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"The Mystery of Sweetness from Poison": An Interview with L.M. Meyers

Poems and essays by L.M. Myers have appeared or are forthcoming in Tule Review, Shadowgraph Magazine and The Massachusetts Review. She lives in Napa, California.

Her poem, "New England Peach," appeared In Issue Sixty-Six of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks with Christina Oddo about incompleteness in a poem, the wayward tug of allusion, and attending to the real world.

What guided your decision to use four-line stanzas?

‎The four-line stanzas suggest the structure of a sonnet, as does the poem's rhetoric, which proceeds as an argument of negative definition via opposites, or at least via items that stand in some kind of tension (George Herbert's devotional sonnet "Prayer I" is the primary influence).

So the poem embraces certain elements of formal order.‎

However, the poem lacks the traditional closing couplet of a sonnet. Although it sounds and feels "done" at the end, its modified form implies incompleteness,‎ a want of closure. 

(The form of a poem being one part of its dialogue—in this case, initially seeming orderly, but containing discordant and missing pieces, like a man in a crisp Italian gabardine suit and horsehide shoes with no laces.)‎

Aspiring young writers are constantly looking for ways to develop fresh, weighty, and provocative images. The diction and unique word play used in this piece exemplify innovative ways of rendering new images.  How do these images work with the title to create the overall theme of the work?

I've struggled with metaphor and wordplay in my poems—sometimes the allusions would crowd out reality. In this poem, I first established the nominal subject matter (cf. the title) and form, which established some limits. Then I let sound and rhythm be my guide into exploration of a particular feeling. When the mental Rolodex started its associative spew, it was at least churning in a somewhat more, ah, on-topic way. 

That said, the wayward tug of allusion and maybe some sonic qualities at times pulls the poem further away from real things than I would like. But I let those parts stand, because they ‎seemed emotionally in tune. 

‎(I'm not sure the balance is right—I'd likely make different choices were I writing it today. But I am comfortable with the poem's emotional integrity.‎)

References to things found in nature help develop the raw sentiment of this piece. What significance do the references to seasons and months, for example, hold for you as the writer?

Attending to the real world—be it a tree outside the window, or cracks in a sidewalk, or family or political relationships—is for me essential in steering imaginative flight‎. Nature is both a ubiquitous imposing force and a site of projection. The challenge, for me, is to be clear about the give-and-take between mind and world, of what items or forces in the world I am transforming into a figure for my own purposes.

‎When I was living in New England, the seasonal changes impressed me greatly. As a Californian, I had never experienced such brevity of spring, nor such drawn-out misery of winter (cf Boston right now!). March, for instance—it never ends! All is gray and brown and drawn, no buds to speak of. This was alien to me.

The first Boston-area fall I experienced was a glorious affair, and seemed never to end. The fall color was intense, and the warmish days lasted well into November. And the winter that followed was really quite mild and sometimes wonderful. 

This, it appears, was an anomaly. ‎

The next summer drained rapidly into a fall that was filled with difficulty for me and outright tragedy for loved ones. And the trees--those elms whose leaves had once been jewel-like in their intensity, as if celebratory in their being, were instead managing to put on only a sort of grayed-out peach--which at any other time I would have thought lovely. Instead, it only confirmed to me that the world was giving up on beauty. 

Now back in California, I feel less elegiac about the weather. I notice the passage of time less acutely—here, the seasons grade into one another more gently. I suppose my life changes have been gentler and easier, as well. But my New England friends might say that California just makes one blithely inattentive to one's mortality!

What are you currently reading? 

Because I spend the majority of my time caring for (as in, chasing around) my one-year-old son, my reading is very choppy and interrupted. ‎

‎I've just read Katherine Larson's Radial Symmetry,‎ finished my first read-through of Claudia Rankine's Citizen, and should soon begin either Morri Creech's The Sleep of Reason or Hassan Blasim's The Corpse Exhibition. I'm also hoping to get to Eula Biss's On Immunity soon. 

I've also been slowly chipping away at Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, when I can handle the subject matter. And I've been enraptured by Patrick Modiano's Suspended Sentences. I barely started Peter Brown's Through the Eye of a Needle, but might not get back to it for a while—nor to David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years.‎ 

But the one that's been leaving the deepest traces is Virginia Woolf's Writer's Diary, which is Leonard Woolf's compilation of writing-related excerpts from her diaries. V. Woolf seems to survive in the world by channeling her intense, labile emotionality and sometimes uncomfortable self-awareness into acute observation of the textures of her immediate world—physical, emotional, social. In this way, she reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop. Writing becomes the place where the whole person can belong, as perhaps it can nowhere else.‎  

What are you writing?

‎Right now I am struggling with a revision of a long poem about Bay Area artist Jay DeFeo's 2,000-pound painting-sculpture, "The Rose". I looked at some of George Oppen's poem, "Of Being Numerous", to figure out how to handle some stanzaic and section issues that were gumming up the pacing. But I am still working on making the poem into a place where the painting fully "speaks out" (aka "ekphrasis"). 

I also have been mulling a long sequence based on an ancient text called "The Acts of Paul and Thecla". ‎The sequence is in many voices. I hit some structural and narrative issues about five or six years ago, and haven't figured out how to proceed since. Although, I was flipping through some Anne Sexton the other day, and might now have some better thoughts about what to do next. Hard to say.

Other than that, since reading Woolf I have been making notes towards a weird essay-like-thing on one's first memory, the emergence of self-awareness, and shame. ‎

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