September 3–9, 2018
Laurie Goodwoman is a Brooklyn-based hapa poet, playwright and theatre-maker from Southern California. She is a member of the third cohort of the #BARS Workshop at the Public Theater, and her play Sansei was a finalist for Pipeline Theatre Company’s 2017 PlayLab. Goodwoman has also worked with the Play Company and New Georges since graduating from UCLA in 2016 with a degree in gender studies and theater. This past summer, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Cynthia Cruz’s The Archive as Resistance workshop.
Can u talk?
Yesterday / Can u talk? / were three words my parents would text me when they wanted to ask me about my day / I would try to placate their fears / Minimize the alarming nature of the crazy woman who lived downstairs / who periodically enjoyed pounding on her ceiling / My floor / Yelling in incoherent tongues foreign to my simple ears / She just wants me to know she’s there / I say / She is welcoming me to my new home. / Today, Can u talk? / Is my heart clawing its way up my esophagus / Can u talk? / Is my pulse ringing in my ears / But not loud enough to drown out the / Your brother has leukemia / Navigating its way through my phone / Can u talk? / No I cannot / I’ll have to call you back / The crazy woman downstairs is yelling and I finally understand what she has been saying / I cannot talk / I can only scream / Pound on my floor as she bangs on her ceiling / Each impact chipping away the thin layer of wood and cement that separates our pain / My phone rings / they try to placate fears / Percentages / Studies / Treatments / their voices meet unhearing ears / bounce back to closed mouths / not wanting to swallow back the taste of their own vomit / Can u talk? / Yesterday my brother was in the seventh grade, in the backseat while my mother asked me what I did at school today my brother has cancer. / Today I cry in a language I did not know I could speak / Tonight, the woman downstairs is quiet / I lay my head against hardwood floors / willing for only a pin to drop.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Long story short, two years ago I moved to the city to pursue a career in the arts; two weeks after that big move, my brother was diagnosed with leukemia. I was alone, unsure if I should move back to California to support my family, unsure if spending my savings in pursuit of my—what some would call “frivolous”—dream was smart, or justified, or appropriate given what was happening back home. I wanted to go back, but both my brother and my parents urged me to stick it out, because ultimately, I would be just as useful here as I would be there. There is a certain type of insanity that accompanies watching a family member get sick. This poem was my way of dealing with that insanity.
Incidentally, my brother is about to enter his third year of chemo and is (technically) in remission! He went to Disneyland two days ago, so I assume he’s feeling pretty good. As for the lady who used to bang on her ceiling—I have no idea. I moved out of that apartment shortly after writing that piece, but I hope she found some peace of her own.
What are you working on right now?
Last year, my grandmother passed away. She only spoke Japanese, and I only speak English, so our relationship was interesting to say the least (lots of miming was involved). When she passed, my family and I found hundreds of letters written between her and my grandfather back before she had moved to the States from Japan. I have become fascinated with these letters, mostly because they are written entirely in Japanese and I have no idea what they say.
Right now, I am trying to write a piece based on these letters about the intersections of language, communication and understanding. Even though my grandmother and I did not speak the same language, we always made an effort to communicate with each other, and that spoke more to our relationship than any of the words we actually exchanged. At the same time, I know the relationship between my mother and my grandmother was probably not as open. Even though they could speak the same language, there were cultural barriers that kept them from fully connecting. I want to investigate why we confide in those who we know will never understand us, and what that says about both speaker and listener.
What’s a good day for you?
Sleeping in, blueberry pancakes, creating with friends, in bed by eleven.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
On a larger scale, I came here to pursue a career as a theater artist. On a more technical level, I was brought here by the end of a sublet, a post on an NYC housing Facebook page, and most likely fate.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I have lived in Prospect Heights since November of 2016. It’s close enough to everything I need, yet far enough from the city that I can get some writing done on the train. I am ten minutes from the Brooklyn Museum, and twenty from the park. I acknowledge that I am part of the change happening in this neighborhood, so I am just thankful that this community has been so generous and opened its arms to me. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
One day while I was writing on the train, I was working on this play that had a suicidal character in it. I was writing one of her big monologues which was, let’s just say, not very chipper, when the train pulls up to a stop, and the man next to me gets up to leave. But before he does, he puts his hand on my notebook, gives me direct eye contact, nods, then leaves. Only after the doors closed did I realize that this man must have seen what I was writing and thought I was suicidal.
Most people from my hometown say New Yorkers seem cold or mean, but I always bring up this story as a rebuttal. He made sure I knew at least one person saw me.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Poetry was my first introduction into the world of writing and performance. Before I ever wrote, I would watch poets read online and fell in love with the medium. The fact that I now get to call these poets that I have admired for years my peers continues to be mind-boggling for me. A community in any sense is important, but a poetry community is one that allows you to share parts of yourself without fear of judgement.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Not necessarily Brooklyn native, but Audre Lorde is my poetry idol. This quote of hers from her essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” has always stood out to me:
Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
—Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press, 1984.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My first introduction into poetry came from Sarah Kay, while I was in high school. I’d go down YouTube rabbit holes of her poetry, but never thought to write any myself. Fast forward a few years; while in a dark period in my life, I sent her an email through her website out of the blue, never expecting her to respond, and yet she did. Thanks to her, I felt heard, and seen, and two years later I performed my poetry for her at the #BARS Workshop at the Public Theater. And against all odds, today, I’m honored to call her a friend.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s newest book, How to Love the Empty Air, is so raw and real and any words I say about it will fail in comparison; just go read it.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I’ve been saying this for the past year, so hopefully this will hold me accountable.
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 rarely go into reading something with a plan. Do other people read with plans? Am I doing it wrong??
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’ve been wanting to experiment with more constrained poetic writing styles, like lipograms or palindromes.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Weirdly, I do most of my writing on the subway. There’s nothing like being trapped underground in a giant, wifi-less metal tube to make you focus purely on pen and paper.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum fountains, R&D Foods on Vanderbilt Ave (hi Sarah), Sunshine Laundromat in Greenpoint, JACK in Clinton Hill.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the cracks,
And what I sigh you kiss,
For every flat of me as good to sharpen you.
The city is better from here.