Poet Of The Week

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi

     January 20–26, 2020

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the journals Mud Season Review, Corvid Queen and cahoodaloodaling, among others. She has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and nominated twice for the Best of the Net anthology. An alumna of the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute, Hajimirsadeghi is currently an undergraduate at the Fashion Institute of Technology. This past fall, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in JP Howard’s Poetry and Memoir workshop.

Still Life

 

My childhood home in ruins. Dancing

barefoot, meticulously dodging fireflies,

gutting lychees, a small satisfaction

of tearing apart these fleshy planets. They

gloriously drip onto the glossy countertops,

throbbing papercuts on my thumb begin

trickling streams of blood. The executioner

of my mother’s marigolds, the act of dying

forever immortalized in stick-and-poke tattoos.

A little girl peering into a dusty mirror,

sloppily applying wine-red lipstick—it

tastes like justice, a bittersweet freedom. Ashy

white fur from a dead childhood cat, faded

burgundy Persian carpets. Father saved

them for when I’m married; I doubt

his new heart will last that long. A photograph

of a family before being ruptured by revolution,

a smiling grandfather and grandmother that

only exists in memory. An empty home full

of guillotined flowers & what was lost.

 

Tell us about the making of this poem.

When I graduated high school, two days before I left to study abroad in South Korea, I told my mother that my childhood was dying. My grandmother had died the day before, the pool in our backyard was busted, I was going off to college soon. I ironically said my cat was the only part of my childhood left, but months later, she too was dead. To me, this poem was an accumulation of the acceptance, the grief, the shock I went through during that time period. A snapshot—a still life—of the decay, of how I saw my home in a completely different way.

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I’m editing a chapbook and some old screenplays. The spring semester is about to start, so the work will start piling on then, but for now I’m getting in my writing time through one of the Speakeasy Project’s winter workshops.

What’s a good day for you?

First of all, actually getting to sleep in. If it’s a really good day, there would be a big Iranian brunch: lavash, ghormeh sabzi, tahdig, all the good stuff. The remainder of my daylight hours are spent reading, catching up with the news, and procrastinating. Then, at the end of the day, I would do my daily Korean and Mandarin vocabulary/grammar lessons and watch some films. Around midnight is when I’d actually sit down to start writing—lately, I’ve just dedicated 12–2 AM to being my writing time. I find something intimate in how heavy the silence is during those hours.

What brought you to New York?

College! I’m currently an undergrad at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

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?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Baltimore. I never thought I’d leave the city, but when it came time to apply to colleges, I didn’t really apply to any Maryland schools. When I left, I missed it. Baltimore has a bad rep in the media, but the city itself is beautiful, overflowing with creativity, art and a rich history. Its people are kind, a special mix of Southern and Northern charm, and come from all walks of life.

I’ve only really spent extensive time in three cities: Baltimore, New York and Seoul. I think my favorite has been Seoul—in no other city have I casually and randomly run into an ancient palace like Gyeongbokgung in such a high-tech area.

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

Brooklyn actually is my favorite borough! When I need to escape Manhattan, I’ve found myself in places like Boerum Hill, Prospect Park or on the borders of Williamsburg. Brooklyn reminds me of Baltimore with the brownstones (we call them rowhouses back home) in some areas, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of my favorite places so far.

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

To me, a poetry community is anyone I can talk with about poetry. They don’t need to be writers, they just have to have an appreciation or love for it. I am quite fortunate to have met people at school and my workplace who’ve invited me to spaces where poetry thrives. I had the opportunity to attend a small poetry meeting at the Yale Club, showcasing Polish, Armenian and I believe German poets, which I found absolutely fascinating. I also have my community from the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute, despite us being spread out all over the United States, Pakistan and India. I wouldn’t want any other group recommending me Desi literature and perspectives!

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

Three come to mind. First: Sally Wen Mao. As a huge film buff, I devoured her series of poems featuring Anna May Wong and now I, too, look for the intersection between the cinema world and firsthand narratives of those in it. Second: JP Howard. Her workshop this past fall led me to dig deeper into myself, to see poetry as a form of documentation with my personal lineage and heritage. Third: Marwa Helal. As a person of Middle Eastern descent, and as a poet who wants to dabble in the grey area of hybrid works, I found her collection Invasive species a joy to read and see for representation.

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

I went to a small arts high school back in my hometown, where my major was literary arts. And in this program, I had two wonderful women writers for teachers: Suzanne Supplee and Rebecca Mlinek. I had Mlinek for poetry / history of English literature / second foundation year, and Supplee for my senior thesis class, and, honestly, without their encouragement and words I would’ve turned out quite differently. I distinctly remember both of them telling me some of my comparisons and lines were really weird and out there, but that they were good and to keep doing it. I struggled a lot with this idea that I wasn’t poetic enough, and that I should’ve just stuck to fiction and screenplays, but they kept me going. Now here I am!

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

I picked up a copy of Kim Hyesoon’s collection Autobiography of Death recently and wow. I’d read some of Kim’s poems before, and knew of her as a leading figure in Korean feminist poetry, but I was not prepared for this collection. It was so blunt, raw, grotesque. Give it a read and you’ll see what I mean. I also managed to pick up a copy of Forugh Farrokhzad’s selected poems, titled Sin, in the past couple of weeks and have been completely and utterly enamored with her work and historical legacy.

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

I’ve been meaning to reread Les Misérables for years now. I’ve read that book over fifteen times, as it inspired seventh-grade me to pursue writing and literature, but I honestly haven’t picked it up in three to four years. It used to be my favorite book, but I can’t imagine plowing through it like I used to since it’s so dense.

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’ve been called a heathen for my reading habits. I often bounce between five different books, a mixed assortment of physical and digital, and I obnoxiously highlight anything that I deem “poetic” or “inspirational.” People hate borrowing books from me because they’re just covered in highlights.

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

I discovered burning haibun on Twitter the other day and now I really want to find the time to sit down and write one. I also want to try incorporating humor more into my pieces, as I have this dry sense of humor that I never can capture within my own work.

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

My favorite space these past couple of months actually is the Fashion Institute of Technology’s library. I find the campus at FIT to be so inspiring, especially with the clothing everyone wears. Many students here aren’t afraid to be bold with their stylistic choices, which I admire as a creative. I also love the collection of books on fashion history; they’re quite inspiring to me as a writer and a lover of history.

Outside of FIT, my honorable mentions go to Poets House, the many movie theater lobbies I’ve waited in (with regard to the Lincoln Center theaters and IFC), and the subway. Somehow, I’ve had many sketchy midnight subway rides produce some really interesting poems. It’s always on the 1 train too …

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Brooklyn Bridge Park and Domino Park. I am completely and utterly in love with sunsets, choosing to photograph all the sunsets I’ve seen around the world, and I personally think these are some of the best sunset spots in the city. I also have a soft spot for smaller concert venues in Brooklyn; when I think of particular venues throughout the borough, I think of my youth and the memories associated with the time period around when I visited them.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the vulnerability in cartography

and what I once cherished you burned,

for every speck of ash flitting by me leads back to you

Why Brooklyn?

When I am in Brooklyn, I feel fearless. I don’t think I could ever properly explain why I feel this way, but Brooklyn, I hope you stay bold.