There’s this draw to France, French, and French history in Steal it Back, specifically in poems like “The Lake Ella Variations” and “Journey of Marie De Medici.” Where does that come from for you? And could you talk about how you see it functioning in your work?
Part of that is that my mother is from France and I grew up bilingual so I think that France just comes into my work because there’s a sense that France is sort of the “mother country” for me. But, of course, the mother-daughter relationship is complicated!
There are many long and/or sequenced poems in Steal it Back such as “Alice in America,” “Occupying,” and “Glass Box.” What appeals to you about those forms? Have you always been drawn to them or did you find them along the way?
These longer forms happened because I wrote this book entirely at work and commuting, so I would start a poem and then I would need to teach or go pick up my kids from school or change a diaper. I was constantly being interrupted and I think that my book tries to address the way we make art when we have limited amounts of time because our lives are stolen from us by wage labor or other forms of labor. But, I began to piece together these bits of writing and realized that I could create longer poems out of these smaller segments.
Who are your favorite poets to read? Were there writers who you felt influenced Steal it Back in particular?
I have so many poetry crushes. I tend to go back to a lot of the same poets. I love Paul Celan, Langston Hughes, Mina Loy, Jack Spicer, Alice Notley, Bernadette Mayer, John Wieners, Claudia Rankine, all the poets at Commune Editions, Bob Kaufman….there are just too many to name.
You have said elsewhere that you love the poems in Plath’s Ariel. Could you talk about what the word “confessional” means for you? How do you see your poems embodying the conventions of confessional poetry and also pushing its boundaries?
For me “confession” has moral overtones that I don’t totally get. I think that my poems use the personal to say something about class and gender. I think as a single mother who works outside of the home, I have very little in common (materially) with a lot of my poetry peers but I think as an artist and writer, I have a lot in common with people outside of the poetry world because there are a lot of single moms in the world, in general. When a single mom or mom comes up to me at a poetry reading and says that she can relate to what I’m talking about in my poems, I feel deeply gratified. So, in the end it’s about connection with people like me. I want them to know that I understand what they are going through because I am also going through it.
I am Inside the Humanities and
if I step too far out of it, I’m dead. The figure at the top left corner is Securitas. No rent! No work! No wages! No more! For those thinking of disturbing the peace, let the hanged man be your warning. In order to write this poem, I paid daycare $523 for the week. Make sure you premix the bottles, bring diapers. Make it worth something, this time. Mayan countdown clock to Mayan countdown clock, two bodies, in a bed wanting the water of the world to give them back a pyramid.
Also, the bronze head of Adam. Also, the world of children, their toys, the plastic imitation food—eggs, miniature cereal boxes, deformed mirror to the real. I could not keep working to make money for the people I despised, nothing is right, but I couldn’t afford not to either. Late at night, Craig said “I hate my job.” The hydrologists have to give permits to Gulf Oil for more water or someone will get fired. It was winter in Florida, the path to all principles of all inquiries led back to this one statement, like a receipt from Publix: I was teaching the humanities again.
In the garden of fallen aristocrats, where no one sits on the lawn, it is as if heaven is on one side, hell, on the other, and somehow I have slipped very far into the abyss between the two, an abyss that contains suns the way black holes do not give back the history of light, the way a galaxy turns like a clock into the desperate desire for water and these flowers -- what can I make of them? They bloom like idiots, live as thieves.
I get Craig’s cryptic texts from West Florida on my walk at Lake Ella: “No coffee. Nuclear power plant” and then he sends a picture of some industrial map of rust.
O Apollinaire, eau-de-vie, in this garden, which is a mockery of all gardens, in this Bed, Bath and Beyond of the intimate, remember me. My daughter is 43 pounds. I know what is real and I know how to steal back what is mine.