Rebecca Loudon - These are fever-dream poems, poems in which fire and unanticipated body parts pop in and out where you least expect them. Humans are perpetually channeling the various animals we contain

Rebecca Loudon, Cadaver Dogs, No Tell Books, 2008.

Rebecca wrote, "The poems from Cadaver Dogs explore the human wanting to be animal, the animal wanting to be human, and what happens when the change meets itself on the path toward recognition. Some of the poems, if not all, reflect the comfort animals give humans when we capture them as pets. The subtext of these poems addresses the peril of children living in a world where not animals, but humans, are the true danger." 

The images in this book vibrate. “Mars hangs above you like a meat chime.” “An ovary red dress.” “Let me release the thin broth tadpole-/sticky lake from between my legs.” Cadaver Dogs gives us a fast and furious poetry of “linguistic impulse” (poet Denise Levertov’s term) fused with a poetry of visceral impulse, and rushes of hyped up innuendo. Multiple sensory cataracts pour forth on every page. Whether their mode is pensive, elegiac, sexual or all of the above, these poems embrace the undomesticated, taking as a given the fact that humans are perpetually channeling the various animals we contain. Want vividness and gusto, postmodern sensitivity, lingual rapture? Consume this book, or let it consume you.— Amy Gerstler

This collection is a hungry jukebox full of alluring, bittersweet music. Beginning with Loudon’s dedication page, where pets' names act like rabbit holes for a world of poems whose speakers are ripe with desire to be both animal and human, her lines lure us into a radiant, devastating place burning with color and sound, blood and bees—yet she does so with a kind of frightening grace few poets possess.— Jared Leising

Cadaver Dogs is the rib  Adam never forgot.
Cadaver Dogs is your outside voice, inside. Having sex.
Cadaver Dogs will not self-medicate.
Cadaver Dogs is a chalk outline on asphalt. Children are nearby.
Cadaver Dogs is not a right, it’s a necessity.
Cadaver Dogs is the wheel that came off the trolley and landed in your soup. Small trolley, big soup.
Cadaver Dogs is female.
Cadaver Dogs is not blameless.
Cadaver Dogs tells secrets
is relentless
knows you like your skin
Cadaver Dogs is an anatomist’s waking dream.
Cadaver Dogs wants you.
Cadaver Dogs won’t tell anyone, will tell everyone, requires hydration, could compromise well-being.
Cadaver Dogs is sacred.
Cadaver Dogs cannot be ignored. - oddcitrus.wordpress.com/

A moment decays in its telling, tolling our evanescence. It smells unbearably sweet. Like zombie sweat.
we are a story problem
Outside our window: murderous icicles rain, points first, piercing the snow covered earth. Am I imagining the spreading red stain?
It's good to hide the smell
with smoke and incantations.
It even cures cancer.
Open the windows, Tom.

There is wildness and menace in this book. Sensuality also. I feel myself to have been addressed. I feel somewhat alarmed.
we'll talk again when your children
have sewn razor blades to their lips
These are poems palpable as blood oranges.
bees inside the corn husk
blatant silk
royal jelly
night swung its sugary gardenia stick

Not to explain or paraphrase or gloss, but to say: "Look at this!"
you licked yourself like a human
laughed and kept laughing
Cadaver Dogs howls, nips, humps and growls. It rolls in some serious shit. Sniff it out. It is a marvelous book.
(Note: the italicized segments above are all drawn from Cadaver Dogs.) - TOM BECKETT

If David Lynch is looking for an idea for his next film, Rebecca Loudon's bizarre, enthralling, heartbreaking Cadaver Dogs ($15, No Tell Books) would be excellent source material. Reading these poems is the equivalent of being swept off to Oz then falling down Alice's rabbit hole, except the Lollipop Guild is on strike and the Cheshire Cat is missing some teeth.
The poems in Cadaver Dogs are full of wounded children and the stunted, haunted adults they become. Animals of all kinds show up unexpectedly, whether it's bears making phone calls or buzzing bees who nest in hair, Loudon is a "whisperer" when it comes to summoning creatures as her muse.
Those who read the Radish King blog know that in her other life, Loudon is a musician. Both major and minor chords are struck here -- full orchestras and Glenn Gould alone at his piano. These poems are dark fairy tales, and my guess is that if Anne Sexton were still alive, this is the kind of work she would be doing. Cadaver Dogs is an unsettling read, but you will return to it again and again for this visceral, vital poetry. To quote singer Imogen Heap...there is beauty in the breakdown. - 

One of the dangers of exposing yourself to language and imagery like Loudon's is that your own language is revealed for the watery, ineffectual, broken-winged bird that it is, and thereafter feels like ash on the tongue. To read her is to be thrown into the hold of a ship that's going down in heavy seas, madman lashed to the tiller, and you're blindfolded and something smells like blood and the dank world heaves and the air is full of black rain and the stench of rotting fruit and something darker and the thing is you can't stop grinning, you can't stop it, it's terrible, terrible, but there is music and a glowing light under the water and if you have to go, you can't imagine a more wondrous way. And there's a little girl in a white dress who wants you to hold her hand, if you can just get your chains off and get your feet under you.
But that's not it at all.
It is more beautiful. It is more harrowing. It is a wrench in a man's hard hand and swinging, whistling as it arcs down. It is a flower that floats in the air in front of you in the night at the foot of your bed and the sound of your mother singing in the bath down the hall. It is the monster breathing low and deep in the closet and the doorknob is turning, slowly, slowly...
It is yet more.
Plus, the fucking cover is a freak show. - Scott Odom

It was tough to choose as I have more than a few unread books by contemporary poets, but ultimately I decided to go with cadaver dogs by Rebecca Loudon because, well, that was the next book I wanted to read.
A flip-through tells me that I'm in over my head here because I'm not sure what the poems I've read in there mean. In fact, it wasn't until I started research for this description that I found out that "cadaver dogs" are police dogs that are trained to sniff out decomposing human flesh. Between that factoid and the cover I think we can expect some dark material.
The first poem is titled "Double-plush Wolf in a Hungry Age". The close proximity of Hungry and Wolf led me to expect a fairy-tale motif, and I think that I found it mixed in with some production/consumerism and general sexual identity. Of course I'm thinking "Little Red Riding Hood", and generally that's understood to be about sex or rape. I think this strophe supports that reading:
A bit of fur glued on and some fork tines
and my transformation was complete. I was
the little man in the brown suit your mother
warned you about.
This fairy-tale language seems to be a large part of the poem, including "enchantments", sleeping children, and a notable "nibble nibble nibble / the center of your sweetbread heart." (which always reminds me of Hansel and Gretel).

If there's a narrative in the poem, it's lost on me. There's a declarative "I am a seamstress" in the fifth line, so I did get a sense of a single, clear narrator, at least, but I don't know that she's meant to tell a story.
I do feel there is some message or sense of consumerism intentionally worked into the poem. It starts with a very suggestive enjambment on the first line:
A wax snout is a lot of work for a city
girl living in the forest, even counting
And language pops up like "5 Mile Prairie" and "Betty Crocker Potato Buds". I think the title itself refers to consumer culture by "Hungry Age".
I may just be disorganized tonight, but I do think the poem resists a purely rational explanation. I think a large part of the poem is the impression the words and (startling) images leave on the reader. It is disconcerting, over all.  -Aric naporemo2011.blogspot.com/

Rebecca Loudon lives and writes in Seattle. She’s the author of Tarantella and Radish King (Ravenna Press) and Navigate, Amelia Earhart’s Letters Home (No Tell Books). She is a professional musician and teaches violin to children.
The saying goes, “Do not judge a book by its cover,” which is a challenge with this cover (and its equally attention-grabbing title). It certainly invites a second glance, if not a stare. There’s something fairytale-like (a la Brothers Grimm) in the pages of Cadaver Dogs, a book that startles and stuns at every turn. Indeed, we encounter a murderous Goose Girl, reptile monarchies, wicked Queens and, in the title poem, “a fairytale princess trapped in a hospital” and Harriet Nelson’s “desperate hands wiping and wiping the sterile skin.” Do you push the dark imagery fearlessly or do you sometimes find yourself scaling back on certain language or lines to avoid overwhelming the poem? Who’s your ideal reader? 
I don’t necessarily push dark imagery in my poems as much as I embrace darkness when it arrives in my life, and find a way for that darkness to exist inside language. These images rarely feel taboo, verboten. They are simply part of the soup; the weird, exhilarating, treacherous beauty of my inner and outer worlds. I observe these worlds from a place of wonder and deep play. I am, however, a fearless reviser, and when I scale back, its because my word choices lack music or sense or feel static. My scalpel is sharp.
My ideal reader is a person who has suffered, who feels apart, who has known trauma, and who is capable of honestly engaging with the lot they’ve been handed. Everyone has suffered, but some people are willing to embrace the forest that surrounds us, some are not. Many readers prefer the tranquil, the pastoral, the serene. These are not usually my readers. The groundbreaking photographer Diane Arbus once wrote of her work, “There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.” (From Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph). I think perhaps Diane’s aristocrats are my ideal readers.
Bees, wasps and needles are the tiny threats that poke through (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) repeatedly the pages of the book. The wasp especially makes notable appearances: it “crawls deeper into the fig” if it isn’t “fucking the fig.” Your poetry is neither polite or at peace—the landscape is closer to nightmare than dream. But from all of this comes a dose of reality, a wake-up call from fantasy and the Disney happy endings. How are the troubling times we live in influencing the direction and shape of your work? Or is the world in your poems engaged with a different matter altogether?
We have always lived in troubling times. Cadaver Dogs carries a subtext of how dangerous our world is for children. In particular, the title poem, which explores my own childhood, and “inside the smallest fury,” a poem I wrote after the murder of Zina Linnik, a 12 year old Tacoma girl who was abducted on the 4th of July, 2007. Most of the poems in the book spring from my unique world view, from my understanding and study of art as a complete entity. Music, literature, photography, painting and poetry all spring from the same source in my mind. These arts are not separated with tidy map lines. My music informs my poetry which informs my paintings which informs my need to jump up and dance with spontaneous, joyous abandon, much to the horror of my son. You referred to “something fairytale-like” in your first question, and this is, indeed, how I intended the book to be entered. How could I spend time in the forest without intimate knowledge of Beethoven, his anger, the low chords pounding through his symphonies as he suffered with total hearing loss, an inability to love, his drunkenness, his sciatica? Without the photography of Diane Arbus, the light of Kandinsky? This is my vision, and I have always seen the world as bright and weird, slightly skewed, tipped on its side, wobbled, and plopping along like a four square ball missing a third of its air. I am not interested in timid, quiet, pastoral or nice poetry. I’d rather my poetry ran bellowing down alleys at night in bare feet, than sip tea and stare out a window.
“Where are my small incidents, the blood poured from the shoes?” is a line from the unabridged journals of Sylvia Plath, and which you use as a title for a poem. And indeed there is something very “Plath-ish” about Cadaver Dogs, namely the acerbic metaphors like the one in this poem: “the boy’s conscience, the ring of tiny sores around the world’s red mouth.” What other poets have helped sharpen your poetic skill and who are some of the poets writing today that you believe are taking risks and rising above the quiet sea of the even-tempered poetry shelf?
The first poet who caught my full attention was Dylan Thomas. I read him, not fully understanding the subtleties of his work, but drawn to the music of his language. By that time I was 9 years old and a serious student of the violin. Poetry and music had permanently fused in my brain. Of course I read Plath’s The Bell Jar, as did all my junior high school mates, and found my loneliness vibrating in tune to hers. I was drunk for a year on Gerard Manley Hopkins. Later I discovered Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin. When I was in a 7th grade science class, I read a poem in The New Yorker, a poem that resonated so radically inside me I can still remember exactly what I was wearing that day, where I was sitting in the classroom, and how tiny dust motes looked that floated through the air in that classroom as I read. The poem was James Dickey’s “Falling.” Something broke open inside me with that poem. Poetry broke open inside me.
I love the work of Jorie Graham, Amy Gerstler, Brenda Hillman, Lara Glenum. These poets write poems that are shivering, restless, anxious and dangerous. Carolyn Forche’s poem “On Earth,” that was modeled on ancient Gnostic hymns, inspired me to write the poem “Cadaver Dogs.” These poets move forward in their work with headstrong purpose. I am excited by poetry that exists in disguise, as in the work of Jeanette Winterson, whose writing tips back and forth between poetry and prose thus inventing its own architecture, and the graphic novels of Art Spiegelman and Marjane Satrapi. These artists create vibrant, dynamic work that is moving poetry away from its static center.- bookcritics.org/

I’ve seriously become a fan of No Tell Books.. a lusty press of insatiable women always on the prowl and, contradictory to its claim… they do tell – and with gusto. So the latest feast of savory tales, arranged teasingly on that virginally white paper plate, arrove and burned its way out of its own envelope.
From the poem “don’t you feel it’s dangerous to want we’re losing

sweet and pungent your body having spilled
your shaved neck raw
the wasp crawls deeper into the fig
my tips swollen with it

Oh, the fruit of the loins!
The generality of this collective plays with S&M schematics.. toys, at cannibalistic pragmatics... teases a macabre, surreal visual worthy of Crispin Glover’s cinematic rendering, and percolates enough blood to tarry any planned walks in the forest alone.
Loudon is obsequious “flat on my face as usual/rag wick showing” and indeed, she is also explosive. Much of the give and take, she sees “There are odd punishments afoot” and trumps it. In “Goose Girl

He forgot what it was like to stand
in the forest and bleed, pressed,
tied, silenced but for the false
dark with mink eyelashes

There was a lesson of compliance

But one wonders if the taught is even permitted to utilize his gained wisdoms when later …

A criminologist found the truth
by stains on her dress, pink skin
underneath the bees
gathered on her heel.

Is this man? Is this beast? Perhaps it is that transformation of deviant debauchery that melds them into a fantastical phantom of both. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is not also repulsion? And just who is the “S” and whom the “M” ..? Again, the give and take – so deliciously expounded – reminding me of Anais Nin’s flair for descriptive juxtapositions.

you bent me to the floor
my little grove on fire

Just yet another titillating scenario. The hunger of these poems is furious. The perpetual assignations are dizzying. The Bacchanalian elements strike fear in stalwarts of the missionary only. Yet Caligula’s reign still tickles into the psyche, albeit not usually beyond foreplay fantasies. Still, there is redness to be given…

I love these biting games
slapping games
what will you trade
this time
what will you take
what will you

Oh, and the teaching. Strictness prevailing. Forget the apple, give forth the knuckles. Bend over – Grab your ankles. Grin & bear it. “today’s lesson :: never begin a conversation by saying I’m hard” CRACK!
But there are rewards past the offerings.. One must just survive receivership.

there is a banquet inside me
candied and perfumed there is
lonely and there is
there is

Perhaps. But these near Satanic couplings – the “goat entrails” – “a cupboard of broken-spined animals” – “a wolf’s head sewn to my head” – “Smoke and incantations” – “tangled fur” - One simply has to wonder what really is this sex?
From her poem “The cook had to salt them, and the wicked/queen ate them” ..

She confused love of the body
with love of the mind, milk-fed,
wet all the time, prone to swagger.
Hey girly, the thick man said, you are
so spangly with your cricket legs,
pink frizz everywhere
, and they slow
danced, her hand on his face
as always.

But then there are the reasons. Insinuations of childhood sexual abuse given in the segmented title poem “Cadaver Dogs” ..

a blind peach poodle bumped into furniture
jumped into the boy’s lap licking licking licking
the woman asked isn’t my little girl pretty
isn’t she shampooed and perfumed and pretty
just for mama just for mama just for mama

then the parrot (there was a parrot too) started talking
I love you mama i love you mama i love you mama
the boy saw her refrigerator covered with photographs
of people’s children some cut
out of magazines later the boy asked me
did she molest other children
I didn’t have an answer
I never considered it
I thought I was the only one

Which segues to her wrist-slit suicide attempt. Then one sympathizes. These poems are creations thereafter. They are caused. We now have reason. We now have closure. Is the rollercoaster finished? No.
And later, she is a woman who wears “a greatcoat/pockets stuffed with seeds & a star-nosed mole” that in her poem “I will not sing the death of Dog” finds ..

a blood excavation lump
growing inside your brain


drive fast at night on a rainy street
drive fast with your lights off seatbelt slack
drive so fast sound disappears
roll down your window and scream


grow out of your chalk line
your elephantine desire your gummy insides

So, there you have it. Further tales of wayside sex, scattered psyche, surrealistic boudoirs breathing out whispers of all their secrets. Flesh - Hair - Teeth - blood. The No Tell Hotel is always ready to receive, and yes, pets are permitted. - Cheryl A Townsend

The Eternal Leer of the Playground Bully

A clumsy ritual
you hang yourself
with your own striped tie.

You gnaw on leg of deer, rabbit, wild duck,
roasted turbot, grilled salmon. Hungry
for blood, you rub the stewed fruits
into your skin, fall asleep with the light on,
thumbsucker, biter.

Your father made you hunt.
You wanted to take me,
you were strong enough,
you had the goods.

Say it in 5 languages. Oberon
spools out of the kingfisher's mouth,
the mermaid's chorus. By the time
you noticed it was swollen,
ready to burst, a polyp
with double roots.

It was a prank.
It didn't mean a thing.
Sometimes people just die

A bee in a yellow dress appears

When the change comes
it will be severe
it will be a drowning
it will be a plane crash
it will be the boy from honor camp who waved to me across
the lake when I was 12 followed me home stood outside my
window for 16 days whispering I’m going to kill you
he meant it that boy that boy
I am out of time
bind my ankles with a Flo-Motion jump rope
penny farthing bicycle
propped against the shed
I love these biting games
pinching games
slapping games
what will you trade
this time
what will you take

Navigate,  Amelia Earhart's Letters Home

Rebecca Loudon, Navigate, Amelia Earhart's Letters Home, No Tell Books, 2006.

"Electric, stinging, sweet. Do you like the phrase "from the missing diary"? Letters, lists? There was a meme going around a while ago: "Name a book that made you giddy. A book that made you sad." If I were asked today? Navigate. Written in a fever, Navigate, Amelia Earhart's Letters Home will make you cry and spin. Read it in one sitting (walking the wing), then again. Don't forget to breathe." -- Kate Greenstreet

 "Rebecca Loudon has not merely evoked Amelia Earhart, she has inhabited her. These spare, elegiac poems ache with a devastating beauty. They will remind you of what you've lost, and fill you with lovely, terrible hope." -- Susan Butler

Rebecca Loudon, Radish King, Ravenna Press, 2006.

Rebecca Loudon’s second collection of poems frequently finds itself “On the Delirious Track,” fascinated by “that lovely erotic flaw / (the importance of the lopsided).” And if her poems are disorienting and confusing, which they can be, their humor, rhythm, surprise, and obsessive repetitions can be mesmerizing. (Bookslut)

Radish King marks the first book of poems I've read that has made me want to call in for penicillin. These poems are marked off as "Poems That Burn" -- simultaneously a description and a warning label -- which seems just about right. Some of them probably burned coming out; certainly it's the case that they burn a little while you're reading them; many of the images and lines linger troublingly afterwards. Rebecca Loudon's second collection of poems frequently finds itself "On the Delirious Track," fascinated by "that lovely erotic flaw / (the importance of the lopsided)." And if her poems are disorienting and confusing, which they can be, their humor, rhythm, surprise, and obsessive repetitions can be mesmerizing.
There's an odd way in which Radish King looks askance at The Waste Land. I wouldn't say it's a parody, exactly -- Loudon doesn't seem that interested in Eliot. But there are connections and revisions that seem interesting. Eliot's modernist arrangement of the Fisher King legend is counterbalanced by the Radish King, and by a woman with "those little poems like breath tumbling / out, no myth, mostly truth, such a bother." If at the end of Eliot's poem "these fragments I have shored against my ruins," here there's "a beautiful thing who just wants to understand / and she doesn't, she doesn't understand but knows, / finally, what the owls have come to say." These could be coincidences, but the most striking connection is the way both poets juxtapose burning and sexuality. In The Waste Land, Eliot was concerned to show that sexuality in modern London was, at best, arid and lifeless, the sort of thing that might lead to a moral "burning burning burning burning" that one inherits from Augustine and from Buddhist teachings.
If the poems in Radish King burn, there's at least some chance the characters started the fire. At the end of "Unobserved Fire," a girl "rode to the swamp, tipped her bicycle on its side, shiny as an infection, and set the trees aflame." The hands of another speaker "reek of gasoline, the smell leaking into albumen" as she peels an egg; in the next poem, "The Age of Fevers," we're reminded, "(don't / forget the gasoline)." "The Age of Fevers" kaleidoscopically jumbles a car fire, a firefighter's reaction, and a woman left at home -- perhaps the firefighter's wife, but perhaps the one who started the fire. Or perhaps someone who didn't start, but rather endured a fire: "You found a spider on your sweater, / swore it was God's voice speaking / from the small brown body, / not your fever, not the bonfire." The difficulty is that "No one ever tells you about burn -- / catheter, greenstick fracture, / jalapeno oil on a torn nail." And at the end of the day, "All she can do is burn." The force of Eliot's burning arises from its moral/ontological claims about human nature, sexual difference, sin, and modernity. Loudon takes a wholly different approach, and the exigency of her poems stems from the physical and psychic threats her characters endure.
Radish King oozes with eros, with the idea that "Everything is different once you touch it, / put your hand on it, feel its peculiar oil / seeping out, erotic transfer, / mouth breathing into mouth." There are poems about safe words, about shoe fuckers, about "showing him her tongue, / showing him the seed," about the disposability of lovers -- in short, about all the ways sex and love and desire skew our everyday perceptions of ourselves and the world. The poems are discomfiting in many ways, and yet they are hardly sex-hostile. Instead, they work constantly to remind us of the differing ways that experiences register themselves in our minds and on our bodies. 
This may sound a little dour, but Loudon's poems are frequently funny, whether darkly or no. Frequently this humor emerges around mass culture. It's a Wonderful Life turns into "Everyone's Favorite Holiday Suicide"; "Taxidermy Primer" is kicked off with a Psycho allusion; and Loudon takes a turn as Laura Ingalls, when "The best parts of me were sewn shut," and "Lark drank poison and we just stood there." 

The great phrase from Radish King is "rogue proximity," which I think encapsulates the bewildering appeal of Loudon's poems.  Estranged from reality, or at least from common experience, they nonetheless are uncannily intimate, and manage to provoke even on re-reading.  At times ravishing, Radish King earns a certain fealty from its readers.Jason B. Jones

In some ways this is an odd little book, wider than it is tall to accommodate the postcard-proportioned cover image; the funky size does more than just serve the cover art, though, as it lets you know before you even open the book that this is not going to be your standard "pretty much like any other collection" poetry book. The book’s format gets the reader’s attention, but it is up to the poetry itself to sustain that attention, and that it does, with moments like this one from “The Harmonium Machine”:
There is a lump on the back of her head.
Is it the hole she spent an entire summer
falling through? On Tuesday a magnolia
blossom wriggled in her hand, pink
and wet. It is, he assures her, a fever,
a handsome kind of sickness.

She stands in the shower with a bottle
of olive oil, combing glue from her hair,
half her head covered in zebra stripes,
no idea how they got there, wears a pill-
box hat to cover them and fabulous shoes
missing a toe, no hooves, thank God,
grateful to finally have a popular disease.
These are fever-dream poems, poems in which fire and unanticipated body parts pop in and out where you least expect them. More than once I found my expectations about voice, language, and content subverted, in a good way. Books that do this usually make me pick up a pen and start writing, and this one was no exception -- in fact, I suspect this will be one of those books that I'll turn to when I feel stuck, so it can shake the words loose for me. - ANNE HAINES

When I was Laura Ingalls

The best parts of me were sewn shut.
I shaved my sister's head.
We set fire to a can of paint in the neighbor's garage.
I rolled my skirt high above my knees and got frostbite.
We were ordered to close our holes but we called them portals.
I stole sugar from the infirmary.
Ice cured everything and if it didn't we stayed sick.
We ate a barn owl for breakfast.
Lark drank poison and we just stood there.
Pa broke out the windows with his beak.
All our dogs were named Jacky-Lame-O.
The horses bled from their hooves.

— from Radish King


Tarantella, the edgy debut collection from Rebecca Loudon, depicts vividly the dance between pain and joy in the vocabularies of music and medicine. The fierce language of Loudon’s narrators belies deep vulnerability and a fear of the body, but an even stronger, somehow curative passion for the pleasures life offers.

How has your first book changed your life?
20.  Rebecca Loudon

How did your manuscript happen to get picked up by Ravenna Press? Previously, had you sent it out much?
I only sent Tarantella to one first book competition. It wasn't chosen, and as I was unemployed, I didn't have the money to send it to any others. I really didn't think about the manuscript too much. I knew it was complete, but getting it published was not an urgent need for me. I knew it would be published eventually, because that is what I wanted. I realize how naive this is, but I have this stupid faith that the right things are going to happen for me as long as I keep doing the work. My urgencies were making enough money teaching violin lessons and scrubbing toilets and walking dogs and teaching poetry workshops to pay rent, and continuing to write. Continuing to do the work. I wrote to Ravenna Press on a whim because Kathryn Rantala had published several of my poems over the years, and I asked if they were reading manuscripts. She said no, but I sent her Tarantella anyway. She had it for what seemed like a very long time but it might have only been a few weeks, and finally said that she would love to publish it.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
The book had been held up in printing for quite a while and I think I sort of gave up on it ever arriving. I rarely use my telephone for anything but connecting to the internet, and when Kathryn sent me an e-mail telling me to get offline so she could call me, I got a little worried. I figured giant dogs had eaten the books or they had been held at the post office for harboring filthy words, or she had changed her mind and the press had decided to drop it.
She called me and said they're here and I screamed. A very loud girlygirl scream. I drove to her house like a maniac. The first thing I did was pet the cover of the first book on the top of the box, then I opened the book and smelled it. Ink! My ink. Kathryn made me a celebration lunch of asparagus, tomato, egg and champagne. When I drove home with my copies, I kept petting them, touching them, looking at them. When I got home I took them all out of the box and signed a copy for my son, and forced him to admire it repeatedly, and then I called my musician friends to celebrate. We had a party that night at my composer's house and I gave them all copies and we made many silly toasts and I was asked to read poems which embarrassed me.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Yes. I knew what the cover was going to look like from the start. My son had brought home a box of old photos from his grandmother's house and I found the photo of the two men (his great uncles) dancing and drinking beer. I knew it was perfect. I wanted red as the color, something hot, something that caught the eye and would compliment the black and white photo.
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?
In my sentimental poet heart I believed I would sell thousands of books and become famous and reclusive instead of just cranky and reclusive. Of course, it was a very small print run and what I really wanted was to sell enough books to get a haircut and maybe buy some fancy cheese. I knew I would have to work hard to sell the book, give lots of readings, and I did. It turns out that my life did change, but in ways I didn't expect.
How has your life been different since?
Shortly after the book was printed, I found a steady job and I didn't have to worry so much about money. Up to that point, I was teaching orchestra in a middle school to 5th and 6th graders. Unfortunately, it was not a full time job and I didn't work enough hours to buy medical insurance, or anything else including heat in my house and, often, food and basic essentials. I was sorry to leave the kids at the school, but the new job gave me time to breathe and consider and relax and look around a little bit. I realized that I had made it through an impossibly difficult time, that I had mostly kept my sense of humor, and that I never lost sight of my art. I went a little crazy, yes. I made some bad choices, yes, but I kept writing. I kept playing my violin. I stayed connected to those things that were important to my spirit. I realized I was a lot braver than I thought I was. I see Tarantella as a milepost in my life. I look at it and I think I did something remarkable--I kept going.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
I was surprised that people read the book and thought they were reading a memoir. I was especially surprised when other writers thought this. This made me feel like I was standing around in my underpants. I felt exposed. I was also surprised at how many women fell in love with the book. I was delighted to find little hordes of young goth girls with white makeup and black lipstick and blue fingernails hanging around outside bookstores after I read, who wanted to talk to me about the poems. A lot of people found the poems to be dense and difficult and weird. (Wait until they read the next book, haha.) My mother said she carried the book around in a plastic bag so it wouldn't get soiled. She also said most of my friends don't know what the hell you're talking about.
I thought I would get more support from the press in getting my book into local bookstores. I discovered quickly that bookstores don't want to talk to writers. It took almost six months for my book to appear in even one local bookstore. I didn't know that many bookstores want you to read at their store before they'll sell your book.
One of the most interesting things that happened with the book is that my musician friends bought it, and my two worlds, music and poetry, began to overlap. Musicians began coming to poetry readings. Poets began coming to concerts. I'm not sure the two worlds will ever mix well socially. When I had my book release party, I invited all the musicians and all the poets I knew. There were a lot of people there, but the musicians stood on one side of the room (near the alcohol) and the poets stood on the other side of the room (near the food) and there was little interaction. In my mind, music and poetry are the same thing, they are one art. I know there are some poetry purists, ahh, the academics, who disagree, who think poetry is POETRY and sits on its golden ass in an ivory tower twiddling its thumbs. There are musicians who feel the same way. I have argued this misconception my entire life beginning in grade school when I was playing violin and seriously competing, and was also writing, and was told quite clearly that a musician eats, breathes and drinks music and nothing else.
What did you do to promote the book, and what were those experiences like for you?
I promoted the book on my blog and pre-sold half of the first printing. I gave local readings constantly, but could not afford to travel. I sold books to friends and family and musicians and students. I sold books to my dermatologist and to my landlord and to people at my new job. I read at least once a week, sometimes twice a week. I got burned out. I went to open mikes, the most dreaded of mikes. I became sick of the poems in the book. I started reading new poems instead of poems from Tarantella. I could have sold more books if I was better at schmoozing. I totally suck at schmoozing. I love to read, but when the reading is over, I'm out of there as quickly as possible. I should have stuck around, talked to people, found out who they were and why they were there. A year ago last May, I gave my last reading for Tarantella. Then I took a year off completely from reading, a year to concentrate on writing. And hiding.
You pre-sold HALF of the print run?! How big was that run?
I think it was 125 books. My editor offered me an extremely generous deal, which was that I could keep the profits from whatever I pre-sold. I don't think she expected me to sell so many, but I was hungry and I am, after all, the daughter of a used car salesman. Plus I was able to sell lots to unsuspecting musicians who, once they read the book, mostly said Oh. Mm.
Radish King must have a lot of readers. How long have you been blogging and how did you get into it?
I started my first blog in 2002, I think, somewhere around there. A friend of mine owned some server space and he gave a group of us our own little parcels of serverland that were basically a blog. Mine was named Vitadrome and I used it the same way I use Radish King. Part diary, a place to post and unpost poems, a place to vent, a place to play, but mostly a place to practice writing.
I started the Radish King blog in September 2004. It was a hard time for me. I was poor, it was getting cold, I had yet to land the teaching gig, and I was waiting anxiously for Tarantella to arrive. It was a difficult time for me emotionally as well. I needed a place to play and I never expected anyone to read my blog since I wasn't (and I'm still not, thank god) part of POETRYWORLD, or, if they stumbled on it, I never expected anyone to come back.
I get anywhere from 90 to 130 hits a day at Radish King, not very many if you look at the numbers, but I get very little spam traffic and my readers are loyal. They come back. I'm not sure exactly why. I think it's because when I post on my blog, I don't think about having readers. I put poem drafts there and three a.m. rants and recipes real and imagined and stupid dreamy posts about my garden and my paintings and the art of others and photographs and movie reviews and just about anything that flaps its wings inside my brain. I rarely censor what I write there though I frequently delete my own posts. I have been asked to remove a post once, and I did, and I'm still pissed off at myself for caving in. I say what's on my mind (as I do in the meat world) and I think that writers are, at heart, voyeurs, and they like to peek in the window. Especially when it's dark and the little glow of the computer monitor illuminates the circumference of another person's darkness. I think that's why they come back.
I also use blogs as a means of document control, something I tend to be careless with. I recently wrote my chapbook Navigate entirely on a private blog. I found the blog was the easiest way to keep track of my writing. I just revised on the blog itself. When I sent the manuscript to No Tell Books I also included the blog URL. I'm writing my new book, Cadaver Dogs, the same way.
How could you give so many local readings? Are there many places to read near where you live? (Are you in Seattle?) As one cranky recluse to another, do you enjoy getting out and reading?
Yes, I live in Seattle, and I think Seattle may be the best place in the world to find or give a poetry reading. We are quite the little hotbed of spoken word, slams, open mikes where middle-aged college-educated women pretending to be Native Americans can read to their heart's content, bookstore reading series, library reading series, famous poet readings and good old fashioned male-encrusted presses. (Like Copper Canyon.) Richard Hugo House is a great place to read, and the Jack Straw Foundation has given voice to many local poets. We have coffee houses and taverns and bookstores and even museums that feature poetry readings twice a month or even once a week. You can't swing a contrabassoon in this city without hitting a poetry reading.
I do enjoy reading. I'm good at it and I love it, love the audience response to my poems. What I'm not good at is dealing with my anxiety about leaving the house for the reading, or hanging around after talking to other poets. I'm an absolute failure at networking.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?
I wish someone had told me to get a contract for the book. My publisher has been more than fair and square with me but I didn't know until a month ago how much an author's copy would cost me. I don't know how many books I've sold. I really don't know anything. I'd like to be more aware of the business aspect of selling books.
I wish someone had told me to be more strident in removing poems that I didn't feel absolutely crazy about. I don't believe collections of poetry should have filler poems, or ladder poems. Each poem must be as strong as the next, and there are a few poems in Tarantella that I would cut now if I had the chance. I basically didn't get any advice, because at the time I was writing the poems, I was not directly involved with poets or a poetry program. I was just writing away and playing music and following my intuition. In a way I'm glad. Advice can be damaging to both the giver and the givee, and is almost always wrong.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
I realized right away that it was important for me to continue writing while waiting for Tarantella to be published. Part of me wanted to shut down and wait but instead I threw myself into the next book. I am now more conscious of how my poems inform each other. With the first book, there was much ordering and arranging and fretting and removing poems and putting them back. Now my poems order themselves for the most part. I believe that each poem brings the seeds of the next poem in its mouth. I'm more willing to write crap and recognize it as crap and move on. My writing is becoming less personal, a bit wilder, more experimental. I'm allowing myself to invoke the moon and the stars and love and all the things I was taught didn't belong in poems. I'm breaking all the rules I learned but so what? That's what happens when you keep going forward. Fuck the rules. Good writing is good writing, no matter what you want to invoke. This comes from practice. Practice and deep play and falling in love with your own work.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
Tarantella didn't get much critical response. My book didn't win any contests or cash prizes or any of that folderol. I worried at first that it would get bad reviews, then after a while I worried that it wouldn't get reviewed at all. It did though, and all but one of the reviews were positive but didn't really give me any insight into the book, which I wanted--perhaps a selfish desire, but a true one. I had one review that was two thirds positive and one third negative, and at first I fumed a tiny bit, stamped my foot, etc. but in the end, it is the review I learned the most from, the review to which I return. The reviewer was honest and funny and forthright, made a comment about the women characters in my book being passive, and I took it personally but eventually realized what she was seeing and why she saw it, and how my interpersonal relationships at the time I wrote the poems had shaped those women. She was right, but the poems weren't wrong. It was just the women I chose to write.
Do you want your life to change?
Yes, absolutely and constantly. Someday I would like to start an art school for children named The Renaissance School. The curriculum would be music and painting and poetry and dance and sculpture and voice and architecture and literature and a study of all that art encompasses and there will be no separation of the arts, but one art stemming from the same place in the brain, in the human psyche.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I am working more and more with my composer. I have written the libretti for two choral pieces for him, and a five part song cycle titled Bone Island Suite for orchestra and soprano that had its world premier last April. I am currently writing a children's symphony for him that will be performed in January, 2007. This is not a choral piece, but a children's story titled Ursula that will be read by a narrator accompanied by orchestra. We are also writing an opera together, Red Queen, based on the relationship between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson. The more we work as a team, the more both of us are inspired in our respective arts, and the more poetry and music slip back and forth in my head until they are one art. I don't know what change this will bring for me, but I feel it coming.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
Poetry has saved my life. And change in one person changes the world. If someone reads a poem and it causes them to view even a miniscule part of their world differently, then the world has been changed.

A poem from Tarantella by Rebecca Loudon:

Instructions for Recalcitrant Patients

Are you having a seizure?

I'm recovering from a spider bite
by embracing the tarantella; a low dance
in which I turn on my heels, snap my fingers and shuffle.
Do you know where you are?
During earthquakes, I cradle my violin
and regard the migration of seabirds.
What is your name?
When Saint Dymphna was fifteen,
her father drew his sword and cut off her head.
Let us be inspired by her example
and comforted by her merciful help.
What am I holding? (Hold up a common object such as a comb or watch.)
The ocean squalls down my chimney.
The power is out, my house cresting on its timbre.
I eat a jellyfish; swallow brine and chew,
a stinging sensation on my tongue.

Hold your arms straight out in front of you.
Will you rememeber, Rebecca, the way you rocked
in your chair when you played Schumann, the Rhein
covered in oil, burning?


Tom Beckett's interview with Rebecca Loudon is followed by 3 poems.

Interview with Rebecca Loudon

Tom Beckett:
Where did/does poetry begin for you?

RL: Two different questions, but both answered most simply with sound. I am not entirely convinced that poets are made. I have a sense that we are born into it, like Bukowski wrote, Born like this, into this. I am certain that I was born into poetry and into music. I remember wanting to write poems before I could write, before I could read. And perhaps this comes from teaching both poetry and music, but the best poets I know began at an early age, as with the best musicians I know. I believe (in most cases) it takes years to master any art. I realize this isn’t a popular opinion and I worry that it makes me sound like a snob which I probably am. So it goes.

Music was my first language. And poetry was not far behind. I was raised in a family of musicians. My father played bassoon, my mother piano. She taught piano lessons. There was opera, symphonies, contemporary music, and musicians traipsing in and out, jamming or practicing, all of it in our house all the time. My grandfather was born on Robert Burns’ birthday, and he read those poems to me in a crazy Scottish brogue. He also read the vagabond poems of Don Blanding, Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis, poems by Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shakespeare, newspapers, anything that was at hand. These were his books and he had a terrific voice and loved to hear himself. I was the only grandchild willing to sit still for him. I had A Child’s Garden of Verse from which my mother read, but those poems bored me. I memorized them easily, and longed to go back to my grandfather for more of the adventures of Archy, the cockroach with the soul of a poet, and my grandfather’s booming voice. And there it was again, the combination of words and sound. I should never write this early in the morning. (I began this at 6:30 AM.)

I started violin lessons at the age of 5 and while I know this question is about poetry, I’ve never been able to separate poetry and music in my head. They come from the same source, they are the same thing. This is the only consistent answer I’ve ever given in any interview.

By the time I was 9 years old I was seeking out and reading poetry on my own. I discovered my mother’s college literature book and I sat outside under the cottonwood tree and memorized long poems and recited them to whomever would listen which was usually the horses out in the pasture as I was a solitary child as I am a solitary adult. I memorized The Raven and Shakespeare sonnets and Little Orphan Annie by James Whitcomb Riley. I memorized music, whatever I was practicing. I memorized the scripts to entire episodes of I Love Lucy and just about anything that entered my head. I contained all those words, all those sounds, so when the time came to write my childhood poems the words were there for me. And the music.

(I’m doing this incorrectly aren’t I? I’ve never known how to behave inside an interview. Either I have too much to say including all my crackpot theories, or I have nothing to say.)

The first poem I read that shook me to my bones was James Dickey’s Falling. I think it was in a copy of The New Yorker. I remember exactly where I was when I read it, what I was wearing, where my desk was in the room, and what the dust motes looked like floating in the air. The poem and that moment was pivotal for me. I already had a ton of romantic swill under my belt, had discovered Sylvia Plath, wore pounds of black eye liner and had shaved off my blond eyebrows to draw heavy black serious poet eyebrows in their place (this was the 60s after all.) My poems were filled with black boats and true love, but after I read Falling things changed for me. I realized that poetry could move around on the page, that poetry didn’t have to be static, that it could be whatever I wanted it to be. I wrote my first serious poem when Martin Luther King was assassinated. By serious, I meant I was willing to share it, I wanted people to read it. This was 1968. I was 15 years old.

And here I come to a complete stop because I was living outside by then, and by this I mean I had been thrown out of my house and was living as a street kid while still attempting to go to school, and I’m not sure about how much of this I want to reveal. I rarely write about it. One more thing I have to include here, is that I was in New York in 1972 and I saw Diane Arbus’s posthumous retrospective exhibition at the MoMA, and that was the second pivotal experience that changed my ideas about poetry, about art, about being brave inside my work, owning up to the truth as I experienced it, not backing down to anything that felt outside the circle of normal and ignoring what anyone else thought.

Poems begin for me from practice. When I am practicing my violin, when I am practicing drawing, when I am practicing writing. I used to write every day in notebooks. Not just poems, but anything I thought of. Then I switched to my blog to continue my daily writing practice. I believe that the mastery of any art comes from mastery of practice. It’s kind of weird. I don’t think many poets think in terms of daily practice. Maybe it’s from spending a lifetime as a musician. But we have these muscles, not even muscles—tissue, tissue memory. Practice strengthens that tissue memory. When I practice Bach every day then it’s my tissue memory that can perform Bach, not my fingers, not my brain. My brain just gets in the way of things, slows me down. It’s the same with writing. I’ve learned to have a notebook by my side pretty much all the time to jot down ideas. This is practice. This and reading.

When I rehearse, I write during rehearsal breaks. Pages and pages of fast unreadable penmanship inside my cheap notebooks. Poetry begins for me while I am reading. I am an unstoppable reader. I find poetry everywhere. In novels in cookbooks in roadmaps in billboard advertisements in history books on the back of cereal boxes. I jot ideas and words and whole lines and possible titles in my notebook. I let these simmer and later on I use these to form poems or discover that I have been slowly writing poems all along.

The type of poem that comes all at once as a complete being is very rare for me. I call these poems godrush poems. They’re rarely any good. God ignores me as a poet. I am not much of a talker but I am an expert eavesdropper. I steal conversations. I put them in my notebook and use them later. I pay attention. I just stopped writing this and went outside to water and rake my garden. My garden gives up lots of poems. I can imagine being just about anywhere when I am digging in the dirt. I think after a certain point, after a number of years or after a number of poems, and that number is arbitrary, a poet becomes a poet, becomes alive in the river of poetry so to speak. Lives in the river all the time. Poetry is happening all the time in the brain. I don’t think it stops flowing once we are there. We can ignore it, certainly, but I don’t think poetry, like men and Jesus, ever abandons us.

Tom, that’s it for this question. I need to go pull some weeds before it starts to rain.

TB: We're about the same age. I was born in 1953. On my 16th birthday the first man walked on the moon. While you were mastering the violin, I was perfecting air guitar.

Ron Silliman once told me that the most important attribute a poet can have is discipline. You certainly seem to have that. I'm a little more wayward, I guess.

What do you want from writing? What do you hope for (expect?) from a poem?

RL: A map is the most basic thing I want and need from my writing. A map from yesterday to today. A map from 1968 to next week. I want a north arrow, a legend, degree tick marks, time zones, a legend, latitude and longitude lines, mountains with ridges I can trace with my fingers, blue rivers, street names, oceans and springs, lakes, Arctic definitions and national parks, highways marked in red, historical monuments and wildlife preserves, capes and points and peninsulas, fjords and inlets, archipelagos and live volcanoes, and an impossibility of folding the map back to its original configuration. And that is what I want from each poem, each story, each letter, each blog post that I write. I want a map so I can find my way back.

I’ve written too much about my brain being miswired. I’ve been honest about being bipolar I, a popular disease these days among poets. It’s almost embarrassing. Anyone who has even a slight mood swing claims bipolar disorder. It’s so dark and romantic! It’s so Sylvia. In truth, it’s not all that much fun. I spent years trying to control it myself until I was properly diagnosed in my 20s, then I was fairly stable for a good long time, until I lost my job in 2002. Once my unemployment ran out I was once again unmedicated, and I started my blog to map my journey, my clichéd and quite public fall from grace. It was terrifying. And it was dangerous. But I kept writing all the way through. I wrote two books, then I found my new job, and I wrote 2 more books. I’ve never really stopped writing because if I do, I’m afraid I’ll lose my way, I’ll forget, I’ll get lost in the forest.

I read my own stuff a lot. For one thing, I’m in love with it. I think all writers should be in love with their own work. If they’re not, they’re off the track somehow. They’ve made a wrong turn. I don’t believe in false modesty. I don’t believe art can come about without a great deal of ego. I read my books, I read my blog, I read my notebooks, I read my poems and things come to light. When I’m writing, in the act of writing, I don’t usually know exactly where I’m going, only that I have to get somewhere. Once I get to where I’m going, I read my work and it’s a giant AHA! Ohh, that’s what was troubling me, delighting me, frightening me, making me panic or dance. My writing informs my life. In this poem, I started at point B and ended up in a village in Norway. I have the map. My life solidifies in my head. Things that are easy for other people, for instance the real world, become more bearable for me when I know where I’m going, where I’ve been.

I don’t consider an audience when I write. That would stop me cold. That’s what makes this interview more difficult for me than writing on my blog. I didn’t have a huge burning desire to have a book or even a few poems published. That part came embarrassingly easy for me. I put my poems out and up and was invited to submit. Two editors who believed in me invited me to submit my collections. I’m not saying I don’t love to have my poems read and responded to. That’s sheer delight, but losing my audience would never keep me from creating my map.

I think I was pretty clear about what I expect from my work, so I will address what I expect from the poetry of others. I read poetry to find out about the world. I fall in love with poems that are dynamic as opposed to static. Static poems bore me immediately and I stop reading them, because there isn’t enough time in my life for mediocre poetry. I just finished writing a review for Aase Berg’s With Deer, a small enough collection that took me over two months to read, to parse, to absorb. Berg’s book was so full of surprising language and strange darkness and bumps in the attic that I spent days thinking about each poem. This is a good example of dynamic poetry. I like poetry that makes me laugh, that takes chances, that isn’t afraid to look stupid, that is more likely to run down the street naked than lounge by the pool with a mojito. I expect poetry to teach me something. Anything. Even if it’s just a different way to consider a zombie. I don’t want to be preached to, but I don’t mind listening to the choir if the choir is good and can interpret the music in a new way. I love to learn how to see the world differently through a poem. Maxine Kumin wrote about horses and those poems broke my heart because they differed from my horse experience. Brigit Pegeen Kelly wrote a poem called The Dragon. I wasn’t too crazy about most of that book but that poem lit my head on fire and I memorized it. I thought about it for days, then went back and reread The Orchard to see what I missed the first time around. Sometimes I read too fast. I have to take my time with poems or I might miss the entire show.
/ The bees came out of the junipers, two small swarms / The size of melons; and golden, too, like melons, / They hung next to each other, at the height of a deer's breast, / Above the wet black compost. And because / The light was very bright it was hard to see them, / And harder still to see what hung between them. / A snake hung between them. The bees held up a snake, / Lifting each side of his narrow neck, just below / The pointed head, and in this way, very slowly / They carried the snake through the garden /
--from The Dragon by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

I have little patience with didactic poems, poems that take themselves too seriously, poems that are reverential. I think deep play is a necessary part of the creative process. Poems that wear fake moustaches and try to sneak into the 7-11 to buy beer bore me. Nature poems that do not embrace both dark and light bore me. I think any poetic “rule” can be broken if the writer is original and practices his or her craft. And there it is again. Practice.

TB: I have some experience with feeling miswired. I was an epileptic kid. I've had experience with depression and some other issues. I think being bipolar is much tougher. I intuit that it's made you tougher, too.

Let's be clear. I don't think there's anything romantic about brain chemistry mysteries/issues. I think the body's a chrysalis for good and evil, for beauty and ugliness, for pleasure and sorrow. We're all captives of our bodies in some sense. Which isn't to say we can't dance the funky chicken now and then. Or open surprise packages of bacon or chocolate.

That map of yours sounds like a lifeline, an artery heading straight from the heart. I'm a little envious, Rebecca. I think you've accessed something important and rare.

What attracted me to your work, which I know incompletely, is its aroma, its atmosphere, the savage playful tenderness you bring to your (dare I say?) oeuvre. (Things always do sound a little better in French.)

Anyway, what am I rambling toward? That sense of deep play in action, I guess. I'm wondering how you stop, start and work your way through an actual poem. I mean, within the river of poetry you're accessing, you're also making a lot of decisions. I'm interested in learning about your process/practice in a little more detail.

RL: Deep play is almost my religion. It pushes back the dark. I am always uncertain. There is not enough time to do what I have to do. This anxiousness shows itself in my poetry. I never hold it back, but I don’t take myself too seriously, as a writer. I am trying every day to get out of the house. To go outside and breathe and pay attention. Deep play is my sense of the absurd. I grew up in a terrible house. I learned to defend myself at an early age. This, a somewhat skewed world view, was my weapon as well as my shield. There was no internet to usher me into a family, a network, an artistic community. I’ve never had any kind of community, really. I’ve never wanted one. I’ve only had this lightness and darkness. Deep play keeps my passion from slopping over into obsession. Obsession can be dangerous. It has deep eddies. It doesn’t play by the rules. If you are a runner you must be light on your feet. You have to skip over the potholes.
I like it first to be art.
I like it to express the zeitgeist.--Alice Neel
As for the actual building of my poems, I am an incurable insomniac, so I write at night, when I am in bed and my window is open and I’m listening to the rain or a storm, or the weird screechy seabirds. I don’t listen to music or the television when I write. I don’t drink. I need quiet. My own breath and the sound of my house groaning and gulping its ecstatic sorrow. I feel relaxed and safe in my bed, and this is where my work happens. I read through my notebook to see what I’ve scribbled and sometimes I find the bare bones of a poem in those notes and when I start to write I do so without stopping. I have learned that it is important for me to push past my notes, to write everything that comes into my mind. It’s much easier to cut entire stanzas when I’m revising than trying to invent them later. My nasty little inner critic is tied up in the basement with a piece of duct tape over her mouth. I let her out later. I write deep into the night, pages and pages, and hopefully I go where the poems want me to go, though I’m not afraid to write crap. I think we all have to write crap every now and then. I believe that each poem carries the seeds of the next poem in its mouth and that if I skip a poem, no matter how crappy, I’ll stumble. Often, frequently, my poems are letters to people I’ve known. My entire second collection, Radish King, was both a love letter and a book of break-up poems. They were written as a specific response to a specific person. Sometimes I begin with a title. I never begin with a last line in mind. It is an important part of my process to let the poems go where they want to go. I revise like mad. These days I revise poems on my blog. I used to revise on Word™ documents but I get loose and frantic with Word™ documents and I tend to lose them (as you’ve already discovered.) I put complete drafts of poems on my public blog, but I also have private blogs, nonpublic blogs where I write and revise. One of them is for short stories only. I wrote my chapbook on a blog so my editor could see what I was up to. Revising on a blog gives me control over the latest revision. I always know exactly where to find it. Document control!
They have voices like human beings, but their roars are proverbs.--Henry Darger
The psychotropic drugs I take for my bipolar disorder make it difficult for me to concentrate so I write much more slowly than I used to. I write about half as many poems as I used to write in a year. I worried about this for a long time, but I’ve decided that profligacy isn’t such a big deal. I had to decide that. My poems are inverted fairy tales. They frighten me, so I hide jokes and gags and whoopee cushions inside of them to buoy myself, to make it easier to keep going. Deep play. Cadaver Dogs was a terrifying book for me to write. I started in the middle and worked my way to the edges. Writing that book kicked the slats out from under me. It knocked me out. I’m still feeling it. I revealed a lot of myself in that book. Of course I reveal myself in all my books, but in this one I named names. And yet I never lost sight of deep play. I couldn’t.
You can do anything you will to do.--Alice Neel
I never stop writing. I’ve never experienced writer’s block. I have what I call perverse desire, which I think is key to being an artist of any kind. When I write, my brain, that tarty grifter, gives me access to a truer world. I’m not even sure I’m a poet. How can one call oneself a poet? Isn’t that like calling oneself a genius? Isn’t it up to my readers to decide if I’m a poet or not? I don’t think I’m like most writers. Then again, I don’t know a lot of writers, really know them, so I have no way of quantifying that statement. My path has always been sideways and crablike and weird and extremely solitary and not altogether healthy. I do not call myself a poet. I am a musician. I am a mother. I am a writer. I am a painter. Perverse desire drives me and, of course, curiosity.

Tom, I hope you don’t mind the quotes. I stuck them in because I’ve lately started a new painting and I’ve been thinking about Alice Neel, how she kept on painting portraits even when abstract expressionism came into vogue. She had perverse desire, for true, as did Henry Darger, a reclusive, rare outsider artist, who created entire worlds in his head, and worked his whole adult life as a janitor. This conversation made me think of the both of them.

TB: Rebecca, I love quotes. I love how quotes can express love and provide all kinds of different avenues of approach and flight.

I'm just back from a crazily beautiful 3 day weekend of conversation, poetry, food, books and art in Buffalo, NY. Geof Huth and I improvised a public talk around a yearlong interview we did together and read from our work to boot. I feel intellectually energized and physically exhausted. I have to mention this because I rarely have these kind of opportunities.

During my time in Buffalo I went, in good company, to the Albright-Knox Art Museum. One of the art works which most moved me was a piece by Agnes Martin. It was called, if memory serves, "Tree." Against a field of white acrylic paint Martin drew with a relatively straight edge innumerable horizontal and vertical graphite (pencil) lines. It's a subtle work of austere and obsessive beauty.

I thought of you when I saw that Martin piece. It's analogous to what I think about and feel in the presence of Bach's music and/or a really good Steve Reich piece such as his Violin Phase. Obsession, I want to say, is an engine of beauty, don't you think?

RL: I think obsession is a thing of terrifying beauty. An engine, perhaps, but an engine that is overheated and about to throw itself off an unimaginable cliff, lacking its housing. I looked at a picture of the Agnes Martin painting and I agree, it is analogous (somewhat) to what I feel in the presence of Bach’s music. For me there is a fine line between passion and obsession. Passion is healthy, obsession is not, not for me. I have this theory about obsession, as I have lived inside it.

In my music and in my poetry, practice, discipline, is the perimeter I walk—what I call THE CIRCLE OF OBSESSION. If you say THE CIRCLE OF OBSESSION you have to say it in a stentorian voice, and all in caps. It’s a thin line, that perimeter, and it has no obvious physicality. It’s almost almost almost impossible to know when I step or fall or stumble or careen off that perimeter unless I watch closely for the signs. I’m writing and deleting so maybe I’ll stop doing that for the time being and just write.

At risk of being thrown out of the POET’S CLUB for good, I’ll tell you a story in which music plays a part. A few years ago I had an audition for an orchestra. The audition was hard. Some Mozart, a Bach partita or sonata of my choosing, some sight reading. I practiced constantly. I took my violin to work and practiced in the factory. If there wasn’t room in the factory, I’d practice in the bathroom. I practiced at home late into the night in my bedroom. I heard the partita when I closed my eyes. I heard it as I assembled airplanes. I heard Bach in my head when I slept or dreamed or ate. It got hard, almost impossible, for me to have a conversation with anyone because the music was so loud in there, inside. When I stepped out to go to the grocery store, I’d find I had grabbed my violin and taken it along, as though it had become a true extension of my body. We were connected. We were conjoined. This was good and true. I was learning and my body was remembering.

The audition was in August, and as summer’s heat and longer days arrived, I practiced more and more and slept less. Then I got to the point where I couldn’t eat or sleep. I couldn’t read or write. All I did was practice and build airplanes. I started showing up at work with unmatched shoes. I’d forget to brush my hair for days in a row. I sat on the bus with my violin between my legs and I’d drum fingerings on the top of the case oblivious to what was happening around me. At one point, when I was practicing late at night, I began hearing a telephone ring. It seemed to be coming from my closet. I was sure it was Bach, calling about my intonation. Or my crappy bow arm. This continued for a week or two and didn’t seem the least bit odd. Finally I went to the grocery store and I was standing under the fluorescent lights looking at a pyramid of vegetables and I heard Bach, my partita, playing through the store’s speakers. I turned to a woman next to me and said, I never knew they played classical music in here! She gave me that look. She moved away. And then I realized it was just ordinary Muzak. I had translated it in my head into Bach or I had projected Bach into the carrots. Whatever it was, I realized it was time to rein myself in. While writing is indeed a tightrope walk, playing the violin alone to an audience is a different kind of animal. There are physical pitfalls. There is nervousness, anxiety, fear, all things that affect the body itself that I don’t have to worry about when I’m writing a poem safe in my bed.

I had fallen off the perimeter into the (outside) the vast dark dream of obsession. It was pretty easy, too. It only took a summer. And it did not serve me well. When time came for the audition, I did not play as well as I might if I had just spent some time swimming or breathing. Or brushing my hair.

I have had similar experiences with poetry, especially while proofing the galleys for a book. In particular, my second collection, Radish King. The book was being shuttled between editors and each time I edited it, it came back with more typos. Hard to find typos, like the end letter of a word being in a different font. The typos were different with each galley. They grew each time I proofed it. I got to the point where I became so stressed that I couldn’t even look at the words. I printed them in blue ink so they’d look new. I printed them in blue ink then read them upside down to force myself to slow down. I panicked. It became nightmarish for me. I had to have an acquaintance kidnap me and drive me around in his car so I could read the poems to him in order to find the typos that kept multiplying. I hated that book. It took me a long time to learn to love those poems again. I had fallen over the edge.

I have learned to look for signs that I am flying past passion and tumbling over the perimeter; missing shoes, bad hair, auditory hallucinations. For me, obsession will most likely be my downfall if I don’t tread the edge with extreme caution.

This kind of obsession doesn’t happen for me very often when I am writing poetry, when I’m in the actual muddle of the process. Joy, certainly, fear sometimes, but I am in control. I know what I’m doing. The forest may not look familiar but I know enough not to step into a knee-deep hole and have my shoe sucked off by mud as I try to extricate myself.

TB: I am struck by the importance of flight in your work. It figures in your Amelia Earhart book and in some of the Radish King poems also. Can we talk about how flying figures in your thought and your life?

RL: I feel like I’ve revealed a great deal of myself so far. It kind of makes me itchy and worried that I might sound like an idiot or worse. I worry that none of this is interesting. Of course it is to me because I have a gigantic ego *rimshot* so I will go forward. My maternal grandfather had a small airplane, and my cousins and I got to fly with him, so airplanes were in my consciousness at a young age. I started flying in big airplanes by myself from Spokane to relatives east and south when I was 8 years old. Those were long distances for a kid on her own. My stepfather at the time had worked at Boeing for years, then he retired and he too was in love with airplanes. My father sold used cars, my grandfather sold cars and my brother was a natural mechanic, and there were always engines around and pieces of cars and this idea of how joyful it could be to take an engine apart and put it together. I was probably 9 when I first got my hands into a car engine. I loved the simplicity of it. Spark and fuel. The mantra of the mechanic. There was physical and mental beauty to parts that fit together perfectly every time if you just knew where to put them. Engines had logic, something missing from my messy brain. They soothed me the way the great rolling engine of Bach’s music soothes me now. This piece fits here yes, and this piece fits here, yes, and with all the pieces in the right place you can go very fast or you can fly.

I started working at Boeing when I was 33 years old, a single mother with a child in an expensive private school. My hours were intense, 12 hour days for 3 weeks, then a weekend off. These hours were mandatory. I took my son to the house of another mother at 4:30 in the morning, and she took the kids to school. I brought them home. I had no family to help out. I built airplanes and I wrote poems and I played my violin on the shop floor during lunch or in the bathroom if there was no room on the floor because that was the only time I had to practice. Times were scrappy, but by god, I loved my job. Building wire bundles for airplane engines, attaching them to the engine housings, the sounds of riveting ricocheting in my head as I rode the bus home every night. After 5 years I moved to the Everett plant to work on all aspects of the planes and on my first day I saw a man, Bill Bell, reading a book of poems by T.S. Eliot and I thanked god. And then I introduced myself. Bill and I became friends, and worked the same line, and we wrote poems on pieces of scrap paper and sent them back and forth to each other and for each other. We were consumed with perverse desire. I wrote more when I was working in the factory than I ever have since. I am sure it was the strict attention to detail on the planes that corralled my brain and allowed the words to flow. I worked in the factory for 15 years until my thumbs gave out. I had joint reconstruction surgery on both thumbs and continued to write. I wrote pages and pages of poetry. I took them home and stuck them in a drawer. They’re still there, along with Bill’s poems.

I quit my job at Boeing because my hands could no longer handle the work. I took a job at Microsoft which drove me round the twist. I hated it there. Computers. Snobs. Hitler Youth rallies every time we launched a product. I missed being on the line, the airplanes, their sleek bodies, their flawless engines. Women in jeans and steel toed boots. Eventually I got laid off. I continued to write. First my collection, Tarantella, and then the poems for Radish King. I was in a stormy and weird relationship when I wrote Radish King. I was dealing with a lot of frustration and anger. I noticed, as I wrote the poems, that a lot of people were falling out of airplanes and a lot of airplanes were falling out of the sky (in my poems, that is.)
I want to do it because I want to do it.--Amelia Earhart
I finally made it back to Boeing by going through a temp agency, but I was no longer working on the planes themselves. After a year there, Radish King was almost ready to go to press, and Reb Livingston asked me if I had a manuscript in the works. This was winter, right when Amelia showed up and started whispering in my ear. My furnace was broken and my landlord didn’t fix it for a month. I had no heat in my drafty little house and spent a lot of time in front of the fire inhaling smoke. I was sick, but continued to go to work. As I drove in the mornings, I heard Amelia whispering in my ear. I literally heard her. She was telling me a story. Now before you go making that universal finger-beside-the-ear twirling sign, I will tell you that I had pneumonia and was going to work with a very high fever. I drove to work with Amelia talking to me and I wrote everything she said in my notebook which was open on the passenger seat. (Okay, maybe I had tumbled into obsession at that time with Amelia, but in an off-center way.) Within 2 weeks I had a terrible cough and the entire manuscript for Navigate, Amelia Earhart’s Letters Home, which I sent to Reb at No Tell Books. She accepted it after about 300 years. I dedicated the book to my the closest friends in the factory, friends who are still friends now, except for Cheryl who died of cancer at 33. I got my furnace, finally, and my fever went away, and I started breathing again.

I want to write about flying, about learning how to fly the plane, about how I can never get a recreational pilot license and the reasons why, but I’m not sure I want to reveal all that. Not while it’s still ongoing. I don’t think I really answered your question. One thing I want to do when I retire, is buy an airplane kit and build my own small plane. I want to do it because I want to do it.

TB: Rebecca, your answer was great.

I'm fascinated that you wrote Navigate, Amelia Earhart's Letters Home when you were sick with pneumonia. How does physicality, your sense of bodies as such, figure in the way you think and feel about your work as a poet?

RL: Physicality is the most important aspect of my writing. It comes from being raised by badgers. And not friendly cute Narnia type badgers. It comes from being unsheltered and terrified and on my own at a very young age. I had to grow street smart real fast. I carried my house on my back like a turtle. I learned early on to defend myself against my mother, my brother, any number of step-fathers and the occasional pervert who stopped me on the street to tempt me into his car. This happened a lot in Spokane, a prosaic town if there ever was one. I never told anyone about these experiences. I thought I brought them on myself. I thought I was guilty even though I was a child. There was no such thing as stranger danger back in the good old days. My first sense of physical danger came from my family of origin, and later from the world at large. Physicality equaled survival.
Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard.--Hélène Cixous
Tarantella, my first collection of poetry, was a surprise, a gift, an offer from an editor who liked my work. I tiptoed around inside of it. It contained love poems to dead composers and saints and childhood heroes, but it also contained a few poems that explored a measure of my physical self—poems about epilepsy, poems about spider bites and rashes and vertigo and tremors and mental illness. These poems were a stepping off point for me. I was still finding my way around what was important, what mattered beyond pretty, beyond thoughtful. I was censoring myself. I wanted it to be right. I wanted to please my son, my editor, everybody. I got over that pretty quick. It wasn’t me. I am not, by nature, a person who worries about what people think. By the time I was writing the poems for my second collection, Radish King, (I was writing these poems the entire time Tarantella was going through the slaughterhouse of publication), I had learned that the only way I was going to be happy inside of poetry was if I told the truth and fuck the audience. For one thing, it was clear that I didn’t really have an audience, just an eclectic group of like-minded poets, or people who came to see my stand up comedy routines that I called readings. This made my job easier. I went forward with Radish King and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. In Radish King, I told the truth as hard as I could. I didn’t hold back or censor. One of my teachers, Sharon Olds (haha! name dropper!), told me my poems were feral. She called me monster girl. This is not to say I didn’t revise. I always revise, but the poems tumbled out fast and raw and they were all physical and they were sublime and they were furious. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t consider it, not even once. I knew I was on the right track because when I read some of the poems aloud, I cried. Not trembly girly tears but hot burning tears, the kind of tears that come from buried places in the body. The kind of tears that orgasm sometimes bring. Animal tears.
You played very well but I would like you to take the fourth sonata of Beethoven and figure it out for yourself.--Leonard Rose
Once I was writing Radish King, all my pistons seemed to be chugging along smoothly. Lots of people didn’t understand the poems but some people did. They understood them and they felt them. I had willingly stepped out of the Pacific Northwest tradition of polite nature poetry. I was writing selfishly. I wrote what I wanted. I was in a poetry workshop at the time and I was being told you can’t do that. I saw big question marks floating over other poet’s heads. My poems were puzzling. They weren’t easy. I wrote about sex. I cursed. I raged and threw tantrums and made myself laugh. I let my poems dress up in heels and fancy dresses and I let them get naked and roll around in the front yard. I let them set fire to barns and churches and airplanes and railroad tracks. I had to figure it out for myself, and once I did, poetry opened a door to my sexuality, spirituality, physicality and language.

In Navigate, Amelia Earhart’s Letters Home, I wrote Amelia as a lesbian. I was certainly familiar with her life, her history. There is so much written about her and so much that she herself wrote, but her attraction to women was something that had been kept quiet, in most circles. There is no way to know for certain. I had to go by my instincts, my gut feelings, and listen carefully to what she was whispering to me. It is interesting to me that men responded positively to Radish King, while it was mostly women who really took to Navigate. Perhaps they responded with their bodies as well as their intellect.

It seems almost redundant to write about Cadaver Dogs in terms of the body. A few people actually asked me if the book was about dead dogs. Uh, no. Every poem in Cadaver Dogs was part crime scene, part fairy tale, and part of my personal history. There were things I needed to air out. There were grievances and terrors and discoveries upon which I needed to shed light. Things got easier after my first book. I knew some things by then. I had grown a bit as a writer. I became selfish inside my art. I wrote to please only myself and I’ll never turn back from that. The poet Ivy Alvarez wrote, Each of the poems has the feel of a crime study. Little crimes. Small dioramas and dissections. And she was exactly right. The poems I’m working on now are a natural springing forward from Cadaver Dogs. The dogs gave me courage, as they almost always do.

TB: You write, you say, to please yourself only. I'm wondering though about your thoughts in regard to the social value of art and of your own artistic gestures. You're not, after all, writing for the drawer. You publish your work, put it forward, do readings, etc. You write to please yourself, but you also make your work available to be seen and heard (thank you, by the way).

RL: When other people my age were publishing their first books and earning their degrees, I was living on a commune with a bunch of hippies, milking goats, riding horses, baking bread and bathing in the river. I was most certainly writing, constantly, and these poems were for the drawer. I read. I found poetry books through the Mildred Hatch Free Library, an amazing thing for those of us truly off the grid. All I had to do was write and ask for a book of poetry and it would make its way up the mountains of Humboldt County and into my hands. There was no television, no radio, no internet, no cell phones. All we had was a slightly odd orchestra. The nearest post office was a five mile drive away. I wrote poems and baked bread and read and rode the horses and wrote more poems and read. I wrote love letters to myself. Once I came back to the city, I spent my time building airplanes, raising my son, going to rehearsals every night and writing. And reading. All the time. Every day. All those poems were for the drawer. I still had no television but I had library cards for several counties and I had all the books I needed. I had no community to guide me, to tell me that publishing and giving readings was the be-all-end-all of the poetry game. The only community around me told me to go home and practice Mozart and Beethoven, and I did. I was happy to write and shove my poems in the drawer. I’d say my drawer held about 35 years of pretty good poems in it.
There’s a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you.--Diane Arbus
It wasn’t until about 11 years ago that I sent any of my poems into the world to be published, and that was only because I joined a poetry workshop out of curiosity, and the woman who ran the workshop gave us tidy envelopes with stamps already attached and encouraged us to “send our stuff into the world.” The first time I did, I had a poem published. I got lucky. I sent poems out the door sporadically after that, and sometimes I hit pay dirt, but I didn’t (and still don’t) believe that anyone read those poems except for the people who were published in the same journals, if that. I continued to read poetry wherever I found it, but I never considered publishing a book. Again, that push wasn’t there inside me—perhaps because I was outside of the poetic community (thank the gods.) It wasn’t until I began my first blog in 2003 that I started getting feedback from poets who read my work and liked what they found there. I had editors stop by my blog and ask me to submit poems to their journals, and I usually did. Once I started the Radish King blog where I posted and revised and practiced, 2 editors asked me if I had a manuscript hanging around that they could look at, and I really didn’t, but I figured I could build one out of the poems living in my drawers. Once again, I got lucky. I started giving readings to sell books. It’s the only polite thing to do when an editor shows enough interest in your manuscript to publish it. I did gain an audience of sorts, or I gained an audience for my blog and those people discovered my poetry accidentally. It’s not a big audience but it’s fiercely loyal.

Does my poetry have any social value? Absolutely not. It’s not even socially relevant. Can you imagine Garrison Keillor reading it on The Writer’s Almanac with his sad Eeyore voice? He’d stroke out! My poems are personal and twisty and raw and they curse and bleed and bitch and I make fun of myself inside of them and it doesn’t even make a drop in the bucket of social value, as I understand the term. I’m not sure poetry has any social value at all. Certainly it contains a kind of cultural expression, in the way that Alice Neel did all those years with her portraits that embodied the look, the zeitgeist, of each decade. The only time that poetry is of social value is to other poets, and usually that’s either a masturbatory party of false good cheer and warm praise, or a bunch of hungry jackals feasting on the marrow of their jackal peers. Of course poetry has social value when there’s a wedding or a funeral or a presidential inauguration to be had. Then poetry is trotted out like a musty old aunt wearing shoes three sizes too small and reading a poem about trees. But from what I’ve seen, poets are a pretty elitist group. And so are classical musicians, but everybody knows that music has social value. Who doesn’t love music? Then again, we have to split the reed further because there are generative arts and there are interpretive arts. I don’t compose music, I play music, I interpret music, but I write libretti, and I wrote the libretti for a 5 part song cycle for soprano and orchestra, and I got to play in the orchestra when the piece was premiered. That gave me a good feel for how generative and interpretive arts are different and yet the same, but I seem to have fallen off the train tracks here.

As far as the social value of ART goes, I think I feel pretty much the same way as I do about my poetry. Art can move people to the point of change, but who are the people looking at the art, listening to it, reading it? Other artists. Unless the art in question is religious or contains sexual overtones. There is a history of art, of paintings being destroyed, and they are almost always religious. There are uprisings of the Christian right burning books. I just purchased my grown son a copy of Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, because it was his favorite book as a child and now it’s in danger of being banned. I’m not sure if this speaks to social values or to the power of the zealot. If I took a poll of my office right now and asked each person what they thought of art, they’d speak of television shows they love, movies where lots of shit gets blown up, and pictures of kittens. They all know I write, they’ve seen my books, they know I’m a violinist, but no one talks about it. I’m accepted here because I work hard and I’m a clown, but they see me as a person with a tail or a bear who has learned a complicated dance step. Is my office a microcosm of the world at large? Probably.

TB: I feel much the same about my own office.

Does a sense of risk figure in your poetry writing?

RL: I think there has to be great risk involved in any art if that art is to be authentic. If there is no risk, then art is simply derivative with a little glitter thrown in to fool the eye. I’ve never found artistic pursuit to be comfortable. If I’m having fun, if I’m lalala-ing and thinking about what I want to make for dinner, or maybe shoes while I’m writing, then I’m not authentically involved, and it shows in my work. I don’t mind beautiful poems or love poems or formal poems or poems about kittens, and I’ve written these poems myself, and as long as I step outside the easy in my writing process I am happy with some of them. I can’t tolerate easy in poetry. I don’t mean simplicity vs. complexity in form. For instance your poems, Tom. Your poems look deceptively easy, but indeed they are anything but. They are easy to fall into. They have dangerous craters hidden in them. They have rabbit holes and caves and if your reader isn’t careful they’ll fall in and break an ankle or a heart. Your poems are honest. The risks you take to build them are clear.

I can’t tolerate dishonesty in poetry. When I am in the process of writing I have to allow myself to look and feel and be absurd. I love absurdity in poetry and in life. There is humor in struggling, in ignorance—my struggling, my ignorance. I don’t mean that my poetry has to be ugly or shocking or full of blood and bees in order for me to feel okay with it, but if I don’t itch a bit, if I don’t flush from head to toe, if my skin doesn’t react to what I’m writing, if those little hairs aren’t standing up on the back of my neck, if I’m not looking over my shoulder or teetering on the edge of the precipice, then I am not fully invested in the act of creation. I’m faking it. I fake it a lot. Sometimes I just can’t get the poem to go where I want it to go, or I don’t allow the poem to go where it wants to go. These are failures and I’m not afraid of them, but they are not art and I will find a way to kill them. I went through a phase where I was burning a lot of my paintings. They were all self portraits. I would throw a tantrum and step on them and break the frames and feed them to my fireplace bit by bit. It was very satisfying. Someone told me that it was my way of cutting myself, of inflicting pain on myself, but that was a lie, a mistruth. I didn’t want to live with my failures. Also I have strong diva tendencies.

But to wind my way back to your question, if a sense of risk doesn’t figure in my writing, then I will never be happy with it. I don’t usually set my sites to write disturbing or creepy or sexually explicit or over the top or funny or puzzling poems (and my poems have been described in all these ways.) I do go forward in my process by pushing myself into uncharted waters. If I feel I’ve traveled a road or even seen it before, I’ll go off into the woods, take a back road, invent a shortcut. If I’m reading a poet’s work and I feel I’m being strongly influenced by it, I’ll switch to reading something else for a while. I don’t write poems using “prompts” or exercises. I don’t want to write poems that have already been written. I want to break down doors with my own hammer even if I fail. I don’t write poems about herons and crows and misty ocean breezes because I live in the northwest and that is the Northwest Way. It’s the expected thing to do here. In fact I find myself pushing against these poems, these ideas, pushing them away from me. I feel the same about mother poems, or woman poems. The Poetess. Gag. Motherhood has never been the epicenter of my life. Music has, forever. I don’t think that’s made me a bad mother. It did make me a focused, happy mother. I was with my child all the time. I didn’t see the point in writing treacly poems about skinned knees and kisses. There are other poets who pull it off quite well, but I read those poems and usually wonder just how much risk was involved in the writing.
The ideas dictate everything, you have to be true to that or you're dead.--David Lynch
Yesterday I took a risk by ending the two poetry workshops I have taught for the past 11 and ½ years. It was a personal risk because I have grown fond of all the poets in the group. It was an emotional risk because those workshops were pretty much my only social life, but mostly it was a financial risk. I didn’t make much money from them, but it was a little cash flow coming in each month and it was a flow I had come to depend on. I’m trusting the universe (how corny is that??) that the missing cash will find its way back to me. I think the workshops wound down organically, and I think poetry workshops should wind down eventually, if they are working properly. I wrote about this extensively on my blog so I won’t go into it here. The true reason I let the workshops end is because I wanted more time to pursue the project I’m starting now, and this project is extremely risky for me. For one thing, a lot of research is involved, a lot of reading non-poetry texts, a lot of note taking, a lot of delving into frightening (in a very personal way) outmoded psychiatric processes. I am researching 19th century insane asylums and medical treatments and the fact that certain diseases like epilepsy and Tourette’s Syndrome were thought to be mental illnesses well into the 20th century. I know it will take me at least a year perhaps two, to get these poems into place, but I have a vision for them, a vision as permanent and important as a tattoo, a vision that feels necessary to me, to my life, as necessary as breath. The question is, will I be strong enough to use my newfound time wisely? I think so. I hope so. It seems, for some reason, that everything depends on it.

TB: I share your sense that everything depends on such decisions. And I look forward to seeing your new work as it emerges.

What, I wonder, as a final question, is the next (could it be the last?) poetic frontier?

RL: This question made me think of William Shatner reading poetry but only for a moment and only because it’s 105 degrees in my house and only because a final question seems very final and it makes me sad to see this interview end. It’s Thursday night and the good thing is I don’t care if my answer makes sense and the worrisome thing is that I don’t care if my answer makes sense. It’s funny that you used the word frontier, which could be a border or the area beyond a border. Frontier embraces both passion and obsession. It just occurred to me that after all these words you might be sitting there in Ohio thinking you’ve got a real whack-job on your hands, and this is most likely true. I feel a bit shaky and worried tonight. It’s because I haven’t felt a response from you inside my answers which, of course, is your job as a good interviewer, and maybe it is the heat but I imagine you shaking your head and deciding to light a cigarette even though you don’t smoke, and you pour a glass of wine and maybe pick a sweet marionberry out of a blue cardboard carton, and you think, where the fuck do all these words come from? I’ve been thinking that myself, so I will keep my last answer relatively short and somewhat sane.

I believe there is nothing new under the sun, as Biblical as that may sound (or as much like the lyrics to a Byrd’s song that may sound, take your pick.) Electronics have made access to poetry easier, have created more brand new poets, some of whom have actual talent. I think gadgets and gadgetry have made us a little less human and a lot less humane. Electronics change quickly. Fads come and go. Who knows when a giant EMP will knock us all out of commission? It’s certainly a possibility, but people will continue to write poetry, on paper or on our bodies or in the sand, because it pleases us, the writers. Poetry is for poets, for those who write. We write to please ourselves. We will never lose the desire to please ourselves. We’re human after all. The Great Young Jesus Poets who are the hot new thing today will grow up, grow bellies and bald spots, gain and lose loved ones, die in car crashes or from breast cancer, read more or less, care more or less, love more or less, and if they are very very lucky, they will still be writing. I think that is the true secret of it. The hot brilliant stars who become famous if they don’t burn themselves out in their descent, will never know, as it is beyond their years to judge. I heard Maxine Kumin read in Seattle a couple years ago and when it came time for the audience to ask questions, everyone wanted to know about Anne Sexton. Kumin said, We were just two young housewives with children, and we had a party-line, and we’d read our poems to each other over the telephone. We were just writing poems. We never knew we’d be famous. So the test of success as poets is a test we’ll never really know. Does it matter?

I don’t buy into the modern theory that everything is circular, that closure is possible. Ours is a spiral shaped universe and everything in the universe is connected. Poetry will ring its way up the spiral and a generation later it will wind its way down and then ring its way back up. I think the last frontier is people connecting honestly and compassionately with other people, moving away from the screen, the text, the twitter and tweet, and meeting face to face to embrace, and from this, the new/old poetry will arise. Everything is connected. Just look at the stars, Tom, and don’t forget your shoes.

So you want to be an astronaut

what hoodoo did you encounter
in the swamp
prying open shells with your hook
grip tight enough to turn a flywheel
six hash marks today
track your compulsion
slake your blue-
veined Jesus

clouds puckered from the north
at Yaquina Head steam rising
a constant foot-deep howl
I examined my body in hotel mirrors
that was my job across the country
Oregon Idaho Montana Illinois Virginia
coffee and a compass
my hair shorn
rolled whiskey in chloroform
worshipped your tongue's pink pelt
holy holy holy
hot wet cloth pressed to a boil
on my pudendum

I wanted to fuck a robot
have him lurch above me
metallic thumb inside
his nictating lens
hey rube hey rube
I danced in a whirlygig dress
sea smell throbbing up

let's fly in an aeroplane no storm but the Perseids
zip above the James River while all the tweeters
in the meadow tweet holy holy holy
lifted by a spaceship that proves
the great inconvenience of love
green lights spraying underneath
your metal thumbs
your Duchenne smile

My Rubella Sweetheart
I juggle parrots
on tenterhooks
tentus tendere                   [to stretch]

despite the weight of the Mercedes limousine on deck
a shout from the wheel-house that we are
going under in spite of your MAGICAL POWERS cape

delirious I rub myself with cinders
where I am the river
dropped-O could you would you
jump from the prow
[engine engine number 9]

I have a boy luscious about the mouth
brings me gingered pears
through this goddamn winter
spits his graffiti in the bow-lines
[I dropped]

hard enough                   [spread me]
despite the weight despite the weight
of a Mercedes limousine on deck
crouch under the mooring
cook a bucket of frogs

green smoke roils let's sail past
the lagoon and reed-islands
the shrieking crowned hornbills

my aged cat
never left my side ever
I slept on feathers
crossed my Ts clean as a fishwife
the moment in which he rose up

curtains drawn tight
I was not afraid of solitude but reckless pursuit
neckties guns in the temple
the low dome last week’s rent

drew out the lining the ache in my side
that proved resolve

men rode motorcycles up and down the street
pounded my door demanded open up
demanded money my lace slip
honey-bit hair

Russian girls in the cafeteria
argued over the napkin dispensers
too full too full too full
cooed like release doves
lacking a center

what did my neighbor hear
headboard hitting the wall
that faced her kitchen
obsessive tooth brushing

I’m not nostalgic
for the parasite the waterworm
there was nothing left to talk about

stuffed with fruit
apples and sandwiches
the mokrie dela
disappeared from automats
turn and slide the plastic door
or the washateria
the Laundra in Newport
Loadstar Dryers coin tumble

in fact I thought about sipping a cap full of Pine-Sol
every day
orbiting sensors in my bed
gossiping bodies at night
target practice on Thursdays in Dallas

go ahead tell me about the white capped angel
of terror and desire

What I didn't say when the gasworks shook their iron tails
in my direction

There is a foot-shaped stain on the end of my mattress like Sibelius snapping a white tablecloth across the Baltic Sea inviting me to tea. Night Dog thumps his body against my door. I’ve cut my hair to fiery nubs my angel hair my blonde angel cluttersuit. I eat a bowl of marrow beans and pound my feet but too many hours in the swamp prying goathead burrs from my heel awakened more than triage more than language my caliche nerve. I don’t know how to do it. I stand on my hind legs and bark. I want more. I want more. I want more.



My tongue’s clapper honeypots shed sticky bodies on the sidewalk an eel pie inside the mute dwarf her gladiolas followed me I prayed to Tip eventually revealed to be a girl begged the Little Sisters of the Poor for one blasted bite she looked too much like the king crying in her nightie froze my garbage in bundles so the not so kindly neighbors could have their way bought this hat in Portugal no Germany I was German then no Hungarian now I am a Japanese soldier terrible things happened to my children America TAKE NOTE I am hungry and won’t stop one night I went on drinking far too long and alone a war held me hat and boots AIM! STRIKE! I practiced on the furious girls the gold girls wrapped their wings in electrical tape you with your eye switchers we’ll feed the next patient wild garlic paste and lily of the valley pirate radio waves Henry Henry-Hank-O-Hank I lived in Beijing Montana with Robert Pershing Wadlow Illinois’s TALLEST MAN he died of a blister furious furious girls then I drowned in a movie where they said made up things or static storms tonight I laid low under fifteen blankets war horses running past on fire I was a whore in Topeka a prostitute with lemony ripe hips and them hearts unpracticed swimmers red hands gold not warmed in the crook of my arm I think of them like whiskered rawfish horses in mud horses on fire I was a priest a detour in France my face blown clean off in a public kitchen those horses! flames jerked across their bodies let’s talk about my huge hoary lump don’t can’t can’t thicket tree swung up hard it was my hole IDEA gold and frothy air I had to skim the cream a hungry flicker with a sweet tooth under the poison what about Penrod he was a badger in the marram grass revealed to be most dangerous after I loved him when we crossed the river naked


The orchard now full of them girls crying a red darkness I tried ice cream and rubber stoppers but they stayed dreadful quiet when I helped them ignite chicken eyes lit up fruit in all directions fully de-thinged and brown-hearted there was life in Violet lifting buckets of pears over a wall a stutter of music I made when I spoke farted burped rubbed whose room is this how do I look some lippy kid to smack my face or dredge my stick mocked in terrified pursuit a second language child dive in thrash GOD sees everything blast bung hole when the mast leans down for seeds in your pocket broken matches she was not welcome mocked my overcoat bulging pockets territorial cow dipped into my soup the gypsy’s din and crash gave herself to death like that clucking the hole time I leaned out the window all my whiskers between a wedding like a jerked-out baby I and her it was a hot time lickable polished shoes a white sheet tied tight in the heartland seeds and beans Hettie's pitted face called for tumor called for kelp land-locked as she were in me I danced a long time before I remembered the sweets and their secret brother


a concentration camp for dollies that opened closed their fists corn trembled skinny legs while herself slippered applauded by princes hung sheets to dry their urine smell carried on aching legs yellow hair little socks those girls were not soldiers under my thumb my stained thick THUMB I told them time and agin hush now you be hush or there will be no more horse or ice cream I disliked children my entire life and now they crawled over me like barnacles I knew the sea in Mongolia slapped with sticks raised in the river gave me Shaman powers it was my heartland power over horses and noises of all kinds I made a GREAT SACRIFICE a perverse gift of wooden boxes paint boxes milk boxes the ribbon from a coat submission of the flesh God’s breath enraptured through my hair and I breathed it into them my own my gold creations fair girls pink ears the flowblow of their lungs HUSH NOW I’VE HAD ENOUGH I strode on my rush horse strode and never looked back I was not a general my eyes too bad for seeing battle I was there to witness to pluck children like almonds put them in my box no myth no muse milk-swarmed insects in the wounds like a FATHER so many so many so many nights when breath pinched my throat I picked at the seams of my coat pulled my whiskers to the side tried to talk not bash my head into the wall in case the whole shithouse blew up in flames

I have mended my trousers 117 times
using the needle in my emergency kit
and black thread until black thread
emptied into spool now I build
worsted by chewing the leaves
of a pepper tree my lips bleed
my sewing skills poor as ever
my trousers have held up
except for rain days when I walk
naked through the camp singing
The Assurance March
we shouted it in church
in our pinafores
good little Christians marching
up to the bucket and hiding our pennies
dropped in rocks


Bethany Stiles pounded the piano
117 times Pidge and I still can't sew
a straight stitch

Forever yours,



Open-cockpit biplane
Kinner "The Canary"
Tri-motor Fokker "Friendship"
Lockheed Vega
Lockheed Electra 10E

I walk the wing on the wing always around the wing say my multiplication tables 17 X 35 = 595 always the threes always with a three inside did you see those crackerbox airsters clunky predawn check the internal fuel capacity not what we thought not not not what we thought if you say I forgot serial number Y1C-36 a true 10E born that way honestly I was more concerned about the loss of the beautiful aircraft than walking the wing on the wing always and around the wing every morning  


You beaky nosed wonder how I miss your strong horse throat stretching out scrubbing the Long Beach sand Valentine Girl I try to float back correct my path I've stopped bleeding only forty two and I've stopped was bound to happen my rag soaked in salt water month after month we used to pray for it I'm mostly animal now my feet are hooves my rib aches where I cracked it falling my breasts gone my hair a shrub Snook try not to breathe lie in the tide pool and spin

Your Darling A. 


You mad scientist with a swing set.
I hear you banged your chin.
Little sister, don't go down,
don't go down the stairs into the dark
unadorned. I have sent you holiday gifts –
Marchpane comfits, mead, pickled meats.
I am too young to be doing such work.
There are waves here that don’t move.
Who would have suspected such a thing?
I need a new swimsuit.

Love, Amelia 


There are animals here feral dogs but sleek with slick fur or no fur in certain kinds of light and rabbits and pigs. They are slippery wet. I have killed seven pigs but am hungry for dog if I can catch one skinny snarl I'd throw a stick and name it Bucket or bash its head skin and roast it as you taught me over the fire pit. I think I could sew a hat or a scant cape. You once told me I was too big for a girl and too small for a horse. Now I'm too small for even a girl. I believe the wasps are thread-waisted or mud-daubers. They build in the ground. I stepped on a nest last night the bastards my great toe is stung. Pain burst into pain. I scraped the stingers out with a clam shell.

Your Obedient Daughter Amelia  



dilettante deep float float the bees inside my throat between my legs you said honey trap hot spots cold spots hands in my hair climbed me like a disease a water road around that house made gifts of sweet potato and dental insurance in your kitchen wide open mouth slipped into I wanted to love you let’s stay here unbuttoned you three times your open mouth your tongue who knew what the Lazarus tube was for or where it would end pleasure pressure you only promised five years

To Alice at The Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Louisville, Kentucky
Postcard #4
to be X-rayed
for tuberculosis you must stand
in third position croisé in which you face
a front corner with your legs crossed
this is insisted upon by especially cruel doctors
to be X-rayed for tuberculosis
lift one arm at a time
if you have only one arm you will never be a ballerina
the same is true for self examination
of the breasts for women without nipples
as shown in pamphlets available
at your doctor's office

Postcard #5

if you have large breasts you will never be a ballerina
if you wear a short leather skirt you might be raped
and questioned for hours by the police after
never wear a tutu or a cancan petticoat
for rape examinations

Postcard #6
buy one chair
a slick new chair clean and modern
and olive oil in a long necked bottle
a standard way to stop being lonely
do not be alarmed at two moons
or giant jellyfish or the large cart
tumbling toward your feet
you could spend the rest of your life
figuring it out but you're running out of time

Postcard #7

in a rond de jambe en dedans move your leg
in a half-circle from the back toward the front
repeat this until your muscles snap
and you plop to the floor
you will never be a ballerina if you cannot sustain
intense pain and humiliation in front of a mirror

Postcard #8
if you are sallow skinned never wear
a yellow sundress with white polka dots
if you are large breasted never wear
a yellow sundress with white polka dots
if you have tuberculosis cough daintily
into a handkerchief
you will never be a ballerina
if you have tuberculosis

Postcard #9

if your head is bleeding due to an injury
from rape purple is an acceptable color
tweeze the crackles with a needle-nose pliers
drink plenty of buttermilk unless the pull date
is one month behind and the carton's sides
bulge buttermilk soothes the stomach
you will never be a ballerina if your head is bleeding
do not wear pink tulle a tutu or pointe shoes
always carry a handkerchief

Postcard #10
draw a bath
allow your cat to rest his front paws
on your lifted leg as he drinks study his pink tongue
his fur moist with steam his sleek nose
water-beaded whiskers
massage his shoulder with the knuckles of your
right hand if you have a persistent cough
steam will ease your lungs
if blood is present see a doctor

Violet Vivian Escapes The Devils Island
what day is it today drunk dried in my glass
air could not break loose
I slipped sideways into my blue dress
all of night shushing a dry biscuit in my pocket
floated down that hallway
does it hurt?
a warm body mouth-deep in water
Henry said GOOD SON said BABY
applied the Host spit and mud
bounced me up and down
up and down
I knew better 
stuffed my red shoes
under the itch sweater raised over my belly
seared in an iron pan
tippy-toed like coals and speech I could not
and school I never frost along my sides in the dark
run Violet run run run
my sisters three to a bed left gaping

outside I saw a wheel in the sky
and a bunch of cows with light shooting
out their mouths in the bellow pasture
heard Henry caterwaul in his secret tunnel
and red shoes and a hole in my slipsy-slide
aching lay me down in clover
I became a spirit called Holy Holy
my Jesus name
I was the first

        ~Henry Darger
Leaked an ancient barrel on its side lost my hand-folded self bursting bees do you want to play? breath punched low in Downers Grove past Pickle Farm Road in a wheat field I dreamed of clam flats at large in time a rootless roamer a black thread spectral and ignored I pounded my hobnails like a bolt of sailcloth thumped on Father's cutting table scissors sluiced their glint blades their eye and angry beak jealous as a hornet in a junked up jalopy a pock-marked boy a zipgun stark and strange a knot of boils lined my spine now I lay me down to sleep in trout lily adder’s tongue carrion weed pearly everlasting rough stretched taut from end to end like the way polka dots slapped her legs atop you up what do you think about that for lucky and inside as if it meant something brighter than a sharp bite on the thigh Little Annie Rooney beset by shame it was my saint day June 1 come again come again I have a box the sea’s whore inside pleasure pooled between episodes empty as a fiddle case giving away its quick 

I was tending the garden when a bee flew
up my blouse stung my left nipple
I was claimed then
I wanted to be a better woman
reaching back with a corked finger
into fruit
I carry ice
worship fur

My body is split
& wet in spite of alcohol
with the goaty head man
nails curling down
becoming cloven
I'm not alarmed
I like the pillow

I fold the clothes of my dead
into plastic bags dresses shirts
socks slippers the whole shebang
my dead smell like lemons
their teeth are marshmallow white
my sister is perfect
she has a perfect body
her hair is a gold wasp's nest
I fold her Snow White pajamas
into a square

I see the reptile man on television
& realize it is my husband
holding a two headed turtle to the camera
all three of them smile


Every morning she places pills in tiny saucers. 
Cabbage Rose porcelain, a child?s English tea set, 
service for eight. She lines the plates on her mantle, 
names each pill, tumbles them like prayer beads. 

Valium, when wings are pinned, shoulder blades 
compressed and dangerous. 
Xanax untangles the burden of faces, 
butcher blocks, savage children. 
She stacks Soma like pillows or dainty rounds of bread ? 

three at a time and a tepid bath slacken her skin. 
Lithium for extreme unction, pinched afternoons 
when her legs attack each other and she falls. 
Codeine tightens teeth to jaw, brings animal dreams. 

Percodan, the deepest swim through sheet, mattress, 
boxsprings that cut her body like sugar cookies. 
Zoloft and Paxil cure metallic insects, 
unexpected weddings, religious ceremony. 

Ritual completes her. 
She pulls chair to fireplace, opens a book. 
Her hands flicker like moths. 
Her head is a burning church.

Caroline Pares Her Nails

This is how Caroline pares her nails, a tiny curved scissor glints in pink palm is how Caroline cuts the moony edge, gathers prim cuticle, orange stick stickbug pushing back the fleshy rim is how Caroline creams her palms, callus to callus Caroline's pink palm, is how she paints her nails brush dipped in lacquer, sable smoothed flat against slick cell is how Caroline paints her nails, draws color cold, brings hand to mouth touches paint with tip of pink tongue to taste to test if the nail is dry, is how Caroline paints her nails, is how Caroline pares her nails.

Danses Sacrées et Profanes 

Fool, fool, fool, fool, fool.
She might be pregnant-bloated
face, thighs, hips, hands, mouth.
Love is a stupid feathery thing
that should be shot down with rock salt.

What she strokes to comfort herself.
Hair, pillow, thumb, tongue,
thump, tug and dough: tacky puffs
slick with butter/sugar/yeast.

The reds never wash out.
Naked, she smears paint with her hands.
Blood or wine on the sheets, sings
in the kitchen, beheads scallions,
chops carrots, stirs a nutty roux.

Robert Schumann.
It's the last time she will cry for the poet
who crippled his own hands to improve
his reach. Listen to her now, piano locked
in the basement, spruce and sprung.
All she can do is burn.  

Duck God

Duane stands on Tadpole Pond bridge,
his grandfather's 1934 Herter's duck caller
tucked in the pocket of his down jacket.
He rubs the caller's amber tip, the worn
walnut body with its circular grooves.
Duane reaches into a plastic bag of oats,
sprinkles a handful to the ducks that skim
and dive. He finesses the ducks, lifts them
up and toward him with his calls; trumpet,
hiss, grunt, bark, squeak, cluck, coo.
Salt water seeps into Duane's rubber
boots, toes itching hot in wool socks.
He calls the ducks by name: mallard,
widgeon, green-winged teal, pintail,
merganser. The names feel smooth
in his mouth, like a lullaby. On calm
days they hear him for miles, wing in
to pluck bread from his fingers.

An Ode to Drunkenness and Other Criminal Activities

How much easier it would have been if you had simply
disappeared instead of becoming frozen inside the magnolia.
There is formaldehyde, there is a brisket for dinner.
You might be sated. You help yourself to your neighbor's
lilacs, iris, peonies, and later, the Sunday New York Times
shivering in its blue bag on their lawn.

These small acts, the cat whose back you snapped,
saw it flip and twist in your rearview mirror, it was dark,
it was raining, it was too late for you to stop or get help.
Sometimes it is a crime and sometimes it is a crime to love
your husband's brother. His story, the wine, the sad fumbling
of clothes. The trick is to remember everything.

There is a cupboard of broken-spined animals
and faithful amusements in the context of muscle,
of fat, and even in this soap opera the maid has bad
teeth and wants to sing. She serves you faithfully
but can never be as beautiful, an eye opening only
to itself. You are a nervous girl, plucking on your hem.
You put it in your mouth, you put everything
in your mouth.

She dreamed of horses, all the best girls
did. He was not the first, though maybe
he was, and the second had no time
for her, an hour at most, to talk her
into climbing higgledy-piggledy up
the hill to pry the lid off the standpipe,
squat over that maw and let fly.

He was bitten. Malaria never left his blood
no matter how many pale girls he had,
pressing his seed into their mouths,
face serene above the vinegar jar
where everything was scrubbed
clean with a stiff brush.

The second had heat, a barn-sour scent
that dizzied her. She could not bear his
rogue proximity, the way he bucked
when summer spread green foam
at his feet. His voice alone at morning
made her dangerous, made her rear
and shake.

All her ponies ran with their heads thrown in the air.
All her ponies stamped in the mud and balked.
All her ponies pulled back their dark ruby
lips to speak

The light ate too much of me
I gave smallest permission
ants streamed and valved
set about their destiny
with precision and very little cursing
wanting to make it happen

like in the movies then you catapulted
under what spell
I hung from the dock on orange bungees
counted jellyfish a child in the back seat
on the way to her first drive-in The Ice Queen

waved my hands in phosphor
bright ambulance doors
kelp tangled my ankles
cried a nuisance did you see my did you
an empty syringe refuse the lush grass

reeled undressed gardenias
smashed their mouths against glass
you became a fox alight along the edge
of my animal face sweat on my palms
pooled on my belly your most terrible

tongue in the sugar box slow and quick
I killed my chest’s engine
what I mean is gardenias your mother’s red braid
her foxtail coat your voice
inside the pink clock

November smelled of heartland and prairies
battered in the infantry
let my lippy me be stolen by a witch
nothing was more private than our pink
pink happy your breath pure in half air


The Whore

[an owl shrieks speaks]

All night I painted brain tumors
with Israeli scorpion venom yellow
neurotoxins on the stub-toothed man
during surgery I removed fruit
but failed to remove the cancer
which looked like part of his brain or
a key lime
a meyer lemon
a blood orange
a satsuma
a fortuna

[blueprint of my sexual attractants]

his hand stroked my foot an overturned truck
I feigned sleep an entire year
approached the hole in his scalp
where he broke down
a child’s birthday trick

the pony gave out viscous drops slid off the tip
cream-colored pony kitchen pipes clanked
November in the rills plagued by tangled hair
because that kind of surprise always jumps from an alley
whispering in an attempt to appear normal I made the bed
flung the sheet so hard it snapped the glasses off my face

crocodiles removed their cigars
chyme spread in a heart-shaped puddle
his name was odd the top of his head
flapped like a prop hat
in Waiting for Lefty
I applauded from the audience dressed
in my slip my slippers my
slip slippery slip


Composed through the fractures of spirit, body and soul, TRISM
 enters the realm of “King of the First Brutal Memory” with the 
confrontation of a child’s death. Loudon presents the reader with a 
shattered mosaic of human cruelty and coldness where the mother’s milk 
is poison and the only solace found is in “animal quiet” and 
“contradiction grace.” Wild as in untamed, wild as in carnal, wild as in
 frenzied, TRISM responds to childhood trauma and betrayal with a stunning primal benevolence–Reb Livingston
Rebecca Loudon’s TRISM is a wicked revelation of secrets and betrayals in a world beyond the mirror glass. Follow the forgotten Alices and abandoned Jacks of fairy tale lore as they negotiate the strangeness and terror of love, memory and sexuality, watched over by the enigmatic Trism Bear, on their journey to transformation. Rebecca Loudon’s poetry is a dark spell — heart stoppingly good. –Ivy Alvarez
Order TRISM via Paypal.

from TRISM:
When the jailer reached for Jacks' arrest files the boys dug a stub of pencil 
from their pockets and wrote their names in a Red Chief notebook first JACKS 
first HUNGER first WORDS. Trism Bear drank water in cupped paws enchanted with a 
false past. Alices disentangled hanging strands of kelp stuck to their legs 
compounded by femaleness being alien not women in the eyes of the village they 
transformed into layers the fucked the suffering mother the mayonnaise and white 
bread sandwich none of it good not a damned bit. Trism Bear trained himself as a 
tattoo artist plied his trade with lower demons and used car salesmen turned 
down no one became famous for delicate attention to detail and his fearful 

Rebecca Loudon lives and writes in Seattle. She is author of Tarantella and Radish King (Ravennna Press), and Navigate, Amelia Earhart’s Letters Home (No Tell Books). Her latest collection, Cadaver Dogs, is forthcoming from No Tell Books. She has work forthcoming in PistolaCopper NickelLungfull!, and No Tell Motel.

Anti- Thesis:

“Ponchos. Ponchos with skirts. Bad shoes. Bad shoes with skirts. Gaucho pants. The Cult of Disney. Milk. Calling the stuff you put on your hair product. "Beauty Bark." Art that is not original and while all art is derivative, I am referring to poetry that lacks spark. Karen Carpenter's oeuvre.”  

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Liberating the Canon - an edited anthology capturing the contemporary emergence of radically innovative and non-conforming forms of literature in the UK and US

Liberating The Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature , Ed. by Isabel Waidner, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018. "If there were a...