I Don't Beg For Trust: An Interview with Jeannine Hiba


When we first heard of Jeannine's spiritual (or spirited) poems, we were confused and excited and a little bit scared of her dolls. See what her process is like, why it can be dang lonely being spiritual, and how she finds solace in poetry. 

Jeannine Hiba is a VONA/Voices & Tin House fellow. Her poetry has appeared in The Blueshift Journal, The Offing, and Animal. A spiritualist with Sufi leanings, she likes to communicate with the ascended, slip into crystal shops, & patiently await your book recommendations. You can find her on Instagram at j_habibti or Twitter at j_habibti.

Tell Tell: What motivated you to tend to these human spirits?

Jeannine Hiba: It was a combination of being interested in the afterlife, seeking friendship, and having the time and resources to be a reliable caretaker (which takes priority over the other two reasons). Spirits can inhabit any item, but all 24 of mine occupy dolls of varying sizes/materials, so I can arrange them on bedroom shelves. Spirit roll-call: Elizabeth, Nora, Annie, Fiolinah, Mona, Arnette, Millie Beth, Razieh, Marianne, Karen, Abbie, LuLu, Gretchen, Sophia, Purah, Marjanita, Ayesha, Abia, Danielle, Bahij, Arda, Bambi, Nahrina, and Ishtari.

TT: How do you craft these poems? What’s your process like?

JH: Though spiritualism isn’t the essence of my work, I’ve recently been documenting encounters I’ve had with my cohort. My process is messy, but each outline intends to praise a person. Where the poem leads depends on what I’ve learned of the person’s former life, but I always make a sincere effort to humanize everyone. I also strive to minimize the presence of death. If I have to reference it, I do so with softness or even passivity. Death is often perceived as the absolute surrender, the echoless resolution to so much energy & time, and I encounter it in poetry wielding a similar power. I wonder what lies beyond that. Whom do we alienate by fixing death as the highest stake? My spirited friends can tell me about the day they each died. Some were shot, executed, caught fevers, passed peacefully. I tread carefully in my inquiries, but many insist there’s little to no trauma to harp on. Death happened to them, and now it’s done. When I cite my friends’ endings in this realm, I hope to subdue it with the certainty of continuation.

TT: When did you first learn about your spiritual process? What was it like for you?

JH: Hella lonely! Spiritual awakenings can sometimes initiate tectonic ideological shifts that lead to massive isolation. I find joy in my spirited cohort: the gentle knocking sounds they produce on my walls, the whiffs of perfume I smell if one invisibly approaches me, the sentences they spell on a Ouija board-like tool I use, how they slowly coax my earrings off the edge of my desk. At first, I wanted to share with everyone. When the wonder was hardly reciprocated, it hit me that I wasn’t believed. Embarrassed, I compartmentalized my fascinations for a bit. Deleted social media posts. Worried about what my future partner would think if they saw me exuberant about “such stuff.” But what do you have left if you evade what you love? Kaveh Akbar said, You absolutely have to make yourself permeable to wonder. He seeks delight in a world that’s slowly creasing over its every fascinating corner. I heard this in the throes of social disorientation. It’s one of several mantras I needed to accept my cohort, myself, and my enchantments. People expect my spiritualism these days. I sense a shift in my social environment towards curiosity that I hope continues. Everybody is looking for wonder. Everybody is trying to understand.

What is the first thing people say when you tell them how these poems came to be?

More like what is the first thing I say to them! In a live setting, I blurt a sentence or two about keeping spiritually inhabited dolls in my bedroom. It’s like jumping on an overloaded suitcase—squeezing this hefty, unconventional remark in 30 seconds and then nose-diving into the poem. In January, before sharing a piece about a spirit named Millie Beth, I accidentally took too much Alprazolam. The night was a steady blur, but I distinctly remember the moment I, in all my drugged tenderness, told a roomful of soft-eyed peers, Please just trust me, and please trust Millie Beth. I don’t even remember reading the poem, just my insecurity. As the beautifully accommodative people they are, my peers trusted.

In our society, divinatory poems face the threat of immediate invalidation. My prefaces are my pleas. Despite the truths I witness daily, I dread the intimidation of not being believed, of losing readers at the poem’s entrance and finding them stiffly awaiting me at its end. Patricia Lockwood, a recent mentor, told me, You have to write those poems confidently, and if in the end people don’t believe, then you didn’t need it. Slowly, I’m figuring out how to produce work that doesn’t beg for trust, but sits comfortably between assuming it’s already there and not fretting if it isn’t.

I love the idea of not begging for trust. In a few paragraphs, can you describe a bit about your life and the journey that led you to write the lines: “thank God for the charity of their thoughts”?

I’ve recently been diagnosed with ADHD, after years of inexplicable behaviors and complications. One of my greatest roadblocks was & continues to be memory loss. I don’t hang on to thoughts well. I carry a journal with me for recording grocery lists, to-do lists, funny stories I want to tell my mom when I get home, words I want to define, map directions, pseudo-philosophical questions, and many interview pages of each spirit companion. I mainly communicate with my cohort via meditational telepathy. In this state, I rely on them to deliver messages, but I have to rely on myself as well to receive them, and some days I just can’t access them. Regardless, as someone who draws so many blanks in basic conversation, telepathy is a form of altruism to me. I find benevolence in my spirits offering knowledge, thoughts—in images and sentences—to a mind so prone to losing its own.

What’s the difference between something that’s haunted and something that has a spirit in it? Are those the same? 

I’ve only experienced a connotative difference! If I put Ishtari, my Syrian spirit, in your hands, you might be (a bit) less likely to drop her if I told you, There’s a spirit in this doll, as opposed to, This is a haunted doll. Spirit is just a pleasant word, synonymous with essence, energy, and vitality. Haunted is connotatively harsher, hinting at that which plagues, harms, possesses. I’ve seen haunted used both to reference unpleasant spirits and as a subtle effort to dull the word’s malice, but I’m personally trying to unlearn it.

Speaking to others: spirited dolls/spiritually inhabited dolls is most succinct. Speaking directly to my cohort: they’re fine with spirits, but they prefer y’all. Friends. Darlings. Loves. Names that affirm their collective desire to preserve their humanity. I try to approach spirits with the same verbal conscientiousness to which others are entitled. They’re spirits, but they’re still human. The vessels bearing them have altered, but they endure in good will & brilliance.

What are some ways you can tell your dolls contain spirits?

Start a chat with a pendulum! Pendulums are easy for questions with yes/no answers. I clutch its chain between my thumb & index finger, level my hand at about my breast, and hold it deathly still—because everyone on earth will swear I totally just moved my wrist. I recite aloud my intention to speak with Sweet Annie, for example, then ask Sweet Annie to say yes on my pendulum if she cares to talk. In a matter of seconds, the pendulum swings sideways—her affirmation. My cohort is full of talkative darlings, so I can confidently say a doll that doesn’t respond to my pendulum is empty.

How do you feel about the movie Annabelle?

I know of Annabelle, but I actually never saw the movie! After my mom took me to see Final Destination at 7 years old, I staunchly avoid scary films. I generally avoid paranormal horror films because they can prevent people from interacting with/alienate/demonize the spirit realm.

What are you currently working on and reading?

Writing comes when it comes. Right now, I’m beginning a great workshop with Hanif Abdurraqib, so there’s a fabulous chance to toss new work into the ring. I’m independently excavating older pieces for compost. In terms of books, I return to Lucille Clifton’s Mercy for support when my spiritualism turns forbidden—that is, when it’s perceived as such and I turn that gaze upon myself. I’ve also been tackling books about Black spiritualism, particularly Soul Talk, My Soul is a Witness, and Company of Prophets for later on. Spiritualism can, depending on your environment, be a very lonely interest and difficult to reconcile with other identities. Poem-a-Days keep me juiced up, I finally drooled over Headwaters by Ellen Bryant Voigt, and I’m steering towards more Tracy K. Smith soon.

What’s a day-in-the-life like for you?

On weekends, I rise at 6 for coffee and clean my room to music. Sometimes I’ll play songs a particular spirit enjoys—my dear Arnette is catching up on Beyoncé’s albums. I light a little sage. As it burns, I do some meditational telepathy. I enter a deep concentrative state to ask different spirits questions: Can you share a favorite memory? Why did you argue with your partner? What’s your brother’s name? I record their responses. Meditational telepathy demands a lot of practice, but it’s fascinating. From there, I might read, write, or make art. I think aloud a lot these days. My cohort loves being spoken to, and talking eases my discomfort hearing my voice. When I read poetry, I try to make it a group indulgence. I’ll walk slowly about the room with Hieu Minh Nguyen, Rudy Francisco, or Safia Elhillo in my hands. (Peer work, too, is fair game!) The room is only ringing with the poems in my mouth. It’s bright and lovely and, I promise, not scary. Sometimes, a listener will knock or tap on one of the walls while I'm flipping pages. My cohort has said the knocking is involuntary. Still, I take it for snapping.

We Can Speak!

In case you were wondering what our founder's voice sounds like with a cold during an interview with Emily Stroia's Woman Rising Podcast, we got you covered. 

We worked on Emily's first collection of poetry, Into the Light, which is a memoir-inspired story about trauma, and it was a honor to chat with her a bit about our feelings, our past, and, of course, why we like to work with trauma survivors. 



Happy Valentine's Day

It All Comes Down To Care: Devin Kelly


Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is the author of two collaborative chapbooks as well as two collections of poetry, Blood on Blood (Unknown Press), and In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (Civil Coping Mechanisms). His work has been published in such journals and magazines as Adirondack Review, Appalachian Heritage, BOAAT, Columbia Journal, Drunken Boat, Entropy, Fanzine, Forklift Ohio, Front Porch, Full Stop, Gigantic Sequins, The Millions, Post Road, Vol 1 Brooklyn, and more. He is the Director of Enrichment Programming for the Sunnyside Community Services Youth Futures Program at Queens Vocational High School, as well as a teacher at the City College of New York. He is the founder and co-host of the Dead Rabbits Reading Series and currently lives in Harlem.

Tell Tell’s Tim Lynch and poet Devin Kelly delve the concerns that orbit Kelly’s second poetry collection, In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017), and what it means to make a poem.

TL: For me, a lot of this book revolves around presence. Largely presence in the body, but within that is trust, desire, mystery, and just having perspective within that presence. So my big question—this is a huge question: What does presence mean to you in terms of a poem?

DK: Wow. That is a question. I think for me presence means—oh man—I think coming at a poem with a sense of honesty and self-interrogation. And so what I mean by that is there’s a lot of things that constitute a presence in the world. There’s us, and there’s other bodies, and there’s mysteries, and there’s absences, and all of these things constitute, like, the whole fucking presence of the world. Everything that we encounter or don’t encounter is a kind of presence. But within a poem, none of that matters to me unless I am searching, unless the poem is an honest search of myself, if that makes sense. It’s a loaded question though. You could talk about presence a lot, and so much of it I don’t have an answer to. But I think also that’s what a poem is, something we don’t have an answer to. But I think coming to that place out of an honest search of self, to me, is really meaningful. I don’t know if that answers your question.

TL: I don’t think that question has an answer. Thinking about that too, not having an answer, it seems like mystery guides so much in this book. I guess, a vulnerability inside that too, just to say that the mystery is there. But then the question is, what do you do with the mystery? How do you go—do you go beyond that, or do you just accept the mystery and, kind of, be in your life?

DK: I think I accept it. I don’t know. My first response to that question is that so much of life is not knowing, and that the sooner all of us accept—and I truly mean all of us accept that, because I think there’s people who don’t accept that—then the sooner we can move to each other and understand the little things we can know, from a place of grace. But I think if there’s one truth in the world, it’s that we will never know the world. What’s hard is that that’s almost impossible to accept, ya know. Cause it’s like, what the fuck do you do with that? If you accept as an ultimate truth that you will never know anything, how do you find any comfort in that? Or why do you keep searching? So to me, though there’s so little that I know and so much that I don’t, I find a lot of love in the search, and that’s a big deal for me—that, yes I accept that there’s mystery, and yes I accept that I will never understand everything, but at the same time, I accept that it’s one of the joys of being alive, to move through mystery and to understand what little we can of it. It’s also heartbreaking, ‘cause life is just ruthless, man.

TL: Not a drop of ruth in its mouth. Yeah. And there’s something in this book too, I think it was "Last Night My Lover & I," that intro, just the simple imposition of desire. Just having to say “Forgive me,” and then, “Forgive me for asking for forgiveness.” To say what you want and then feel a need to apologize for it, because you can’t know how you’re affecting someone else.

And one of the things I think the book does really well is to, in terms of that presence, is to inhabit one’s body, but also to see a person in another body. To see oneself in your own body, but also to see the other person in their body. Like, Here are somebody’s lips, but this is actually the person I love behind them. And I wonder, did you have to—‘cause that seems rare to me, so I’m wondering who your models are, as a writer, for that, or if that’s just something you’ve come to yourself.

DK: Sure. I mean, I think it seems rare—I appreciate you saying that, but I’ll be honest: I think I still struggle with and definitely used to struggle with writing about desire and another person’s body in a way that wasn’t gratuitous, or wasn’t just completely annihilated by the male gaze, and that’s a real problem. I think it’s okay, though, to write those really shitty—I mean, it’s not, but sometimes you have to learn how to write the body better by writing a lot of really bad body poems. And so, I’ve written a lot of love poems that I read now and I’m deeply ashamed about.

And there’s a lot of poets who write the body who I really admire, like Sharon Olds. I love her work, and the way she talks about the bodies of others, the bodies of her children, her own body. Sharon Olds might be the ultimate writer of the body and love. For me, male poets who I really admire writing about desire, Terrance Hayes comes to mind, some of his earlier works, and Larry Levis a lot. I love Larry Levis. And to me what makes that work is there’s always—there should always be a reason you’re saying something. I think everything should be treated with a kind of grace and care. The poets who I mentioned are poets who really prioritize grace when they’re talking about other people: grace of description, grace of interiority, grace of empathy. Even when you’re writing about someone who you feel failed you, or failed in some way, to approach that failure with a kind of grace is a quality of some of the best writers’ work. But it takes a lot of your own failure. Like I said, I’ve written more bad love poems than good ones, and I don’t know how many good ones I’ve written. I also don’t like to use the words bad and good, but I’ll use them about myself. But yeah, it’s a tough question, and it’s a question that I think we should talk about more. How can you approach desire, and love, and sex, in a way that lifts up the body but also approaches the person underneath the body with a kind of interiority, or tenderness?

TL: Yeah, how can you care for an actual person?

DK: Care is the right word there. ‘cause it all comes down to care.

TL: How does the writing of a poem, or poems in general—does it shape your life beyond the poem itself, influence it?

DK: Yes. For sure. I’m trying to think of the best way to describe, and maybe you can relate to this as well: To me writing seriously has allowed me to think about, to interrogate myself, a little more clearly. And I wouldn’t be anything, really. . . I think a lot of poets can say this—I’m sorry if I’m being so roundabout, but it’s a heavy question—I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t write poetry. I don’t know if I would be remotely doing anything I’m proud of.

To me writing poetry, first and foremost, it’s about coming to terms with myself, and my life, and the things that orbit me, or that I orbit, in a way that’s honest and vulnerable. And that is something that I will forever be able to work on, to be more honest, and more vulnerable. And that kind of working-on, those two things, one’s own honesty and one’s own vulnerability, that shapes everything I do, in ways that I find hard to even describe. It’s hard to imagine myself as—it’s just hard to imagine myself not writing. But I’ll also say that there are a lot of things I consider myself more of than a poet, that have nothing to do with writing, or less to do.

I still, when people ask me what I am or what I do, I often say that I’m a teacher, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop saying that first, or I say that I’m a runner, and these are ways that I’ve come to view the world and my place within it, more so than poetry. There’s something too, weirdly and inherently, selfish about poetry that’s just funny to me. The fact that we have this strange—you included, all of us—have this strange ability to talk about ourselves and our lives in this way that’s at times beautiful, you know. It’s such a fucking awesome thing to be able to do, which is why I love teaching. I love trying to work with kids toward giving them that access, and that permission for themselves. But in the end, it’s wild that we can even do this. The fact that we can sit down and be honest with ourselves in this creative way is an unbelievable gift.

TL: Yeah, I was first thinking, How can you turn that selfishness into a gift? But I guess you got it. It is kind of a gift in itself that way.

DK: And I think about that a lot. I have a poem in the book about my friend’s dad dying, and in that poem I have a line where I say, “Most my friends are not poets, so I don’t say / how what we’re doing amounts to a kind / of elegy,” and it’s weird because I think about that poem a lot, and more specifically I think about that moment. That was what happened in that moment. I was in this funeral procession, driving back from this funeral, and I’m with these people I’ve known almost all my life, and our way of coping in that communal moment was by, like, listening to weird 90s songs and not really talking about what the fuck’s happened. But in the back of my head, I’m thinking, “This is weird; I sort of want to be—I want to be talking about this.” I want to talk about how what we’re doing is this kind of thing. But I also know that I care and love these people enough to know that they don’t wanna do that right now. I always try to think about the utility of that sort of poetic intelligence, more than just simply being in a poem. But these are the sorts of things I think about all the time.

TL: That’s an incredible thing to think about. The sort of perspective that it can give you, in a way that—in some way that gift is a kind of power, and you choose what to do with power.

DK: Yeah, and in some ways, it is a burden, to have that need to constantly be mining every moment, every memory, right?

TL: Yeah. Yeah—having what you could call a gift maybe necessarily means that it also is a burden, that in order to keep it going you need to do all that too.

DK: Yeah, for sure.

TL: But I think that’s one of the best things a poem can do, is to give you that perspective to actively care for other people as people are.

DK: Oh yeah, I agree 100%. I think that’s one of the main reasons why I continue to write is because I love moving through the act of writing a poem that is attempting to treat other people and other moments with a kind of care. . . Some heavy shit.

TL: Yeah but. . . What else is there to talk about? I mean that as a rhetorical question, but also: For your books, you’ve chosen to donate the proceeds. Can you talk a little bit about that, and how you came to that decision?

DK: Yeah. I’m donating everything from the book, from books I sell at readings and other stuff, to an organization called NYSYLC, which is an undocumented youth-led organization that supports undocumented kids, and it’s an organization I’ve come to know by working in New York City, specifically with high school students. I work a lot with undocumented kids and have in the past few years. But I do it for a couple reasons.

The first is because I actively care about this cause, and because I’m in a place—you know, I work a lot, but I can pay rent. And if I’m being completely honest, I don’t know how much money I make. Some people make money off poetry. A lot of us sort of just make what could be useful money. I can do all right for myself in the city, and so I don’t need the money. But I also really—and I don’t really say this that often, and this is a really complicated thing that I would rather probably hash out in longer bits of prose—but I do believe that poetry is anti-capitalist. What I mean by that is I believe that poetry should, at its heart, refuse to be sculpted or molded by institutions. I think poetry is one of the last remaining great arts that has self-creativity at its heart. By that I mean that really anything can be a poem, as long as you tell me why it’s a poem. And this at its heart, to me, is anti-capitalist. It’s not fucked over by any systems. And so I say all that to say, another equally important reason I’m doing this is because I don’t want to make any money off poetry. I don’t want to be in a place where I’m writing a poem to make any money. I don’t want to be in a place where I am accepting, where I’m valuing the money over the poem. And I’m not saying that that’s a thing that happens with people, but I’m saying that that is a thing that can happen. And so I’m doing it more as sort of a challenge to myself, because really, if this is what you believe, you’ve gotta act on it.

And I’m not necessarily the nicest person, but I try to be kind. But this is one of the few things that really upsets me about the poetry world, the way in which people can sort of say poetry is anti-capitalist and then, like, accept a massive reading fee for a reading. I don’t know. And you gotta do you, and you have to make your living, and I understand that, but at the same time, I don’t know. Our poems will change people who read the poems, but outside of the poems, I’m committed to doing other things to effect change. That is a long complicated answer. But I’ll also say that I’ve seen many, many examples of really awesome poets that I admire doing things like this. Natalie Eilbert’s book Indictus just came out, and she, through pre-orders, helped donate a shit-ton of money to RAINN which supports survivors of sexual assault, and that’s just one of many examples. I do think that there’s so many poets who are effecting change and using what little or great power they have to do that, and I’m a big supporter of that.

TL: I wonder if it’s not too much to say that, if you’re making a poem, you’re necessarily being anti-capitalist in some way, in that you are creating—like you said, as long as you can prove, you can say why it’s a poem—you’re creating the value within yourself.

DK: Yeah. And that’s a great way of putting it. I think only you can assess the value of your own poem. And I think when you hear people talk about writing poems, and they use that sort of language, like “I was listening to myself,” or “I was surprising myself,” or “I was being generous with myself”—these are distinctly anti-capitalist things to me because they are coming from a place of self-worth, a place where you are defining, as you say, your own value. Your value is not created or shaped by the world, by other people, by other institutions. Deep down, when you’re in the heart of a good poem, or when you just finish a good poem, a good poem to yourself—what you’ve done, almost most importantly, is exactly what you said. You have created some value out of yourself. And you have this little tiny thing, or this big thing, however long or short your poem is, to prove it, and you have that moment that you created for yourself.

TL: Hm. What a beautiful way to look at poems, as just, a way to make yourself matter to yourself.

DK: Yeah, I think that’s an awesome way to look at poems. I’m all about that.

We Should All Be Angry: A Conversation with Lynn Melnick



Lynn Melnick is the author of Landscape with Sex and Violence (YesYes Books, 2017). She is a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and serves on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Tell Tell’s Tim Lynch talks with Lynn Melnick about her second book, Landscape with Sex and Violence, and the importance of anger in making poems and understanding a world so deeply entrenched in rape culture.


TL: If someone asks me, “What does this book mean to you, after having read it”—for one thing, it makes me care about the world with the empathy of rage, which is beautiful. A lot of it too is speaking from this singular experience of a singular body, whoever’s body that might be. How did you find yourself writing these poems?

LM: When I finished my first book, I felt sort of freed up to write whatever I wanted because I had been so nervous to publish a book. I was thirty-nine when my first book came out, and you know, the sky didn’t fall after the first book, so I thought, “I’m just going to write all the things I meant to write in the first book.” I love my first book, but with my second book, I did all this stuff that I really had wanted to do in the first book but was too scared. So, that’s what was behind my wanting to write it, and the whole time while I was writing it. Also, publishing seemed so far away at that point because I had just published another book, so I was like, “Whatever, I can write whatever I want, no one’s gonna read it.” And then of course, years go quickly and people are reading it and I’m like, “Holy shit!”

What I wanted to do is tell a focused, almost relentless story about what patriarchy and rape culture, as you say, did to one body. So every poem in the book is about that. It’s not a hodgepodge of subject. Which may be a little much, I don’t know.

TL: I think it works really well, and is tied together really well with the “Landscape” poems. And it seems like the landscape is this thing that infiltrates so completely as to be unnoticed, which seems like a metaphor for everything you’re talking about too.

LM: Well, I think it’s sometimes hard to separate the memory of one’s body from the physical places the memories take place. I do feel like rape culture infiltrates everything, so you’re not just in a parking lot—you’re in a parking lot where rape culture is happening. To me, it’s hard to separate mostly California landscapes from my own trauma. And for some reason I had to write about it that way, because it had become in my memory so large. It’s almost like my memory is a photograph, so I’m remembering scenes. I have a poem that takes place on a Greyhound bus and for me that’s just a snapshot of like, “Ok, here’s this landscape, we’re going through the desert on this bus,” and all the poems in the book have that to them. I’m also hoping to play on this idea of the California Dream, the myth of California. It isn’t always as beautiful as sometimes people think it is.

TL: One of the things I’m thinking about too in this book are secrets, for lack of a better word—the things that we choose not to say, and then to say them. I guess the big question is, How do you choose what you’re saying?

LM: You know, I don’t think I do. It’s so corny, but I think it chooses me. I think, probably, people would be surprised I’m a pretty private person, which is sort of at odds with the kind of work that I do and how blabby I am on social media. (You could ask my husband, who has to live with me.) I’m very guarded, and I don’t really like talking about myself or my feelings. So in terms of secrets, I actually feel better when I’m keeping secrets, just because I feel safer. And not secrets like deep, dark secrets even, just really random shit, like, “I bought new shoes.” As far as the book went, I knew I was gonna have to let some stuff out, but it mostly just flowed from me, from the landscape. I would think about an image and what happened in a particular scene, and then it would just come out. There are things in the book I’ve never actually spoken about out loud to anyone, and I don’t plan to, but they’re in the book. Obviously I have control over it, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the poem for my own hesitance about sharing. Also, it’s a poem, you know. It’s not a memoir. So you can hide behind that a little bit.

TL: In “Poem at the End of a News Cycle,” there’s that one line: “tonight I’m wondering if it’s time to tell everyone.” Was the timeliness of these poems specific for you, or you just needed to write them?

LM: Did I choose to sit down and say, “Today I’m going to write X, Y, and Z poem?” No. For a long time I was just incapable of writing any other poem. I knew that all these poems were gonna go in this book, and then one day I was just done (and then I still needed to write one or two more and was like, “I’m tired of this!”). And well, this year I have a fellowship so I have an abundance of time to write, but in my normal life, I have very little time to write for myself, so I schedule it into my to-do list, which is such a dorky thing to do. I actually write “Poems” on my to-do list, and every week I make sure I write a poem. When I was writing this book, over the course of the week—I feel like I write a lot in my body, like I’m just coming up with these feelings and lines and images in my body as much as my head over the week, and then when I sit down to write, it all comes out. It’s usually just one specific scene that I want to say something about, and that’s mostly how it happened. A lot of it comes from anger too. Especially when I started “Poem at the End of a News Cycle,” which does have that line, “I am just going to tell everyone // everything / that’s ever been done to my face.” And that’s exactly how I felt. I was angry about the profiteering off of play-acting as sex workers—pole dancing classes and things like that. There’s a cache to being a fake sex worker, but being an actual one, you really are very marginalized. I was just angry about that kind of thing, and so I started writing this poem, and didn’t realize it was going to be as long as it was. But weirdly, I wrote it years ago. It was also spurred on by that shooting at the Kansas City Jewish Center several years ago, but it could’ve been written yesterday. 

TL: It’s interesting. Anger is always sort of timeless that way. 

LM: Oh yeah. Like, almost everything I write is spurred on by anger. I’m just a very angry person! And I feel like I have every right to be because I have been mistreated. I’m angry on behalf of myself, and I’m angry on behalf of others who have been mistreated by patriarchy. I’m just kind of a pissed off lady. But it’s not like I walk around angry all the time. It just comes out in the poems. 

TL: Yeah! Like I was saying before, that empathy of rage, that’s my whole through-line for reading this book. The idea that rage can lead you into this productive space, or just understanding.

LM: Yeah, I was just saying that to someone. I don’t know if you saw, my book was sort of put in smut-jail by Amazon. It’s out now, but it was hidden for being adult content, and I’m so mad, I wrote this essay. I was looking up men’s, pretty much pornographic, literature that has not been smut-jailed on Amazon, and has been praised by this fancy place and that fancy place. So I tend to write best when I’m angry. 

And I always tell myself, which is probably foolish, but I always tell myself that I don’t have to publish it. I mean, no one’s making me publish anything. It’s not like anyone’s making money off my poems, and I’m not going for a tenure-track job here, so I don’t have to publish my poems if I don’t want to. I love the act of writing. I find it enormously pleasurable, but I don’t like publishing as much because it’s, well, less pleasurable. I tell myself it doesn’t have to count if I don’t want it to. Although it usually does. And that’s part of the rage too—I feel like people need to read this shit.

TL: Right. So who are your influences then, for poems or just being angry in art?

LM: One that I say the most is Diane Wakoski, because she was the first contemporary woman poet I came across as a teenager, and she’s angry, really angry. If I hadn’t come across her, who knows what would’ve happened. Her work was very important to me in terms of anger. Anne Sexton, who is also kind of angry. I have very complicated and mixed feelings about Allen Ginsberg, but he was an early influence, just in style and the way he goes from thing to thing. I’ve recently realized that Twin Peaks was a very big influence, and David Lynch in general. One reason is that it was a very formative viewing experience for me, but also because it writes trauma so well. The sort of surrealness of it, and the everpresent-ness, and the confusion of it. Very few things, I think, get to that. It’s hard to get to it in a straightforward way, and he really does in Twin Peaks. Early on (and still!) I loved Alice Walker. I’ve been re-reading Ntozake Shange; I don’t know why I put her down.

TL: Well, thinking again of the unknown or secrets, some of the poems have a subversion of the public eye or expectation by this personal interruption. In “Some Ideas for Existing in Public,” the speaker is making this address and then in the parentheses is that sort of personal anecdote.

LM: I think that’s me attempting to connect the past and the present. I do that a few places in the book, where I’m just trying to note, “same as it ever was.” And a few poems in the book, I’m talking to the reader as if they’re an asshole, but it’s not every reader. It’s just trying to implicate us all really in rape culture, because we all participate in it. We all participate in patriarchy in various ways. Mostly the “you” I’m angry at though is a male “you,” and, based on the creepy responses I got from readers of my first book (which was pretty tame, in comparison to the second one), a sort of anger at these lecherous men who would be reading this one too.

TL: And it seems like that clear-eyed representation of trauma, the past and present coming together.

LM: Yeah, most of it is in the past. The book seems more present than ever just because of our current political climate, but it’s just always been the same shit. Hopefully it won’t always be, but I’m not feeling especially optimistic right now. 

TL: One of these poems that’s always been with me in this book—well, since I saw you read it, like, three years ago—is “One Sentence About Los Angeles.”

LM: That was the last one I wrote, and so it’s the last in the book. I was just like, “I’m just gonna wrap this up, I’m tired of writing these poems.” That one to me seems weary and angry at the same time. I mean, I was feeling weary, and thinking of my imagined reader, thinking, “You know, you’re never gonna get what you want from this,” from the book. “[Y]ou are probably waiting for confession / because you think that’s what I’ve been doing here all along,” and all that. It’s never gonna be what you think. “You’re never gonna get me. You don’t get all of me,” is what I’m trying to say there. “We’re wrapping this up now.” So that was my version of a happily ever after.

TL: It works beautifully. It’s a staunchly singular perspective, and it claims itself as itself.

Well, thanks for taking time out to talk with little ole me. It’s been really nice to speak to someone else so angry in poems!

LM: I’m a big fan of anger! There’s a journalist named Soraya Chemaly, and she’s working on a book about female rage specifically, and I’m really looking forward to what she has to say. I feel like the way that we talk about anger and rage is really one-note. We tend to talk about a certain kind of toxic male rage, and that’s it, in terms of what captures the media’s imagination. I feel like we should focus on other forms of male rage, and female rage. It’s important and necessary. 

I don’t know if it’s inflammatory to say we should all be angry. But we should be.


Tim Lynch has published poems most recently with Yes Poetry, Luna Luna, tenderness, yea, & Occulum. He has directed various workshops for young writers through Rutgers University in Camden, NJ. He would be delighted to meet you on Twitter & Instagram @timlynchthatsit.