Poet Of The Week

Mary Rose Manspeaker

     June 27–July 3, 2022

Mary Rose Manspeaker was born and raised in West Virginia. They are the author of the chapbook Small, Black Box (Bottlecap Features) and the microchap Context Collapse (Ghost City Press). Recent poems appear in Poetry Northwest, Passengers Journal, Gordon Square Review and elsewhere. This past fall, Manspeaker was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Emily Wallis Hughes’s “Self, Nature, City” workshop.

anti-ode to the heart

 

one car passes through the heart of the mountain.

i try to measure their speed to ours

twisting the seatbelt with my body. i crane

forehead against glass. here,

there is only passing on

asphalt in ever-broader strips. the crags,

evenly spaced, scales

the earth formed when we first blasted rock aside.

hillsides blown clean & stripped. their bare peaks.

where these mountains cower

back toward their siblings, the trees

begin to gray, branches gripped

in white cocoons, tent worms eating the world

just to be reborn, inseparable from the smoke

flowering above the mountain

mines & rigs. back home

the mountains bore witness

to my first kiss.

they had little choice,

anchored tighter to ground than i,

no language to tell them they are not the whole cracked earth,

despite the names i call them.

these words poor hybrids of the earth & my dreams

of it. the cars which drove clear through hills

moored now on concrete slabs

& from their heights, with their worn-down trees

they guard

the buttercups which ring my house in bloom,

all blooming ash.

 

⁠—Originally published in Longleaf Review, April 2021.

Brooklyn Poets · Mary Rose Manspeaker, "anti-ode to the heart"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I first drafted this poem in a free workshop called “The Poetics of Scientific Catastrophe,” generously led by George Abraham. It began as a response to a prompt to write an ode to something you find annoying or aggravating, or an anti-ode to something you love. From this, I began an anti-ode to West Virginia, a place I both love and find aggravating. Most of the language came in one sitting. I was drafting in small notebooks I could carry around at the time, and the transition from notebook to typing poems gave me a chance to work and rework lineation and stanzas. And so this piece lived in a few different forms before it became the piece published first in Longleaf Review and now here.

I think I’d also been trying to write for a while, unsuccessfully, about the feeling of driving through the Appalachian Mountains⁠—mountains often refigured by people looking for what could be extracted from them or how best to transport through them. Or I guess this is always a question I write through: how do you love a place sustainably? How do you understand yourself in relation to the history, present and future of a place, and to the effects of your living there?

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a first manuscript which includes this poem, loosely about the relationship of language and place, and the relationship of both to societal and political structure. About West Virginia (and a bit of Brooklyn), and the seams where the ways we describe a place meet the place.

I am a truly restless person, however, and also in early drafts for a new project examining the vocabulary of images we have for technology and technological infrastructures, and how that largely metaphorical understanding and the way we interface with everyday technologies relate to the resources required to sustain them.

What’s a good day for you?

Waking up early with enough time for breakfast and coffee while it’s still and quiet. Then, time to spend trying to understand something. I might go to the beach and read, or to a park with friends or just to have a moment with people and animals and plants. Just a little time in between the busy moments to feel a little closer to the world.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I went to college in Cleveland and first visited a friend in New York right before I moved from there to New Jersey. In that first visit, I decided that I wanted to live here, in Brooklyn, next. I spent a few years in central Jersey, then found reasons to move here—work, and the MFA program at St. Joseph’s College. But really I came here because I wanted to be here. And I am so lucky to have been able to do that.

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’ve been in Bed-Stuy for just about two years now and was in Bushwick for a year before that. I was quite fond of where I lived in Bushwick, and of my neighbors there, but have a much better relationship with my landlord, such as it is, in Bed-Stuy. Of course so much has changed in the past three years I’ve been here, but I’m not quite sure I have the distance to put any of it into language. But more than anywhere I have ever lived, Brooklyn positions you within a short walk or train ride of so many different environments—of most everything you could think to want to see, and so many people you didn’t know you needed to meet.

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

Oh gosh, I’m not sure I know what constitutes a defining experience. A lot of the memories that come up when I think of Brooklyn are on subways—crying on trains, laughing on trains, being a bit too drunk on trains. Do those count?

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I think for me a poetry community is a collection of people who feel safe and supported sharing drafts and growing together. Sometimes, for me, this has taken shape in a workshop setting and sometimes not. I’m slowly putting together both a community I feel a part of and what it means to be a part of that community. But I owe everything I write to the people who have been part of my life in whatever way, whether they read and write poetry or not—so maybe that’s part of it too.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

June Jordan, absolutely. Patricia Spears Jones and Martín Espada come to mind as well. I’m always trying to find more who astonish me, and always manage to, but those names come up for me first.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I had never formally done anything with poetry until I started my MFA program—not a class, not a community workshop. So the mentors I met at St. Joseph’s College were truly formative for me. I was lucky to work with Betsy Bonner, Randall Horton, Carly Joy Miller and An Duplan while there, and they all taught me so many new ways to think about art and poetry and the world. Randall ended up being my thesis advisor, and everything he had me read or work through in my own writing has been so valuable for me. More than that, he never let me not believe in myself and my poems. I don’t know where I would be without him.

And Carly led the second workshop I ever took and really defined the way I approach writing, which is through questions. For months at a time, I’ll have a little question—or a big one—written down in the notebook I carry. Every poem I write is some approach to understanding that question—why I’m asking it, what in the world contextualizes it, how language provides approaches to understanding it.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I just read Ari Banias’s new book A Symmetry, which I finished all in one sitting. The movement of the book felt a lot like how my mind moves through the world. I recently picked up Dictee again as well, which is just so phenomenal in the way it experiments with language and narrative and biography. And, though I’m not all the way through, I’ve been sitting with W. E. B. Du Bois’s biography of John Brown, a man I grew up thinking to admire and have finally set out to try really to understand.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

So many. So many that I still have up in tabs on my phone and computer and still have not managed to read or sit with. I have a library copy of John Cage’s Silence staring at me right now. I keep meaning to read more of Lyn Hejinian’s work, and Juliana Spahr. Maybe having to answer this will motivate me.

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 always reading multiple books at once and sometimes not finishing them. I have a bad habit of putting books on hold at the library the moment I think, Oh, I want to read that. Then a bunch come due and are ready to pick up at once, so I am constantly dropping off ten library books to pick up ten new ones. In this way I guess it’s sort of planned in advance, though I pick through the books I have pretty much at random.

I am certainly a note-taker, though. I have a notes app and notebooks full of small quotations or a thought I had while reading—the latter I am usually hard-pressed to make anything of later.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I want so badly to write a sestina, or anything working with repetition of end words. I suppose I’m something of a formalist in my way, but I never resist the urge to break received forms the moment they frustrate me. I’d like to see finally what I can make if I actually work within a longer form like the sestina, whether I end up keeping to the rules in later drafts or not. Something about knowing there is a beat I have to hit has so far made it impossible for me.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

My apartment unfortunately gets zero sunlight, which sometimes makes it hard for me to concentrate. So the nearby park, the Botanic Garden, the beach, a rooftop—all excellent places for me to focus on a book. I love a little background noise while I read or work as well, which I never have a shortage of.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Herbert Von King Park, Fort Greene Park, Maria Hernandez Park—I guess I’m kind of a park person.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the casual permeability of life

And what I need to measure you I hope I never find,

For every sound that whistles through me as good as collapses the distance to you.

Why Brooklyn?

I think for so many reasons I’ve mentioned. There’s so much to discover here, and so many people. I love that it is almost impossible to live here and not feel connected in at least some small way to the people around you. I love the art that comes from those connections.