November 7–13, 2022
Megan Nichols is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Animal Unfit (Belle Point Press, 2023). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review, the Threepenny Review, Frontier Poetry and elsewhere. She was a finalist for Write Bloody’s 2021 Jack McCarthy Book Prize and serves as a poetry reader for Variant Literature and River Mouth Review. This past spring, Nichols was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Gregory Crosby’s workshop on the sonnet.
We’re not being hunted but we are animals unfit
for city water is calcifying our arteries or maybe our bones
can’t keep themselves from leaching what we crave most, like love,
microscopic yet so abundant we’re sick of it leaving
stains in the sinks and shower doors open to our agony
why can’t anything stay clear? We’re not being hunted
but we’ll sleep in cedar for half a moon. You see, what fortifies you
poisons me. In spring water beside hemlock, no maybe elder bush,
I hide us from our loved ones. They don’t believe me
when I say I don’t deserve you I mean I’m unable to carry
more sediment in my veins. Every sip weighs a body down. For a while,
let’s resist the salt lick, just in case we love the wrong ones
and their offering is the trap I cannot stop suspecting it is.
Don’t remember this as ritual into my history, for you,
this is simply our holiday in the vines, for you, we’ll return to tap water,
we’ll lap it up, we’ll accept the apples over the fence.
I am not being hunted; I am not heavy with what I cannot prove;
I am not fearful of everything that floats in the water glass;
I am not contradicting myself; I am reciting a spell.
—Originally published in Rogue Agent, January 2021.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem after impulsively asking a friend if my son and I could stay in her empty cabin for a few days. At that time in my life, I was learning how to stomach stability and kindness. We had recently moved to a tight-knit neighborhood and though part of me believed I could finally relax, another part panicked.
The poem unspooled itself quickly, in one sitting, coming out as a blend of affirmation, attempts at reason, and fairytales. It was edited over time, but I was warned by editors and friends not to erase the movement in it. I wrote this poem early in my earnest attempts at “real” writing. At the time I tended toward overediting and explaining away poems. I’m thankful I had people holding me back from pulling “Animal Unfit” apart.
What are you working on right now?
I have a chapbook coming out with Belle Point Press in 2023 that includes, and is named after, this poem. Last spring, I took Gregory Crosby’s workshop on the sonnet, which was an amazing gift. A few of the sonnets I wrote in the class made their way into the final manuscript and I’ve continued to explore the form.
What’s a good day for you?
The best days are days when I feel on top of my duties. When I’m taking responsibility and making choices that are in alignment with my values. Ideally, it looks like fitting lots of things into one day: focused work, time outside, movement, playing with my son, helping a friend, having a good conversation, writing, reading, laundry, dishes, sleeping.
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 live in a very small town in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Until I was ten years old, I lived in Southern California. I left the Ozarks at eighteen and bounced around for a while before returning to my hometown about five years ago. My son and I live on an incredible street filled with generous, intelligent people.
Much of my writing tends to be about, or perhaps around, Arkansas. I don’t think it’s terribly unlike other places I’ve lived or visited (perhaps apart from the fact that it’s visually so lush and green for half the year), but my experience as an adult here is unlike any experience I’ve had elsewhere. Truthfully, though, I suspect this positive experience has less to do with Arkansas and more to do with the fact that I’ve stayed in one place long enough for relationships to grow.
In the first few years after moving back to my hometown, I found myself fantasizing about moving away. I’m very thankful I finally learned to settle here and embrace what is good about this town.
There are drawbacks to every place, though, so I have tried to visit with my son as many cities and people as possible (despite Covid and finances making it tricky). It can feel a little stale spending so much time in a town with only three streetlights and less than 4,000 people, but trips help relieve the pressure.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Sadly, I have not. We finished up a New York City trip right before Brooklyn Poets’ new space opened and I’m heartbroken over the timing. I’ll be sure the next time we’re in the area, we’ll spend some time in Brooklyn.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
To me, a poetry community is a collection of people with respect for one another and for poetry. I wouldn’t say I have a local poetry community, but I have found online writing communities that really have been so beneficial for my writing and happiness.
I could drive three hours and find myself in an area large enough for in-person poetry readings and workshops, but it’s not been practical for me to do so yet. I’m sure one day my son will be much older and very busy and I’ll be incredibly lonely and sad. It’s then that I’ll go to all the retreats and workshops and readings. In the meantime, I make do with Zoom and email.
Participating in workshops such as Gregory Crosby’s has allowed me to expand my network of poetry friends. Reading for journals and reaching out to poets whose work I admire has also resulted in meaningful connections. I’m not always brave enough to reach out first, but I’ve never regretted letting a writer know how much I respect their work.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Marianne Moore and Tracy K. Smith first come to mind but I’m not entirely sure if they’d be considered Brooklyn poets (or rather if they’d consider themselves that way). Of course, I’m a fan of Gregory Crosby. I look forward to every new poem Seth Leeper puts out. I so admire the work of I.S. Jones and Rosebud Ben-Oni.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Jessica Lohafer has been an incredible mentor and influence. She was the first poet I heard read a poem out loud; the first poet I heard perform a poem. Until that point (I was about eighteen) the most recent poet I had read was Plath. Years after meeting Jessica for the first time, I reached out and asked if she would work with me as an editor and coach. Working with her has helped me build confidence in my own tastes. I never feel compelled to change something simply to suit others—always the question is, “Is this doing what you intended it to?” She helps me think more critically about my writing while allowing me to honor my instincts.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Lately I’ve been rereading Night Angler and Revising the Storm by Geffrey Davis. The way he writes about others is so generous and nuanced. There is so much respect for humanity in his writing. I return to his books when I’m feeling uninspired or uncertain. Everything I love about poetry can be found in his work.
The last poem I read that stood out to me was C. T. Salazar’s “Four Snakes Makes Our Flag” in the Hopkins Review. His book American Cavewall Sonnets is one of my favorites. I think one of the reasons his writing is so powerful is the juxtaposition of beautiful, pleasurable language with themes of violence. I admire the honesty in his poems and the incredible skill required to craft them.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I’m terribly underread! I have everything left to read!
I haven’t finished Bluets, which is embarrassing. I still haven’t read The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón despite loving Bright Dead Things. I feel like every other day someone mentions how brilliant Hannah Sullivan’s book Three Poems is.
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 prefer physical books for poetry but I also spend so much time reading individual poems online. I’m a huge fan of following Instagram accounts like @poetryisnotaluxury and I love when people share their recent publications on Twitter.
I read multiple books at a time but usually not multiple novels. Most books I read (except for poetry) are audiobooks. I really hated the experience of listening to a book when I first tried, but I had a toddler and no time, so I learned to like it and now I’m obsessed.
I usually only take notes when reading nonfiction. For no real reason, I hesitate to mark inside a book. Most of my notes end up in my journal or on scraps of paper.
What I read is usually dictated by availability on Scribd or the library or what I can pick up during small press sales and from used book stores. When I was in my twenties I read a lot of classics, particularly works from the 1800s, simply because you could get the ebooks for free. I’ll still read ebooks on my phone but usually just novellas that can be read in one sitting.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Attempting the sonnet was such a rewarding experience so I’d like to explore other forms, particularly the pantoum.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I drive around with two or three poetry collections in the car because I like to read while waiting for appointments, at school dropoff, etc. I tend to listen to audiobooks while driving and cleaning the house.
I really do prefer to write at home, preferably on the back porch or out in the yard. I dislike writing in public. Reading in public feels unobtrusive but writing in public feels … out of the ordinary, maybe? No one ever draws attention to the fact that I’m reading, but most times I’ve written in public, someone comments on it. Which is fine! They always seem more curious than anything. But it is distracting. If given the choice between conversation with someone or returning to my writing, I always choose the conversation, so the writing gets abandoned anyway.
That said, I suspect the ideal writing scenario would be an in-person write-in with others. One day I’ll have the opportunity to test it out and after I do, I’ll report back!
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the fallible self
and what I accept in you I do so sincerely
for every fault line waiting in me as good
as guaranteed to also wait in you.
Because Brooklyn Poets is there, and to me, the idea of an entire space dedicated to poetry sounds impossible and necessary.