The poems you have in LUNGFULL! come out of a larger, narrative-based chapbook, which you are working on for your senior thesis at Pratt Institute. Could you explain the narrative?
Mariette Lamson: It’s about a ship called Her Majesty. You, as a character in the book, you are the reader, it begins with you are here and you will get on this boat. And talking to you are flowers, the whole thing is narrated by a chorus of flowers. And there’s a we, so whenever in the book it says we it’s referring to the flowers that are speaking like the chorus. And I’ve been writing a lot of songs and stuff, so there’s a lot of silly singing. I want to make it into a puppet show eventually. I picture it as characters in a show…even offstage they have dialogue. There’s a ship and you go on it, and the flowers are on it, and there’s a polar bear, and she’s the captain, and the god-figure, and the flowers live from her and they love her so much and she loves them, but she doesn’t have anything to do with you, she’s sort of detached. It takes place in Antarctica, where the sun goes down for months and months, and when that happens the bear goes to sleep, and then all the flowers can’t live, all the flowers die, and then you are left, and you walk away.
Where did that idea come from?
I think was really struggling last semester with my writing…I started out with this poem “Elimination,” which is at the end of the book…but this poem took three months to write and it’s still not done. Everything came out of this. There are infants on the ship, and they have the money, the ship makes money to run. And they’re stupid and lame, and they jump on the iceberg and spend all their money on it and have to get rescued, and the bear gets tired of them and kills them, so that’s what this poem’s about. I just went off of that, and got into it and that was fun, but then I lost it, and I’m trying to get it back again.
You wrote this chapbook, then did you continue on with it?
It’s about five pages longer. Most of what I’ve been trying to do in the past week is try to place it into a narrative. I wrote a short prologue about how the ship was made. And you know in like fairy tales books, there’s a “Once upon the time,” in the border, like in an old book, that’s what I’m thinking about, the way to put you into it, what seems to be going on in the border.
Where did the decision to make “You” a character come in?
In my poetic statement for my thesis, I sections it up into three parts, and it’s bear, flowers, and Her Majesty, so the Her Majesty part is about water, and how the poems are surfaced on water and why that is, mostly because I think water is the most tactile poetry in the world. I grew up around water in New Hampshire and then I moved to Colorado where there’s no water, or only manmade lakes and stuff, so it’s super-romantic. And the flowers…it’s an adult children’s book, so it’s really sexual, but also sort of innocent…It’s what the flowers are, they taunt you but they love you but you’re not really sure if they love you, and they have nothing to do with you. It’s my relationship between innocence and sexuality and childhood and adulthood. I feel really violently towards being an adult. I think every time I that I push against that, and it’s really important for me to keep being a child, but I’m an adult, so then there’s that weird conflict.
What’s adulthood/childhood for you?
To me adulthood means having such a strict schedule that your imagination doesn’t have a place. And I think what I love about my brain or the way I do things is being able to make a story about everything I see. I just never want to lose that.
Are your poems a way of resisting that rigidity?
This book especially. For me, it’s more fun to write poems that are way more like language poetry, more like painting a picture with words, but in my experience, people who aren’t poets don’t read poems like that, they can’t read them, and that’s so frustrating to me because I want my friends to read them and to get them and to love them, and if they don’t then I can’t really see the point in writing them. That’s another thing I’ve been struggling with, how basic you can make a poem without losing your art.
You mentioned innocence and sexuality, could you elaborate on that? What I’ve noticed in your work is a definite tension between a sweet, childish kind of tone and then underlying sexuality—I’m thinking about the love poem you wrote for a nine-year old. It’s so sweet and innocent, but it also has that interweaving of an adult view of romance and sexuality.
I think having my heart broken is the center of everything I feel…That sounds so silly! But having your hear broken is really childish because in my experience my going after something that I knew would end in disaster and I went off after it so hard and…It was like I broke my own heart, basically. That’s kind of driven the way that I combine sexuality with innocence. I like writing poems about that are seductive but at the same time completely distancing. I write them for other people, but mostly that’s just me talking to myself.
There’s such a variety of form, I wonder if you could talk about that. I’m especially interested in how the poem happens, the moment you realize you’ve gone into that space.
For me, writing prose is so much easier than writing poetry. And I love writing stories and when I write, the easiest, most fulfilling way for me to write is to make myself laugh, and I do that most easily through prose. There are some prose parts in here, like “Disaster Poem,” that were taken out of stories I wrote. And when I get really stuck, I just start writing sentences. I have messed around a lot with word placement, and I think it’s a lot about white space, letting your brain settle between the worlds, and also it’s sort of like a play, so there’s a lot of dialogue-type stuff.
There’s one section where you wrote it specifically to be spoken by particular group of people, your poetry studio classmates.
That was fun. It’s supposed to be that one person reads the first line, and keeps reading it while the next person reads their line, and so on, so it’s kind of like a round.
Where did the idea for that come from?
I wrote that quickly but I didn’t write all the names in until I copied it, like a roll call. But they’re not my classmates anymore, they’re the flowers.
I was interested in that because it’s so specific to the context that it was produced for. And LUNGFULL! has three poems excerpted from this book, so they’re divorced from the context.
I think about that a lot while I’m writing. And that’s another thing that trips me up because I’m trying so hard to get some things out in the narrative because people just don’t get it. I just have to understand that people are not seeing it the way I’m seeing it. I think they do work by themselves, but in a completely different way that I don’t understand, so if people like them, that’s cool, if it’s going to make them feel something, if they’re going to look at them and find something to hold onto.
Has that come more into your writing?
I try not to think about it, because writing this book is so difficult, and it’s so difficult for everyone who’s doing it, and there’s this horrible feeling of impending disaster going around, because we’ve gone all these years writing poems for assignments for months and months, and not thinking about our body work…Anselm [Berrigan] always told us to think of our work as a body of work, but now it matters so much…And some people are doing collection of poems, but most people have some sort of narrative, like Anahit Gulian wrote a novel…So it’s really hard! It’s so hard to stick with one thing. It’s really nice when you feel one way and you feel like you’re going to write in one way, but the way I’m going is I need to write in a certain way towards the narrative.
Do you ever experiment in breaking away from that?
Sometimes. I’ve been writing away from it little bit. But I feel like I can’t waste any time. Honestly, I’ll sit at my computer and I’ll write something, and I’ll keep what I wrote the first five minutes, and I’ll write for an hour and delete all of it and just stare at my computer, and it takes so long to write a poem! So long. I can actually sit for five hours and do that. And I do that, and I get almost no product… when I was learning to draw, and my dad was saying the head was this big, the shoulders , and I’d draw something and I’d just erase it, and he was like, no! You have to leave what you have because otherwise you’ll forget, so you just have to keep going off of it and not erase it. But that’s my revision process, writing and taking it all way and writing again, over and over.
And it’s always been that way for you?
I think I used to write poems really fast. But I’m not writing for words as much for feeling and story. In the past I’ve written for words…but now I’m doing more rhyme and rhythm.
This was written out of the Pratt writing program; can you talk about being in a writing program, how it’s shaped the way you write?
It’s good, we’re going through it together, and it’s really helped with my writing. Growing up together, having each other shape our writing together and reading each other’s work together…I think I couldn’t have gotten that otherwise. And I think that the people that have been writing here really shaped the way I write, even though we all write so differently. I don’t’ think any of us necessarily write for each other, but we all write with each other in mind. I think it’s a really beautiful thing to be able to write poetry in college, and I think it’s sort of scoffed at…I mean, yeah, it’s so much money, and that’s the sad part, but I don’t know what else I could have done.
It’s as much about the community development.
In order to grow in your writing, you really need to be pushed by people who know your writing. But master’s programs totally turn me off, because, I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard that they shape your writing the way that they want to, but that’s why you study with people you really admire. And I really admire my professors, but I think it’s way more my peers that show me how to write.
Do you think you’re going to get an MFA?
I really want to be a writing teacher. My dream is to start my own preschool…But in order to keep writing poetry I need other people to read it, and the community here is so strong. I really like reading, I love doing readings, I really like performing, but I’m really bad at acting. So I’ll do a lot more of that. I think for my thesis I’ll record myself on tape and include it in the book. It’s really important for me. I think that part of the reason people don’t read my poems the way I want them to is because they can’t hear my voice, so if I could…
So when you write are you thinking of performing it as you’re writing?
Yeah. I’ve been writing songs, and I wrote a love song for the chapbook, and the flowers are the backup singers.
Do you have recordings?
Not yet. I have so much work to do, because I have to illustrate everything.
I also wanted to ask you about any other influences you might hav
I’ve been working for Jen Bervin for a while, she’s made this map of, and it’s supposed to go on a wall and up on the ceiling, so I’ve been sewing silver sequins on that since May, so almost for a year, and for 15 hours a week in the summer I sewed two stitches per sequin. And in the summer I mostly listened to music, like French surf stuff, and the winter I listened to poetry, and at some points I listened to so much that I felt like I was sewing the words, so I feel like in parts of the map there are different poetic voices, and I love looking at it and thinking about the poems. Tomasz Solamun, Elizabeth Bishop…and Ariana Reines. it was Valentine’s Day, and she sat down and she was like, I hope you’re all being good to yourselves, because I think a lot of New Yorkers spend a lot of time guarding themselves that they don’t have time to be good to themselves. And I heard that she often picks fights with the audience and has yelling matches, and wants the audience to question her so she can battle them. But that night she was so loving, and it was exactly what I needed and her poetry blew my mind, and usually at poetry readings I get so bored 15 minutes, but she read for 45 minutes and I wanted her to keep reading. And Dorothea Lasky, I love her poems. She does the writing for the people. And hse went to Harvard but she writes in this way that anybody can understand. So I look to that when I need help with that problem. Ariana writes like that too. Jen Bervin’s been so good to me. She introduced me to these two poets who go to school in Sweden, they’re about my age, and they made this gorgeous book of poetry. They came here for two weeks and they school paid for them to take a trip…Talking to them was really inspirational. The girl makes folded poetry, she’ll fold up a poem so you can only see some of the words.
Are you consciously thinking of poetry as a form of love, or love in poetry?
Definitely. I think that the way that I write has to come out positive, and if it doesn’t I’ve let myself down, because I don’t write to make myself feel worse. If I’m feeling sad or lonely, I want to make sure that I put enough love in my poems to make myself feel loved. So ideally that love would be a way to love the person who reading my poems…I think that’s the most important part about writing, making that loving attachment.
–Interview by Annaliese Downey