Poet Of The Week

Lizzie Harris

     June 9–15, 2014

Lizzie Harris’s debut collection is Stop Wanting (CSU Poetry Center, 2014). Her poems appear in All Hollow, Barrow Street, The Carolina Quarterly, Painted Bride Quarterly, Phantom Limb, Sixth Finch and VICE.com. Harris received her MFA from New York University, where she taught creative writing and led a workshop for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was born in southern Arizona, raised in Pennsylvania and currently resides in Brooklyn, where she’s a poetry editor for Bodega Magazine.

White Loss of Forgetting

            I remember the touching
was softer than I wanted
and after          I wanted things quiet
because I didn’t trust the skin
that skinned my little body     I don’t want to be vague

he had my body run the water
he took my body for a carpet
he took my body from men
            I would one day want to love me
I don’t want to be vague

My mother took my body to the doctor
                                                                           she said I was infected
                                                                           from sitting in the bathtub
but it makes a kind of after-sense
because             I was tired
of that shower reassembling my body
in steam            I had never before
seen my father in water                   
     so perhaps
he mistook me for a spout
with a head that clicks to expose
infinite pressure          I don’t want to be vague

awful things happened
the worst sinks beneath
my eye                until I can only see
my crown           I only see

my father coaxing
at the spout     but my body is small
and then it all gets

lower                  and then I swear
he pulls a red thread
from my middle          and I’m so low now
I see myself from the nosebleeds
see sky like a bed          to hide beneath
                         believe me

–From Stop Wanting, CSU Poetry Center, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This was the last poem I wrote for Stop Wanting. I’d just come out of the MFA, where I was so nervous that my poems made people in workshop uncomfortable. They did. Usually those uncomfortable people were in two camps: half gave no critical feedback, but scrawled “so brave” or “thanks for sharing” across the header, and the other half just wanted me to be less explicit. Really, I wrote this poem for Andrew Eisenman. He was the first person to ask me to be less vague, more explicit.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a series that’s a product of my growing obsession with the Chauvet cave paintings in southern France. There’s a 5,000-year lapse between when the drawings were started and finished. It’s unbelievable to think about that interaction, to think about the thinness of prehistoric time. Now, we memorialize every detail of our lives, regardless of its significance to other people. It’s almost post-historic. So I’m trying to write directive, post-historic cave painting poems. Really spare, but exact. I’m fully aware of how bonkers “post-historic cave painting poems” sounds.

What’s a good day for you?

Any day where I read something, write something, spend time outside and eat something delicious.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

I moved to Prospect Heights in July 2010. Now I live on this weird little block sandwiched between Boerum Hill and Gowanus. Neither neighborhood has really claimed it, but it’s a lovely block.

What do you like most about it?

I’m close to a lot of stuff, but remote enough that I don’t always feel the need to go out. My roommates and I have our go-to places that aren’t too busy.

My favorite thing is living in walking distance to the movies (BAM, Cobble Hill Cinemas). I absolutely love going to the movies. For me, it’s the ultimate convenience. My 10-year-old self would think that ruled.

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

It’s got to be moving here. I walked door to door to all the businesses on Washington Avenue asking for a job until the owner of a diner hired me on the spot. I lived right across from Prospect Park and spent all my free time reading or eating or napping in the park. I felt very independent. I think Brooklyn is one of the best places in the world to do things by yourself.

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

There are too many great poets living in Brooklyn to name. I’ll refine the question to “Who are your favorite poets to workshop with in Brooklyn?” To which I’ll answer: Amy Meng, Morgan Parker, Cat Richardson, Abba Belgrave and Jenny Xie.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Unnameable Books and Terrace Books.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn?

Court Street Grocers is the best for weekday writing. The tables are big, the music volume is acceptable, and there are usually only a few babies (literal babies, not a cool greaser word for people) in there at a time. I also love working at Sit and Wonder on Washington. They have nice outdoor tables and these brie and apple sandwiches that make me inexplicably productive. Cobble Hill Park is the best for reading because the people-to-bench ratio is always perfect.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn Museum, Brighton Beach, Van Brunt St.

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

I just finished In Cold Blood. I begged every person I know to read it because for a solid week it was all I wanted to talk about.

Poem-wise, Hafizah Geter’s 5 poems that just came out in Narrative were unbelievably, maddeningly good. Kelly Forsythe’s digital chapbook, HELIX—her language is insanely fresh. The poems are somehow both otherworldly and, for me, deeply rooted in girlhood. Also, my CSU pressmates’ books—Chloe Honum’s The Tulip-Flame and Lesle Lewis’ A Boot’s a Boot—are both so wonderful.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate __________,
And what I ________ you should ________,
For every ____________ me as good ___________ you.

I celebrate
         what I                           should
       every                                         good

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 pass the store where Biggie
bagged groceries and wonder what will rob
me of my slight utility—a grandfather
clock hissing open.
I raise this vanity like a jack
under my stomach. In Brooklyn
I live like a dodger
of perspective. I love
the distance for how it moves in.

Why Brooklyn?