May 28–June 3, 2018
Carina Finn is the author of Invisible Reveille (Coconut Books), The Grey Bird: 13 Emoji Poems in Translation (Coconut Books, with Stephanie Berger), LEMONWORLD & Other Poems (Co.Im.Press) and several chapbooks. Her first full-length play, Two Genius Husbands, has been performed at Dixon Place and Howl! Arts in NYC. Other work can be found in Jubilat, Hyperallergic, the Rumpus, Gramma and elsewhere. Her poem “This Is All Yours” appears in the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, released last spring.
It’s a wonder the world can
be wandered through. As
though anything matters
beyond New York
in early spring,
hyper greens against the
marble sky, City Hall
& wrought iron.
There are so many ways to
be in love,
perhaps returning to the
distant past a new
human is one, how soft
rain clings to fairylight echo
in a gas lamp glow. I can
be as sentimental as I
like. Modernity & its
Sisyphean tasks throwing
buckets of shit-water
through the gates of hell.
The world gets pushed
through an arc on its flat edge.
Libraries shivering across
the nervous circuit that beats
my heart. I’m still in love
with those greens, the grass,
fucking trees, how can
we need poetry when a night
can be walked inside of?
I felt so strong today at my
Emerald foliage, the morning
& evening sky.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I work at a rock climbing gym (Brooklyn Boulders, the Brooklyn-est of them all!), and last April I was working out of our Gowanus location when all of a sudden one of my coworkers grabbed me and was like, “The gym is flooding.” Within maybe twenty minutes we were all standing in calf-deep sewer water, literally pouring ten-gallon buckets out into the street by hand for hours—it was a totally surreal experience. Afterwards my coworker and I walked from Gowanus through the park to Windsor Terrace: it was one of those overcast spring nights when the air was damp and everything looked exceptionally green against the backdrop of the bright gray sky. I wrote this poem on the F train back to Manhattan that night. A few weeks later we were on a work retreat up in the Adirondacks and the two of us were standing by this very charming little river in the moonlight and I took a leap of faith and told him that I had written a poem about the night we walked together after the flood, and I sent it to him when we got back to the city. It wasn’t terribly long after that we realized we were in love. So this is really a pretty standard nature/love poem, with a weird apocalyptic urban twist.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a YA lesbian space opera that I think will turn out to be a series of three novels. The basic premise is that the sole survivor of an intergalactic genocide is shipped across the cosmos to marry the son of her enemies, but she crash-lands on a rebel planet and falls in love with the girl who rescues her from the shipwreck. It’s kind of like a cosmic Sleeping Beauty.
I’m also working on a food-focused project that’s starting out on Instagram but will eventually become, I think, a sort of narrative cookbook. Anyone who knows me well knows that there’s nothing I love more than food: cooking it, eating it, reading about it, whatever. I’m a big proponent of always cooking from scratch, which I don’t think enough people who live in New York do since it’s so easy to buy things premade or order/eat out. I bake some kind of bread pretty much every week and make my own jams, soup stocks, pasta, ice cream, etc. I want to show people that it’s not so hard. I’m also learning a lot about farming and foraging, and how we get from raw materials in nature to ingredients we can eat.
What’s a good day for you?
Getting an extra twenty to sixty minutes of snuggles in the morning, cooking and lingering over breakfast and coffee, and still getting out of the house early. My boyfriend and I always say that we’re going to “do nothing” on the weekend and end up going on hours-long adventures usually involving a combination of shopping, long walks, museums, and more food, so I’d have some of that—a lot of time spent outdoors if it’s nice enough—then a quiet night at home listening to records and cooking something fantastic.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I was born in Midwood, and with every New York apartment I get closer and closer to my roots. I lived in Chinatown for three years and then I broke up with my ex last July and when I needed a place to live, a former coworker who had an “extra apartment” in Clinton Hill sublet her place to me for the summer. It was a huge garden-level apartment in a brownstone, and I had the entire thing to myself. It was a great place to land and the first time I ever lived alone, which I quickly realized I hated. I moved to Prospect Park South in October and recently resettled in Kensington.
Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long did you live there? What did you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
The part of Kensington where I live is a melting pot of Indian, Orthodox Jewish, Eastern European and Latino communities, so there is an abundance of amazing food. The Bolla Mart gas station sells this insane gelato called Gelarto that’s imported from Turin, Italy, and it is the best gelato I’ve ever had. There’s also a crazy party hall on Church Ave that has a $3 breakfast special where you get (instant, very sweet) coffee or tea and a chapati with scrambled eggs, chilies and thin-sliced red potatoes. There’s a wacky grocery store called Carnival where you can get all kinds of cured olives, Turkish and Lebanese dairy products, and bulk dried fruits and nuts, and a Bangladeshi grocery store that sells fresh curry leaves, bitter melon, every kind of Indian pickle you can dream of … I could talk about the grocery scene in Kensington endlessly. In addition to the food, my neighborhood has the most cinematic skies, is close to Green-Wood Cemetery, and is off of my favorite trains, the F and the G.
I’ve spent most of my time in New York living in the general realm of the LES, first on the fringes of Alphabet City and then deep in Chinatown/Two Bridges. Manhattan is so different: the pace of life, the tiny kitchens, the fact that you can walk literally anywhere on the island within a reasonable amount of time. Brooklyn is more vast and various, and Kensington specifically is very similar to the part of Midwood where I grew up. There’s this sense that it’s been taken out of time, but it’s also very modern in the way that you see all of these disparate groups coexisting harmoniously. I think all world leaders should spend time in Brooklyn and see what it really looks like for people with very different belief systems and values to share a small piece of space on the planet.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Growing up, my family had an apartment in Midwood and an apartment in East New York, and for the first decade or so of my life when I was in Brooklyn I was in one of those two neighborhoods. I had no concept at the time that East New York was a rough area, it was just where I lived. For me, Brooklyn is about three things: walking, driving and eating. I spent a lot of summer days as a kid driving around Sheepshead Bay with my dad or my grandpa, walking around Marine Park or up and down King’s Highway, and spending time with the various outcrops of my Italian/Jewish family, where every gathering centered around food. Inevitably we would end up at my grandparents’ place in Midwood and there would be like ten people squished around the tiny kitchen table drinking coffee. I started drinking coffee as soon as I was old enough to drink out of a cup, fascinated by the people who would come by, like my grandma’s friend whom I called “Charlotte with the eyebrows,” a trans-woman with drawn-on eyebrows she met playing in underground poker games on the LES. I think those experiences really define Brooklyn for me, and this sense of Brooklyn hospitality: no matter how much or how little you have, what time of day it is, who else is around, you can always have people over for coffee, and anyone is welcome.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?
It’s complicated. I moved to New York after finishing my MFA in poetry at Notre Dame in 2012, and I moved here entirely because of the poetry community. I had spent a summer in New York on a publishing fellowship in between my first and second years of graduate school, and I immediately dove headfirst into the poetry scene, as it were. It was heady and exciting and I was in love with all of it. For the first few years I was in New York I did the Poetry Brothel and that was a family for me at a time when I felt really rootless. Later I got involved with going to readings every night, trying to get published in the “right” journals and be seen at the “right” events, because I couldn’t separate being part of the scene from being a good poet. I was drinking a lot and I was depressed all the time and while I don’t regret being part of it, it wasn’t good for me. In 2014, I really hit rock bottom and decided to get sober, which I have for the most part been since then. It’s a sucky thing to admit, but it’s a lot less fun to be on the scene in Brooklyn poetry when you’re not drinking. People are always asking if you’re “still” not drinking, as though they can’t entertain the concept of permanent abstinence from alcohol.
I used to think that a poetry community was about people and parties and being cool, which it is not. I would say that I am not in a place where I can say what it does mean, because I don’t have a clue. I have a handful of very close friends with whom I share my work; they are my first readers and I am often theirs. Incidentally those people, who I can count on one hand, know one another but are not really friends. I spend time with them one-on-one whenever I can, and sometimes we write and talk about poetry but mostly we go shopping or get mani-pedis or eat food.
After I sort of left poetry, I got into rock climbing, and in a lot of ways the climbing community is like the poetry community’s total opposite. In climbing, you’re always encouraging each other to do something that seems impossible, pushing each other to try harder than you think you can, and often literally trusting your life to the people you’re with. I feel a lot more comfortable and live a healthier life calling climbing my community and looking at poetry as something more like a monastic religion.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Most of the poets who have been legitimately really important to me are not from or connected to Brooklyn; I have a lot more affinity for the poets of Lower Manhattan, like Alice Notley and Eileen Myles and that whole scene from like the ’70s and ’80s. Spencer Short I guess is a Brooklyn poet who has been important to me, both as a writer and a friend and mentor. I remember getting his book Tremolo as a graduation present from my college thesis advisor and then meeting him a few years later. We joke that we have a Bishop/Lowell-esque relationship and it’s true, especially the part where our ability to be very honest readers of one another’s work stems from the fact that we rarely see one another. I’m sure our correspondence would be entertaining stuff were it all written in analog and someone could publish it after we’re dead.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
John Casteen was the first person who really took me seriously as a poet, and made me take myself seriously. He got me through college and into graduate school and is still one of the most important people in my life. He taught me a lot about craft and the tradition of poetry and how to look for my place within that tradition. His influence is in a big way responsible for the fact that I view poetry as a craft that requires apprenticing and lifelong dedication to mastery. I studied with Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson in graduate school, and being in that program at that time (2010–2012) was special, and a whirlwind. Everything was about being radical and experimental and I was trying all kinds of crazy things, a lot of them total failures. But I had never had that kind of freedom before. Working with them also infused a lot of critical theory into my work and the way I think about writing. I remember thinking that Deleuze and Guattari were just the most earth-shattering thing.
Both Joyelle and Johannes recognized that I work very quickly and can write a lot when I’m in the zone, and they never let me capitalize on that. I remember sitting down with Johannes, who was my thesis advisor, and showing him the manuscript of LEMONWORLD & Other Poems, which I had written in a week over winter break. I thought it was good, and it was a completed manuscript, and I wanted it to be my MFA thesis. He was like, no, you have to turn in something that takes more time and labor. That was a really good lesson, even if LEMONWORLD was objectively better than my thesis project. It taught me that you can’t just churn out a good thing in a moment of inspiration and then sit on it.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Rachel Zucker’s The Pedestrians is the best book of poems I’ve read in years. I love that she writes about motherhood and domesticity in a way that is really serious and at the same time still playful, especially when it comes to language and form. It also just hit a lot of notes for me that resonate at a deep soul level. It’s hard to explain, it’s just really good.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I haven’t read all of The Descent of Alette and I should definitely get around to that, but otherwise nothing stands out. I read a disgusting amount of poetry from 2008–2014, and I’m still “on a break.”
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 like physical books, and I never take notes or plan in advance. I’m usually reading something like three to five books at a time, sometimes more. Right now I’m reading My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. Harris, Orwell’s Books v. Cigarettes, a manga called Food Wars! that I’m addicted to, a book on the history of salt and a book on the cultural history of spices and intoxicants. I pick things up off the street in Park Slope a lot, it’s the best place to find books, and I love discovering things second-hand, like this book Apricots on the Nile by Colette Rossant that I found at Myopic Books a few weeks ago when I was on a work trip to Chicago. Once I discover a new author that I like, I try to find all of their work and read it relatively quickly. I ordered Return to Paris, Rossant’s second book, right after I finished the first, and it was awesome. I love diving into a voice that’s new to me.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I would like to write a really good villanelle! I also made a promise on New Year’s Day that I would write a book of food poems this year, like Williams Sonoma catalog porn or something, so I have to do that in the next few months.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
On weekdays I love to start the day by getting up early and writing in our library. I know this is technically “home,” but it’s really special: by some miracle, we have an entire room in our apartment dedicated to reading and writing. Earlier this year we stayed in an Airbnb in Montmartre run by the owner of a Parisian bookshop. When we came back, we modeled our own library after the incredible one in his home, as in, we literally went out and purchased the same bookshelves. Otherwise, I read and write mostly on the subway. The F train is the best for writing, hands down.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Let’s start with food: L&B Spumoni Gardens, Roll-N-Roaster, and Dolly’s Italian Ices were my favorite Brooklyn spots as a kid, and they’re filled with a ton of nostalgia for me in addition to all being really good. The Wythe Hotel is the first place I ever cooked professionally, and that whole area of Williamsburg is still really special to me. I’ve walked over the Williamsburg Bridge more times than I can count, and it’s one of my favorite things to do at any time of year, day or night. I also love DUMBO for absolutely no reason in particular; being there just makes me feel good. The walk from the Bergen Street F/G stop to Brooklyn Boulders in Gowanus is one I do on mornings when it’s not freezing and I have a little extra time. I get coffee from Van Leeuwen because they have the best pastel cups and I drink it as I walk past the brownstones making up imaginary lives for the people who live in them.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate food,
And what I cook you eat,
For everything I make for me as good is made for you : )