Posts Tagged ‘Laura Walker’

Laura Walker: from story as a cloud above the bed, haze of flies, a little suture

This week, THERMOS has run a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. We conclude today with a series of new poems. Thanks for taking the opportunity to read new work by one of our favorite poets.

from story as a cloud above the bed, haze of flies, a little suture

if a story like a river, loose and fretful, twine. if a story with debris and froth, pulling from the banks as it comes, never the same twice, step in and be renewed. if glass-bottomed boats and red-dotted fishes. if another line just under the surface, if you can’t see without drowning, if sometimes in storm, sometimes becalmed. if each person carries her own boat, dam, leaf. cutting its own way through or swept along and over the cliff, story as waterfall and prismed light, story as gravity.


to make an honest betrayal, shoving ahead in the dark. her brother’s blond head rising above waves; a man on the bed telling stories. little girls in exquisite ice, beaded swans, a soldier inside a hollow tree. three sets of enormous eyes. and when the story bolts out of the tree: an old woman as mound and x’s on doors. incongruous. the man with one glimpse wishing her forever. he smelled like salvage. damp books that hadn’t been opened in years. dust along the corners.


a story as skin. boundary, temperature, delineation. what she was told and what she saw making fuzzy scratches in the dark. coming to terms, carefully, over tea. if he saw her he didn’t see her; if he didn’t see her is perspective a concept worth inhabiting. the era of loose meditation gowns and full frontal nudity, a thin acrid smell underneath the baking bread; they grew it themselves in the basement. lights buzzing all night long. swimming as context, the house and its inhabitants: to get her head above water.


the story spills and is not absorbed, excess running off hard ground, rising, collecting old bottles and fenceposts, swirling and sucking, the girl and the boy climbing a little faster now, up onto the hill or the barn or someone’s front stairs, keeping their feet dry.

the story of the woods before the woods; the story of the woods.

her story as the moment she opens her eyes, slowly, in case someone has wired them shut. the pull and feel of gravity, the north pole, snow and magnet. each track identifiable if you know how to look: rabbit, solider, a dragged wing. they ran a new fence just along the gully, her brothers, inhabited trees.


to go with the soldiers. burn your clothes and follow them, stepping across dirt, the terrible winding roads. they have no concept of what they will see; their guns are unwaxed and staring. by the time they return they will be solitary, wandering the high grass, looking for wild honey and a hollow tree. story as a cradled gash, warm bubbling of space, a hole to carry in your pocket.


the story continues on its own, intent, limping toward water or a nearby road. she can see it in the distance, in one version calls out, in another doesn’t, standing barefoot on the porch. we eat the same fruit, follow the same thoughts of shade, but we are different creatures and the difference cannot be sustained or distracted. the story tries to move forward, falls, circles back and tries again. she stands on floorboards. she doesn’t know the way either, couldn’t help if she wanted to, but slowly descends and heads toward it. to keep a story company; to give it shade.


A Conversation with Laura Walker

This week, THERMOS is running a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. Today’s installment is an interview, conducted by e-mail in the summer of 2014. Please check back tomorrow for some new poetry.

Cassie Donish: When I met you last November at the Poetry Exchange Project in New Orleans, I had the privilege of hearing you read from some of the same new works that we’re featuring here at THERMOS, including genesis. Could you tell us about genesis?

Laura Walker: I’ve always been haunted by the pulling cadences of the King James Version of the Bible. I think it’s partly because the rhythms are incredibly mesmerizing, and partly because I grew up in the Bible Belt with a proselytizing atheist for a father, which created its own host of contradictions and yearnings and hauntings. I felt simultaneously included and excluded by that language. I think genesis was my attempt to go back in time and explore the somewhat forbidden rhythms that have shaped me deeply.

CD: What are you currently writing? How does your current writing depart from your past projects?

LW: I’m in the last stages (I think) of a manuscript I’ve been working on for about a year. It’s a series of prose blocks circling around ideas of story and its manifestations, weaving characters, fairy tales, family stories, and memories, both “real” and created. Sometimes I say it’s as close to writing a novel as I’ll ever get, which is not very close. But there was something that felt “novelistic” for me as I wrote it, for example the ways in which I needed to erect a structure and simultaneously keep it aloft while turning my attention elsewhere—like putting up a circus tent and drawing something obscure and difficult on the floor at the same time. Destined for failure but exhilarating too.

In my mind it departs quite a bit from what I’ve written previously. And that’s part of what I’ve enjoyed about it—the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, at all—the unfamiliarity. I’ve always been most comfortable with partial narrative, pieces of stories, multiple and shifting and overlapping—I have a huge distrust of anything that presents itself as complete, of beginnings and endings, of story arcs. So in this project I’ve had to write alongside my discomfort. Even though the stories here are still fragmented and incomplete, they’re central and substantive in a way that’s new for me. I’ve had to fight, hard, against my natural inclination to take things out, to subtract. Narrative here is, in some way, the point—not a hazy aura or shifting backdrop or ghostly presence—even though it’s still all those things, too, at least I hope. Anyway, it’s made me really uncomfortable, in a great way. I can feel myself having to reach toward new ways of holding things.

I was haunted by a lot of things while I wrote it. By my own experience of memory, especially of the way my memory now has gaps and holes since a concussion a few years ago, with new gaps being created all the time— and what that means for identity, “truth,” the communal, for creating something. By listening to my grandmother’s memories turn more and more gauzy over a period of years. By my visceral memories of fairy tales, what I took in and made my own, long ago, what I recreated, and perhaps why. By the idea of story as a character, with her own needs and trajectory. By my reading about recovered memories. By the idea of our body as a story we tell ourselves, and what that means for boundaries, transgression, injury. By narrative shape built through layer or repetition or eddies of water, vs. movement over ground and space—a finger rubbing the same circle repeatedly, eroding the surface.

CD: You mention several things that one might think of as characteristic of your writing: fragmentation, the experience of memory, “distrust of anything that presents itself as complete.” What is the role of absence or silence in your work? Is it a character too?

LW: I love the idea of absence as a character. For years I’ve been enamored with Barbara Guest’s description of a poem’s “little ghost.” I’m mesmerized by what hovers— glimpsed but never seen, unarticulated, unknown, unknowable—but still present. Palpable absence. And perhaps, related to that, it can be interesting to think of a poem as landscape or structure, as a place something else might briefly touch down in, or move through. Not to imply that place or landscape (or poem) is passive, awaiting some Other—but more an idea of movement, invitation, shifting inhabitances. And how to create a poem as a place or a stance—and an invitation to what can’t be written and what can’t be sustained.

CD: Reading your most recent book, Follow-Haswed (Apogee Press, 2012), I felt as though I were on a midnight tour through a mysterious landscape, one that indicated or implicated our world through a kind of echolocation. The book, which could be described as a project of erasure and collage, struck me as a different type of translation—in which the OED volume you used was not an original text, but a translator. What do I mean? How did you come to use this particular OED volume, the sixth? Did you work with a hard copy of the volume? What was it like writing this book?

LW: I really love that: an idea of poetry “that indicated or implicated our world through a kind of echolocation.” If you got that sense from Follow-Haswed, I’m thrilled.

Follow-Haswed began when I bought a single volume of the OED off of eBay ten or so years ago, because it was only 15 dollars, while the whole set was well beyond my means, and my space. It was volume VI, “Follow-Haswed.” I think there were three or four volumes to choose from, and I imagine the word “follow” lured me, as well as not having any idea what “haswed” meant.

I fell in love with it when it arrived. I just loved having it there on the shelf, loved the look of the print, loved the layout, loved the heft: loved it. And had no idea what to do with any of that love, creatively speaking. So I just kept packing and unpacking it as I moved.

And then one day, years later, I picked it up and started to read it. And I became enamored with the weird ways the various entries seemed to speak to one another, in part by virtue of the source texts for the illustrative quotations, and in part rather mysteriously.
Everywhere I looked there seemed to be references to water, and soldiers, and girlhood, and war – in follow and gogibber and gain…. that is, in places I would not expect these themes to crowd in.

And so I became really interested in what a single word might carry, in the word as a world, in a word as a maze. And in the idea that just in the place where we try to pin a word down—in a dictionary—meaning explodes, implodes. I was fascinated by the fact that the smallest units of language are also terribly full, terribly laden. And that words are imprinted, just as they imprint us. Because the themes I was finding everywhere were also, of course, my own obsessions: girlhood, soldiers, water, war. So reading the dictionary started to resemble reading any book—thinking about what we receive and what we project, and the complicated relationship of reader and text. There was something slippery at the core— which I think your text/translator question is getting at—and I’m always mesmerized by slipperiness.

Writing the book was a process of reading an entry, copying out pieces and phrases that struck me as compelling, and then going back to those long lists and collaging. It was hugely enjoyable. It was also something I could do in the small, broken bits of writing time I had as a mother of two young kids. Everything in a poem is taken verbatim from a particular entry, and line breaks reflect where I jumped within the entry—so with all that given, I focused on juxtaposition, on break and link, on rhythm and music, and on echo and repetition—and on, hopefully, having something arise off the page a bit.

CD: What poetic traditions do you see your work as part of, or as emerging from?

LW: I feel very lucky that I went to SF State for my MFA. I went there for all the wrong reasons but it was there that I started to study the work of women who were publishing innovative work in the 1980’s and beyond, many in San Francisco, and many of them brought together in the pages of the journal HOW(ever) in the 80’s. Kathleen Fraser co-founded and edited HOW(ever) and her work became incredibly important to me. I feel lucky that I went to school in a place with such a rich history of women’s experimental writing, where I could stumble across books published by Kelsey Street Press, or take classes from Myung Mi Kim, Norma Cole, and Susan Gevirtz, or hear Cole Swensen or Brenda Hillman or Barbara Guest read frequently. Through these poets I became immersed in ideas of broken or interrupted lyric, in the role of silence or space on the page, in poetic forms shaped in part by women’s lived experiences—motherhood, for example—and in poetry as inquiry or investigation.

CD: What are some advantages and obstacles, in your opinion, of being associated with a community or tradition in poetry that defines itself in part by gender, specifically the identity of ‘woman’? Do you have any reflections you could share with us on the issue of gender and poetics?

LW: I doubt I have anything new to say on that huge and many-branched topic. I identify as a woman and I write poetry, and obviously my ways of seeing and experiencing the world, as a woman, necessarily come to play in what I write, and how I read, and what I’m drawn to read, and how I read the world, and how the world reads me, etc., etc. And this has many implications for what work I end up having access to, and who has access to my work, and how such work is contextualized (VIDA is doing amazing work around these issues.) I feel a deep debt to people like Kathleen Fraser and Patricia Dienstfrey and countless others for making a space for poetry by women when there was very little space for it; and of course that space is still contested and fraught in many ways (see VIDA again), though better, I think, than what it’s been in the past; and of course again gender is just one of the lenses through which we can examine what work is celebrated/ read/ published, and by whom, and how those things are decided. Access and prestige and visibility are huge issues.

At the same time, of course, identity read in a simplistic way is, well, simplistic. It would be ridiculous to read my poetry to find out “what a woman thinks,” or “what women’s poetry is like”—in that weird but weirdly persistent way of reading poetry outside a dominant mode— as if I or anyone can somehow stand in for a group we’re a part of. I guess I believe in constellation rather than essentialism.

So I guess I see such associations as wonderful when they open things up and not so great when they shut things down. “Open things up” by providing space and access and opportunities to share work and explore poetry that moves away from assumptions of the mainstream. “Shut things down” by essentializing one aspect of someone’s very complex identity and making sweeping generalizations based upon it. But that’s more about how these groupings or associations are interpreted or misinterpreted, perhaps?— than about being a part of them.

CD: What’s exciting to you about contemporary poetry? What are you reading right now?

LW: I remember Stacy Doris talking once about how she entered a new book of poetry— from the middle, skipping around as she liked, and hardly ever from beginning to end. And I was so struck by what I took as the freedom of that, the boldness of the recognition that we meet a book where we are, from where we are, because of where we are—her embracing of the subjectivity of reading, as I understood it.

It’s in part why I always find myself on the opposite side of arguments about there being “too much poetry”, about poetry being published “too soon,” whatever that means—that there’s too much chaff vs. wheat, I guess. Bring on the chaff, I say—maybe I like chaff. Maybe chaff is exactly what I need to read at this moment; one woman’s chaff is another woman’s, etc. Which is quite different from saying I like everything, but rather I’m grateful for the proliferation. I’m excited that we can publish each other in affordable ways, that there are so many micro-communities around reading series and blogs and online magazines and installations, as well as books-in-paper. That there’s room. I think there are still plenty of thorny issues around resources and access and prestige, as I said above, but I’m excited for the ways in which we can encounter work outside the land of contests and book publication.

It also means, though, that there’s always more work I want to read than I have time to read. And I read slowly. Recently I’ve been reading Tiff Dressen, Todd Melicker, Martin Camps, Teresa Miller, Joseph Lease, giovanni singleton, John Sakkis, Jenn McCreary, Sarah Vap. And I have a huge stack of books and bookmarked websites waiting for me.

CD: Aside from poetry, what influences your work and your thinking?

LW: Ecosystems, both wild and not—forests, fields, mountains, gardens—all that interplay, the many complex relationships occurring—I find it endlessly thought-provoking, or feeling-provoking, or something. Also, weather—both my direct experience of it and the systems developed to describe it—cloud formations, humidity and temperature, sun and fog and radar maps. Maps in general are amazing to me, both conceptually and physically. Also, I recently wrote a series of poems drawing from the picture books I read repeatedly to my children when they were young and I was extremely sleep-deprived—that combination of sleep deprivation and repetition created an almost mystical space in which I entered those books, lived in those books, in ways I can’t return to, but remember vividly.

CD: Would you mind sharing which children’s books you’re referring to? 

LW: Oh, many more than I can list here—I think I drew from more than fifty books—everything from books from my parents’ generation (Mike Mulligan, Rapunzel, Madeline, The Secret Garden) to books I grew up with (The Lorax, Are you My Mother, Horton Hears a Who, Harold and the Purple Crayon) to books I only discovered alongside my kids (When the Sky is Like Lace, Storm Boy, Mole Music, The Visitor). They all merged in this wonderful hazy space created by my extreme sleep-deprivation and the ritual of reading them aloud again and again.

CD: What’s the biggest challenge for you when it comes to writing? What comes easily?

LW: I love playing with a text. Putting words on paper or a screen, to create something to play with, is not so easy for me. But once I have material, I can break it apart and reform it and recirculate it and try it a hundred different ways, and stay happy. So I’d say I’m happiest when I’m (endlessly) revising something, or re-inventing something, and least happy when I’ve just finished a project and am casting around for something new—something that opens a door to the elusive thing-I-can’t-name which will inspire more messing around.

I’m also terrible at writing “about” something. For example, when my kids were small, people were always suggesting lovely or challenging or poignant things they were doing or I was experiencing that I should write about, that would “make a good poem.” I can’t do that. A lot of times I’ve wished I could, and I try occasionally, but it’s just a mess. I’m sure my daily life enters my writing in other ways, but not directly, or in ways I can easily point to.

CD: What’s something you can easily point to where you are right now?

LW: Just one thing? I can never do just one thing. Quinnehutukqut by Joshua Harmon. A can of Gold Brick Pale Ale. A picture of the sun by one of my sons. And through the window, my new bee hives, swirling.

Laura Walker: from Genesis

This week, THERMOS is running a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. We continue today with selections from Walker’s Genesis. Please check back throughout the week for more new poems, and an interview.

from Genesis

in the beginning what was startled flew up into the liquid sky. and the children came tiptoeing round, to see the man sleeping there in the fields; and they carried their pie plates and rosined spoons out onto the clay

and the plows, whiskering away in the darkness; and the sheeted moss; and the furrows, newly made, baring themselves among the birds

and we were small and formless and our hands did not settle


in the beginning a way of yielding, and the sound of retrieval and rattled blue frames. and intentionality, and the young; and those who held themselves apart continued apart and rose in sanctioned masses to rooftops and to bloom. and the forgetting; and the struck expanse; and the way the light aircraft made their maps across the sky, billowy and upturned

and the angle
and the shatter

and the glass was written, and contained; and the air was remedial, and alight; and the noise of boots on shards was something knocking on a door, far away and beneath a handle


in the beginning the lines were rampant and the air was full of clock and bird. the smallest lay down among her notes and wrappers blew about the trees, between the branches and the memory of hours and a small ticking sound, not to be ignored

and the raptors
and the hard wiring

and each bright thing weighed itself in succession, positioned itself against the ledge and lined up two by two


in the beginning the stones came loose, and the words were wax and singing under the faint porch light. and a pocket, and a flare; and the birds assembled at last, awaiting snow and cloth and the sound of sticks. and the fires; and the arrival; and the clouds bought and paid for

and the settled

and the prostrate

and the arrival was styrofoam, and inchoate; and the welcome was creviced, and slit; and the sound increased against the walls in battles and shifting shores


in the beginning what we found just off the edge of our paper would circulate again, fall back among us as dreams of snow or the slough of someone’s new suit. the children were brought round to enter the fields again; and they were collaged in reds and browns, and told which birds to hold and which to scatter with their feet. the morning light came round again, and someone held spoons and someone held clatter and sawdust piled and began to converge

and we were a building

and we were a formation

and we were sick, and suited, and grouped in twos and threes

THERMOS 5: Laura Walker

This week, THERMOS is running a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. These poems, from the collection bird book, first appeared in THERMOS 5. Please check back throughout the week for more poems, and an interview.

                                                                                eastern kingbird

we saw him walking down from the store

coal headed

to be seldom visible

give in a series


near water

                                                                                prothonotary warbler

half of numerous

we were dark         prominent

              two boys in the backseat

              large white peaches

                                                                      to call


                                                                      an only tree


    sluggish or stagnant

or water

                                                                                mourning dove

she awaits a violent body

our more abundant

the larger       a small

                                          ask him to come in

                                                                                eastern phoebe

he followed her through the store

darkest head

told from

and out into the street

              compare the lack of


                          leaves and rafters

                                                                                house sparrow

obscuring as pastime

a combination of her

                          unstreaked and aggressive

                          she paused by the back steps


                                                                                willow flycatcher

to lack what is prominent

              she has your eyes

Public Letter: Laura Walker

This week, THERMOS will run a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. It begins today with a public letter — or, a series of public letters — addressed to Cassie. Please check back throughout the week for poems, new and old, and an interview.

dear cassie,

i can’t write and mean it at the same time.

it’s an old problem, a recurring dream where the characters happily shift places with each other. intent becomes a brisk snow becomes a wide-eyed betrayal. sleep turns visible, perception moves among its various guises, the dream of a steady gaze. i envy people who write what they know.

dear cassie,

my first ghost story was the one about the woman with the blue ribbon around her neck. do you know it? she tells her husband she can’t take the ribbon off. when he finally does, late at night while she sleeps, her head falls onto the floor.

was she already a ghost or always about-to-be-one? and which was more alluring to me, eight years old and unable to sleep? the silkiest of betrayals. what’s known and what’s believed; who positions whom. sketching the dark because you’re awake anyway.

dear cassie,

the first ghost i ever saw i didn’t actually see. i was driven by a dark house in a dark night and something shuddered. it seemed like a new way of knowing, the way things touch you in the dark.

containment and the precarious: waiting for someone to grow tired of waiting. watching your fingers twitch in the night.

that year we moved into a blue house and i saw a ghost on the stairs. swept skirts, hair done up. not looking at me; me not looking at her. we had, i guess, other things on our mind.

what do you see when you look away from what you see? a helpless envy.

dear cassie,

like the girl who switched places with her dead twin, an episode of the incredible hulk we watched with my first stepfather in a blue and humid night: a ghost differently. i dreamed about her for years, re-enacting her sister’s body, the bent of her head. meticulous. resemblances, semblances, assembly. what can’t be even though it’s exactly the same; a container aware of itself. holding becomes another beast entirely.

clear and steady.

a ribbon, a twin’s body, a dead house.

something to hover and move through.

dear cassie,

my mother read us the little matchgirl from the front seat on long car rides, hoping we’d fall asleep.

we never fell asleep.

when the matchgirl stands outside the pulsing windows, watching them eat in the light, what is the ghost? glass, candles, a tree. they shimmer and merge and become rivers through the floor. the matches burned our fingers. when her grandmother arrives, ribbons and arms, who is the ghost then, asleep in the snow? the boys who chased her across the street and made her lose her slipper. the pavement stones. something about the air.

a fading in the first clear light.

PXP 2013: Schedule of Events

THERMOS’s editors will all be in New Orleans Nov. 7-9 to host the second annual Poetry Exchange Project Symposium at Tulane University and at other locations in the city. All events are free and open to the public. If you’re in the area, please stop by. — AS

Friday, Nov. 8 (Tulane campus, St. Charles Ave. side)

11:30am: PXP presentations, Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 125
            Students from Tulane, University of Georgia, and University of the Arts deliver
            presentations of completed PXP projects.

1:00 pm: Panel A: Poetry Beyond the Classroom (Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 200B)
            Moderator: Dan Rosenberg
            Panelists: Nik De Dominic, Melissa Dickey, Anne Marie Rooney, Jay Thompson
1:00 pm: Panel B: Poetic Lineage (Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 125)
            Moderator: Andy Stallings
            Panelists: Peter Cooley, Robert Fernandez, Carolyn Hembree, Laura Walker

2:00 pm: Panel C: The Life of Contemporary Poetry (Norman Mayer Hall, Rm. 200B)
            Moderator: Zach Savich
            Panelists: Matt Hart, Mary Hickman, Paul Killebrew, Teresa Villa-Ignacio


3:30 pm: Ian Zelazny Memorial All-City Student Reading (Norman Mayer Hall Rm. 200B)
            25-30 students from schools and universities around the city and region read poems.

6:00 pm: PXP Keynote Reading (Rogers Memorial Chapel)
            Robert Fernandez, Matt Hart, Mary Hickman, Paul Killebrew, Anne Marie Rooney and Laura
            Walker read new poetry.

9:30 pm: Party and Concert (2433 St. Claude Ave., Entrance on Music St., byob)
            Students and symposium participants are all invited!

Saturday, Nov. 9 (Buddhist Community Center, 623 N. Rendon St.)

12:00 pm: Hunter Deely Memorial Reading
            Brief readings by Carroll Beauvais, Megan Burns, Carrie Chappell, Peter Cooley, Nik De
            Dominic, Melissa Dickey, Cassandra Donish, Maia Elgin, Rebecca Morgan Frank,
            Elizabeth Gross, Michael Jeffrey Lee, Kay Murphy, Brad Richard, Dan Rosenberg,
            Zach Savich, Shelly Taylor, Jay Thompson, Afton Wilky, Mark Yakich