Beth McDermott

Pine Row Issue No. 3 Spring 2021 - Featured Poet


I wanted to name your doppelganger

during our post-bath nightly ritual:

polar fleece sleeper seated on the Formica counter

whose wet straw hair I arced

back before it parted and fell, curtaining your eyes.

You’d press the panoramic

bathroom mirror like your handspan was

a header taking corn ears to a feeder

house, the crushed stalks twisting into

disappearance, the ears swept by curved blades

to a spinning cage raining grain.

Interview with Beth McDermott

by Kathleen Fields, Pine Row Editorial Board

What inspired Reflection?

Most parents and caretakers have observed an infant or toddler entertain themselves when looking in the mirror. There’s an age (perhaps related to what Lacan calls “the mirror stage”) when the child seems to think that their reflection is an entirely separate person. At the time I first drafted the poem, my daughter was about 18 months old; she’s currently 12 years old and becoming more and more independent every day.

How has reading impacted your own writing?

My writing is impacted by reading different genres of writing. During the pandemic, I listened to an audio book while walking my dog: The Poets & Writers Complete Guide to Being a Writer. In it, Terrance Hayes offers “Five Healthy Reading Habits for Living a Life in Poetry.” The fifth habit is to read at least a handful of prose books per year, and I find that advice to be helpful because novels and memoirs offer plenty of opportunities to admire the music of syntax apart from lineation.

Do you ask particular people to be the first readers of your work?

I was lucky to have first readers built into my graduate school writing workshops. When I left school, writing was a lonely process. I didn’t always prioritize it or think that it was worth sharing drafts with people. But I do think it’s important to have a first reader who has some background in poetry or creative writing. It can help you gain the confidence to send your work out after a rejection, especially if your first reader found the poem to be working well.

What is your writing process?

My writing process is to do one of three activities early in the morning, typically for an hour: research, write, or revise. I probably spend the most time on revision. I currently work full-time and have two kids, so the early morning tends to be the best time for me to engage with the writing process.

What was your writing timeline for Reflection?

Almost ten years! I wrote a first draft of this poem when my daughter was a baby. I wasn’t happy with the poem: it made reference to a combine, which I could see from my then-kitchen window; however, the combine was unrelated to the main image of the poem, which was my daughter’s reflection. I sort of forgot the poem was there. It was in a folder on my computer that I never really opened. While I was working on completing a manuscript of poetry, I decided to either “finish” or delete some of those old poems. “Reflection” continued to be interesting to me, so I worked on it again after a long stretch of time.

What writing summer enrichment have you enjoyed or would recommend?

Over the years, I have attended The Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, The Home School, and the Tupelo Manuscript Conference. They each offer slightly different opportunities depending on what you’re looking for. The Tupelo Manuscript Conference that I recently attended was virtual, which definitely saved on travel costs.

What living or dead authors would you invite over for dinner and why?

Probably A.R. Ammons and the contemporary author Tommy Pico. This past year I gave a paper at a conference about Ammons’ Garbage (1993), and I’m currently reading Pico’s Junk (2018), which is somewhat in conversation with Garbage. I would want to talk with these authors about their book-length poems, including their thoughts on poetry, ecology, capitalism, and what Chris Campanioni calls “queering the archive” in a review of Junk at The Brooklyn Rail.

Beth McDermott is the author of a chapbook titled How to Leave a Farmhouse (Porkbelly Press, 2015). Her poems have appeared in journals such as DIAGRAM, Southern Humanities Review, and Tupelo Quarterly. Essays and reviews about art and ecology can be found in After the Art, American Book Review, and Kudzu House Quarterly, where she was also Poetry Editor. Criticism on Elizabeth Bishop’s ecopoetry appears at The Trumpeter.

She currently serves as an Associate Editor at RHINO and teaches literature and writing courses at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL.