By Eileen Huang | Interview Correspondent
We’ll start by asking a question given by our last interviewed contributor, Tiana Clark: Could you explain a favorite quote or epigraph that has helped articulate or unlock your poetics?
CE: I shuffle through many quotes that I post to my office wall. The one I’d like to offer is a little long for a post-it note, but it is helping me articulate something I’ve known to be true in my work. It comes from an essay entitled “Bewilderment” by Fanny Howe, and it demonstrates a generous resistance to patriarchal values. There is a Muslim prayer that says, “Lord increase my bewilderment.” Such a prayer belongs to that I in her poems, that “strange Whoever” who sends out signals:
“A signal does not necessarily mean that you want to be located or described. It can mean that you want to be known as Unlocatable and Hidden. This contradiction can drive the ‘I’ in the lyrical poem into a series of techniques that are the reverse of the usual narrative movements around courage, discipline, conquest, and fame. Instead, weakness, fluidity, concealment, and solitude assume their place in a kind of dream world, where the sleeping witness finally feels safe enough to lie down in mystery.”
Your poems “From the M Notebooks” and “Scripts for the Future” from Issue Seventeen are full of gorgeous, visceral imagery (my personal favorite line: “love’s written all over your face, love”). These and other poems of yours carry a melodic, lyrical quality in them—can you speak a bit about what draws you to lyrical or confessional poetry? Where do you find inspiration for images in your poems?
CE: You are right, I am drawn to the highly lyrical in poems. Poetry is a room for singing. I enter a poem not to explain an idea, nor to make an argument, nor am I trying to recount a story. There are moments when I believe this with a certain ardor. But then, other times, I don’t really trust my claims about poetry, especially ones that come in the form of assertions ending firmly with a period. If we can turn it into a question, then: is a poem a space for singing? As a reader, I subscribe to Louis Zukofsky’s description of poetry, that it is “Lower limit speech / Upper limit music.” This integration seems truest. But when I am writing a poem, I am not interested in saying the thing clearly as “speech” might suggest. A useful image for me: a girl holding a flashlight at night, a photonegative image of her, so that darkness beams out from the bulb she’s holding onto the bright scene. That’s what I want my poems to do, to search with darkness in a bright world. When I am writing a poem, I find the incantatory, the mutter, broken syntax, a gnarled word more compelling than clear-speak.
Your newest collection, You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior, recently came out from Noemi Press. First of all, congratulations! It has been described by Julie Carr as “a book of the blues discovered in the matrilineal line.” Poems are written from the perspectives of mothers, wives, and lovers. Did you choose specifically to focus on the interior lives of women, and—if so—how did your vision for the book develop over the course of its journey into life?
CE: Thank you so much! Yes, mothers, wives, lovers—they all dwell in the matrilineal line, and all three are part of my identity. But I wouldn’t say that this book seeks to represent the interior lives of imagined women. My friend and poet Andrea Rexilious points out that the cover image of my book illustrates an important aspect of the interior as it is rendered in the poems. The cover uses the work of Peruvian artist Ana Teresa Barboza; it presents the picture of a woman with an unfinished lace pattern laid over it, which the woman is sewing into her chest. Andrea and I were talking about how much we love the underside of tapestries, richly colored & unkempt fringes that don’t depict a bucolic scene, or a medieval unicorn, as the outward side artfully does. Both are important, inextricable from the other. Every exterior bears an interior (in dialectic relationship) and each communicates differently. I don’t think of the interior as a gendered space, but perhaps the interior, much like the reverse side of tapestries, conserves that “bewilderment” Fanny Howe puts forward. It’s not a place for (patriarchal) “discipline, conquest, and fame.” I want to receive those reports of violence and fear and beauty the reverse side is transmitting with its garbled speech.
Who are some of your favorite poets writing right now? What are you currently reading?
CE: First I have to say, I live with a bonafide bibliophile. My partner and poet Jeffrey Pethybridge reads widely, and is hip on many contemporary poets. My tastes have become much more expansive because of him. It’s a promiscuous kind of reading we do. Poets right now on my desk or open in my browser are: Khadijah Queen, Ari Banias, Eleni Sikelianos, Shane McCrae, Susan Howe, Etel Adnan, Sam Sax, Aracelis Girmay, Sarah Gridley. In my backpack this week, I’m toting around Anne Carson’s Float.
And speaking of favorite poets & inspirations, have you always been writing? What influenced you to start, and what got you hooked?
CE: My first loves are poets I’ll never stray from, ones that I read in my late teens and early twenties: Sylvia Plath, Lucie Brock-Broido, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Louise Glück, Anne Carson, John Berryman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson. I’ve always been writing. I wish I could have a narrative to tell you in which I am a young adult standing at a stop light at the moment “when poetry came to me,” but the truth is I’ve been making poems since I learned the system of writing. There is a period in my life, however, where I met Lucie Brock-Broido, a turn of the century period when I was taking workshops at her home. Her poems, her person, encouraged me to continue making the weird, lush similes I was constructing. Hers was an unforgettable, charmed, hyacinth-scented encouragement.
Throwing it back, what do you remember about the first poem you ever wrote? (Mine was an embarrassing sonnet from sixth grade.)
CE: School is like a pool
Or the wave of a sea
It's the notion of the ocean
That brings happiness to me.
—Carolina Ebeid, 1st grader
Give us a question, if you would, to ask during our next Conversation with a Contributor.
CE: Employing the facts you know about another animal species (such as a bower bird, or a platypus, or a lunar moth) could you describe your poetics?
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Carolina Ebeid is a student in the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Denver, and holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. She has won fellowships and prizes from CantoMundo, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Stadler Center for Poetry, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first book was recently published in Noemi Press’ Akrilica Series. Recent work appears in Linebreak, Bennington Review, jubilat, and in the inaugural Ruth Stone House Reader.
Eileen Huang is a junior at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. She served as the 2015-2016 Northeast National Student Poet, the nation's highest honor for youth poets presenting original work, and has been recognized by the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Awards and the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In her free time, Eileen enjoys reading and shamelessly watching B-list romantic comedies. She serves as an Interview Correspondent for The Adroit Journal.