Pine Row Issue No. 1 Spring 2020 - Featured Poet
Churned in the early summer cauldron of the lake
the naiads molt, molt again, shed themselves
until skin glistens raw, when wings flex and break
the cracks of flesh—iridescent mosaics
cornea-thin, slick with the body’s inner soft.
Our familiar plague. The wind collects them
en masse, a dense cloud tracking indigo on weather
radar. They choke the docks, stifle the skies, cluster
with urgency: only twenty-four hours after
nymph to seraph, their circuitry will short, each
fish-hook body stuck to walls and billboards,
pavement and dumpster bins, clinging with death-grip.
Our familiar, sad plague: they don’t raze the crop, don’t
worm into flesh. They take flight, briefly glorious, and die.
We fumbled with the lock the day they hatched
frantic from curb to porch, rain of their bodies
whirled in all directions, the lawn needled.
Claw-foot tub, window to survey cars arriving
on the driveway. Who felt safest in thunderstorms
who leaned into winds and found stability.
I have listened for your voice in memories, but
it’s forgotten, the way dreams recede as the morning
stales. Rooms that held us as no two deserve, nevertheless
we curtain rods, we destined arc of fan blade. Outside
neighbors swept brick walls, pushed mayflies into storm
drains and trash bins. How we’d fumbled with the lock
like thieves of our own good hours. Everything in haste.
And doorways belong to a room as much as anything.
You don’t die beautifully, but who does?
Swaths of your kin layered inches thick
on concrete, facades of houses, bridges
slickening roads to trouble passing cars.
Those of you that survive to shore, that is.
Bass feast, the waters froth and your species
plagued across the desert of Lake St Clair,
diaspora without hope of promised land.
A story we know well. In other seasons
the lakes may freeze and thaw faster than we
do in a lifetime, but I became the permanent
season of storms, sky a canvas of wrath and all
the reckless trees that stand before the winds.
I thought I could embody the beauty in the terror.
Interview with Tommy D'Addario
by Amanda Little Rose, Pine Row Editorial Board
Please guide us through your writing process. How do your poems develop? What is the most difficult part of your process?
It’s hard to layout an exact process that I follow when developing a poem since it feels like every poem comes into being differently. It’s a general truth, however, that my writing process begins off the page, and usually as I’m reading another poet’s work. If I’m not reading poetry, I find it difficult to write poetry. Reading prompts me into entering a poetic headspace—to disorient my thoughts and internal language, to fog my analytical lens and let the mind play a little. In this way, poetry propagates itself, inspires the lives of more poems. From that headspace, something is at play—a line, a phrase, or simply a rhythm—that brings me to the page to write it down.
The most difficult part of the writing process is getting out of my own way. Mary Ruefle said, “The lines of a poem are speaking to each other, not you to them or they to you.” I feel my poem’s success most when I sense that the poem is sustaining itself and not the wishes of the poet. You can sense when a writer is forcing their presence into a poem, or forcing an idea of how they want the poem to be onto the language, and it never pulls off the intended effect. So word by word, line by line, I try to live by this idea.
Do you show your work in progress to anyone? Why or why not?
I don’t like to show my work to anyone until the poem feels “complete” in the sense that, even if there’s work to be done, it has a shape and a life that I recognize. Another way to put it is that I keep it private until I feel I’ve “found” the poem. This doesn’t mean that my idea of the poem isn’t open to change; I think it’s good to always be open to change. But too often, I’ve had the experience of showing a friend some half-formed notion of a poem and I’ve walked away feeling disappointed in the piece’s reception, so much so that it’s led to disillusionment with the project, which becomes abandoned. This is a personal problem with my mode of thinking, but I know that others can relate.
Once a poem feels formed enough that my self-esteem can withstand the gauntlet of criticism, I love to share it and see where that takes things.
What inspired you to write "Mayflies"?
This poem began with a recurring image from my childhood that I couldn’t get out of my head: the great mayfly hatch on Lake St. Clair. My father worked in St. Clair Shores (near Detroit) and every spring there was this beautiful, disgusting, massive collective hatching of mayflies on the lake that swarmed the city like a plague out of the Old Testament. It’s such a large swarm that, as I mention in the poem, they show up on weather radars as a purple cloud. The first sonnet of this poem describes this event. The mayflies hatch and only have a day at the most to mate before, as I put it, “their circuitry will short.” And it’s a perilous journey all the way. They fall prey to fish on the way to shore, and of those fortunate numbers that actually make it to shore, they quickly stick to everything they touch and just die. It’s a bizarre natural phenomenon. This obviously demonstrates (in a brutal, unmasked, in-your-face way) the ephemerality of our lives and life in general. Well, I wouldn’t be the first person to draw from that revelation for inspiration in a poem. But the scientific name for mayfly is Ephemeroptera, and I think it must’ve been a sentimental scientist to come up with that.
Of course, this poem contains another narrative, which is inspired by a relationship I had during that time of my life. The parallel between the life of that relationship and the lives of the mayflies is apparent, I think.
Do you believe in writer's block? Why or why not?
I believe there are times when the impulse to write is lively and times when that impulse seems like a distant memory. One of my mentors, Melissa Kwasny, now one of the co-Poets Laureate of Montana, once called the activity of these periods “shadow writing.” I’m not sure if this is an idea borrowed from a different writer or if it’s her own term, but the idea is that your mind is still working, still churning, still creating even during these ostensible writing droughts, even if that work isn’t visible to you. It’s an idea that I return to for reassurance when I’ve spent too much time away from the page.
Can you give any advice to someone wanting to write and publish poetry?
I would simply say that you can’t be afraid to submit, and submit a lot. Another one of my mentors, Prageeta Sharma, said—and this is a paraphrase—that the way to fight off the depression of rejection is to keep seven submissions in the world at a time. I do try to live by that. And while those poems are out there, you must keep writing and revisiting your poems.
How important is the accessibility of meaning? Should one have to work hard to understand a poem?
I’ve enjoyed poems with accessible meanings, and I’ve enjoyed poems from which I couldn’t articulate meaning, and who am I to say one is better than the other? I just know that people have their preferences. Some are uncomfortable with disorientation, and others thrive in uncertainty.
Is there an author or poet whose work you are you reading right now?
I’m reading Who Whispered Near Me by Killarney Clary. It’s a beautiful book of prose poems.