Poet Of The Week

Madeleine Barnes

     April 14–20, 2014

Madeleine Barnes grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program with concentrations in creative writing and fine arts in 2012. In 2013, she earned a Masters of Philosophy in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. She is currently in the MFA program at New York University. Her poems have appeared in Pleiades, The Rattling Wall, Loyalhanna Review, Three Rivers Review, Allegheny Review, Pittsburgh City Paper and The Oakland Review. Her chapbook, The Mark My Body Draws in Light, was published by Finishing Line Press this year, and she was named an emerging writer by the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series. She lives in Brooklyn.

Remembering What The Body Is

You are speaking with your fingertips into an aperture,
lean arms burnt, ventricles wired to flowering strings
of shaved-down air and flattening sparks: this is the bed
at eight a.m., nine a.m., your body remembering what
the body is, a torn-up experiment, anatomical fragments.

Vomit afterwards because the mouth must open darkly.
With hospital curtain drawn, I record your intake.
It must be a pill, a precisely yellow pill, a ghost-swallowed pill,
a pill of acid rain to crush and drink before bed, a fluorescent pill,
five hundred pills suspended in the esophagus, iron and ink,

crushed along the jaw becoming wax, a terrain, a tundra,
an artful and elegant pill, a chord of pills in a tiny cup,
your brain smothered in antiseptic pills, take five,
five hundred, take without food, without help, without
burnt white tea vitamin water, a very unfeeling

and blood-stained pill. You’re safer and closer,
you’re safe, there is nothing but corridors of pills
and gowns sewed up with pills and water and waiting
for a cloud to assemble, a pill that blooms
and embalms, floods the tongue with its weight.

—From The Mark My Body Draws in Light, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I wrote this poem shortly after my grandfather passed away, and while it’s not directly about him, I was experiencing a deep sense of urgency in relation to medicine and illness that pushed this poem into being. I wrote its first draft very quickly the night that he died, and it has since been through seven or eight revisions. At that time, I had been working on poems that responded to art exhibitions dealing with the human body, and I wanted to explore issues of provenance, identity, ownership and appropriation. These ideas also gave momentum and focused energy to the creation of this poem.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on poems that are inspired by a class I am taking at NYU with Anne Carson and her partner Bob Currie called Homercircus in which we examine the Iliad of Homer and 20th century sound-text poetry. Ever since studying Homer I have become very obsessed with armor, war, ideas of defending/revealing yourself, death, honor, and the technicalities and possibilities of designing modern armor. As the class with Carson also examines sound text poetry, I have been making a lot of scores and sound pieces that accompany various poems or function as poems themselves. The area where poetry overlaps with electronic music is insanely fascinating to me.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me is one that involves both productivity and adventure. It probably also involves coffee, wine, whiskey, ice cream, dancing, hanging out with friends and family, some sort of high speed transit, music, noticing a strange or beautiful object/moment, reading something awesome, drawing a picture or printmaking, laughing really hard, getting or sending a letter, running past my limit, camping, surprising someone, being surprised, writing or making something without inhibition, costumes, glitter, seeing someone do something with passion, having a true and deep conversation, learning or teaching something and/or feeling gratitude for my life and how everything has unfolded so far.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I moved to Brooklyn from Harlem five months ago. I now live in Prospect Heights and have become obsessed with an ice cream shop called Ample Hills, which is actually named after a line from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”: “I too lived—Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine.” Their ice cream is seriously addictive, and it is one of the happiest places I know. I love everything about my neighborhood—the Barclays Center looks like a space shuttle, and I can run through Prospect Park, eat ramen or peruse bookshops. The Brooklyn Fire Department is also right across the street, which has been highly entertaining. I am used to hearing sirens all the time. Boredom does not really exist here.

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

One night, when I was walking home from class with a huge bouquet of flowers I’d bought earlier that day, I found a broken trophy on the street near my house. It was shiny, blue-gold, and about three feet tall. Someone was throwing it away and I was so taken with it I picked it up and carried it to my apartment. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the trophy but I wanted to document it and/or prank my housemates and didn’t think that anyone was going to question it—but for some reason the people who live on the first floor of our building were hanging out in the hallway and saw me struggling to get it and the bouquet through the front door! They got really excited and wanted to help me carry it upstairs … Until they realized that it was not actually my trophy. I didn’t know how to explain myself so I didn’t. It stayed in the foyer for a few days and I don’t know what happened to it.

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

Whitman, which is an obvious answer, but I have always wondered what it would be like to hang out with him and have long admired his wandering, free and loving approach to poetry and people. I also admire Bianca Stone’s poetry and artwork.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Unnameable Books and Greenlight Bookstore! They saved me during the polar vortex.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

The rooftop of our apartment is one of my favorite places to read and write but I have rarely been able to hang out up there. It looks out over the Barclays Center and there is often something bizarre and amusing going on in the street below. It is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been.

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

I love going to BAM to catch a film or performance.

I also love Prospect Park, Hungry Ghost and wandering around Greenpoint.

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

The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, a collection of letters between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright, edited by Anne Wright; Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion; Red Doc> by Anne Carson; Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker; A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet by Eavan Boland.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

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

I celebrate your face, and what I find in you should survive, for every winter so much can be lost, scattered and separated, blown loose by semesters and separate destinations, ceremonies beyond the extraordinary expanse of America. I carry you with me. I carry brilliant snapshots of your delicate face that don’t die, aerograms of what is familiar, and possible. I carry them with me as good reminders of your continual presence, and lift happiness from the surprise of these living, recognizable expressions of you.

Why Brooklyn?

You just go out into the street and look around for a few minutes and there are ten things to write about. It has an overwhelming energy that you can harness if you are in a curious mood. There are so many people to talk to, so many stories to gather, and so many opportunities to transcend what is ordinary and familiar to your poetic universe.