January 16–22, 2023
Madeline Phillips (she/her) is an actress, poet and fine-art model who overdresses for every occasion. At Brooklyn Poets, she has won Yawp Poem of the Month twice, and most recently tied for runner-up in the 2022 Yawp Poem of the Year contest with the poem below. Her work has been published in Battery Journal’s Uni-Verse Poetry – Prints – Proofs by Visionary Humans, the Marymount Review, Poetry Nook and Distance Yearning, an online quaranzine, for which she has also guest-edited. She has several Instagram accounts, but maybe start with @reign_of_madeline. This month, Phillips will read in the Splash series at Spoonbill & Sugartown Books on January 22 and be a featured poet along with Karl Michael Iglesias at the Brooklyn Poets Friday Night Open on January 27.
The Night My Dog Mazy’s Appetite Came Back
I ordered three cheeseburgers from McDonald’s the cashier’s voice cracked welcome back before taking my order how did he know I hadn’t been home in years missed the bus to Massachusetts almost didn’t make it back in time to buy her dinner My dog sits in plastic somewhere inside my parents’ house she could be buried under a pile of cookbooks and car parts or hiding in one of the backyard Volkswagens we napped in the blue ’67 when we were small her head on my chest both snapped at anyone who tried to brush our hair I miss the living loam of her rain dandruff dirt her breath in my face fresh grass plaque masking tape I chose her from a trailer park in West Virginia somehow we have the same nose the one she sticks through the hole in mom’s garden fence our little fox mom feeds her fresh picked sugar snap peas the same ones dad is too sad to eat on our bike ride in Truro this summer they make him think of her when I left dad wore sunglasses disguised his crying as laughter I pretended to get the joke everything made him laugh that day Mazy barks at me to stop crying she barks and barks I cannot stop once a month I wake up this recurring dream she visits and I forget to feed her or take her out for days imagine a whole weekend in New York City without dinner or sightseeing that pimpled oracle no longer works at McDonald’s none of us know where my dog’s ashes are but tufts of her hang out in the unswept corners of my parents’ house the cobwebs they never clear away the birds’ nest inside their AC unit her DNA still floats in mom’s jar of bloated ticks in soap what is she saving that for I stay in hotel rooms over holidays call home less and less forget not to ask how’s Mazy consider having a child even though all my plants are dead look she is two running away from me dodging cars down the street she will come back if she thinks she’s chasing me I sing to her a song for everything one for peeing in the moonlight one in praise of her tummy its pinkness one for when I cannot find her and it’s dark it’s just her name over and over again
Tell us about the making of this poem.
“The Night My Dog Mazy’s Appetite Came Back” came out of “The Lying Room,” a Brooklyn Poets workshop led by Carlie Hoffman, which explored how poets alter details to tell the truth better. The second week, we read “As Long as She Likes” by Ellen Bass. Taking inspiration from Bass, Carlie’s prompt asked us to conjure someone we missed in a poem. My family dog Mazy lived for seventeen years and was basically my sister (I’m an only child). For reasons I may reveal in future poems, my relationship to my childhood home has grown increasingly fraught the longer I’ve lived away from it. When we were forced to put Mazy to sleep in 2018, my parents and I were able to come together emotionally for the first time in years, which felt very healing. I feel our relationship is the healthiest it’s ever been now, and yet, the boundaries that have improved our connection since Mazy’s death have also created a nuanced distance. I feel very vulnerable sharing this poem because it’s the first time I’ve articulated the grief I feel around my sense of home and family in my work. When I shared this poem with my partner, he said, “I like how at a certain point the poem isn’t about Mazy anymore,” and in a way he’s right, because my attempt to conjure Mazy depicts her as the center of my family’s bond and hints at how her loss has altered it. She’s like the glue in the collage. My writing process is very similar to collage, actually. The visual form feels as vital as the content because the way they layer together informs how the poem is read aloud. I use negative space and specific line breaks to create breaths and pauses that build on the rhythm of the words. The above poem is presented in a dynamic field where the original caesuras are condensed and some of the line breaks may vary, but the overall look is preserved. I’m thankful to my workshop cohort, whose feedback helped me get out of my own way and allow the images to speak for themselves!
What are you working on right now?
Creating a sustainable writing practice. A first draft of a poem about love and eggs that heavily quotes the grandmother of the family I nanny for, and a revised draft of a poem about a human woman living with the nervous system of a small prey animal. The latter builds on a recurring theme of transmitting my day-to-day experience as a neurodivergent person in my writing. I want readers to experience the world the way I do when they’re inside my poems, regardless of who the speaker is. I think my recent and emerging work may be coalescing into a chapbook, which feels very exciting, though I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself with that possibility.
What’s a good day for you?
A day that feels balanced and where I am free to prioritize play! I wake up without an alarm, but still early, and feel rested. I have an easy, cozy morning with cuddles, coffee, contemplation, conversation, and a breakfast that centers around eggs and potatoes, preferably made by someone else. I do the Wordle. I read a poem. I eat lots of fruit. I connect to my body through some form of joyful movement, remember to write down any creative thoughts I have before I forget them, feel curious about my surroundings, interact with stories in a meaningful way, walk a lot, spend some time in nature, grab some type of espresso drink. There are no serious demands on my time, and yet I have something to look forward to later, like a date, quality time with a friend, or a performance. I get to dress up, eat well, be social, talk to interesting strangers and somehow manage to head home by 10 PM. Oh, and I forget to check my phone for hours because I’m enjoying where I am, who I’m with and what I’m doing.
What brought you to New York?
I moved here to study acting at Marymount Manhattan College in 2010. I almost left in 2018 because my partner at the time, who had previously lived here with me for a year, abruptly moved to Providence and wanted me to move in with him there. I’m so glad I changed my mind! I’m like, never leaving the tri-state area … unless it’s for Paris, le sigh.
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?
Washington Heights! I’ve lived here for nearly eight years. I like its proximity to green and historical spaces. The Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park, the Heather Garden and Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, and the Morris-Jumel Mansion are my favorite places to walk to. There are also gargoyles and rows of houses that look like Dutch castles! I have some lines in a notebook about how you haven’t lived until you’ve walked through Washington Heights at golden hour. As far as changes go, a lot of businesses on Broadway have closed in the last few years due to the rent skyrocketing, most notably the restaurant Coogan’s, even after Lin-Manuel Miranda had previously tried to save it. I’m seeing more chain restaurants pop up, and some storefronts are still empty, including what used to be the huge Gristedes by me that closed during the height of the pandemic. Compared to other places I’ve lived, the family party game is unparalleled in the Heights. I’ve seen some very impressive hot food and music setups in my local parks. They really transform in the evening! There are fireworks all year round and, in the summer, fire hydrants are sprinklers and sidewalks are front porches. It’s my favorite place I’ve lived in New York because, for me, it really hits the sweet spot between lively and quiet, and it’s remarkable how many places there are up here that make you feel like you’re not living in a city.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Brooklyn feels like someone I had a huge crush on in my twenties, but nothing happened, and we became really good friends, and like, we still value that connection, but now our schedules are so crazy and it’s just hard to prioritize time for each other on a regular basis, but when we do reconnect, it’s just like old times, you know? I cat-sat in a one-bedroom on Bedford Ave for two weeks right out of college and enjoyed cosplaying as someone who could afford to live in Williamsburg. The apartment had a scratched-up antique couch, no bathroom sink, and a door that would sometimes fall off the hinges; it all felt very romantic to me. I used to throw pottery at Choplet, a ceramic studio not too far from there. The first time I went to Green-Wood Cemetery, I got locked in because a creepy photographer was monopolizing my time; he found some questionable cardboard, put it over the spikes on top of the fence, and I climbed out, in a dress, with the help of him and a kind passerby … all while suppressing mounting panic. I have spent one too many nights in Brooklyn with men who did not appreciate me, but now I have regular platonic sleepovers in Bed-Stuy with a friend I cherish who often makes me breakfast the next day. I’ve been to the Coney Island Sideshow. I greeted my partner in Prospect Park after he ran the Brooklyn Marathon last year. I’ve watched many episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race at Metropolitan Bar. I’ve posed nude for artists all over the borough. I danced in a Williamsburg laundromat and outside Kellogg’s Diner in the middle of the night last summer while making a guerilla music video with a friend who wanted to test out her new camera. So yeah, old friends, but I just don’t think we should move in together or anything.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I see poetry community as accessible spaces, whether physical or virtual, where people who notice things gather to give, receive and celebrate poetry freely. I feel I’ve found it in Brooklyn, on Instagram, and in friendships, because those are all places where I’ve encountered people who will literally cry over poetry, but I haven’t found one in Manhattan yet, so I am very open to recommendations!
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Kim Addonizio and Ocean Vuong are two poets that I keep returning to (I love hearing Ocean read; he speaks like he’s weaving the most delicate spiderweb).
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I don’t remember the name of my fifth-grade teacher, but I do remember she read aloud to the class a poem I wrote and then said, “I feel like I’m floating on a cloud,” so that positive affirmation stuck. Rivka Eckert co-ran drama club at my high school and taught English there as well. She was primarily a theater mentor for me, but she hosted the first poetry open mic I ever attended! We’ve kept in touch; she’s now a university theater educator who frequently teaches theater in prisons. We had a cool full-circle moment last year when she asked me who my favorite sexy poets were because she was asked to read sensual poetry at an upcoming event. She ended up writing her own sensual poems and read them while holding her new baby, because she’s a badass, and she continues to inspire me as an artist mom, something I’d like to be someday. Robin Beth Schaer taught the intro to creative writing class I took my freshman year of college, which inspired me to consider minoring in creative writing, though at the time it made more sense for me to devote my extra credits to acting electives. The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux was our main text, and I still refer to it—highly recommend! She also read us this persona poem from the perspective of a miscarried half-human, half-sheep fetus (or at least that’s how I remember it) that made an indelible impression on me and I’m still trying to find it again, so please reach out if you’re reading this and know what it’s called. The concept of “show, don’t tell” really clicked for me in Robin’s class. I stumbled upon her poem “Holdfast” on poets.org a couple years ago and it remains one of my favorite grief poems. Emily Wallis Hughes, who coedits Fence, taught a Brooklyn Poets workshop called “Self, Nature, City.” It was the first extended writing class I had taken since college. Our workshop was half on Zoom and half in Prospect Park, and when I apologized for frequently running late, she said, “You’re on poet time!” and told me how much she appreciated the energy I brought to class. Feeling celebrated for my time blindness in that moment, something I often feel shame over, was such a gift. She also introduced me to open-field composition which has completely altered the landscape of my poems. Carlie Hoffman inspired me to make bold edits and turn the first lines of my poems into titles. Danielle Gasparro, who teaches a weekly drop-in class at Brooklyn Poets, has introduced me to many new poems that I love, expanded my knowledge of technical terms (my favorite is euphony, AKA mouth joy), helped me discern what I do and do not like in a poem from a compassionate, non-judgmental place, and generally just inspires me to show the fuck up for poetry on a regular basis.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
It’s not a poetry book, but Litt Woon Long’s memoir The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning inspired an amateur interest in mycology for me, which has worked its way into my poetry. I’m partway through Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay” (I am admittedly biased against long poems) and I’m really savoring the read; isolation is a theme that appeals to me and I’m a Brontë-sister fangirl who has hiked through the moors behind their house … so like, it’s resonating! I recently came across the “January 7, 1997” excerpt from Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s that I could easily have submitted as my answer to the “what’s a good day for you?” question. “Against Pink” by Dara Yen Elerath is the most recent poem I’ve filed in the mental folder, Poems I Wish I Wrote.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Middlemarch, Dune, The Grapes of Wrath, um, the Bible, Dante’s Inferno, I feel like I should be listing more poetry …
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?
Consistently inconsistent. I have ADHD, so I range from reading a thousand-page high fantasy novel in three days to only having the attention span for two to three poems that fit in a single IG square a week. I have been “reading” Anna Karenina for years. The happy medium for me is slowly working my way through several books at a time, which usually consists of a nonfiction book, a novel and whatever poetry book I throw in my bag on my way out the door. I love reading Timothy Liu’s “The Lovers” whenever I find it in a train car. I choose at random because most of the books I plan to read don’t get read—I’m an impulsive creature! I have a Kindle and listen to the occasional audiobook, but I do prefer the tangibility of a physical text. If you lend me your book, I will return it with a missing cover, coffee stains, dog-eared pages, notes and underlines, doodles of eyes and/or stars, and a pressed leaf or flower that I forgot about.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I read a ghazal recently and it’s a form I would love to try out someday. I’d also like to write a series of poems about colors, perhaps as persona poems from the perspectives of each color. I want to play with writing reverently about toilets and bodily functions that make me uncomfortable. I also want to write a poem in the style of Denise Levertov’s “About Marriage.”
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love to write in coffee shops because being surrounded by other people working helps me work. I also happen to love coffee and people-watching. Home is too distracting for me, so I rarely write there, unless it’s in my head in the shower. I often write while in motion—on the subway, a plane, an Amtrak train, doing chores at work, while walking (life hack that took me way too long to discover: use a voice-to-text notes app to record thoughts mid-walk, then check in with them before your next sit-down writing session!). Liminal spaces are very inspiring—I love to write flash poems on the back of postcards whenever I’m traveling (or sometimes when I just feel stuck) and mail them to whoever wants one.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Brooklyn Botanic Garden because I love flowers—reading the names of all the varieties of roses is a particular joy for me; Park Slope because it’s beautiful in every season, it’s so fun to get lost in, there are swans, and it contains Brooklyn’s last remaining forest; St. Ann’s Warehouse and BAM because I love theater and appreciate the variety of work they both offer; the Victorian houses in Clinton Hill because I like to pretend that I live in them; Bushwick by the Jefferson L-train stop because that’s where I got off when I lived in Ridgewood right after college, and it’s very nostalgic for me; HEE-Space thrift shop in Prospect Lefferts Gardens because it’s not overpriced (I scored a silk shirt for $6 there) and the owner Erja is very kind; Green-Wood Cemetery because it satisfies my taste for the macabre and really, that whole place is a poem; and the new Brooklyn Poets space, of course, because of the architecture, poetry, people and donation-based coffee. The umbrella reason for loving all these spaces is that I want to return to them again and again despite the long train ride from Manhattan, and I always leave them feeling I’ve discovered something new.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the awkward moment, the lost necklace, the balled-up sock
And what I forget you forgive, or repeat
For every mistake I make strikes me as good and as purposeful when I talk in bed with you.
Because people keep dragging me there.