December 30, 2019–January 5, 2020
Kyle Seamus Brosnihan is a poet from Lincoln, Nebraska. He graduated in 2016 with a BA in English. His poetry has been published in Empty House Press, Boston Accent Lit and Always Crashing. He is also a playwright and his first play will be produced at the Tank Theater in Manhattan in February 2020. Brosnihan is a co-winner of the 2019 Yawp Poem of the Year award from Brooklyn Poets for the poem below.
This is Martha: she is the beginning. You know what she looks like. She was once beginning but that’s over and now she’s old. She is dying. Didn’t you hear? She’s dead. This is Maggie: Maggie’s a collage of people. People say she looks like people. This is Mauve: she’s a person. Isn’t she? This is Magatha: Yes, that is her real name. Magatha hates her real name. She wishes it were Margo. This is Margo: Margo is my friend. You can’t have her. This is Madeline: she loves her name. She sings it to herself. She is happy, most days. Aren’t you? This is Madison: She is reading a book. Under a sky. You heard me. A sky. This is Mackenzie: she is shy. It’s all right, Mackenzie. You can come out. As you can see, she is horribly disfigured, but she doesn’t mind that much, do you Mackenzie? Do you? This is Mary Jane: she goes to church every day and believes in God very much, so everyone, please keep all the funny business to a reasonable level. This is Masie: Masie hates reasonable levels. She makes fun of them at dinner parties. This is Marcia: she did not consent to having a name, but there it is. This is Matilda: she is perfect. This is Maxine: she is more perfect than Matilda. This is Marlene: she’s not perfect at all. This is Megan: Yes. That Megan. This is Melody: or is it? Wait, this is Melody. Trust me. This is Mimi: she’s an impostor. This is Misty: she is studying to be an astronaut. My money’s on Mars. You hear that, Misty? Mars. This is Mina: she wants to kill herself but who doesn’t these days? This is Millicent: she has never wanted to kill herself. Isn’t that nice. This is Monica: she is not afraid of talking about this or that. Go ahead. Try her. Ask her about anything. Ask her about death. Ask her about God. No, wait, that’s boring. Ask her about Morgan. This is Morgan:
This is Moog: she is listening. This is May: May’s the main character in my novel. Isn’t she pretty? This is Maude: she’s not pretty and she’s not the main character of anything. Poor Maude. She needs to take a shower. May, would you be a doll and help Maude find the shower? This is Melania: no, not that Melania. But close. This is Melissa: she has had an accident and she says she needs your help but don’t listen to her. She’s faking it. This is Mika: she’s from Europe. She knows French, and German, and Danish, and Italian, but sadly, no Greek. This is Meera: she knows so much Greek and she just killed Mika. This is Miley: she is the climax. She’s with the cops. Nobody move. She wants to know which one of you girls killed Mika. She has some questions. Everyone get up against the wall. It’s all right. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. This is Mercy: she says we all have something to fear. This is Mae: her biggest fear is nothing. As in, The Void. We all know what The Void is, right? This is Meadow: she is The Void and you are filling her up. This is Marilyn: I think she’s a stranger. What the fuck is a stranger doing here? Molly, get rid of her. This is Molly: she is my mother. This is Myfanwy: she is my Dad. This is Martha: she is not Martha. This isn’t Martha. This is Matilda: again, but this time, Matilda is our ending. Aren’t you, Matilda? No. This is Martha: She’s back from the dead. Matilda wasn’t cutting it, so now Martha has been kind enough to fill in. Thank you, Martha. Thank you. Seriously, Martha, that’s enough. Martha. Can you hear me? Martha, it’s me. Remember? Me. Martha, go home. Martha, it’s not funny any more. Seriously. Martha. Please. Martha. Why are you doing this? This is Martha: she is always doing this. This is Martha: she never ends
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I had just read Samuel Beckett’s trilogy of novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable. On YouTube, I saw this clip of Harold Pinter performing the last pages of The Unnameable and it blew my mind. He speaks in this urgent, unstoppable voice and I thought I’d try to write something in that kind of voice. I wrote the first line and then the rest came out in a flood.
What are you working on right now?
A few things all at once. A play that I wrote is being produced. It’s a farce called The Performance and it’ll be premiering at the Tank Theater in late February. I’m currently working on writing a new play. And of course I write poems whenever I feel inspired.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me requires two essential things: creativity and friendship. I like to get all my reading and writing done in the morning and then in the evenings I like to hang out with people I love. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my life if I get those two things done.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
My buddy Jared Friend and I are both from Nebraska and we decided to move out here together. I asked a friend in the city if she knew of any apartments for me to rent, and she suggested I have hers, since she was moving out. So we sort of lucked out and ended up in Brooklyn last July.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing?
I live in Bushwick by the Halsey J. It’s a very cozy neighborhood. People said New Yorkers don’t know their neighbors, but a few of mine are extraordinarily friendly. I like that it’s pretty quiet, has a neighborhood bar, art supply store, Little Skips and a great 24/7 bodega. I haven’t lived here long but my neighbor Mike told me the neighborhood has changed drastically over the last decade. “Like night and day,” he said.
How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
It’s very different from Nebraska. The number one thing is the people. I read somewhere Brooklyn was the most diverse city in the world and I believe it. Also, the amount of people. They are everywhere. And so many of them look so beautiful and cool. You see quite the range of humanity just going to the grocery store.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I went on this epic Brooklyn bike ride with my friends in the middle of fall. It was one of the last really warm days. Jared and I biked through Bed-Stuy and met up with two more friends at Prospect Park. We rode down the Ocean Parkway path all the way to Coney Island, where we walked the beach, the pier, and got hot dogs at Nathan’s. Then we rode along the bay on the Belt Parkway and through Canarsie and Brownsville back to Bushwick. We got to see so much of the city. It was great.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I think a community is as important as pen and paper for a writer. I was part of a weekly writers’ group for over six years in Nebraska. Being part of a group like that is very special. It’s important to have someone to hear your poems and give you feedback, but what’s more important is having people around who inspire you. Because it’s hard to write every day. Some days, or weeks, or months, you might not have it. But then one day Jared has a great day. Another day Margo has a great week. And then you find it again, and it’s your turn. I feel I am slowly finding that here, mostly at Brooklyn Poets. You are a great bunch of poets and are so welcoming.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Walt Whitman, for one. Biggie Smalls, for another. Arthur Russell, a third. I don’t think they are necessarily “Brooklyn,” but the New York School poets are amazing. Ashbery, O’Hara, Ted Berrigan and Bernadette Mayer especially.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My mentors were other poets in Lincoln, NE. This poet named Paul Hanson Clark especially. He led the writers’ group for many years. He is unceasingly supportive of other people’s art, prolific in his own, has a heart as big as a killer whale and an imagination as massive as Everest. He is a great poet and he taught me many things about being a poet and how to foster a creative community.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
This poem called “Six Obits” by Victoria Chang really blew my mind. The form I found fascinating, but the grief was almost unbearable. The style was seductive, but the content was so sad. My favorite book I read in 2019 was The Angel of History by Carolyn Forché. Trying to address the horrors of the twentieth century is an almost impossible task, but she did it. That book is a sublime, beautiful, monumental achievement. I’m currently reading Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford and it’s quite good.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
The answer to the question is enormous, but I’m especially upset I still haven’t read The Bridge by Hart Crane, and the poems of Anne Sexton, John Giorno, Alice Notley. Also Dickens, Don Quixote, Maggie Nelson. Also Madame Bovary, and Crime and Punishment, and Wordsworth’s The Prelude. Also Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the stories of Grace Paley, and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. And it might be crazy, but I still feel I should read Finnegans Wake, just to do it.
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 tend to read one book at a time, but often I’ll read fiction and poetry simultaneously. I read nearly everything cover to cover. I try to plan what book I’ll read next, but often new ones catch my interest and my plans drift. I prefer physical books because I think they are beautiful objects. I am not a note-taker, but I am an underliner. I like to flip through old books I read and see the bits that stood out to me. I try to read a book a week. It’s nice having all the time commuting on the train to read.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Honestly, I would like to write a poem about sex and desire. This is still sort of a taboo subject in many ways, and I’ve always been too scared or clueless to address it. It’s a huge subject and it’d be so easy to do wrong. But someday I’ll try my hand at it.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I do most of my reading at home and at my desk. I work in a coffee shop so I don’t spend much time outside of work in coffee shops. When I’m in the city I like to read in the libraries. There’s one next to my work I go to, and then I also enjoy the reading room at the library in Bryant Park.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love the rooftops of people’s apartments. It feels great to be on top of the city, seeing all the people and cars scurrying around. I’m also a big fan of Prospect Park. So many trees to lie down under to doze. So many winding dirt paths. When it’s warm, I like to go there on my days off.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate Walt Whitman,
And what I shall yawp you shall yawp,
For every poem written by him as good belongs to you and me.
It’s where the poets are.