Khadijah Queen reads “If gold, your figure as mirror on the ground is”
Don Share: This is the Poetry magazine podcast for the week of October 1st, 2018. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On the Poetry magazine podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.
Don Share: Khadijah Queen teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Her most recent book is I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On.
Lindsay Garbutt: One day, as a writing exercise she got from another poet, she placed a gold compact mirror on the ground outside and watched as images passed through its reflection. She told us she likes to write in public spaces.
Khadijah Queen: I grew up in a loud house and I have a lot of relatives; my mother has eleven siblings. There was always somebody over, somebody knocking on the door. I feel comfortable when there’s a lot of people around, especially in a generative space. And we were certainly encouraged to be free in our imaginations when I was growing up.
Don Share: The resulting snapshots went into what became a poem in twelve short sections.
Khadijah Queen: And I found myself going into a very imagistic space that is also action-oriented, because I was watching people move and pass by and just catching flashes of things. And also integrating memory and imagination.
Lindsay Garbutt: This is Khadijah Queen reading the first half of “If gold, your figure as mirror on the ground is.”
Khadijah Queen: If gold, your figure as mirror on the ground is
Comic screen to change what came to notice Even though sky
at first was the same blank slate So literal. The value of it
You make your own lion’s teeth sink in, slowly
The insects claim you don’t belong here then bite & bite
Virtue the undulant yards as penance
iiiHordes of animals without teeth crash the window in a dream & it means you are not hungry enough
The capuchin stays silent in the void
You feel the sun of unknown experiments
Once a choice comes to full & the act carries the joy of struggle The winter mother
severs only a chance at restarting. Could you sorrow
the one unchosen thing infinitely so it feels occasional, the act is itself
If I write a texture I could make it stucco like childhood
Aloe or cactus spines To cut is to heal
the rough of a cut All dark blue against good skin like leather
Don Share: As you can tell from the introduction, the poem is about populated spaces and multiplicity and mirroring and reflectiveness; all things that are parts of poems in one way or another. Sometimes a poem will have a sort of concentrated gaze that results in an image or series of images that are narratively connected. But this is rather different … the poem is in a multiplicity of short sections. And even the title and first phrase of the poem, “If gold, your figure as mirror on the ground is,” comes from a poet of multiplicity, Fernando Pessoa. So it’s a complicated poem, but I think when poems are sometimes difficult to reckon with on first acquaintance, that allows you to let the language and the images flow. Which is a pleasurable experience. I like, sort of, moving through the words and images of the poem, and its finely textured diction and syntax. I mean, I like poems that you have to really sit with for a long time and think about and sort of read backwards and forwards. But that’s not to say that it requires any special effort to let the poem sink in. So it’s a poem that offers many ... many pleasures.
Christina Pugh: I was really interested in the way that this poem is divided, as you said, by the Roman numerals, which were not articulated in the reading. It really makes me think of a French poet, René Char, you know, the numbered, sort of aphoristic sections. What’s really interesting about this is that it seems like a lot of these aphorisms or moments seem to come out of dream. And then if you put it together with another association, I mean, we have Pessoa and his mirror … I was thinking about, too, Stendhal, the French novelist, and his articulation, his statement that a novel is like carrying a mirror through the street. And of course, I mean, that would be more like what you were just talking about, Don, like, having a mimetically oriented, more narrative work. And I’m really interested in how mirroring can also be fragmentary, discursive, as Khadijah Queen says at the end of this poem.
The western cities, the eastern cities / that inscrutable skin I chose
The high ground of resurrection Discursive —
falling soft ...
Christina Pugh: Mirroring is not just one thing, right. It can take various guises and various approaches, and I think we see that here.
Don Share: And it’s not a narcissistic mirroring either, which is what is so striking about this poem and how it’s done, and in a later part of the poem you didn’t hear, she says:
Khadijah Queen: I can’t see myself on purpose ...
Don Share: So in this poem and in this technique, the poet is deploying a mirror as a way of being free of looking at yourself all the time or thinking about how things look to you. You’re relying on this … on the external world to provide its glimpses.
Lindsay Garbutt: It’s a purposeful mirroring and one that involves a choice; she chooses what to see and what to reflect within the mirror and it breaks things up in a productive way, which is what she talks about too with talking about texture and about the aloe and cactus spines and how cutting can be a form of healing. That to make the poem fragmentary, to make her own view through the mirror fragmentary is a way to, sort of, heal things in addition to breaking them apart. Also, later in the poem, she has this pair of lines that says:
(I love how you love promises because they are lies)
(I love the honesty of cheap rings)
Lindsay Garbutt: The idea that there is this gold little compact mirror sitting on the ground, that, you know, is normally, as you said, Don, a narcissistic kind of putting-makeup-on sort of mirror and instead she is using it to see the world perhaps more honestly or perhaps differently.
Christina Pugh: Mmhmm. And it seems as if there is a real pushing, you know, through space as well, which is also happening on the page. That these lines are moving not just down the page but sometimes beginning halfway or more than halfway across the page. And there is almost a kind of interesting devouring of space which seems connected to the poem’s interest in teeth and eating, and there’s even a plum later on (LAUGHING) ... And of course, whenever I see a plum ...
Don Share: (LAUGHING)
Christina Pugh: ... when a poem has a plum, you know, you think of Williams … But at the “lion’s teeth,” the “animals without teeth,” there’s a real drive to the poem as well as a kind of self-emptying. So, I think, there is some really interesting competing tensions and movements.
Don Share: You can read “If gold, your figure as mirror on the ground is” by Khadijah Queen in the October 2018 issue of Poetry magazine or online at poetrymagazine.org.
Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all October episodes all at once in the full-length podcast on Soundcloud.
Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought of this program. Email us at [email protected], and please link to the podcast on social media.
Don Share: The Poetry magazine podcast is recorded by Ed Herrmann and produced by Curtis Fox and Catherine Fenollosa.
Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this program comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.
Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.