. To me, having a community of poets or poetry-minded folks means having people I can trust to push me, my work, and the work I’m reading. It’s so awesome to have someone read my writing and really to know they’ll tell me when it’s not doing all it could. I have maybe two people I trust for that and I love them dearly.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Well, I loved the workshop I participated in through Brooklyn Poets, led by Robert Balun. He’s just an incredible teacher, workshop leader and poet.

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

I had some wonderful professors in college who shaped how I think about poetry, workshopping and writing in general. Amorak Huey, Beth Peterson, Caitlin Horrocks and Todd Kaneko all really helped me when I had no idea what I was doing. It was super meaningful to take classes from writers who write across genres and showed me the value in doing so.

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

I’ve been reading everything by Jenny Offill, and her most recent novel Weather really stuck with me. The narrative flickers in and out of jokes, email headlines and plot points. It felt especially resonant to read during the pandemic. Like, my experience of the world is so much more disjointed now and seeing that in someone’s work was enthralling. I’ve also been reading Natalie Diaz’s two books a little obsessively. She often speaks in interviews about how language is “first located in the body” and I love finding that in her work. Her understanding of metaphor is profound.

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

I want to read more Joan Didion. I’ve been told so many times to read Slouching Towards Bethlehem and I haven’t yet.

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?

Yes! I love reading multiple books simultaneously, across genre and “reading platforms.” Much of the pandemic coincided with my recovery from a concussion, so I’ve gotten into audiobooks. I love listening to fiction read aloud, whereas with poetry I prefer to hold the book in front of me. With poetry, I want to see the form on the page as well as hear it out loud. My ideal reading process involves alternating between poetry, fiction, comics and memoir. I like how alive writing can feel when you’re moving between different forms. And I’m bad at taking legible notes.

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

I continuously wrestle with the contrapuntal form. I’ve tried so many times, but I can never make it work.

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

I love writing in coffeeshops. Before the pandemic, I went to Odd’s Café in West Asheville every day. I do my best writing in spaces full of ambient noise and strangers. I like writing in places where no one knows me because I’m less likely to be interrupted or pulled back into the world. I love being able to fully engage with the work in this almost manic sense. Like, I don’t want to think about anything besides the line breaks for hours.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love Prospect Park.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate all I’ve collected on the train tracks,

And what I now call secret luck, you named trash,

you named yesterday. For every copper penny flattened

to a charm, for every fistful of broken glass singing to me

as good as any orchestra you could hear in any city.