Poet Of The Week

Nicole Callihan

     April 7–13, 2014

Nicole Callihan’s debut book of poems, SuperLoop, was published by Sock Monkey Press in early 2014. Her poems, stories and essays have appeared in Forklift, Ohio, Painted Bride Quarterly, Salt Hill, The L Magazine, North American Review and Cream City Review and have been translated into German and Spanish. A finalist for the Iowa Review’s Award for Literary Nonfiction, she was named Notable Reading for Best American Nonrequired Reading and awarded Best of the Net 2010 for fiction. She has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation and also co-authored the nonfiction book Henry River Mill Village. A Senior Language Lecturer at New York University, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughters. Find her on Facebook or Twitter.

The Poem

The poem may
begin with an article—

or an article
of clothing—

sweater—or of
one who sweats—

you—may begin
with your eyes—

tired—and there
is always I—

I may begin
the poem with

I—or perhaps—
my mother—

though she grows
old—if only

in the poems
does she grow old—

if only
the poems grow old—

or the sweater—

just above
the clavicle—

or if I—
just above your

or the poem

above its own—
may never

even begin—

—From SuperLoop, Sock Monkey Press, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

It was made a very long time ago. I was living in South Slope—in an era of imitation crabmeat and cheap white wine—and writing lots of poems, but I was growing tired of the poems, growing tired of my mother always showing up in them in that old blue sweater of hers. This poem speaks to that getting tired. Shortly after, I quit writing poems for a decade. By some strange grace, the poems from back then survived and finally found a home, and this one is the last poem in my collection, SuperLoop, which was published in February by Sock Monkey Press.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a new collection that seems to concern itself with the intersections between the real and the virtual worlds. How can we mother while mentally crafting our Status Updates? How can we live in a body while Wikipedia-ing “body”? I’m also collaborating on a series of prose poems with the poet Zoe White. The back-and-forth is fascinating. It’s like our subconsciouses are having a party, and we’re just there to transcribe.

What’s a good day for you?

A cup of tea and a blinking cursor while everyone else is still sleeping. Loving on my husband and my girls. A long walk down Court Street. Wacky conversations with my students. A lot of laughing. Warm soup. A poem.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I fell in love with Brooklyn when I came to a latke party in Carroll Gardens in the mid-nineties. I remember thinking, This is where I want to spend the rest of my life. For the past eight years, my husband and I have lived about three blocks from where that latke party took place; we brought our daughters home here. I also did a year in the dreamy Heights but the food was terrible, and before that, five or so years in South Slope, which I remember as mostly dead birds and discount stores but I hear it’s different now.

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

One night in Coney Island, I ended up in the front car of the Cyclone with the sword swallower from the side-show. He may or may not have tried to kiss me later.

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

YAWP. And I heart Hart Crane. And, of course, so many others, too many to name, but there is a woman named Amy Hosig in Williamsburg whose poems I love so deeply and completely. I once read her poem “Shrimp” over and over to my students. I told them I wouldn’t stop until their lives were changed. Finally, it happened. Okay, okay, a student finally yelled. My life is changed.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

BookCourt. It’s where I was IMPOSSIBLY discovered by Terence Degnan. I had a reading for my nonfiction book, Henry River Mill Village, and I decided to sneak in a couple of poems because I had started writing them again. Next thing I knew I was blowing the dust off a decade-old manuscript and looking for cover art. I also just love the BookCourt readings and love that they don’t mind when my daughters and I plop down and read Elephant & Piggie books for an hour on a snowy day.

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

I’m a huge fan of the Brooklyn Writers Space run by my Sock Monkey Press publisher, Scott Adkins, and his wife, Erin Courtney. It’s quiet and lovely, clean, well-lighted. Mostly, though, I write and read in my office in the Metrotech: a latte from La Défense, crazy art work, blooming trees, a window. I love that little square of downtown.

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

The waterfront: the Manhattan skyline never ceases to make me giddy. And I also live for going to the homes of my friends who can cook, letting all the kids play while we feast, then walking home through our sweet Brooklyn streets.

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

Stop Wanting by Lizzie Harris. It hurt my heart and gave me nightmares. Dang, that’s some good stuff.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

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

I celebrate Sal from around the corner who ran the flower shop and gave my girls quarters to ride the horsey. And what I didn’t know until his heart gave out last Halloween was the beauty of Guido’s Funeral Home, which I celebrate too. You’ve never seen so many lilies. You should know, if I die in Brooklyn, you’ll find me there. The pretty perfumed lady will let you in, and you can stand near the velvety blue wallpaper and stare at your shoes; you can say she would have wanted it this way, whatever way this is, because that’s what we say. For everybody knew Sal: his daughter and his ex-wife and his lover and Big Frank and Uncle Anthony and sweet-as-pie Noel and my husband and me. As good neighbors, you go, and you sit in the row, and even if you’re not Catholic you cross yourself; and even if you’ve forgotten how to pray, you try; and even if you don’t give a damn about the Yankees, you stand in the foyer bitching about them until, finally, you collect your things—wrapping your scarf in the way you learned only after leaving the south—and wander back out into the cold Brooklyn air.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

Upon taking the Facebook Quiz, “Which borough are you?”

O strange one, my love:

If littlie is to biggie

as badger is to dodger,

if paper is to pen,

as sweetness is to sin,

if mother is to father,

and joker is to jack,

if money is (sob sob) to rob,

then, you, my dear, (Tweet it!) are Brooklyn!

Why Brooklyn?

I love that in just a few short blocks I can go from being totally anonymous to totally known then back again.