Poet Of The Week

MC Hyland

     August 31–September 6, 2015

MC Hyland is the author of Neveragainland (Lowbrow Press) and several poetry chapbooks, including TOOTHLESS ALTAR (Shirt Pocket Press) and the forthcoming THE END PART ONE (Magic Helicopter Press). The founding editor of DoubleCross Press and a Printshop Steward at the Center for Book Arts, she is working on a dissertation about the commons in Romantic and postmodern poetry at NYU.


It’s lame to keep saying I hate it here. Sui generis something or other. Walked around the reservoir unamused. All the light comes in from the corner. Try not to fall off your bike. Coming up against a disciplinary boundary. It’s time to shut up and get to work. First potatoes then onions then eggplant. Flashing off a cell phone screen. Would we be happier if we drank more. Edward Said’s penetrating eyes. Experimented with affectlesness. The water looked bright and clean from a distance. Always going over bridges. I don’t want to use your internet connection. Another day another line. Why don’t you say it in Latin. Narrated the wedding on my Emoji keyboard. You stayed to watch the lights change slowly. You spread out your scarf like a blanket. It cost eighteen dollars plus ten for prosecco. Then I walked home carrying all of it. Sometimes you think of a person all the time for no reason. I was always taping my neckline to my bra. You’re no special snowflake. The art market as a means of justification. Bored but canonical. All the bodily limits. Suddenly we were the last ones in the restaurant. As far as the subway will go. Waited in line to enter the dimly lit room. Sew your name into your clothes. Keep adjusting the dosage. That dress looked better in the panoramic photo. A black and blue cheek. Experimenting with the popular. This isn’t one you’re going to walk off. Left the pears and paper at home. Laid out discursive ground rules. If a poem is a landmass. A labor historian bent over company records. A soothing British causality. I didn’t want to be part of your movement. Forehead grease smudge on the subway window. Astounded by the riches of the gas station. Small houses. Dark night. Places where uptown means elevation. I wasn’t thinking about the other inside. Incorrect antecedents. Thermostat as purely palliative. The season changed without our notice. Metallic streamers in the Mexican bar. It’s mostly a problem of bodily leakage. Dated institutional architecture. Photoshoot in the courtyard. Caffeination next to divination. No future.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Oh dear, I can’t believe this poem is the one to represent me as a Brooklyn poet! This is part of a series of poems I’ve been working on for a couple years, now—the series started out being inspired by the sentence fragments in Bob Perelman’s “Chronic Meanings,” which I’ve been fascinated with since I read it in the Norton Postmodern American Poetry anthology almost a decade ago. Except it became very clear from the very first poem that what I was interested in was not fragments, but very short sentences—I tend to write in these long, looping, digressive sentences, and I wanted to see what would happen if I resisted that tendency. So I made a rule—no punctuation allowed except for periods. My other rule was to try to include as many kinds of thinking/feeling as I could, and to aim for honesty and the personal. I’d just come off of four (or maybe five?) years of writing poems that were insistently not about me—I’d been working from some old experimental films as source material—so I wanted to try to head in the other direction content-wise, as well as formally.

What this yielded, at first, was a bunch of poems about how much I hated living in New York. As an East Coaster who had left the coast for a long stretch and felt enriched by doing so, I was sort of disappointed in myself for becoming a Brooklyn poet—it felt so predictable for someone of my background. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and in my early 20s, it felt like all the arty kids I had known growing up ended up moving here. I thought people just didn’t know what it was like elsewhere: that the country (and the world) is full of places where it’s cheap and spacious and easy to be an artist, easy to afford studio space and to find community and make things happen. (Minneapolis may be one of the easiest places to do all these things, and that’s where I’d just come from, so that didn’t help.) I still feel that this—New York; Brooklyn—isn’t the only place to live, and I still bristle when people talk like it is. But the longer I live here and the more people I get to know, the more I get it. My community here isn’t as tight as it was in Minneapolis (or, for that matter, in Alabama, where I went to MFA school), but I feel so thankful to have met so many people whose life experiences have been and continue to be so different from mine—and to have met so many really brilliant individuals here, across so many social ecosystems.

And, actually, even in this poem that literally starts with me telling myself to stop talking about hating New York, I can see some of the seeds of why I’m now glad I live here! I can see the influence of the poetics of dailiness that’s such a time-honored New York tradition—and that, in this poem, comes out of the influence of my (now-hibernating but still wonderful) writing group, (G)IRL. I can see the traces of so many friends. In addition to a nod to Twin Cities artist and naturalist Abigail Woods Anderson (from whom I learned the phrase “another day another line”), this poem speaks to conversations with Tara Menon (Victorianist, fiction writer, appreciator of Edward Said’s eyes) and Lauren Neefe (poet, Romanticist, companion at the Guggenheim James Turrell show, which appears in this poem). I can see the love of research I’m getting to indulge while working on my PhD at NYU. I can see how many ways the city forces me to think at once, how much I have to work to rise to the level of thought and perception the city demands. I’ve been thinking, lately, about how life should ideally be lived in a state of productive discomfort—and I think that’s what Brooklyn gives me.

What are you working on right now?

As usual, too many things! Mostly, it’s a big time for my small press, DoubleCross Press: I’m hoping to get three all-letterpress books (short poetry chapbooks by Lisa Ciccarello, Citron Kelly and Matthew Johnstone) finished before my school year really starts going, so I’m spending a lot of time setting metal type and letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts and folding paper on my kitchen table with my co-editors. We just launched Citron’s book at Unnameable (on August 29th), with homemade pudding and some film-poems sent in by out-of-towners—it was a pretty dreamy night! I’m also trying to get some editing done on a few essays for our Poetics of the Handmade series, which publishes meditations on small press life by poet-bookmakers. And we have a reading period for upcoming “Prose-ish” chapbook series happening right now (until August 31), which has been bringing some brilliant work in—I’m trying to stay on top of it all!

I’m also working on a few writing projects—some personally motivated, and some tied to my PhD. I’ve been plugging away for a couple years on a long series of poems all called “THE END,” of which this poem was one of the first. The first 25 of these will be coming out sometime in the next year with Magic Helicopter Press, and a bunch of others will be published in the Australian online magazine Cordite. I’m trying to write 100 of these poems and I’m now on, I think, #29, so that’s an ongoing process. I’m a fairly slow writer, on the whole. I’ve also just started this other “poetic research” project on walking and friendship—it’s actually sort of a discarded dissertation idea that I realized I wanted to research in a more hands-on way. So I’m trying to take weekly walks with people I love and respect, and to write out of that experience, and combine that research with a bunch of reading and a sort of idiosyncratic study of art and literature. I’m interested in what kind of conditions walking can create for conversation and connection—I started the project in Chicago a couple weeks ago, going on walks with poets Sarah Fox, Stephanie Anderson and Fred Schmalz, and then writing them each a longish poem that I sent to them within a day of the walk.

My dissertation, in the meantime, took a turn from being about walking to being about the idea of the commons in Romantic and postmodern poetics, mostly in the UK and Commonwealth. I’m working on a chapter on Lisa Robertson right now, which is taking me into all sorts of weird and thrilling corners. I have fantasies that I may also edit a couple of essays soon and send them out—but the plate’s pretty full. I also try to cook dinner with my husband from time to time, and see friends, and maybe go to an occasional yoga class and whatnot. Those things aren’t “work”—they’re pleasure!—but they still have to be fitted into the schedule.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day is a day when I see a large body of water (either taking the B or Q over the Manhattan Bridge or biking down to Coney Island and staring out at the ocean; walking by the Kosciuszko Pool on the way to my CSA shift also works). A great day is one where I submerge part or all of myself in it or take a ferry ride somewhere. Other kinds of good days exist: days when I cook a meal with friends or my sweetie; days when I get to walk through a park alone in the rain; days where I have a really nice conversation with someone (ideally over good food or drink); days when I write something that surprises me. I usually like Mondays—an old friend does an early-morning radio show I can listen to when I get up, and I spend a couple hours hanging out with my friends at Nextdoorganics (which I incorrectly call “my CSA”—they work with a number of small farms and organic producers, so it’s not a traditional farmshare). I’ve been helping to pack bags of fruit and vegetables there for almost two years now and love the other weirdos I work with—it’s the one time in my week where I get to hang out with food people (in a past life, I worked as a cheesemonger) and to accomplish a relatively simple task while laughing, dancing and joking around.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

I’ve been here for three years and have lived on the very south end of Ditmas Park (almost in Midwood) the whole time.

What do you like most about it?

Well, this is going to sound unpatriotic, but what I love most about my neighborhood is how it reminds me of Minneapolis! Though I grew up on the East Coast, I lived in Alabama and Minnesota for nine years before coming to Brooklyn and got used to a sense of open space and a quantity of green things that isn’t always immediately accessible in this city. I love the yards and the tree-lined streets and how many families there are. I love running into friends and writers up on Cortelyou: poets Paige Taggart, Sampson Starkweather and Erin Morrill; Playwright Kris Diaz; fiction writer Sarah Gerard (let’s hear it for genre diversity!). I love that it’s a short train ride, or a nice half-hour bike ride, to Coney Island and Brighton Beach. I love my building, full (though less and less so) of elderly Russian women who scowl at me from their lawn chairs when I greet them on my way out. I’ve heard that the students at the public school a block away from me speak more languages at home than (almost?) any other school in the city—and that’s what I like most about the neighborhood, really: that it’s a little south of the most aggressive gentrification/homogenization that happens everywhere in Brooklyn, and it seems to have been an economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood for a long time. Of course, those forces are always in play, everywhere in this city, and of course I’m part of them, whether I want to be or not.

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

The day my partner and I moved to Brooklyn was maybe the most Brooklyn day I’ve experienced: full of elation (blasting “Empire State of Mind” while driving into the borough over the Verrazano), crisis (trying to get our moving truck through the narrow city streets, our side mirror knocked off the mirror of another truck on Myrtle), bureaucracy (waiting over an hour for a traffic cop to show up and write a report), more crisis (a second minor accident when 2 guys waved us by their double-parked van on a side street—there wasn’t enough space, after all), physical struggle (moving all our belongings into a storage unit in 100-degree heat), friends showing up at the right time (our buddy Deborah meeting us at the storage facility with bagels and water), frustration (the unit was, of course, too small) and the kindness of strangers (a staff member at the storage facility spent about an hour at the end of the day trying to help us tetris all our worldly belongings into the 5’ x 15’ space). It was a real trial-by-fire, but also a day in which all the people we met—including the guy whose mirror we broke!—were tremendously kind and generous.

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

Lego Walt Whitman! (He was made by my genius husband, Jeff Peterson, so I’m partial.) And can we count Jean-Michel Basquiat as a “Brooklyn poet” yet? I loved the Brooklyn Museum show of his notebooks—it reminded me how I’ve always admired the way language worked in his paintings.

In terms of living poets, I keep growing into Bernadette Mayer’s work: I love her ambition and her fearlessness. I’m so, so glad she’s getting some big recognition these days: the Guggenheim; the big book of reprints Station Hill just put out. In my own generation, there are too many to name. Nina Puro has been really blowing me away lately, with her thin skin and perfect ear and unending thirst for a better world. Adjua Greaves, for her intelligence and commitment; her Unschool MFA project has been super-inspiring to me—she presented on it at Unnameable about two months ago, and I can’t stop thinking about her talk. My DoubleCross co-editor Anna Gurton-Wachter is also a big inspiration: I love her curiosity, her humor, her intelligence and her work ethic. Also, duh, the Brooklyn poets we’ve published are some of my favorites: Paige Taggart (endlessly prolific), Ian Dreiblatt (erudite and hilarious), Krystal Languell (see “work ethic”; see also (darkly) “hilarious”), Citron Kelly (who read from a brand-new epic poem that utterly knocked my socks off at the Brooklyn Small Press Flea). Cathy Park Hong’s work opened a lot of things up for me long before I moved to Brooklyn. Marina Blitshteyn is a force of nature who I’m really happy to be starting to get to know poetically and personally: she has some major range, but also this beautifully honest core to her writing. I feel super-lucky to have met a bunch of amazing women poets through the girl gang/writing group (G)IRL. Farrah Field and Jared White, in addition to the tremendous generosity they’ve shown to the national and international poetry community through years of selling the weird shit at Berl’s, are also totally poets to be reckoned with; I’m reading Jared’s manuscript The Trolls right now and it’s fantastic. Jay Deshpande’s wild noise/sonic poem at the NYC Poetry Festival is still giving me chills. I’m just barely scratching the surface here! Because I’m a small press person, I’m really inspired by the work of several Brooklyn-based small presses—especially Ugly Duckling, Belladonna*, The Song Cave and Argos Books (Brooklyn press emerita). Speaking of Brooklyn-based presses, Sarah Nicholls’ Brainwashing from Phone Towers pamphlets, while not strictly self-identifying as poetry, are probably my very favorite things to read.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Berl’s is such a wonderland: no matter how broke I am, I never can leave without some new treasure I didn’t know I needed. Unnameable is another incredible community resource—thoughtfully curated and (maybe almost as important!) across the street from the best ice cream in Brooklyn (Ample Hills, duh).

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

More disloyalty: my favorite places to read and write are mostly Manhattan coffeeshops! In Brooklyn, though, I like Burly Coffee in Bed-Stuy (I sometimes go there after my Monday Nextdoorganics shift, and the barista is quite possibly the most cheerful guy on the planet), and Milk & Honey, which is beautiful and two blocks away from my apartment. Mostly, though, if I’m reading and writing in Brooklyn, it’s at home, because I’m often simultaneously working from too many books to carry around without some serious back pain.

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

The boardwalk from Brighton Beach to Coney Island is my favorite, favorite place. Other than that, friends’ apartments and Prospect Park are the best parts of Brooklyn, as far as I’m concerned. I love the Brooklyn Museum, but go less often than I’d like; the same is true of Sunset Park and Greenwood Cemetery. I’m sentimental about Greenpoint, because my best friend lived there before moving to the West Coast, and Jeff and I stayed with her a bunch when we first moved here. Plus, I love what I call the “old man bars” in that neighborhood—the unpretentious, never-remodeled places with an older clientele. They remind me of Midwestern bars in all the best ways. Though I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, the Midwest is kind of my spiritual home.

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

This is as hard to answer as the “favorite Brooklyn poets” question! I’ve had a really rich few months, reading-wise. I’m (finally!) reading Fred Moten’s The Feel Trio, which—well, it’s an astonishing book. Stacy Szymaszek’s Hart Island is glorious, as is, in an entirely different mode, Lisa Ciccarello’s At Night. I’ve gone back to (or read for the first time) a bunch of C.S. Giscombe’s work recently, and I’m in love with, especially, his memoir, Into and Out of Dislocation, which I finally sat down with last month. More than one poem in Lisa Robertson’s The Men has had me giggling uncontrollably on public transit in the last week or so. I just read wonderful chapbooks by Mary Austin Speaker (The Bridge) and Luke Davies (The Feral Aphorisms). I’m slowly doling out Tonya Foster’s A Swarm of Bees in High Court to myself, a few pages at a time, like a controlled substance. I don’t want it to end.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

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

I celebrate our hands, and what I make with mine you may reshape with yours, for everything that forms me as good as is formed by you.

Why Brooklyn?

As with any other place worth living in: for the people.