An Interview with Ana Reisens
by Mark Robinson, Mud Season Review Associate Poetry Editor
The first, striking, thing about this collection is that each poem is titled with a female name. What inspired you to write a series of poems about different women?
The idea for this collection began when I realized how profoundly disconnected I was from my femininity. I had always associated the feminine with caretakers and powerhouses, and the women in my life – whose identities were very much defined by their relationships with others or their tireless doing – seemed so stifled by these roles. Almost as if by default, I, too, entered into a pattern of caring and doing. But something was missing – something big, bright, quiet, and powerful – and I became determined to discover it.
I started by vowing to only read work written by women for an entire year, a practice that actually ended up lasting much longer. I began discovering different voices, different stories, and different ways of writing and being. I was particularly fascinated by the archetypes we don’t commonly see manifested in our societies: the wild woman, the mystic, the priestess. I found myself gravitating toward this energy in my writing, as if I were reuniting with old, forgotten friends. So I gave names to them to explore what they would look like in (or as) women. Aiyana. Becky. Naomi. Sonia. Vivian. Sometimes I used a woman I had met or read as inspiration; for others, I invented one.
And while there’s so much left for me to explore – and so many more women I’d like to greet – I’ve come to realize that what I conceptualize as “the feminine” is in no way limited to these women or women in general but is instead a glimpse of a sacred way of being that has been widely forgotten, abandoned, or hidden. I believe the exhaustion, imbalance, and sense of meaninglessness we often experience in our own lives is due to this disconnection, as is the imbalance we’re witnessing in the natural world. I suppose reconnecting with this missing “feminine” and making it visible is a big part of what I seek through my writing, and this collection in particular.
Can you talk a little bit about your influences in writing and in poetry more specifically? Who do you feel speaks to you, now or in the past?
I tend to gravitate toward work that explores nature, the esoteric, the sacred, and interconnectedness. I particularly enjoy Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye (as you can probably tell!), and Alice Walker, but I also have a real soft spot for translations of ancient texts. I love Betty De Shong Meador’s translations of the hymns of Enheduanna (often considered the world’s first poet), Anne Carson’s translations of the poetry of Sappho, and Coleman Barks’ translations of the work of Rumi. There’s something incredibly magical about the fact that these translations were made from intermediary texts but managed to convey the spark of the sacred that the original poets captured.
I really like how, while these poems are connected in theme and subject, they each have a unique style and form. What is your experience in working with different styles and what determines the kind of visual layout you use in a poem? For example, Sonia and Vivian are in stanzas and have breaks, Aiyana is in ‘parts,’ and Becky is a single unbroken block.
I really enjoy playing with different styles and forms just to see what happens. It’s like trying on different clothes, just for kicks. Sure, I may not end up buying it, but isn’t that a lovely neckline? The fun part about this collection is that I think the very nature of it – a different woman for each poem – calls for different forms, different bodies.
When I write a poem, I tend to try to get the words out first, and once I’m somewhat happy with what’s on the page, I’ll play around with different forms. I’ll often copy and paste the same poem on multiple pages just to try out different forms and see what happens and how they feel. Aiyana, for instance, called for pauses, and I felt like having the poem divided into parts would invite those pauses. I also really liked the feeling of spaciousness that came from writing Naomi in two-line stanzas. Meanwhile, plucky Becky just wanted to sprint down the page (I tried putting that poem into stanzas at first, but it just wasn’t having it). As a whole, I also sought to ensure that this collection had a variety of forms to represent the distinct subjects.
The speaker’s voice is really compelling throughout your work. Where do you think your voice comes from? Was there anything specific that helped you develop your own voice?
It means a lot to read this, since voice is something I’ve been working hard to develop. I believe that any practice that allows us to come into closer contact with ourselves is key, as writers. This includes meditation, therapy, journaling, nature, music, drawing, dance … and silence. A lot of silence – and listening. It’s about leaning into the quiet and solitude and waiting to see what shows up.
And if that doesn’t work – because let’s be honest here, my apartment building is no temple – I also like to try on other voices to see how they feel. I’ll play around with them for a little while and if I get really lucky, something that’s uniquely my own manages to show up and take the wheel.