December 14–20, 2020
Patrycja Humienik, daughter of Polish immigrants, is a writer and performer based in Seattle. Her poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in BOAAT, Passages North, Four Way Review, Poetry Northwest, Sporklet, Hobart, the Shallow Ends and elsewhere. She is events director for the Seventh Wave and works at the University of Washington in service of underrepresented grad students, faculty and staff. This past fall, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Xandria Phillips’s workshop Feeding Yourself.
Author photo by Gabrielle Bates
i blow out the candle
scent of amber, tobacco, atlas cedar,
rosewood, clove: the smoke
curls into thinking, the thought takes
your form by the river curling
in a narrow ravine: the river, your sun-drunk
body, my thinking: serpentine: cinching the waist
of the world: invocation: the softest bell: echo
under my tongue: for a moment the water is still
but i can’t stand it: i can’t stand in it, it’s too deep,
must my feelings always be so obvious? i suppose
i could accept that longing has made a home of me
—Originally published in Sporklet, October 2020.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem over the summer, watching the smoke curl after blowing out a candle (made by Brooklyn-based botanical perfumer and novelist Tanaïs!). I’ve been paying more attention to scent the last few years, which is at once grounding and a way, briefly, to travel. The poem came out almost fully formed, I think in part because I’d been turning over the ending line in my mind, trying it out in other poem drafts, for months. I realized I was trying to make it work with past memories, when what I needed was to write into a current moment, to step into the current of my own thinking. I was thinking a lot about rivers, and continue to, which has deepened with reading and rereading Natalie Diaz’s stunning Postcolonial Love Poem this year, particularly her poem “The First Water Is the Body.”
What are you working on right now?
I recently finished up a chapbook called we contain landscapes. I think a larger project (dare I say book?!) is growing out of it; I’m letting new work emerge and trying to give myself space from the chapbook manuscript instead of tinkering further. On one hand, I appreciate the endless play possible with poems, and don’t want to be so precious or urgent about my work that I don’t take the time to dig in. Being more patient with revision has transformed my writing. On the other, I’ve been turning over this passage in my head from “Tending” in Jenny Xie’s Eye Level: “One self prunes violently / at all the others / thinking she’s the gardener.” In the context of writing projects, I’m trying to notice when I might be over-revising and risk erasing, or trying to perfect, a past self. Can I allow my grappling, my possible failures, to be made visible?
In other creative work, I’m singing more again and hope to find my way back to making music in the coming seasons.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day lately involves letting myself rest, without guilt or feeling like I’m at the mercy of pain/discomfort in my body. A good day is one in which I make time for reading, noticing beauty, and for making (a poem, song, dance) out of a genuine question and/or pleasure and/or risk-taking. I’ve been sending more mail again, to beloveds all over, to pen-pals in solitary confinement, and it’s an even better day when I receive mail, too. These days, good or bad, I’m taking more baths.
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’ve lived in Seattle, WA, for just over two years now, so I’m still quite new. I’ve met brilliant, generous writers and activists here. Considering Seattle has been one of the fastest-growing metropolises in the country, it’s complicated. I hesitate to compare anywhere to other places I’ve lived. I grew up in Evanston, just outside of Chicago, and spent a decade in Colorado (Boulder and Denver), where I started to really grow into myself. I’m a waterbaby, Scorpio raised by two Cancers by an inland sea; being surrounded now by multiple bodies of water is medicinal to me. When it comes to how this city is changing, I learn a lot from writers here like Dujie Tahat, who unpacks some of the changes and Seattle’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature alongside other writers in a collection of essays called Seismic: Seattle, City of Literature (ed. Kristen Millares Young). I am inspired by legacies of struggles for justice here I’m learning more about, from the struggles of the Duwamish and Coast Salish peoples to the mutual aid efforts of the Seattle Black Panther Party.
I wonder if I’ll ever have an answer to the first question—as a daughter of formerly undocumented Polish immigrants, like many whose lives have been shaped by migration, I’m obsessed with and ever-grappling with the concept of home.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I’ve only visited NYC twice in my adult life. I had the pleasure of attending the Beyond the Bars conference years ago, got to hear Angela Davis speak, and every morning I ate a perfect tamale at a stand near my friend’s apartment in Sunset Park on my way to Columbia University. On another trip a few years back, I went to a queer dance party alone somewhere in Brooklyn—a friend bailed at the last minute and I decided to go anyway, costume-less just before Halloween, where I experienced the sweetness of strangers, including being lovingly handed a hot dog costume upon entrance. I hope to come back on the other side of this pandemic and learn about all the sweet spots (may they survive). There are many dreamy Brooklyn poets I hope to hear read!
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
Poetry community to me is about depth, tenderness and generosity. I want to be a part of creating more generous spaces (IRL and virtually) where people can show up as their full selves.
So many incredible writers and artists live in Seattle. I arrived hungry to grow more in my writing life, after seven-plus years of not submitting work. Among the brilliant, supportive writers I’ve met, Gabrielle Bates, now one of my dearest friends, has taught me not just about poetry but also about supporting and growing with other writers. Growth and connection has happened virtually for me, too, with writers all over. As bizarre and tiresome as social media can be, I learn a lot via generous threads on elements of craft, revision, publishing. I’ve connected with poets through classes outside of higher ed including Brooklyn Poets (many of which, I’m so grateful, offer scholarships), and in these virtual spaces I’ve met more queer writers, writers who are children of immigrants, etc. I longed for that growing up. I’m not going to pretend poets are somehow exempt from the bullshit we all get caught up in, but the fact is, poets have changed my life. It’s beautiful being in community with artists who try to live that Gwendolyn Brooks ethic: “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I am moved by the work of many Brooklyn-based poets including Jenny Xie, Marwa Helal, Angel Nafis. Aracelis Girmay—I’ll be rereading her work til I die. Shira Erlichman’s work and interdisciplinary way mean a lot to me, as do the spaces for learning she creates (shout out to In Surreal Life and the gorgeous poets I met through that virtual community).
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Some of my most influential poetry mentors have been friends. I’ve been influenced by the generosity, depth and brilliance of poets and friends Gabrielle Bates, Erin Lynch, Erin McCoy and Steven Espada Dawson, to name a few. I was fortunate to work with poet, essayist and professor Jehanne Dubrow through AWP’s Writer to Writer mentorship program. In our short time together, she deepened my study of poetry without narrowing possibilities or molding me in her own image, all while taking me and my work seriously (incredibly affirming as a poet without an MFA)—the opposite is too often a risk with mentorship. There are poets who’ve been generous in conversation with me over the years, who may not know I consider them a kind of mentor, among them Adrian Matejka, Shira Erlichman and Leila Chatti. One of the best poetry workshops I’ve ever taken was the Brooklyn Poets workshop with Xandria Phillips this autumn; I’m inspired by how they integrate interdisciplinarity, value process, and hold a space of simultaneous depth and play.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I keep returning lately to Jenny Xie’s Eye Level and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. I am stunned by the ways Jenny Xie unpacks seeing and being seen, solitude, guilt and place throughout Eye Level. The entire book is beautiful—my favorite poems in it keep changing. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants is another book I keep thinking about, in particular a passage about how the “it” of English invites disrespect (“Our toddlers speak of plants and animals as if they were people … until we teach them not to”) in the chapter “Learning the Grammar of Animacy.” I am grateful to both of these books for pushing my thinking and gifting me more language for felt experience, re: being a person in relationship to other living beings, to past selves, to place.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I’ve been meaning to read more of Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz in Polish, and Cecilia Vicuña in Spanish. I read quite slowly in Polish and Spanish these days. The to-read stack grows and grows! Has someone started a reading residency yet?
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 confess, I read many books at once, especially when it comes to poetry. I often enjoy having one book that I keep returning to, a kind of anchor, while I dip in and out of others, and the constellated conversation that happens in my mind as a result. It’s chaotic! But rich. Sometimes I take notes in a journal when I read (I have a resistance to marking up books). This year, the books I keep returning to: Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem, Aracelis Girmay’s Kingdom Animalia, Linda Gregg’s All of It Singing, Jenny Xie’s Eye Level, Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires and Aria Aber’s Hard Damage. I strongly prefer physical books, but I also enjoy having tabs of poems open from Twitter or online journals like the Adroit Journal, BOAAT and wildness, where I can read poets who might not be on my shelves (yet).
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I am increasingly into photography and would like to play more with image and text. I’m inspired by the collages Eloisa Amezcua sends out in her dream life newsletters and Sarah J. Sloat’s visual poetry, among poets making at this intersection.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love reading outside, especially with the sound of water near. I think one of my favorite reading experiences ever was by the window on a long train ride along the coast to California. In the beforetimes, I liked to read after work in the magical reading room at the UW library, with its ornate high ceilings and stained-glass windows, and at coffeeshops. May spaces of gathering survive.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate desire,
And what I touch, you may not know,
For every landscape in me as good as what calls to you. What calls to you?