Poet Of The Week

Mya Spalter

     November 25–December 1, 2019

Mya Spalter is the author of the nonfiction book Enchantments: A Modern Witch’s Guide to Self-Possession (Lenny/Random House, 2018). She is a poet, editor and longtime employee of New York’s oldest occult shop. She writes nonfiction about magic and poetry about science. This past summer, Spalter received a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship to attend the seventh annual Hamptons Retreat in Amagansett.


Ghosts are like lesbians in that they can see you better when they think you’re absorbed in something else, so I keep busy. You’re at your most visible to them when you’re slantwise and not looking so you’ll never catch a mature lesbian or ghost ‘seeing’ you unless they want you to/unless they want you, too. They’ve trained in the staring games all their lives. They’re expert spies. They use their eyes to say things that you cannot hold them to, but it’s a testimony/a word in tongues/a knock on the séance table/a wind in a closed room/a blurry photo of something very real in the woods at night that you could make out if the light was right—but will it ever be?

And by way of introduction, what does that make me?
I am the Mulder and the Scully

SCENE: At the bookstore. Sarah tells me about a philosopher who numbered and categorized the ways that people prefer to be loved and there were only five or so, different ways I mean, and I think that in itself is a philosophy. There are only five or so ways to be loved and we each have our one and we’re stuck with it. Who thought of that? No really, who? We can’t remember. She recites the whole little litany but the one that intrigues me is:

“Being loved by a ghost,” she says.

And I say, “Do go on.”

SCENE: A pair within a group on a garden stroll.

So, what brings you here?

Them. [gestures in the direction of someone hot.]

Okay, but how do you know each other?

Uh, we met. We just met. We didn’t just meet. I mean, we met a while ago. But I only know them a little. Maybe a medium amount? Oh, no. Oh my god. I’m sorry. I’m usually coherent. What are these? [points to yellow flowers.]

Those? Primrose? Yeah, primrose. I don’t know if they’re evening primrose or …

[gazes at the setting sun.] Well, they’re all evening primroses now.


Tell us about the making of this poem.

I often find myself with a great giant load of emotions to process, so I invent poetic machinery to help me do the job. A friend once read a draft of something I’d written and said, “Umm, there aren’t any objects in this poem. I don’t have anything to hold on to,” and it was a really illuminating comment for me. When I focused on finding the objects that inhabited my poems, it turned out that they weren’t objects exactly so much as machines, or more precisely, physical representations of processes. I’m working toward a way to describe the narrative arc of an emotional process, and I find visual inspiration for that concept in schematic drawings and electrical diagrams that similarly are approximate depictions of a thing in motion. I’m working on a collection of poems called Schematics and each poem is in some way a sketch of a process and its attendant poetic machinery. The machine in this selection is called CRUSH REACTOR. It works like this:

CRUSH REACTOR transubstantiates your ‘infatuations’ into the attraction that makes the bi stars twink in the night circling each other winking. It transmutes your ‘petty lusts’ into the friction in cosmic perfection that finally BANGed, that sent the whole of us scattering to pieces.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve been pretty interdisciplinary lately. I’m researching the science behind some science-fictional notions I’ve been writing and obsessing over for the past couple of forevers. I self-published CRUSH REACTOR as a (very cute, IMHO) mini-chapbook and I’m developing it as a video/performance with artist Ellen Donnelly that I’ll debut this winter. I’m playing a part in a short film. I’ve also been writing and traveling a bit in support of my nonfiction book that came out last year. It’s about magic and witchcraft, so late autumn tends to be the busier season for that kind of thing.

What’s a good day for you?

Sleeping late, cuddling my fam, eating food I didn’t have to cook, long bath with book, yoga practice, doing/being/seeing/making art, socializing vigorously with strangers in public and then chilling at home with friends.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I moved to Brooklyn in September 2001. I was twenty and had lived the previous two years in a very expensive and kind of shitty dorm in Manhattan. While I was still in school, I figured I could get us all a better deal and found an apartment listing in the back of the Village Voice. I called and got no answer, but the ad had foolishly mentioned the address, so I showed up on Dean St in Crown Heights and buzzed the super until he let me in and before long I had my very first apartment. A few days later was 9/11 and I can’t say for sure, but I think I kinda trauma-bonded with the borough and I haven’t really left.

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 live in Ditmas Park. It’s so pretty, it’s ridiculous. We have trees and grass and possums, stately architecture and migrating birds, it’s amazing. I had just left my last full-time job when we moved here and I got pregnant not too long afterward and since my kid’s been in school I’ve been working and writing from home, so I’ve had the experience of fully inhabiting this neighborhood. I love knowing people and being known in that way. It’s fun to be a neighborhood character. I’ve been here for about eight years, and it’s gentrifying like everywhere, but it’s a different process to gentrify a neighborhood that already has such a large number of straight-up mansions and single-family homes. It’s still the most diverse neighborhood I’ve lived in since childhood by all metrics, though. I want it to continue that way.

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

It was a heatwave, I was dressed minimally and Hot 97 was on. My local car service had inexplicably sent a fifteen-passenger van to carry me across town to visit a friend who was working around the corner from a waste collection site, which is to say—a giant warehouse full of wet, hot Brooklyn garbage with gates open, maximum stench wafting. As we drove by, the trash stink jumped into the van real quick, filled the other fourteen seats and rode with us for the last couple blocks. I couldn’t help but be impressed by it. I had to wonder at its invisible force. Somewhere in that moment I found myself thinking—God, I fucking love it here. Which doesn’t make any sense but, you know, it does.

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

A poetry community is the people you can send a draft to in the middle of the night and get a response before the morning. They’re the people who call you deeper into your work and the calling to be that person for others. It’s being present for those conversations. I have that dynamic with people and it’s an indispensable sort of intimacy for me, but that’s not to say that these individuals necessarily know or work with each other. Lately I’ve been flirting with the notion of really involving myself more in actual groups. It’s not something I have a ton of experience with, but I can see it. (Ask me to be your friend.)

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

This question reminds me of how I should involve myself in more groups. I don’t know where people live! There are too many Brooklyn poets to love. I’m panicking. I’m gonna punt and say Walt Whitman. I’m sorry. I love you all so much.

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

I worked with Sekou Sundiata in college. He gave me my first real notion of gaming a poem, sneaking up on it to trick it into telling you its real intention, tickling it, turning it upside down. It was really empowering to have someone so adept and in control of his poetic instrument to share his craft with me. He gave me the tools to feel like a real legit poet right there and then at eighteen, not someone waiting to become something.

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

I’ve really been enjoying smutty, hyperliterary queer fiction like Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor and Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg. They’re deeply hot and SO nerdy at the same time, which is my favorite combination of traits. I wish I could write like that but my mom Googles me everyday, so.

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

Oh, boy. A lot of stuff. I haven’t read The Bluest Eye. I think that might be illegal.

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 read more fiction than any other genre and if I’m really enjoying it, I’ll read it way too fast and sort of collapse afterwards for a while till I’m ready to move on to something else. That said, sometimes my attention span shifts for a season or two, like this past summer, when I read half of five books before circling back to complete them. I don’t really recommend that at all. I have a hard time shifting gears to read in other genres, though. When I try to read poetry with my fiction eyes on, it can be a waste, nothing sticks. I have to adjust my information metabolism to make it work. I used to read for a living (working as an editor) so I’ve developed a bunch of tricks and habits and reading rules of thumb, such as: If something is boring and you don’t like it, you can stop reading it. I much prefer physical books, but I’m also a proponent of audio books. You can always have an audio book on the side of whatever else you’re reading for those bothersome moments when your hands and eyes are busy. It saved my reading life when I was a new mom and it felt like I never had more than one hand free at a time.

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

I want to write a novel in verse! Like Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, but swearier.

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

Your basic clichés: cross-country trains, oxblood banquettes by the window, little gardens that you might not know were there.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Coney Island, the elevated stretches where the trains cross water, basically any place near the rivers that’s still scruffy and electric feeling. The ferry.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the surface scrim,

And what I project that you can receive,

For every particle of me as good as wave to you.

Why Brooklyn?

Because the light over the BQE at sunset is more glorious than it has any reason to be.