Laura Bandy

Pine Row Issue No. 2 Autumn 2020 - Featured Poet

Vodka and Houseplants: Urbana, Illinois 1999

“The conflict in Chechnya is spilling into neighboring republics, escalating the process of destabilization.”-Alexei Malashenko, Scholar-in-Residence, Carnegie Moscow Center

Denis Daneeka stands accused of robbing the till at the campus coffeehouse we tend and I believe him innocent, believe the boss just doesn't like foreigners— he told me Slavs seem sneaky. What are they hiding? he wants to know. I invite Denis over for a drink. Maybe some friends I bring along? he asks, and I agree, eager to please. They all arrive together and Denis roars in my doorway; The tanks are rumbling through the streets! He bows and hands me a potted orchid with the price tag still on that I carry in my arms most of the night. They don't seem to hear my offer of beers, Boris busy lowering the blinds, Val tuning the radio to a station I've never heard. Black bread to start, says Galya, vodka to finish. When I protest I have nothing to mix with the liquor, they laugh and ask politely for pickles. All Americans have pickles, says Pasha. We drink vodka straight with brine chasers as the sun slides golden bars down my wall. Soon we are all on the floor in a dark room. Boris keeps telling jokes without punch lines and he is toasted each time, Za Vas! Za Vas! A few double over with laughter as though they are actually in pain, and Denis whispers that these jokes are popular at home, that it's all in the telling, not the arrival. Tell me about home, I say, moving closer so the smoke from my cigarette tangles like rope between us, tell me why you came here. Denis sighs, pinches my lit cigarette and smokes it down to the filter before burying the red end deep in orchid soil. He pats my cheek not unkindly. We are not here, says Denis.

Interview with Laura Bandy

by Michael Chang, Pine Row Editorial Board

First things first: any projects to promote? Anything you're itching to share?

I had a chapbook manuscript accepted with Dancing Girl Press last year, but COVID seems to have put publication on hold. Stay tuned! Hopefully soon... Also, a poem out in the upcoming UNRELIABLE NARRATOR issue of Fatal Flaw. It's a bit of a rough ride poem & a favorite of mine, so I'm happy it has found a home.

What do you find most interesting about your own writing process?

How cliché but how true it is— writing poetry takes me somewhere else, presents an altered state. Sometimes I fight it because the practice becomes harder the longer you've been in the game, but am always grateful (and a little surprised) to find that other place waiting when I sit down to write, that distant, chilly planet poetry offers. Like Schoenberg borrowing from Stefan George in his String Quartet No.2, I want to feel air from other planets.

How do you approach revision?

I quite like revision because it means the first draft is done. I send it to my twin sister first for her twin thoughts, then I tinker endlessly, line by line & draft by draft. Typically, I move through 8 to 10 drafts before I feel marginally comfortable with the end result. Some poems take longer — years of moving words and em dashes around on the page.

Complete this sentence: A bad relationship is like a house—

you hate the decor and learn to hate the host, then stick around longer than you should, hoping the canapé tray will come back your way eventually.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

In the mid-2000's, in Chicago, I was out wandering my Andersonville neighborhood with friends during the early hours after a night of revels. I was young, living in a big city on my own for the first time and had found a gaggle of kind and like-minded folk to be my friends-family. Anything seemed possible. It started to snow lightly and I walked to the middle of deserted Glenwood Avenue to catch snowflakes on my tongue. When I held out my arms in a perfect T, snow fell on one hand, rain on the other.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Books, good-smelling hair products, gold pendant necklaces with images of Greek Goddesses emblazoned, Amtrak, takeout noodles & blue cheese-stuffed olive dirty martinis.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Being nice. Be tough but fair, I say.

What words or phrases do you overuse?

"At the end of the day..." (I'm working on breaking myself of this empty phrase.) Also, "Cool cool cool."

Who are your favorite writers?

Ross Gay, Borges, Dickinson, Lev Grossman, Michael Van Walleghen, Natalie Shapero, Mary Ruefle, Jennifer Egan, Elif Batuman, Li-Young Lee, Brenda Shaughnessy, Terrance Hayes, Paul Celan, Elizabeth Bishop, Sue Grafton, Ray Carver, Tracy K. Smith, Robert Lowell, Ellen Raskin, Akhmatova, Claudia Rankine, Rae Armantrout, Anne Carson, Rick Powers, Morgan Parker, Maggie Nelson, Kelly Link.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game or Janet Pluchinsky from The Magicians trilogy. Any girl detectives, really (Kelly Link's "The Girl Detective" is a lucky talisman for me).

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I visited Calamity Jane's grave in my youth. She made a big impression on me. Probably the Riot Grrls, those badass women and their music that insists on being played AT LOUD VOLUMES.

What is your motto?

Hang on tightly, let go lightly (cribbed from Clive Owen's character in Croupier). Also, do the right thing (cribbed from Spike Lee, of course).

What are your top sources of inspiration?

Films interest me endlessly and often inspire me to write small and pleasing (to me) odes. Pop culture in general and moments of strong emotion. Other poets & writers keep me going, keep me writing. I just blazed through Amorak Huey's collection Boom Box, Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind, and Carmen Maria Machado's In the Dream House, and they were all so blisteringly good & strange, I felt like turning cartwheels— for real and in language!

How are you next going to challenge yourself in your writing?

Like many writers, I'm struggling these days. Writing in form helps me out of poetry ruts, so I've been fooling around with syllabic verse and broken sonnets lately. I've also been working on some prose, a genre story that is moving in detective fiction directions. I've not written prose in years (although most of my poetry is fairly narrative) so this is a switch and a challenge. Maybe the challenge is writing anything during these trauma days, as the country slides further into fascism. I'm just trying to get ink on the blank page. As Maggie Smith says in A Room with a View when she loses her Baedeker whilst touristing in Italy, "We shall simply drift."


Laura Bandy attended the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers PhD program from 2009 to 2013, where she received the Joan Johnson Poetry Award. In 2018, she won first prize in the 'Trio of Triolets' contest judged by Allison Joseph, and received third place in the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award/ Illinois Emerging Writers Competition that same year. She has had work published in Soft Skull's Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry, Ninth Letter, The Cossack Review, Sin Fronteras, River Styx, Typo, and the museum of americana among others, and currently has poems in The Laurel Review and Midwest Review. She hails from Jacksonville, Illinois, home of the Ferris wheel.