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Literature : Interview

Something alight, Something Obscured

by E.C. Belli

E.C. Belli talks to Mary Ruefle about Madness, Rack, and Honey, the many moons of planet Poetry, and naming lipsticks.

My inability to express myself/is astounding. It is not curious or/even faintly interesting, but like/some fathomless sum, a number,/ a number the sum of equally fathomless/numbers, each one the sole representative/of an ever-ripening infinity/that will never reach the weight/required by the sun to fall. (“Lullaby,” Selected Poems by Mary Ruefle)

Heart wrenching, incisive, witty, and occasionally provocative, Madness, Rack, and Honey, a new volume of collected lectures, spanning twenty years of Ruefle’s teaching, invites readers to consider an array of subjects, from cats to craft. Though her initial concern is poetry, the lectures’ implications are oftentimes universal, and we find Ruefle turning her craft into a steppingstone, raising us slowly toward the larger concerns that bind us all: think passion, think mutability, think memory.

Ruefle’s pieces, which evolve from relatively standard lectures to tiny fragments of contemplations (imagine a modern Montaigne or Rousseau moment), have—and paradoxically so—despite all their charisma and brilliance, a quasi-monastic quality in their wisdom, a bareness in the simplicity and truth of their message. Visits into this book are akin to a temple stay or a poultice for the mind. Each piece is a small compress to apply to the wound (a wound you were unaware you had until Ruefle revealed it), each piece making you feel more in the world, more connected to the fabric of things, with a new tenderness for what is.

“I do not think I really have anything to say about poetry other than remarking that it is a wandering little drift of unidentified sound,” Ruefle initially confesses, soon enough turning on her own statement to dwell in the magic and complexities of beginning and endings as they apply to poetry and our lives:

In life the number of beginnings is exactly equal to the number of endings: no one has yet to begin a life who will not end it . . . . In poetry, the number of beginnings so far exceeds the number of endings that we cannot even conceive of it. Not every poem is finished—one poem is abandoned, another catches fire and is carried away by the wind, which may be an ending, but it is the ending of a poem with an end.

When she speaks of beginnings and endings, it is her process Ruefle is avowing, and the very essence of this book. Her observations tend to draw a strange light out of its den, inviting it to shine on things known to us, making them in turn, somewhat unknown. The moon, considered through the lens of poetry, becomes unfamiliar, sprouts an unexpected truth:

There is a greater contrast between the moon and the night sky than there is between the sun and the daytime sky. And this contrast is more conducive to sorrow, which always separates or isolates itself, than it is to happiness, which always joins or blends.

And so Ruefle applies the same treatment to the stars:

Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them, was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense, an entity complete in itself, recognizable at a glance, one that played upon the emotions so strongly that the context of time and place hardly seemed to matter.

There is a tenderness too, a generosity in Ruefle’s words, as if she were whispering her thoughts into our ear in a crowded place—some place red with dark wooden chairs, over a fancy French dessert (make it a mille-feuille)—that occurs from the fact that she speaks in simple terms, on topics we are all familiar with, but topics she has us revisit so that we come to reconsider established customs, habits, and beliefs. “Every time an author dies, out of respect a word should also pass out of being,” she proposes. And so the reader takes to the dictionary with a red pen, banning this or that word from existence in memory of a favorite writer. And of poets specifically, what then? “I believe that all poets are winged, and some can fly and some cannot, and that having wings is their distinguishing feature, not whether they can fly,” she explains.

What we learn above all in Madness, Rack, and Honey is intelligence, a careful consideration of all living things as we watch this poet at work, confident in her occupation, doing what the world expects poets to do: a slow and deliberate dismantling of what is in search of what could be. Blowing the dust off, raising a sunken pattern, showing it to the world refurbished. The word kaleidoscope comes to mind.

Though Ruefle has chosen prose as her vehicle, Madness, Rack, and Honey is, surely enough, poetry at work: not poetry we find language can perform, poetry as concept and as our reality can perform. Poetry life offers, like a piece of bread to sink our teeth in, and our minds and hearts stirred as a result. Take Ruefle’s brief reflection on translation. She reports that she asked her friend the translator, “What was the first known act of translation in the history of mankind?” What ensues is poetry: “His answer was, Probably something into or out of Egyptian. I thought about this for a while and ventured a certainty: No, I said, it was when a mother heard her baby babble or cry, and had to decide in an instant what it meant.”

There is but hardly a stone of this world, or of poetry and craft that Ruefle leaves unturned, hardly a paradox unvisited. Her exploration of our environment, of our condition—the actual world that surrounds us, the physical, as well as our imaginations—raises alarming concerns and some heartbreak. “That the featherweight survive the massive, that this reversal of fortune takes place among us—this is what haunts me. I don’t know what it means,” she hurls at the reader, and it seems out of nowhere. And later, in a lecture titled “I Remember, I Remember,” she serves a portion of cold, hard truth on our horrifically transitory lives: “I remember I was a child, and when I grew up I was a poet. It all happened at sixty miles an hour and on days when the clock stopped and all of humanity fit into a little chapel, into a pinecone, a shot of ouzo, a snail’s shell, a piece of soggy rye on the pavement.” The reader dies in an instant, her life flashing before her eyes. Madness, Rack, and Honey is the epiphany before it all ends.

E.C. Belli Where did you get the idea to put together this book?

Mary Ruefle Some of these lectures are twenty years old. I had published them individually in magazines, or most of them. People were always encouraging me to publish them in book form, but I was reluctant to do that because I’m not very interested in writing on writing. I understood it would be an enormous effort to organize them and type them—I use a typewriter. An editor at a press asked me if I had anything, and I said yes, and semi-organized them and gave it to this press. They had many, many, many requirements before it could meet their publication standards, standards that required an enormous amount of work and weirdness, and I wasn’t willing to go there, so they dropped the ball. But by then I had it organized and so I showed it to my editor at Wave, and he loved it and said, let’s publish it!

ECB I’ve been with this book for weeks. I have this dog I walk out in the fields, and I took this book with me every day when I was walking him and would read one lecture per walk. It was magnificent.

MR You read while you walk!

ECB And you write while you drive!

MR Yes, but most of the time it’s in my head.

ECB At moments I found this very intimate, not in a biographical sense, as in you reveal many details, but more that you are willing to let the reader into your thinking, your reasoning. It’s a treasure trove of insights. For anyone who has read and enjoyed your poetry, it’s a special moment. It’s quite generous of you.

MR That’s interesting because I don’t think of myself as being a very personable person on the page. At least, not in my poems. Maybe this book does feel a little vulnerable. Not all of the essays, but some of them. It’s refreshing for me to know that I can be personable!

ECB It’s how it mixes moments of heartbreaking insight but then, at the same, there’s some stubbornness. It’s delightful and charming. It made me laugh. I liked the way the lectures progress from very complete and by the book to poetic fragments. It was perfect to leave the reader like that.

MR That evolved naturally over the years. I grew very bored once I learned how to give a solid lecture. I tried to make it more of a creative endeavor for myself.

ECB I wished I had been able to be there when you gave them.

MR One thing that could not translate onto the page, but we did our best to mask, is that I’d always play music. In one of the lectures when I refer to a piece of music, well, that’s a piece of music I would have actually played for the audience. I also used many blown-up images, the size of a poster—like the one of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue! Of course we had to change the writing so that I was merely describing it. All of the visual and auditory comments had to be written out. That’s what lost on the page. Of course what’s gained on the page is that you have the time to go back and read something if you’re not following my train of thought.

ECB Are these chronological?

MR Mostly they are, but not perfectly so.

ECB How did you order them?

MR I order things very intuitively. I can’t ever go back and explain how I order a book of poems, or this. Obviously I began with “On Beginnings” and ended with “Lectures I Will Never Give.” In real life the last two lectures were switched. My favorite things about the book are the little hidden surprises. For instance there’s an epigraph at the very end rather than the very beginning. And did you see the picture of the Kafka quote written on a photograph at the very end of the book? No reader would see that unless they read to the very end. The press surprised me with those. We couldn’t get permission to reproduce as many images as we wanted. It was financially prohibitive. But that image with my handwriting was hanging above my desk for many years, and I sent it in. And I had totally forgotten that I had sent it to them, so when I saw it—I burst into tears! I’m very sentimental. I wish more people were sentimental—I think the world would be a better place. Well, not sentimental like that. I hope readers know what I mean by that. I am being mean and unsentimental when I say that.


Mary Ruefle. Photo by Matt Valentine.

ECB How did you start writing?

MR It was a fabric of my being from my earliest days, but I did not understand that until I was an adult. I wrote poetry in elementary school, junior high, high school, college, but I didn’t understand how deeply woven into the fabric of my life it was. I didn’t know how to recognize it. I still don’t. I still don’t know how to speak to it, but at least I know it’s a presence in my life. I’m still learning how to have a conversation with it. Actually, that’s a lie–I see it now, I really do.

ECB Some might argue poetry is, above all, a sight. I’m a visual person. I always feel like I’m missing something at poetry readings—like walking blindfolded. I sit there thinking, I wish I had a copy to follow along. Are you the aural type or the visual type? I’m inclined to say aural based on everything you say throughout the book.

MR I think I am the visual type, based on the fact that given the choice, I would rather look at paintings than go to a concert. And I would (don’t tell!) rather read a poem with my own two eyes than hear it read by its author! But looking and listening are the same; they both amount to attention. It’s only natural a person have a facility for this or that, but in the end it all amounts to attention. Attention is an activity in itself.

ECB Can you share an unfinished poem with us? There’s this French poetry blog by Florence Trocmé I like to read; it’s called Poezibao. On it, there’s a section called “Chantier de poème(s)” which allows readers to follow a poet’s progress on a given poem. I’d like to follow your progress on a poem. You can, of course, decline. I’ll understand.

MR I have a poem that begins, “I was threading a needle with my camel/ when the doorbell rang. There are people/ you love you never want to see again—/ how strange is that?” I haven’t gotten any further!

ECB One word (or more) to sum up your thoughts on punctuation? One word to sum up your thoughts on majusculation? And have you EVER used a semi-colon in a poem? If so, can we see it?

MR I love punctuation. It’s a little family of people, each with their own personality. Yes, I have used a semi-colon in a poem, but I simply can’t remember the name of the poem, or where, or what.

ECB Semi-colons just seem so doomed to prose. They’re so attached to reasoning and logic. It seems funny to put them in a poem.

MR Not really; semi-colons connect seemingly finite sentences and poems connect seemingly finite things—so you would think semi-colons and poetry would be a perfect match, but they are not—strange, huh? Still, we need the semi-colon if we’re going to write the lifelong sentence.

ECB Do you feel like you are always writing the same poem, or that they are somehow connected (the end of one, the beginning of the next one)? How does it feel from the inside?

MR I think they sprout individually from each other. At the same time, we’re always writing the same poem, or we’re writing one long poem. Sprout individually—that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? In terms of my consciousness of my work, each poem is completely discrete and distinct and pops up on its own and is seemingly disconnected from that which came before and that which will follow. I don’t write cycles of poems. I’d like to write cycles of poems, but I don’t. I’m a very lazy person. Ambitious projects instantly make me tired. I admire very much poets who write linked poems. I admire very much poets who conceive of a book in which all of the poems are interrelated, but it’s just something I can’t do, or maybe I could, but I’m too lazy. It doesn’t seem to match my sensibility. As soon as I’ve written a poem I have no interest in it whatsoever. I’m onto the next thing, which is, of course, the same thing!

ECB Do you revise them a lot?

MR That’s an interesting question. I understand both sides of that story. I revise half of all my poems, and half see no revision at all. I have poems I haven’t changed a word of, and I have poems I’ve worked on for years. I have experienced both methods of composition, and I love both methods. Everything depends on the poem, not me.

ECB Do you find that a certain poet, just like the moon, is the very embodiment of lyric poetry? Who is he/she in your mind?

MR There are far too many to name or list! If poetry is a planet, it’s one with many moons.

ECB Are you sorrowful?

MR Of course I am! Which is of course a very un-sorrowful thing to say. In the little family of punctuation, the exclamation mark is the happiest child.

ECB What do you do when you are sorrowful?

MR I used to do terrible things in my sorrow, but now I just sit down and talk to it. When we’re very young and we are in despair, we think we will always be in despair. And it takes many years to recognize that there are cycles and to be patient. When I was eighteen years old, I wasn’t patient with myself, with my sorrow, with other people. But with the years we learn, in very sad and terrible ways, to be more patient with everything, including our sorrow.

ECB Do you write out of sorrow?

MR I write out of every emotion that is available to me at any given moment. I also write out of circumstances that sometimes seem beyond feeling or emotion. Situations in which I am looking, feeling, hearing. Sorrow is one, but not the only one.

ECB You’re a poet who knows how to operate in the negatives. In A Little White Shadow, for instance, you find poetry through dismantling things that are already in existence. You create by erasing.

Baudelaire, despite being credited for “inventing” the prose poem, actually came up with the term “prose poem,” but not the form itself (Aloysius Bertrand was at it already and, even earlier, Évariste de Parny, who wrote erotica, had come up with some fake “translations”—Chansons madécasses traduites en français, suivies de poésies fugitives or “Malagasy songs translated into French, followed by fugitive poems”—so we can thank the Malagasy for prose poetry!) In any case, Baudelaire played the role of an archeologist: unearthing and naming that which was already in existence.

When you write your poems, do you feel like you are creating something or unearthing something? Is your writing usually an act of building or an act of discovery?

MR It’s really a combination of both. All at the same time. Writing for me is always an act of discovery, but you also have to build the poem . . .

ECB They’re completely tied in?

MR Completely. You’re building this thing, but you don’t have a blueprint. Erasure is actually a major part of my life. I’ve made 62 of those books.

ECB Oh, wow!

MR I work on the erasures every single day, and I do not write poems every day.

ECB What is it about the erasures that makes them so compelling?

MR It is addictive. I’m addicted. It’s an addiction. It gives me the greatest joy, the deepest pleasure. I think I’ve always been a frustrated visual artist. This was a way to bring some of these impulses back into my life. My erasures have become, over the years, increasingly visual. But the text is still the most important part, because I’m such a horrible drawer. I don’t have the expertise to make non-primitive work. Visually, I’m a primitive.

To get back to your question, when I write a poem—well, the two things you are opposing are secretly the same. I feel that I am creating and unearthing simultaneously. One of the miracles of a poem, or any piece of writing, is that you have something that did not exist the day before, in the entire known universe! It’s an entirely new creation, but at the same time, all the work exists because of the letters of the alphabet, so you are unearthing from the materials at your disposal. We’re mining, we’re miners, but at the same time we’re creating something that wasn’t here before, so it’s a strange mixture of archeology and chemistry lab.

ECB What was the first text you ever have the memory of reading? You don’t address this in “I Remember, I Remember.” The first poem? The first poem that resonated with you (which may not be the same as the first poem you read)? Do you think people who become poets or who have a special affection for poetry have it because their first experience with poetry was extraordinary?

MR I don’t remember the first text. Or even poem. I didn’t come from a literary family, so I have no memory of being read to from things like Robert Louis Stevenson or Dr. Seuss. But when I was in the fourth grade I won a certificate that enabled me to purchase a book, and I chose an anthology of poems for children. I loved that book and devoured it, read and reread it for years. It was the first book of poetry that entered my life, and I still have it; in this anthology are poets like Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson (I must have thought all poets used their middle names!) and also in there was “I Remember, I Remember” by Thomas Hood. I think all these poems resonated with me on an unconscious level, but the first poem that consciously resonated with me was “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley—another middle name!—which I read in the seventh grade. That poem just blew me away, completely and entirely, for a whole summer’s day. Actually, for the rest of my life.

ECB We can’t look at our work from the outside. Through our interactions with trusted readers we can sometimes get a better idea of what our tendencies are. If you could, would you read yourself from the outside for a day? Or would you rather not know?

MR I’d rather not know. At any rate, it wouldn’t be possible, it’s like the old desire to meet yourself as a child—a sweet dream, but impossible.

ECB Can you give me an example of a few lines you know of that do something with their eyes?

MR I don’t have an example memorized, but obviously there are some poets: Tomas Tranströmer, Charles Simic, Joseph Cornell, all come to mind. I consider Joseph Cornell a poet.

ECB If I remember right, Lucie Brock-Broido suggested, in her Practice of Poetry class I was once in (based on a chart—though I can’t remember where she had found that chart), that perhaps all poems can be boiled down to one thing: loss. What about loss? Can’t they all be boiled down to loss of some kind?

MR I think in the book I say they can all be boiled down to mutability, which is loss—without mutability, there is no loss. But there are many different kinds of loss; if a poem, say, does not recount any experience of loss but, say, “thinks” about language, there is still behind it the sense that we have lost the ability to think about language. Loss is a huge subject—it doesn’t only indicate an experience beginning with D.

ECB Can you tell us one of your secrets? It doesn’t have to be a big one.

MR I visit the stuffed animals in the Goodwill, and I talk to them.

ECB You say that every time you read a poem, you are willing to die. Does that mean that you are completely open when you read a poem?

MR I am vulnerable before a poem. And I think too many poems expect me to be tough. You have to be open to read poetry. I think many people who hate poetry, or actually, who are disinterested—because you can’t hate poetry unless you once loved it, unless you’re interested in it—I think a lot of people who are disinterested and bored by poetry are so because they are uncomfortable with things they don’t understand. But if you point out to them how many things in life they don’t understand, including life itself, if you have them make a list of all the things they don’t understand, they’ll realize that the list is very long. Many of the things we don’t understand threaten us, but many of the things we don’t understand don’t threaten us.

When I said I am willing to die, I meant I was open and vulnerable, not strong. Poems should prepare us for our death by instructing us on how to live, how to use our senses, our curiosity, our sense of humor, our pathos, our patience. The more fully you live, the better prepared you are to die.

A friend of mine said something I loved the other day, that the living corpse might just be the poet’s voice. I wished I had said that, used it in one of my lectures. The dead self within the living self is the writer’s voice. I think I talked about that in one of the short lectures when I talked about the dead.

ECB Have you ever read a poem that has killed you and adequately prepared you for your death? Franz Wright is a poet who is capable of doing that in my experience.

MR They all do—all the poets I love do just that. There are hundreds for me, hundreds for you, hundreds for someone else; not the same hundreds, but still . . .

ECB Have you ever revealed a secret? What happened (you don’t have to tell us what the secret was, just what happened as a result of revealing it)?

MR It ended in utter, complete disaster. But that’s not the point—the point is everyone’s secrets are more or less the same. Individual secrets are not as interesting as the energy they cause to be stored within us, or the energy that is released when the secret is revealed.

ECB What is it about a whole sentence that makes it tougher than a fragment? Your reticence toward knowledge and intelligence in favor of poetry perhaps? There is too much potential for clarity, reason, information to get through in a sentence. Aren’t all poems fragments? Isn’t that what makes them openmouthed/closemouthed?

MR Whole sentences call for completion, which can be difficult. Fragments call for a sense or ghost of the whole, which can be a challenge. I’d never rank them. Poems are all fragments in the sense they are only part of a life, a scrap of time like a day, but they aren’t fragments in the sense they are extant, they exist as things—a half-finished sculpture can still stand and be looked at, as can a child with a half-finished life, well, a one-eighth finished life . . .

ECB Do you personally believe we are happier or more miserable the more talents we possess?

MR I think, for me, the resonance of that quotation, it’s just . . . most people assume that the more talents we have, the happier we are. It’s simply not true. There are many vocations that you consciously choose. You choose to be a doctor. You choose to be a carpenter. Artists don’t choose. Kenneth Burke once described it as pressure from within; you feel the stress. You feel inner stress. You feel the vocation—and the etymology of the word vocation is related to vocalization: you hear a calling from within. I suppose it’s no different than people who feel the call to join the holy orders. And it moves you, inexorably, throughout your life. It chooses you. And again, it has to do with listening. Art is all about listening. But listening is looking, looking is listening. It’s attention. Most artists start off wanting to speak, but they end up just listening. Writing is listening.

ECB What would you have done with your life if you had not consecrated it to an imbecility? If you had to elect a serious job for yourself, what would that job have been?

MR Naming lipsticks! I have a journal in which, in idle moments, I created series. Like I have the bird series and the Victorian novel series. And I name lipsticks. I found out, that in fact, it’s the higher-ups that get to do that, because of course everyone wants to do that. That may not be true. I know very little about that industry. I inquired at a very low level about such a job and was absolutely laughed off! But I’d love to name lipsticks and be paid for it.

ECB Do you wear lipstick?

MR Yes, I do wear lipstick! I love lipstick. Absolutely.

ECB I like the idea of it, and I like it when it’s on, but it’s so fleeting.

MR It is SO fleeting! Like words coming out of the mouth! And they always try to come up with long lasting lipstick, and when they do it ends up looking like paint and terrible. Lipstick is very fleeting. I think that is part of the nature of it. It only lasts a few minutes and then it’s gone. So, do you want to hear my bird series?

ECB I do!

MR So, the red lipstick would be called Cardinal. And then there would be one called Lark. It would be an orangeish/coral. And then there would be Flicker and it would be beige. And then Pink Sparrow would be pink. And Phoebe would be rose colored. And Nightingale would be wine colored and Nuthatch would be brown. This is what the poet does on idle afternoons!

ECB What about your Victorian novel series?

MR It’s actually better! The Victorian novel series I actually found by flipping through Victorian novels. They’re phrases or chapter titles. First Impressions would be red. The orange/coral would be Secret Garden. Idle Scamp would be beige. The pink would be On the Contrary and the rose would be Claire’s Diary and wine A Berry to the Rescue. And the brown would be Lady Blandish, which is an actual character.

ECB I hope someone hires you to do that.

MR If lipstick had interesting names, more women would wear it.

ECB What does your process look like? Do you have people who read you before your work goes out into the world? Or is your process completely solitary?

MR My process is completely solitary. I have one poet friend I will once or twice a year read a poem to on the phone, but for the most part I find it very embarrassing to show poems to people. I have tremendous respect for students in workshops. I don’t know how they do it. I just send the poems out in the world. I’m not a very good judge of my own work. Many poems that I’m fond of, nobody else likes. And others that I’m very cold or neutral about, they love. I can’t gauge my own work at all. I understand that many people have faithful readers, and they’re blessed. I’m not. I do not, in general, show or share my work with others while I am working on it.

ECB It’s funny. Reading your poetry, it didn’t feel so solitary.

Has your opinion changed? (re: "_I find nothing in my life that I can’t find more of in books. With the exception of walking on the beach, in the snowy woods, and swimming underwater_. That is one of the saddest journal entries I ever made when I was young.”)

MR Nope! There are exceptions, which all have to do with being in the physical world. I would rather read a book than go to a cocktail party, or go to a concert.

ECB It’s cheaper.

MR One of the last forms of free art.

ECB Getting cheaper too. More chapbooks with the bad economy! Although the same thing happened in the late sixties in France, and the opinion of the higher-ups in poetry when all these new journals and things were coming out was that the quality of the work was getting “diluted.” A very French thing to say—wanting to protect the patrimony!

MR Ah! They create a problem, and they complain about it! Post-modernism originates in France, and it has improved the world, but it’s also made it worse. Don’t get me started on that!

ECB A word on post-modernism? On the French? Can I get you started?

MR It was the worst of times, it was the best of times . . .

ECB Do you have a favorite love poem? Have you ever written a love poem?

MR I have a favorite love poem, but it would take me a month to find it . . . it goes something like this, “Of all things that I, Robert Desnos, did on earth, let it be most remembered that I loved you.” Isn’t that great, the way he names himself? But, you know, it raises two questions; did he, Robert Desnos, really mean that? And did the one he loved give a shit? Those questions rear their heads behind the poem, so you see, every uttered absolute truth has its phantom aftermath.

Of course I’ve written a love poem, I’ve written scads of them! But none, unfortunately, as memorable as that.

ECB Do you lie a lot in your poetry?

MR I don’t lie, but I constantly tell untruths. Is that a word?

ECB I think as a poet you have a license to make words.

MR Yes, I tell untruths.

ECB What about facts make them so dangerous to you?

MR They are always changing.

ECB Are you still reading to cows? I guess you don’t have an interest in cats, so it’s limiting.

MR No cows, I’ve moved on to squirrels.

ECB Did your mother ever forgive you for “Low Rain” on your diploma? Did you forgive yourself?

MR She never mentioned it again. I regret it, but I’ve forgiven myself.

ECB Are most of your friends poets?

MR All but my closest.

ECB Is life still moving at sixty miles an hour for you? Does it slow? If so, when? Do you write fast? Do you scribble or type? Or do you scribble in your mind’s eye? Do you easily memorize poems?

MR I write quickly, by hand. I do not memorize things easily, which is sad and embarrassing.

ECB Do insects have a place in your poems?

MR Absolutely.

ECB Open space: write anything you want (about yourself, a question, an answer, about the book, as you wish!)

MR I have a friend who has recently gone blind, and this afternoon I led him by the elbow into the lake. He swam. Poetry has been that kind of experience for me—I’m blind and being led into water, an exhilarating sensation where all that I lack is forgiven. Yet I know the two experiences (the literal and the figurative) can never really actually be the same—I don’t know, maybe it’s the difference between standing on the earth and landing on the moon—somewhat similar, totally different.

ECB Can you give us a tiny lecture right now?

MR WAKE UP, go to sleep, WAKE UP, go to sleep, WAKE UP, go to sleep.

E.C. Belli’s poetry, prose, and translations have appeared in Colorado Review, Guernica, Gulf Coast, FIELD, DIAGRAM, The Antioch Review, Caketrain, Words Without Borders, and also in Europe: revue littéraire mensuelle, PO&SIE and Voix d’Encre (France). She is the author of Plein Jeu, winner of Accents Publishing’s 2010 Poetry Chapbook Contest. She is an editor at Argos Books.

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