March 14–20, 2022
Madeline Augusta Turner prefers to be covered in glitter. Her writing, research and work are centered around soil, love in the face of apocalypse, and place-based healing. She serves as a prose editor for Hecate and her work appears in or is forthcoming from Broken Sleep Books, DEAR Poetry Journal, Rejection Letters and elsewhere. Though she is currently living in Northampton, Massachusetts, Madeline’s heart is always somewhere at the intersection of industrial decay and endless cornfields. She was a 2021 recipient of Smith College’s Elizabeth Babcock Poetry Prize and was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last summer for study in Rosebud Ben-Oni’s Those Days of Being Wild workshop.
four months after robert smithson installs partially buried woodshed on kent state university’s campus, the national guard kills four students. fifty years later, my father cries about it at his kitchen table and i watch
an ekphrastic after the titular piece
someone is digging. someone is angry. someone in ohio buried a woodshed under twenty-two
truckloads of earth. an artist. my father stands next to it. says, “can you hold me,” and I hold him.
he who taught me that the dirt I touch with my hands (or grow something in, make something
from) is the same dirt I will always become,
he who is entropy. a woodshed pressed under earth and love and love until it too becomes
entropy. he who is entropy. he who is dirt. he who threatens to kill himself in the barn, threatens
to be the best father I’ll ever have. he who sets the woodshed on fire and asks forgiveness
through anxious permanence. which can only be entropy,
which is ruin. the farmhouse we lived in alone. he who is rocky glacial till. the terrain that crushes
us. ohio is colder than you’d expect and day-old coffee stale, a daffodil blooming
against daffodil dying while a young soldier aims at a younger back. does our history happen to us
or do we happen to it? when we crack is it light that gets in or is it
just more soil, of that life that comes from war against ourselves, finding equilibrium in decay.
darker, lighter. bigger than me or an artist or a dead college student. order to something more
sacred. divine chaos as an end no matter what happens to get us there. but somehow we’re stuck
here. it’s this dirt that made me. and the woodshed is infinity.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
To me, the stories of the places we live are vital parts of the stories of ourselves. When the poet Ellen Doré Watson prompted me in the first workshop I ever took to write an ekphrastic poem, I knew it had to be about home. I am by nature intimately familiar with ekphrasis—my father, whom this poem is in part a love letter to, is a ceramics artist and farmer, meaning I grew to see the world through art and to see art as inseparable from the natural, tangible things that it is made from.
Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed seemed to ask me to hold origin, composition and decay simultaneously. The way I understand contradicting realities best is through soil, a venue where life blooms from death. In this poem I tried to recreate and illustrate a small, “physical” landscape where internal and external transformations co-constitute personal and collective identity at a particular moment in time. Where I am from in rural Ohio is somewhere extraction, economic depression and environmental degradation collide to produce a place that can sometimes be really heartbreaking to love. This poem is accordingly also a love letter to a landscape where trauma can be found laced in the dirt, trauma that still impacts the people who live within it.
What are you working on right now?
Right now and always I’m working on being a better friend, wearing more rhinestones and staying alive! Writing is generally a great tool to do this, so I’m looking forward to collaborating with folks and writing with community-building in mind in addition to building my body of work. Many of my daily hyperfixations right now take me away from poetry and towards understanding and addressing the harm caused by the food and agriculture system in the US, stemming from my work to support campaigns within the food justice movement. Asking for help is also a growing edge.
What’s a good day for you?
Hanging on the wall of my bedroom is a list of some (occasionally updated) “gentle daily goals” I have. The concept behind the list is that if I do any of the things on it my day will be a day well-lived, a practice which has massively helped me ground myself. They’re lil’ things that I love like dancing, playing outside and making food with my friends. Every day, I try to tell the people I love that I love them.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
I’m a big believer in the idea that home is where the heart is! And I feel so lucky that my heart has found so many places to land with so many people to hold it. Right now I have roots in Northampton, Massachusetts—I came here as a student at Smith College and graduated last spring, learning the area slowly but with as much intention as I can. Something I really value is engaging in a reciprocal relationship with the places I live and I love to be a townie everywhere. I stuck around post-grad to work at a historic New England diner and with some super-rad community food justice projects, but I now work remotely with a DC-based food policy coalition. Sometimes Northampton feels like a glitchy portal to an alternate dimension, but I’m loving it for its abundance of queer community, funky craft beer and quirky, even if surreal, beauty. It is a safe and necessary place for many of my friends.
Nothing compares to rural Northeast Ohio, though. Nothing even comes close to the magic of the industrial decay and backroads and cornfields that raised me or the rubber and steel cities I love. I’m always gonna be a farm kid at heart. My friends here don’t understand why I won’t shut up about the Cleveland Browns, but I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lived there could possibly understand.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Ah, I spent the New Year’s that brought in 2020 all wrapped up in Brooklyn! I took the train from Ohio to sleep on my then-girlfriend’s sister’s couch in Bushwick for a week and it was my first substantial stay in the city. I remember wearing neon green and purple and making a group of guys from Delaware (or somewhere?) dance with me in a tiki bar as the ball dropped. I remember my friends from all over the Northeast flocking in to celebrate each other. I remember feeling that kind of awe a kid from the Midwest almost necessarily has when they realize that anything could possibly be so big. I am actually quite attached to Brooklyn as a place and as a moment, as my time there was one of the last I can look back to and imagine what my early twenties might have felt like under a different kind of apocalypse.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
I owe everything I write to my friends and community because my writing wouldn’t exist without them. As I see it, community is fundamentally about cultivating abundance. I’m always writing in conversation with something or someone. To that end, I’m working on expanding my conceptualization of community to include the more-than-physical spaces where poetry happens. Like, I love the poems that are written over text messages and in my DMs. I’m still in touch with people from the Zoom workshop I took with y’all even though I’ve never physically met them. And the indie lit world is super cool! People everywhere are writing such cool things! I learn so much from TikTok and social media feeds!
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Emma Lazarus taught me a lot about my Jewish identity. Eileen Myles’s poem “Peanut Butter” is what pushed me over the edge into believing that I am allowed to write and write and write. But maybe most importantly, Dorothea Lasky’s work with Astro Poets has made me laugh and strengthened my ability to tear apart any future love interest’s birth chart. Which is a really, really important skill.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Mentorship means a bunch of different things to me! There are so many people across the board whom I have learned poetry from. I will be forever grateful to Ellen Doré Watson for introducing me to craft, critique, and some wonderful student poets. Rosebud Ben-Oni’s workshop at Brooklyn Poets solidified the importance of pop music and the sublime in my work, infinitely transforming my approach to writing about love and trauma. My advisor in anthropology, Colin Hoag, helped me see that a line of academic writing deserves the same amount of attention, style and internal tension that I would give to a line of poetry, making my approach and feelings about each kind of writing almost the same. I also owe an unhinged amount of gratitude to the musicians in my life (we somehow always have something to talk about) and the musicians I love to listen to—I learn a lot from music because I can’t make it with words. But again, I learn best in relation to others—I’m grateful for the intense and cosmic talent of my friends Maeve Orlowski-Scherer, L Gagne, Mika Yassur and so many others. I learn from and love you daily.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
There was a fun forty-eight-hour period earlier this year where multiple people in my life recommended surrealist and absurd children’s books to me—they’re so pretty! Carson Ellis’s In the Half Room challenged my wholeness. Remy Charlip’s Arm in Arm might be one of my new favorite books of all time and cemented my wholeness. When it comes to poetry, I absolutely devoured Franny Choi’s Soft Science while staying in Chicago with a best friend a few weeks ago. It was one of those reads whose timing is unbelievably, incomprehensibly perfect. It made me laugh and ache and write. From that book, “Introduction to Quantum Theory” reminded me how to engage with other worlds, and I loved “Turing Test” for its form, visceral hit, marriage of tangibility and myth, and reminder that my cyborg body is maybe made of mud.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Years might have to be a subjective term for me! I’ve been staring at Fred Moten’s poetry book The Little Edges, which has been on my shelf for a while and highly recommended by the sweethearts at my favorite local anti-fascist bookstore. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor has been on my list for a while because my best friend L won’t stop talking about it and it looks irresistible. People keep telling me how great Infinite Jest is, but I haven’t gotten through it yet.
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 am an exhaustingly chaotic reader. At any given moment, I’m probably involved with around seven books, all of which immediately become journals as well because I can’t read without a pen in hand. There are so many things to love and say about the things people create. All of the books I read are full of me, too—the back covers of the things I’m working through are filled with poem starts and reminders. Reading for me is necessarily also writing. Almost everything I read is recommended to me! I am prone to picking books up and putting them down and starting and stopping and forgetting and finding until the time is right for that book and I to find each other.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Something with a lot of rules or structure. I am really bad at rules and structure and have not yet wanted to be good.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I write a lot in my car, mostly while driving but also sometimes when sitting too long in parking lots or in those weird moments of transition when there is somewhere I could be but am not quite there or don’t have to be yet. The silly things I dictate into my phone or record in Voice Memos become my favorite poems, as do the snippets of poems that pop up in my Notes app at dive bars or at the twenty-four-hour diner off I-91 in Whately, Massachusetts. Coffee shops are cool too but they have to be really loud and I have to be surrounded by people. Anywhere I can listen to hyperpop LOUDLY and then VERY quietly is also cool. The front porch of my mother’s house, or wherever my sister and brother are, allows me to understand things differently. And really any bed, anywhere, as long as it is next to a window, is the ideal space to read or write.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
My time in Brooklyn is sadly limited, but I have fond memories of sleeping on couches, of Mood Ring for its cosmic and feral intimacy, the dirty hostel where I made dinner for six with no kitchen utensils barring a really dull knife and a frying pan, the bars that accepted a fake ID that said I was a 5’10” brunette from Idaho, subway rats, and wherever my friends have felt and loved.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate your rotting compost,
And what I decay into you spread as seeds,
For every new place I land dissolves me as good as the body of you.
Why not? I’m always down for a good time. It’s so full of heart. And I’m sure the food is even better than I remember.