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"Ready to Surrender Its Fury": An Interview with Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus was born in Seoul, South Korea, and was raised in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from The American Academy of Poets, Kundiman, and US Poets in Mexico. Her work has appeared in Four Way Review, CURA, The Collagist, and diode, among others, and has been nominated for The Best of the Net Anthology. Her multimedia poetry projects have been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival, The Paragraph Gallery in Kansas City, MO., and the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She is a certified yoga teacher and holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Miami. She currently divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her at https://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

Her poem, "Aubade Before Storm," appeared in Issue Fifty-Six of The Collagist. 

Here, she speaks with interviewer Darby Price about hurricanes, the subconscious, and the sound-shape of a line.

Can you tell me a little bit about the origins of your poem, “Aubade Before Storm”? I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of an aubade, a song of lovers parting at dawn, with the storm that builds throughout the poem—a juxtaposition that creates a palpable tension in lines like, “We imagine voices calling to us, light/ from the fishing boats, tiding fair weather// and believe no harm.” What poetic opportunities did you see in the storm and in the natural landscape of the seaside?

It was the end of the summer season, and I was crewing a yacht delivery from New York to Florida when a hurricane threatened the East Coast. We decided to take shelter in Beaufort, North Carolina. The day before the storm hit couldn’t have been more beautiful. The weather was unseasonably warm and sunny: We walked along the beaches, chatted with the fishermen returning with their catches, and watched the wild horses on the nearby island. There were no signs of storm until mid-afternoon when the captain turned to me and said, “Do you feel that? The breeze just shifted – you can tell the storm’s coming.” I was fascinated by the way in which such a subtle shift in the weather could foretell so much to someone who knew how to read its language. As I was writing this poem, I was also wondering what an aubade sung between self and memory would sound like. Somehow, all of these ideas converged, and this poem resulted.

One of my favorite things about this poem is the way that you’ve crafted image-rich and sonically pleasing lines out of what might otherwise be ordinary language, as in “gust in breeze, the swell tide-buried beyond the outer banks”. Can you tell me about your approach to shaping the language in this poem?

I often think of my writing process as feeling my way through the sound-shape of the line. I studied classical piano through my mid-twenties, and sometimes I think that I’ve sublimated much of my desire for music into my poems. Though I don’t often write in received forms, I think about poetry like I do music in some ways – in terms of meter, pacing, tone, lyric fragments as musical phrasing, etc. Many times, I develop the rhythm and sound-shape of a line before I understand its conceptual meaning. This poem in particular came to me in lyric fragments that I kept arranging and rearranging until they sounded right to me. That was the conscious part of my process.

There is also a subconscious component to this poem. The phrase that runs between stanzas 4 and 5 originally read, “memory is not a keeping // but a forgetting […]” While first writing these lines, I was thinking about how we often think of memory as collecting remembrances of the past, but maybe we could actually think of memory as forgetting all of the stuff in between the memories we consciously or subconsciously find significant. In any event, I brought this poem to a reading, and when I came to that line, I accidentally read “forgiving” instead of  “forgetting.” I felt that the accidental slip opened up some interesting possibilities for the line and kept it that way.

What are you reading right now—and/or what have you just finished reading?

Along with some other fellow writers, I’m taking part in Oliver de la Paz’s 2015 Summer Reading Challenge. You can find my list over at my blog: https://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/blog/

What writing projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a chapbook of elegies and nocturnes.  

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