Poet Of The Week

Elizabeth Clark Wessel

     April 27–May 3, 2015

Elizabeth Clark Wessel is a founding editor of Argos Books and co-editor of Circumference: Poetry in Translation. She is the author of three chapbooks: Whither Weather (GreenTower Press, 2012), Isn’t that You Waving at You (Big Lucks Books, 2015) and Amsterdam (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her full-length collection Two Suns is forthcoming from The Lit Pub. She recently moved to a farmhouse in Connecticut and translates fiction from Swedish for a living.

The Movie the Bridge

first you walk
on the wrong side of it
on the bike side
a man shouts
You are so fucking stupid
on the pink bridge
at night
just before the rain

poetry can never compete
with the movies
so why write
a lack of funds
and technical expertise

when the rain comes
you start running down
the slope of the bridge
the bridge above the water
and above the bridge
the ghosts of occupation
the soaked lights

you think this is like a movie
you make a movie in your head
the same movie
over and over
on the Ferris wheel
on the ferry
in the airplane
if your subject is yourself
it’s yourself as part of collapse
or of defiance of collapse
or against entropy
or because of joy
and you are
both replicable
and irreplicable
because everyone is
and replicable
so this is not
about psychology
crying from laughing too hard
heat and water
say it so it doesn’t have to be said anymore
and you say it again
because you have nothing
else to say
you are
they are
are is
prison of memory
and the night ahead
the day behind
then the other days
until days end
the dying earth
the picture of Jupiter
its 4 moons
on the screen of a digital camera
and the red giant of the future sun
in a billion or two years
and in the galaxies 12 billion years old
you’re there too
isn’t that you
waving at you?
dead and silent now, yes
12 billion years away
is 12 billion years ago
and 12 billion years from now
is 12 billion years away
the span of the universe
what is ahead and what is behind it
and you are the universe
and you are the occupation of light
and you are the pink bridge
and you are the bike
and you are the rain
and you are the slope
and you are the movie in your head
about the movie of your life
which is real in that something
physical in your brain has rearranged itself
and crying from laughing
and the warm rain
and doing this whatever this is
and seeing yourself as you are doing it
and being and not being
and days
and minutes and seconds
and smaller than seconds

persistence of vision
the theory that sight works like film
a series of still images
later disproven
but still used by film theorists
because it does make sense
that just doesn’t make it true
a wrong idea can be elegant too

the light travels
and you travel with it
even if you don’t emit light
you reflect it
and where is the instrument sensitive enough for all of this
and where is the atmosphere clear enough for this to escape
and who is watching

—Originally published in Bushwick Sweethearts

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem came out of a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge with two dear friends, Galit Zeluf and Florence Avezou, when they visited me in Brooklyn for the first time. Everything went wrong. I hadn’t crossed the bridge for a while, things had changed—as they so often do—and I led my friends onto the bike lane. People started veering their bikes at us, calling us names, while we clung to the edge. I felt terrible for my friends, and a bit embarrassed because I’d revealed myself as not a real New Yorker again for the five thousandth time since I moved to the NYC area in 1998. Then just when we had finally made it back over to the pedestrian side a thunderstorm hit—lightning, sheets of rain, the whole thing—and we ended up having to run like crazy down the other half of the bridge. Meanwhile I was having one of those massive, cleansing belly laughs because of the absurdity of the whole thing, feeling so much love and joy, and I started writing this poem in my head. It combines a lot of what I was thinking about at the time, and a lot of other obsessions of mine: the experience of consciousness, deep time, the end and beginning of the universe, climate change, the power of the visual image vs. the word, love. I wanted it to have the widest possible lens and then narrow to the microscopic.

What are you working on right now?

I’m just trying to be as open as possible so that the poetry will come.

What’s a good day for you?

I write a poem. I eat good food. I spend time with the people I love. I watch the sunset.

How long did you live in Brooklyn? What neighborhood did you live in? What did you like most about it?

I lived in Brooklyn first in 2002-2003—Park Slope and Downtown—then moved to Stockholm for six years and came back in 2009. I spent four years in Williamsburg and a little over a year in Bed-Stuy.

The thing I liked most about both neighborhoods was having close friends living nearby. I loved being able to make last-minute plans, meet someone at a bar for a drink, take a walk, get a coffee, run into people casually on the street, go to events, have people stop by, backyard BBQs. Plus I feel like my friends always knew the best places to go—writing or otherwise—so living near them drew me into their Brooklyn worlds as well.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

Less than a month after I moved back to Brooklyn from Stockholm I got really sick at a restaurant, and I was taken by ambulance to Woodhull Hospital. The emergency room there on a Friday night was a hellscape. Understaffed, overburdened, dirty, and there were more cops than health care workers. The patients were mostly people of color and many had obvious mental health issues. Quite a few were handcuffed to their beds. The woman in the bed next to me cried for an hour or more, begging for someone to loosen her handcuffs. I was deeply disturbed, unnerved, saddened by the whole experience. (Though the few health care workers I saw interacting with patients did seem kind and dedicated.) In other words, Brooklyn made my racial and economic privilege as a middle-class white woman real to me in a non-theoretical way from the very beginning, not just that night but many times, seeing my neighbors subjected to stop-and-frisk and then getting a friendly nod from the cops, etc etc etc. And I often felt complicit, especially as a gentrifier. I’m still trying to figure out how to be the change I want to see in the world, as they say. I’m sure I make a lot of mistakes.

What were your favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn?

I’m a homebody, so the answer is my apartment.

What were your favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

It was kind of a secret hobby of mine to go sell clothes at Beacon’s Closet in Park Slope. I liked to walk over there with a bag full and then come back with another bag full. Guilt-free consumption. I liked eating at Beco near McCarren Park when the weather was good enough to sit outside. We lived just down the block from ISCP, and I loved going to their open houses—free wine and art from all over the world. And I loved meeting friends at my neighborhood bars—first Daddy’s and Harefield Road, then later Tip Top and Fulton Grand. But what I loved most of all was walking through neighborhoods—so the sidewalks of Brooklyn were some of my favorite places.

Where’s home for you now? What’s it like being a poet there? As Jay Z might ask, Can you live?

We moved to a farmhouse in rural northwestern Connecticut about six months ago. We’re both freelancers working from home, so we spend a lot time hanging out just the two of us (me and my life partner, Mo). We make books. It’s really quiet and beautiful. Weird things happen. We found a part of a coyote carcass in our yard today. A bat flew in a few weeks ago. We have a ladybug infestation. The house makes a lot of sounds at night. Yes, I can live, hopefully even live better, but I do miss the poets. I try to visit them often. Or as I always say to everyone I meet, come visit me! There’s a train.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

This is so hard. Of the alive ones, some of my favorites are Marina Blitshteyn, Josh and Nalini Edwin, Joan Larkin, r. erica doyle, Jaime Shearn Coan, Montana Ray, Morgan Parker, Krystal Languell, Caitie Moore, Natalie Peart, Rachel Levitsky, Jay Deshpande, Kirkwood Adams, Sam Ross, Sasha Fletcher and Bianca Stone.

Oh and over in Queens I have two more favorite contemporary poets—Iris Cushing and Amber Atiya.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?


Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine. It was probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m still recovering.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate that thing you never got over, and sing it too,
And what I assume, I never should have assumed
For every atom belonging to me is still lonely for every atom
     that will ever belong to 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 really tried, but I won’t subject you to my efforts.

Why Brooklyn?

The bridges and the poets. Duh.