February 3–9, 2020
Richard Quigley is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at Columbia University School of the Arts. He also holds a BA from Purchase College, SUNY, where he was a two-time recipient of the Ginny Wray Creative Writing Award and a winner of the Friends of Humanities / Academy of American Poets Prize. He was named a semifinalist in the 2019 Discovery / Boston Review Poetry Contest from the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Adroit Journal, Small Orange, Day One, Phantom, B O D Y and the Grief Diaries, among other print and online publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is a lecturer in creative writing at Purchase College, SUNY.
Someone said it was better for me to be here.
I don’t believe her.
In my papery blue gown, I refuse breakfast.
Plastic cups with foil tops of warm orange juice.
She’s quick to remind me
I can’t bring it back to my room.
Who knows what harm I could do.
Later she calls me punk rock
and means well. Every hour, signs
of how alive I still am
are measured by the weight of machines.
Next in line, I’m promised a kingdom
of Benadryl, clean underwear,
cold water. I return to my place with the rest.
What are you doing here? she finally asks.
Defect of memory reversing:
Self-portrait with body,
and with knife, tenderly pressing shut
the thing that came open.
—Originally published in Small Orange, October 2019.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
A poem exists as a way to make sense of the senseless, to speak of the unspeakable. At the time that I wrote this poem, I had just climbed out of what felt like a dark fever dream, as I wasn’t able to fully understand what had happened to me. I knew that I had lived something, but I couldn’t remember living.
In the same breath, I hadn’t written in a very long time. It was almost like I had to prove to myself that I still knew how. It was difficult. I didn’t know how to begin, where to end, or how I wanted the poem to travel. But then I was able to find a way in.
“Abandonarium” was a visitation, meaning it arrived all at once, and completely. I’ve only revised very little of it, which has never been the case for any of my poems. Visitations rarely happen for me, as I’m a painfully slow writer. This poem was a gift.
The failure of memory is something I’m still coming to terms with, both in life and in my writing. Its function, or dysfunction, now bores itself into many, if not all, of my poems in some way or another.
What are you working on right now?
New poems, getting a manuscript together, trying to make my bed every morning.
What’s a good day for you?
Waking up early with no alarm, having a clean apartment, getting a few hours to myself.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I broke up with Manhattan. (We’re still on good terms, though.)
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’ve lived in Bed-Stuy for the past two years, but have only been in the Stuyvesant Heights neighborhood for one. In my (almost) eight years of being in New York, this has been my favorite place to live. It’s so vibrant and beautiful, from the tree-lined streets to the architecture to the people. Everyone is kind to one another. I know that the neighborhood is changing, because all neighborhoods are changing, but there’s still such a feeling of authenticity here.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Four years ago, I fainted on the L train during morning rush hour. It was so tightly packed that my body remained upright until three stops later, when I came to. No one noticed. It was kind of perfect.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
The poetry community in New York is constantly evolving, expanding and redefining itself. It’s incredible, really. To have such a supportive, inspiring community of poets who are also friends, colleagues, teachers and heroes—I’m so very, very lucky to be a part of it.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
All of them. Even the ones who’ve left Brooklyn.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I feel like every poet I’ve ever read has mentored me in some way or another, but I owe so much to the incredible teachers I’ve had over the years, including Lucie Brock-Broido, Monica Ferrell, Rob Ostrom, Cate Marvin and Cynthia Cruz.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Franny Choi’s Soft Science is an absolute knockout. Read it for yourself.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
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?
My reading process is pretty erratic. I pick books up, put them down, come back to them years later, or abandon them altogether. I’d like to think I plan out my reading in advance, but I don’t. Some of my favorite works have been discovered at random. I wouldn’t describe myself as a “note-taker,” but I’m constantly writing things down while reading, regardless of whether those things are related or not. I don’t write in my books—and yes, always, physical books.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Long (like, really long) forms.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I usually like to write in places I’m not supposed to—while I’m at work, in bed or watching TV. I write while I’m in transit, whether it’s on the subway, bus or the train ride up to Westchester where I teach. There’s something about being untethered to a specific location that I like. With reading, however, I could do that anywhere.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
There are so many! BAM, the Morbid Anatomy Museum, Domino Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, my best friend Taryn’s backyard in Williamsburg—these are just a few. I love them because they are places I always want to return to.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate locked rooms that lead to another.
And what I did to map out my life, a net of white flowers
to show where you stood in the kitchen.
There’s a story for every moon carved into me,
as good and as valued as the light that’s fallen out of you.
Because it has to be.