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"The Moon is Not a Spy": An Interview with Dana Koster

Dana Koster has earned degrees from UC Berkeley and Cornell University. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Southern Humanities Review, The Cincinnati Review, PN Review, Clackamas Literary Review and EPOCH, among others. She lives in California’s Central Valley with her husband and young sons.

Her poem, "Yellow Window," appeared in Issue Seventy-One of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks with interviewer Christina Oddo about ghazals, a love story grounded in reality, and time.

Two-line stanzas work so well here. What pushed for this form?

This was the first in a series of experiments I did with the ghazal form and by far my most strict adherence to its rules. In subsequent poems, I freed myself to slightly alter the refrain in each couplet, similar to what I did here with horses/horseness in the fifth stanza. In this poem, though, I really wanted to see how far I could take the repetition of a single word, especially one that doesn’t easily lend itself to different meanings. A horse is a horse is a horse, you know? But if you repeat it enough, it becomes something else.

Images of nature become symbolic through specific diction. What is the relationship between the narrator and horses? The moon? The sun?

Ghazals often deal with themes of love and longing, so I had that on my mind when I wrote the poem, but I wanted to create a love narrative stubbornly grounded in reality. Every time the lovers touch or talk to each other, the speaker forces these big, lumbering equine beasts between them. Similarly, she rejects romantic metaphors about the sun and the moon in the final couplet.

That said, this is still a love poem, but one that’s trying desperately to embrace life – in the form of lying in bed together, or listening to horses galloping outside the window, or not speaking about the way that every true love story ends in death.

There is an aspect of time present in the poem, especially in terms of day and night. What role does time play for you, as the writer, in this poem?

For me, it’s impossible to think about relationships without thinking about time. In “Yellow Window,” I was trying to capture a pastoral moment – two lovers in bed together, horses just outside the window – but also all of the other times, past and present, that a moment like that contains. The mistakes of the past, the fears for the future, the spoken and the unspoken.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished reading Stella Beratlis’ poetry collection Alkali Sink. Like “Yellow Window,” it’s set in the California Central Valley, but it’s a WHOLE BOOK that inhabits this place and yes I am unabashedly trying to get you to read it. I’m also reading The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente with my four-year-old. Valente’s work is pure magic. It’s like reading Alice in Wonderland for the first time, but better. Read it even if you don’t have kids.

What are you writing?

I’ve been writing a lot about gun culture and toxic masculinity. I’m due to have my second son any day now (tomorrow is literally his due date) and those issues have been looming large in my mind as of late.

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