BOMB Journal | Alicia Mountain

BOMB Journal | Alicia Mountain

Alicia Mountain’s second e book of poems, 4 in Hand (BOA Editions), consists of 4 heroic crowns of sonnets that span themes and matters starting from love and grief to local weather disaster and the rise of Donald Trump. Mountain’s spectacular facility with kind and capacious content material refuses the concept that something might be too mundane or political for poetry—including one thing distinctively new to the lengthy historical past of the sonnet kind.

We caught up over espresso in Ridgewood, Queens to debate the mechanics of writing such a formally constrictive assortment, what it means to write down a second e book, and ChatGPT as a poetic software.

—C. Francis Fisher

C. Francis Fisher I’m all for 4 in Hand as a second e book. What was it like to write down this e book, versus your first assortment?

Alicia Mountain That is very a lot a second e book, and it’s a extra project-y e book. That’s, partly, a response to the primary e book, Excessive Floor Coward, which is stuffed with standalone poems. You possibly can flip it open to any web page, learn the poem, and it really works. I hope they’re higher in context, however they will exist individually. On this second e book, 4 in Hand, I felt like I had some ambitions, narrative concepts, and themes that wanted more room. However they didn’t seem to be they had been asking to be prose. So, I felt just like the heroic crown of sonnets was spacious sufficient whereas additionally actually constrained.

I’d written one of many heroic crowns of sonnets years earlier than the others, earlier than I began my PhD. On the time, I used to be like, Oh, cool, that was a bizarre, laborious factor that I did, and now: again to writing common poems! However then it was kicking round at the back of my head. It was like coaching for a race or doing an enormous hike the place I felt like that was laborious and now, I need to see if I can do it once more. So, when it was time for an additional e book, I assumed, I do know I can do that, and that led me to make writing these crowns my dissertation challenge for some added accountability.

CF Which is the crown that you just wrote earlier than all of the others?

AM The primary one, “Practice City Howl,” got here out of a relationship second and a selected panorama in Montana after which at a residency in Virginia. I revealed it, however I let it sit. The subsequent one was “Preliminary Descent,” which is the third part of this e book, and got here out of the 2016 election. The chronologically third one is “Sparingly,” which is an eco-poetics piece. And the fourth was “MyMerrill” which I wrote because the pandemic was settling in.

CF That timeline is useful when it comes to understanding the e book’s building. I’m inquisitive about whether or not this concept of the challenge e book got here out of a spot of desirous to be generative. Did you want one thing like constraint to be able to instigate new writing after publishing your first e book?

AMSure. I completed off Excessive Floor Coward and thought, Okay, that’s the primary thirty years of my life. I mentioned the whole lot I wanted to say. What do I write now? And so, the challenge e book and particularly the shape had been actually helpful motivators. I like the heroic crown of sonnets kind since you at all times have the primary line of the subsequent poem prepared for you. It was useful as a result of I might sit down on the web page, however I used to be by no means sitting down at a clean web page. I used to be sitting down at a web page that already had me on my manner.

The second e book additionally gave me the chance to zoom in a little bit bit. My first e book is type of an atlas or a map—it’s a little bit city of poems. Then the second e book is 4 particular trails and also you’re paying fairly shut consideration to each twist and switch and department and stream on these specific trails. There was one thing about language for me on this kind—if I’ve to be in command of all of the totally different ways in which the identical repeated phrase features all through the crown or the e book, it actually helps me beef up on my abilities with language and poem-making.

CF I like this concept that the second e book is meant to show you tips on how to be a greater poet, prefer it’s getting you prepared for the remainder of your profession. I need to speak concerning the sonnet itself now. Classically, the shape is fourteen strains a couple of beloved written in rhyming iambic pentameter.

After all, this inflexible concept has been opened up lately by practitioners like Terrence Hayes and Diane Seuss. So, I’m curious, what makes a sonnet to you? What are the weather from that classical kind you wanted to maintain?

AM I’m so glad that you just talked about Terrence Hayes as a result of I’ve spent plenty of time with American Sonnets for my Previous and Future Murderer. Lately, there’s this open query of what a sonnet is. What’s an American sonnet, a recent sonnet? And I feel it provides poets the chance to decide into sonnethood by means of totally different avenues. There’s a queerness to the concept that there are a complete bunch of various ways in which any of us could be. And I really feel like there are a complete bunch of various ways in which any of us can do the sonnet.

I do consider mine as love poems, and there are totally different sorts of affection in them, which additionally feels true to my expertise. There’s love between pals, parent-child love, lover-love, partnership-love. There’s additionally this love and despair for the planet and for our species. And there’s studying to like the self, too. So, the love poem facet undoubtedly appears like a part of it. The fourteen-line kind was additionally one thing I saved all through. I consider the devotional gesture towards kind as type of a love for poetry too. The shape itself is a companion on this e book.

Sometimes, a volta, or flip, in a sonnet comes after the eighth line or after the tweflth line, relying on which model you’re working with. However within the crown of sonnets there are a bunch of various ways in which the author can use the volta. There are voltas inside particular person poems on the web page, however there are additionally voltas between totally different poems within the sequence. I used to be all for taking part in with that concept of the flip and even the arc. Additionally, there’s one thing underappreciated about a little bit humorousness, you understand? I consider a few of Shakespeare’s work with the sonnet. Whereas his romantic sonnets are in all probability most quoted, it was his levity and playfulness in others that made an enormous impression on me.

CF I need to decide up on what you known as the queerness of the sonnet. I really feel like inside the common populace, there’s an concept that kind is a conservative factor. I’m questioning whether or not you’re all for that rigidity between being these being, in plenty of methods, queer love poems, and the conservativeness of kind, or whether or not you need to reject the concept that kind is a conservative type of concept.

AM I feel that kind has been conservative and there’s something conservative or of one other time about kind. On the identical time, one other manner to consider kind is within the freedom of being tied up. What does it imply to be tied into knots by having to make use of this line time and again and being sure by it in a manner that loops round and will get cinched tighter and tighter. Poets discuss how we could be pushed in our creativity by constraint. That’s what I used to be in search of and that’s what I discovered on this kind.

Additionally, being topped by kind implies that it’s a must to do some surrendering. Once I consider my work as a poet, my job is to render the poem as greatest I can and to take heed to the poem. To not be a creator actually, however to be extra of a scribe for the voice because it comes, or the muse or that type of factor.

One other manner to take a look at 4 in Hand is a reckoning with what it means to preserve—methods that may pitch into political conservatism, as within the “Preliminary Descent” part, however methods that may additionally lean towards environmental conservation like in “Sparingly”. What or who will we defend and why? What are the results?

CF Did you will have influences whilst you had been penning this, like different sonnet crowns or had been you extra all for texts additional afield?

AM I used to be undoubtedly influenced by Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Dying, and the Altering of the Seasons, which is a book-length lesbian love story. The gathering has some sonnet sequences and different varieties in it and in addition some poems that break from that.

The opposite kind that I turned to was the video album. I keep in mind watching Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kendrick Lamar. I used to be moved by the greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts issue of their initiatives. You’ve this index of various songs, however they’re all a part of a story story that’s being instructed, with interludes that get us from one track to the subsequent, but in addition photos, or phrases, or riffs, or samples that recur as landmarks.

CF I’m curious concerning the Preliminary Descent part particularly. You touched on this a little bit bit earlier and the way that sequence was written throughout the rise of Trumpism. What do you see because the poem’s place within the political sphere?

AM I’ll simply converse for my poems as a result of I feel every poet makes use of the poem otherwise, significantly in political methods and people are all legitimate. Truthfully, I’m grateful to be in a poetry world the place particular person poets have their poems working in several methods as a result of I feel motion work and liberation requires a number of assorted techniques on varied fronts. 4 in Hand is a e book by which every poem is reliant on the integrity of its neighboring poems. They’re interconnected. If one line is forgotten, the entire thing falls aside. I’m hoping that that formal metaphor interprets as a political level, too, concerning the vitality of inter-reliance.

Typically, once I was a youthful poet, I wrote poems about my very own little life and my very own little sensory experiences and my very own little relationships with folks and place. Now I’m realizing I have to zoom out to take a look at the entire issues that contribute to my little life and the privileges that make it attainable and the obligations that I’ve to note what’s owed and pay my money owed. Debt and inheritance are main themes in 4 in Hand. A method to take a look at them is as one other type of constraints.

I’m attempting to say what I see on the planet and in myself—to see clearly and to talk clearly, even when what I observe is ugly or corny or ethically compromised. The work of my poems within the political sphere is probably to ask the reader to do an identical research of the world they discover themselves in, to pay shut consideration to what they’re feeling round them and inside them. What if this feels mistaken? What if this appears like heartbreak? What if this feels releasing? I feel deep down most of my poetry work is about disgrace. And that may be political. Disgrace is such a strong driver of destruction. The place of my poems within the political sphere may be about giving consideration to the disgrace elements, largely my very own, to allow them to heal and do much less hurt.

CF Debt and inheritance, and even disgrace, make a pleasant segue to speak concerning the MyMerril part. I used to be curious why it’s necessary to you to attract consideration to the truth that James Merrill was the son of 1 half of Merrill Lynch?

AM Once I was writing that final part, I used to be in search of a information. I used to be in direction of the top of my PhD and I didn’t know what was subsequent. I’d been studying this nice biography of James Merrill by Langdon Hammer and I felt plenty of kinship. Merrill was the homosexual poet child of a Wall Avenue businessman, and I’m the homosexual poet child of a Wall Avenue businessman. He possible died from problems of HIV and I’ve labored in HIV advocacy and have carried out plenty of scholarship on poetry of the American HIV epidemic. I was a case supervisor for folk dwelling with HIV. So, I used to be like, “okay, there’s a purpose that studying about this individual is coming to me now.” He’s not essentially my favourite poet. I love a few of his work, however it was extra a nudge, somebody telling me, “There’s one thing to take heed to right here.” On the identical time, I noticed I used to be getting these automated electronic mail newsletters from Merrill Lynch—the Merrill household legacy in finance kind—and it felt serendipitous. I needed, to start with, to play with language and work out tips on how to make poetry out of what I imagined to be the least poetic textual content I may discover— the majority banking electronic mail.

My subsequent step was to arrange a bunch of extra constraints. I don’t know why I needed to torture myself extra, however I did and right here we’re. I made a decision that each phrase within the “MyMerrill Crown” could be discovered textual content from these emails. I made a decision that I might by no means use a phrase twice. If the phrase “Olympian” appeared as soon as in any of the emails I may use it, but when it by no means appeared once more I solely obtained it that when. To maintain monitor of all this, I printed out about two years’ price of weekly Merrill Lynch newsletters; once I used a phrase, I crossed it out on my print out so I didn’t attempt to use it once more. On high of all of that, I made a decision the crown could be completely in iambic pentameter. I actually needed to see what I used to be able to, what number of hoops I may soar by means of. And I used to be within the Shakespearean aspect of the iambic pentameter, plus the aurality of it as a spoken English rhythm that gave this robo-Merrill an uncanny humanoid lilt. Writing “MyMerrill” was the toughest writing I’ve ever carried out—it took months to make all of the items match good.

There was additionally one thing about like a type of woo-woo channeling observe or “a visitation of spirits” to cite the novelist Randall Kenan. Merrill had a observe of utilizing a Ouija board to channel the voices that gave language to his poems in The Altering Mild at Sandover. And I used to be like, What if I channel Merrill, however it’s this finance robotic Merrill who’s attempting to look out for this youthful unsure lesbian poet in late-stage capitalism on the daybreak of a pandemic? However to get again to your query of why did it really feel necessary to level out the hyperlink between James Merrill and Merrill Lynch and my work and poetry? I feel that if we would like poetry to be an necessary a part of the world, now we have to get again to the understanding that it’s not separate from monetary dealings.

CF Does that part really feel totally different to you now with the whole lot that’s happening with Chat GPT?

AM You’re the primary individual to ask me about it, however it’s been on my thoughts. I feel there’s part of me that wishes to be like, I used to be Chat GPT-ing earlier than Chat GPT! I feel Chat GPT is simply one other software within the toolbox. These automated emails had been a software within the toolbox, and so is the sonnet kind.

I’d like to maneuver ahead with these applied sciences as instruments however not substitutes. For instance, I don’t know if Chat GPT has the identical humorousness {that a} human poet may, or the identical understanding of the best way phrases really feel in our mouths or in our breath. There’s undoubtedly plenty of advantage to people doing poetry work. However I’ll pat myself on the again a little bit bit for doing my Chat GPT function play earlier than it was a fad.

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