Poetry co-editor Aurora Nowak recently had this exchange with Issue #39 featured poet Kristin Macintyre. Here’s what she had to say about the kindness she’s experienced in workshops, the process of listening to a poem’s “deepest concern” as it unfolds, and more.
Your poems seem to be meant to proceed each other and in the process paint a story of addiction. Was this your initial intent? Or did these poems start out as separate ideas completely? And, we have to ask, what drew you into writing about substance use?
This is a surprisingly hard question! Admittedly, the narrative or storied progression achieved across these poems is a magical gift of arrangement. These poems, while perhaps somewhat sequential, were not written in their current order—in fact, they were not written in any particular order at all.
I am, like all of us, continually grappling with my poetic intention. For this collection, the poems present themselves best when the intent is simply to write a poem. It is always a mystery to me where the new poem might find itself in the story, in the arrangement. What I mean to say is that the poem comes first, and in its coming, it creates the story.
While these poems are by no means autobiographical, they do arise from my own experiences with addiction and substance abuse.
“Lush” echoes throughout this portfolio, and it’s an unlikely choice considering the dark subject matter. Can you talk about how this particular adjective came to you? Also, what caused you to pull that phrase from the untitled poem as your title for this set of poems?
The word “lush”has become of particular importance to me while writing these poems, perhaps because of (rather than in spite of) the darkness in them. I’m glad that you have found echoes of it throughout the poems, too. I suppose the word (and collection’s title phrase) first presented itself in the untitled poem, and when it appeared there it felt right for the concerns of the whole collection.
Each poem is, in its own way, concerned with subversion. Of course, “lush” conjures the idyllic, the fertile, the overgrown—as in a lush forest. These poems perhaps subvert the expectations of the reader as they are often preoccupied with the lush not of the forest per se, but rather the lush of dark, of danger. Each is tasked with lushness where it might be least expected: the ocean floor, the sky, the mundane, and, ultimately, the poems is tasked with lushness of death.
Your poems are all astonishing. The language of poems like “Weathervane” and “Bride, an Aubade” almost lull the reader into believing the poem is sending them to a safe place only to be shocked by the reality that lies ahead. Can you explain a bit about your creative process for these two poems?
Thank you for a compliment that I won’t soon forget. For the most part, I’m still learning both about myself and about my poems. Each poem that becomes a poem at all by way of my thinking seems a small miracle. Though my writing process is a bit unpredictable, studying poetry at Colorado State University has taught me to listen to the poem’s crisis, its anxiety, its tension, and to help it unfold—I hope—to its fullest potential (a thought borrowed from my advisor, Dan Beachy-Quick).
Perhaps, although I cannot say how the poems came to be, I might be able to offer a bit about the tensions that undergird them. Some of my deepest draws to poetry arise out of a fascination with life’s inherent opposites, its improbabilities, its impossibilities, and how all of it must be at once. Here, too, in the small living space of the I and thou, impossibilities coexist. The poems are crisised by this deception, even as the deception is an honest one—as all the world’s paradoxes are.
For these poems, a large part of my writing process was to the find the poem’s deepest concern, its deepest impossibility, and help each grow into that wound by, among other things, attuning its formal elements to its own crisis.
In a couple of your poems (“Untitled” and “Carousel”) there is repetition of God as well as substance abuse. Was the undertone of becoming clean meant to be expressed through the lens of religion?
I’d like to think that the poems use divinity, as opposed to religion, as a means to access something beyond the self. The natural, the unthinking, the unmanned—all of these fundamental purities house themselves in the word “god” (lowercase g) in the poems you’ve referenced. For me, some spiritual language carries with it a sense of fear. The word “god” in these poems invites a particular threat into the divine, as well as, I hope, a particular promise of escape—in one way or another—from the conditions in which the I and thou find themselves.
I am absolutely in love with your untitled piece; in particular the lines “your face / smooth and featureless like Leviathan’s marble / washed ashore” shined. Your poem combines a beauty of ocean-side imagery with a life bound by tourniquets. What brought on the concept of the combination?
The poems across the collection—though this one in particular—all use the image as a device to carry crisis. In many ways, the image is tasked with the emotional labor and awareness that the speaker may be incapable of fully acknowledging. The ending image—that of the thou as nameless marble shored by the ocean—holds the poem’s crisis entire.
Sometimes, a particular image will pop into my head and I’ll jot it down. The image often sparks the writing of the poem. Especially when writing into this particular collection—in which the image does a generous amount of work—I feel as though once I’ve found an image (or the image has found me—who really knows), I’ve found the essence of a future poem. Oftentimes I feel that the image is the poem internal to the poem. Prior to writing “untitled,” I remember jotting down an image of a marble statue in my notes. Weeks later, after a mysterious and unknown gestational period, the poem came to be.
“Carousel” accepts the concept of life in repetition of full circle, contrasting images such as the ballerina and the spider. How do you feel these images elaborate on the spiraling inherent to addiction?
I think these images are images of stuckness. The ballerina bound by its constant circling in the music box, the spider bound to its geometric patterns of web. In this sense, the images—like the I and thou—are bound in space and time and somewhat in tragedy. Stuckness, of course, is a primary concern for the addicted. The inability to change is, in itself, a particular boundedness to death.
Since MSR grew out of a workshop, we’d like to ask: what is your best/worst workshop experience? What is your most memorable? What is the importance of feedback to you and how do you incorporate it (or not) into your work?
The workshop setting here at CSU has been such a safe and fruitful space for my poems to grow and shed their shyness. My favorite memories of workshop, however, have little to do with poems! I am blessed to be a part of a workshop community full of poets and teachers whom I admire greatly. I will always remember workshop as a space in which my friends treated me and my work with care, respect, and, mostly, with earnest kindness. Yes, the feedback is useful, but the kindness, the kindness is most cherished.
Will you share what you are working on these days?
These days I’m working on growing this collection! I’m also working on sharing gratitude with the world. Thank you so much for these kind, kind questions.