Poetry News

Please Check Out the World and Work of Monica McClure

By Harriet Staff

Monica McClure

A fantastic interview with poet Monica McClure can be read at Paperbag's blog ("this blog is an assignment"). McClure talks about Texas, personal narrative, the distinct challenges of both the former and latter re: poetrymaking, and much else. Immediately compelling:

The truth is, I don’t understand the place where I grew up the way I imagine Tennessee Williams, who was genuinely interested in the intrinsic life of places, probably did. And I don’t think good art takes this kind of mythologizing and metaphorizing of one’s life’s events as its formula. Oh well. Quite irrationally, I remember having a foreboding feeling as a child about this place, Luling, where my mother’s mother’s family settled a very long time ago, and I regarded that feeling as an explanation when I suffered a painful loss.

“Notes Passing” chronicles some of the drama that played out between a beloved (first love?) and myself shortly before he died when we were sixteen. A few years later, the main witness to that drama and a dear friend (lover?) died too. That’s when I started to feel like I would lose this story if I didn’t turn it into a kind of monument. There was also a letter, one with ominous closing words that I meant to deliver to Tom the day he unexpectedly died, but that mysteriously disappeared a few weeks after. So you see this whole story is so fraught with the metaphors, symbols, and sentiment of poetry as it’s traditionally contrived that I couldn’t resist writing about it like this: in an epistolary style, syllabic lines, and the vernacular. But really its impetus is the sense I had—especially after I lost another friend—that I was cursed and living in a cursed place, which is a convenient delusion that’s easier to accept than the pedestrian truism that bad shit happens to everybody.

Cathy Linh Che asks good questions, too:

CLC: I know that you’re working on an anthology of poetry from biracial or multiracial poets. How/why did that project begin and where are you now in that process?

MM: The formidable Brenda Shaughnessy, who was my professor at NYU, held a roundtable discussion at Harvard in 2008 with the poets Monica de la Torre, Monica Ferrell, Paisley Rekdal, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil about hybrid ethnicities. She needed an assistant to help her transcribe the conversations and develop it into a publication, so we spent a year soliciting poems, stories, and essays from other biracial writers. The conversation spans Obama’s campaign and his entire first term, examining the way Americans perceive race, especially an ambiguous ethnicity, now that we’ve got a biracial president who is called our first African-American president. It’s crazy that we’ve only recently started to shift from thinking about and representing whiteness as the American norm to acknowledging the decades-old reality that we’re thoroughly miscegenated.

[. . .]

CLC: Are there any artists/writers you find especially compelling these days? Any recommends?

MM: Read the poet Dana Ward’s “The Crisis of Infinite Worlds” because it deals so viscerally with the struggle to know art’s worth in any context—art world or real world or otherworld. I loved Spring Breakers, and like anyone who’s read a little theory, wanted to go back to Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. Of course, I watched the other Harmony Korine movies and felt like I was writhing through a pulsing, creative ectoplasm. Katherine Mansfield’s lush prose concerns itself with the libidinal relationship between objects, something that David Lynch takes to its logical conclusion in his films. I’m reading her biography now, excited by the way she longed in her diaries for sexual liberation and artistic realization in one breath. I think it feels like that when you’re young or in the 19th century. Everything that emits from Jenny Zhang’s mind is bread of life to me. Lara Glenum’s “Pop Corpse” raises (lowers?) the bar for subterranean writing. She dances you to a filthy, post-collapse deep sea rave with all the wisdom and way more flourish than Virgil leading Dante.

Read it all here! And what's that? Her poems? Mmhmm, in addition to the work in Paperbag No. 5, there're some recent poems by McClure ("Jellies" + "Ash Blondes" + "Flashdancers" + "Screen Grab" ["I want to live a slow and humid life"]) just up at the new mag Similar Peaks (also worth a full eye--lots of good contributors there).

Originally Published: June 21st, 2013