Poet Of The Week

Maya Pindyck

     January 2–8, 2023

Maya Pindyck’s third poetry collection, Impossible Belonging (Anhinga Press, 2023), won the 2021 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, selected by Carmen Giménez Smith, and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series. She is also author of the poetry books Emoticoncert (Four Way Books, 2016) and Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press, 2009), winner of the Many Voices Project Award, and coauthor of the educational resource A Poetry Pedagogy for Teachers: Reorienting Classroom Literacy Practices (Bloomsbury, 2022). Her honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship, and grants from the Historic House Trust of New York City and the Abortion Conversation Projects. Pindyck lived in Brooklyn for seventeen years and currently lives in Philadelphia where she is an assistant professor and director of writing at Moore College of Art & Design. She grew up primarily in Boston and also in Tel Aviv.

Author photo by Beowulf Sheehan

The Photograph

 

For years I wished to be my mother in the photograph:

short-haired soldier dressed in khaki,

aiming her rifle at some imaginary

terrorist, sepia-toned

like the photograph itself.

The photograph’s ability to summon

a threat became my definition of feminist:

a woman enacting a man’s violence

with better precision than he can envision.

Our friend from the kibbutz grew to be

the first woman to fly a fighter plane for the army.

We swelled with pride hearing stories of her

fogging commanders with engine smoke.

Girl power meant flexing the nation’s bicep

to prove its dream of equality.

I can do anything.

Kill anyone.

In the photograph, my mother’s eye

meets the rifle’s scope. Her daughters,

though we will not serve,

harden from her hope.

Now, a woman, I have chosen

the warrior’s path: black walnut tree

releasing toxicity with tools belonging

to my own body, greening

& invisible to any

I.

 

—Originally published in Tablet, April 2022.

Brooklyn Poets · Maya Pindyck, "The Photograph"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I wrote this poem in response to a photograph of my mother when she was serving in the Israeli army at around eighteen years old, aiming her rifle, looking strong and proud. Remembering my own pride sharing this photograph with my American friends when I was a teenager, I returned to that photograph, tuning in to what it raises in me today: admiration for my mother’s grounded, unwavering ways of being in the world; a desire for a different version of feminism than what the photograph suggests—a version that unleashes itself from the violence of statehood; a refusal to accept the imaginary of the enemy on the other end of the rifle; guilt about not serving in the army myself while maintaining Israeli citizenship; deep relief for not serving; gratitude for my distance from a place where I feel politically estranged and struggle to belong and also experience a visceral sense of belonging; wanting to follow what the tree teaches me while tending to my cultural roots.

What are you working on right now?

A poem about losing the notes on my phone that had a long list of snippets spoken by my youngest daughter Alma over the past three years, and how that loss drives me to preserve what my daughters say with fresh precision and devotion.

What’s a good day for you?

A day where I can be in the flow of things and do what I love without interruption. If it can include all of these activities, it’s a really good day: writing before my alarm goes off and before my kids wake up; doing yoga; getting excited with my students about a work of literature / art; maintaining my ritual of dancing in my office at Moore College of Art & Design for five minutes each day; making a meal inspired by my saba’s cooking; being wholeheartedly with my daughters—drawing together, playing TAKI, working on a puzzle, sculpting neon figures using air-dry clay, telling each other “nonfiction spooky stories” with fictional elements and scratchy sounds; smelling jasmine on my walk to wherever I’m going.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

Before Brooklyn, I lived in Chinatown / Nolita with my boyfriend at the time. When we broke up, I moved into a house in Park Slope where some of his friends were already living and a couple of my friends moved in too. That house, “Olde Brown,” had a rotating cast of warm, funny and mostly vegetarian hippie Jews. It was a great fit.

Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long did you live there? What did you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I moved to Park Slope in 2002 and lived there until 2019. I love and miss so much about it, especially my friends and neighbors, all the amazing places to wander and eat and hear music, and our magical apartment that we were able to hold onto for fourteen years thanks to our caring landlord Pat, who lived beneath us and used to run a daycare from her back patio.

The neighborhood changed a lot, quickly, becoming way Whiter and more affluent since I moved there in 2002 (though by then it was already gentrified). A few months before we moved to Philly, the owner of a baby clothing shop nearby said her rent had skyrocketed and there was no way she could keep the business going. Meanwhile, a Starbucks opened next door to her, taking over a space that previously housed several failed burger joints. That felt like an official end to the Park Slope I first knew. I also watched the Park Slope Food Coop become stricter with its policies and more saturated with members since I started shopping there illegally in 2002 and eventually became a member in 2008.

There’s a social openness, looseness and fluidity that I’ve always felt in Brooklyn, which I didn’t experience in the Boston suburb where I grew up. In some ways, Philly feels like Brooklyn to me, but smaller, hyperlocal and more affordable.

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

During the blackout of 2003, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with crowds of people while Marty Markowitz cheered us on, and I got to Park Slope as the sun was setting and bodegas were giving out free beer and ice cream, and so many folks were out on their stoops with guitars and candles, singing, and I remember finding a cockroach in my kitchen by flashlight that night and screaming but also not caring because life felt acutely precarious and joyful and full with neighborhood family that night, and the dishes were piled high in the sink, and I just went back outside to join the music.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?

For me, it has something to do with nurturing and growing the wild ecosystem of writers / makers that I’m lucky to be a part of. I feel grateful to have friends from grad school, from many years in Brooklyn, and now in Philly who all constitute my poetry communities: people I write alongside, share work with, go to readings with, correspond with through poetry, collaborate with—those relationships are everything to me.

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

Audre Lorde, Walt Whitman, Vijay Seshadri, D. Nurkse, Aracelis Girmay, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Sarah Riggs, Elana Bell, Purvi Shah, Sheila Maldonado, Matthea Harvey, my students from Frederick Douglass Academy VII who wrote about where they are from with passion and clarity, and the students I taught through Teachers & Writers Collaborative who came up with metaphors I’ll never forget.

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

I came to poetry through visual art and started graduate school at Sarah Lawrence with a limited background in poetry. I felt like an imposter. I didn’t know half the poets or craft terms people were talking about. My mentors there really helped me grow as a reader and writer and lover of poetry. Vijay Seshadri, my thesis advisor, taught me how to sense the energy of a line and of a sequence of poems. Suzanne Gardinier gave me a reading practice dedicated to love and community, and I still use her “seven sieves” technique for editing. Marie Howe inspired me to follow the strangeness of dreams and metaphors. Tom Lux challenged me to communicate clearly in my poems, to say something as I wish to say it so that others can understand the poem’s meaning. And my ongoing art mentors, Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky, helped me recognize and deepen the interconnected nature of my writing and visual art practices.

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

I recently read and keep returning to Ama Codjoe’s stunning book Bluest Nude, which is so visceral, sensual and luminous. And Laynie Browne’s Translation of the Lilies Back into Lists for its beauty and boldness and genre-defying nature. I have also been loving Lao Yang’s Pee Poems (thanks to my friend Victoria for the gift of that book!): a treasure chest bursting with funny, wise sparks. Currently, I’m reading Leora Fridman’s new collection of essays Static Palace and am struck by its vulnerability and its seamless weaving of theory and personal story.

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

The Odyssey. I am embarrassed that I’ve never read it, but each time I pick it up, I gravitate to something else. And there is a small mountain of parenting books that I keep meaning to read.

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?

Oh, I definitely dip in and out of multiple books, but I do finish them cover to cover. I tend to discover my next book by way of other people’s suggestions, and sometimes at random. I only read physical books. I love dogearing pages, underlining lines I don’t want to forget, scribbling notes by hand in the margins or in my journal as I read.

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

I’ve been curious about writing a crown of sonnets ever since reading Terrance Hayes’s powerful book American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin and wonder what that form could do to / with the themes and issues I keep writing about.

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

I love reading and writing in parks, at coffee shops, alongside my students in class, on the subway (when I lived in Brooklyn), in nature, and on trains and planes when I’m traveling.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

My heart still lives in Prospect Park. I also love Barbès (especially hearing Slavic Soul Party, Stephane Wrembel, and Michael Hearst perform), Colson Patisserie (the cheddar chive biscuits!), Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Bembe, Congregation Beth Elohim, the Brooklyn Museum, Unnameable Books, Greenlight Bookstore. Each of those places feels like a vital part of my growing into and with Brooklyn.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate your blooming mouth booming your truth.

And what I hold in my tongue you turn a city for everyone.

For everyone who made me a wildflower as good as everyone who made a wildflower of you.

Why Brooklyn?

Maybe because of its beautiful, chaotic grit and disjointed joinings and all the flowers (all of us) who grow strong trying to make a joyful life in a place that can often feel impossible.