Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press, 2015)
What’s your chapbook about?
The things that demand our attention are varied. Some may seem larger or more momentous, but when we step back to view them against a larger context, they can look and feel different.
Beth McDermott wrote an introduction to the chapbook. In it, she says some things approximating my own interest in certain themes: trying to live in a world that’s transforming rapidly in so many ways (for instance, think climate change, the perilous sense of impending apocalypse, the erosion of certain aspects of vital connection as well as the development of new forms of art, science, and material culture).
It’s possible to say perhaps that one of the chapbook’s main subjects is the relationship between time and scale— that is, our sense or perception of how things are bigger or smaller, or more or less relevant, than they are.
Poetry offers and cultivates a different kind of attention which I believe is helpful as we try to figure out how to carry the sense of our own mortality in the day to day.
Can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
For this question, I think I’ll talk about the poem whose last two lines I reworked for use as the chapbook title—this is the poem “From tree to tree” (on page 11 of the collection). By itself, the poem did not necessarily catalyze or inspire the rest of the chapbook. It’s a small, compact poem, only 8 lines. The most important effect I wanted to achieve was the creation of a movement and reciprocality between and among the handful of images I used.
In the first two lines I wanted to quickly establish the idea that it isn’t only us leaving marks of ourselves on the surfaces we see or touch—we are marked by experience too. I once had throw pillow covers, made in India, with little mirrors, pieces of glass, stitched on the fabric—the final line of the poem gives this image.
I am always amazed by where that kind of drive and desire come from— think of the extravagance it signifies, to take such pieces of broken glass, back them with silvery paint, drill tiny holes so they can be applied to a piece of cloth with needle and embroidery thread. To make a surplus out of “nothing.” To take remainders, those otherwise useless bits, and make of them another artifact, a different kind of moment to behold.
Describe your writing practice or process. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I write at least a poem a day. That also means I am constantly revising. Some of the most important things I have learned from this daily discipline (which I have done for more than four and a half years now, since November 10, 2010): learning to be open and spontaneous, to keep an active sense of “play” and discovery in the process of generating materials for poems and poems themselves.
I’ve described the process in more detail here.
What are you working on now?
I have a new manuscript of mostly but not only persona poems that I’ve started sending around. I’m also organizing poems into two new book manuscripts, and beginning work on a book of essays.
Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?
Like broadsides, chapbooks date back to the early 1500s. Etymology tells us that “chap” comes from the Old English word for “trade.” Small, cheaply produced books that could be bound by hand and circulated from hand to hand, chapbooks were often offered for a few coins at street corners. As such, the form illustrates a democratic production and circulation base: where literature and poetry are actively written and consumed, like bread.
I think that the renewed popularity of chapbooks in our time is a good sign—hopefully, it means that there might be forces and influences at work beyond those dictated by large commercial publishing houses; and that matters of relevance, innovation, and taste can be shaped from the ground up.
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
A world with dissolving edges. A world on the brink. A world looking backward and forward. As well as inward and out. And we, of course, inhabit that world.
Which poem in your chapbook has a memorable back story to you? What’s the back story?
I wrote “Red Hornbill Earring” (page 29 of the collection) shortly after I read that Renato Rosaldo had published The Day of Shelly’s Death: The Poetry and Ethnography of Grief (Duke University Press, 2013). He and his wife Michelle (Shelly) Rosaldo were cultural anthropologists who had conducted much research and field work in the Philippines. Around the time of his wife’s death (she lost her footing on a trail and fell from a ravine into a river), they were also visiting academics at the university where I used to teach in Baguio. As a very young academic, I remember having attended some of the short presentations they gave of their work among the Ilongot (headhunting, ethnography, notions of self, beauty, and language). I did not know before reading about his new book that he wrote poetry, but somehow it doesn’t seem surprising.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
Lyric essays. Dictionaries, or books on etymology. Tango music. Food writing (including cookbooks). Essays on colonial and postcolonial history and art.
Originally from Baguio City, Luisa A. Igloria is the author of the eChapbook Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (2015); Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (selected by Mark Doty for the 2014 May Swenson Prize, Utah State University Press); Night Willow (2014); and 11 other books. From 2009-2015, she directed the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, where she is on the poetry faculty. Since November 20, 2010, she has been writing (at least) a poem a day.
Only the cloud rat knows
how to scale the tree
of heaven, whose roots
are hidden in fog
from mortal view.
And only the rough-
skinned tubers in the field
might possibly know the volume
and density of time, or how
the worms have mastered its
parcelling-out. What does it matter
if it is tortoise or serpent
that grinds the wobbly
axis of the world? The sky
is portent and mystery,
the sea’s architecture
encoded in salt; the wood
is wild or so I think, only
because I have not learned
to read the wood in me.
of a chime intercepted by a draft:
salt filtering down the cellar.
of sectioned light: marble
with a heart of revolving flame.
that the bird stole
in the shape of a fig.
on the counter’s edge:
powdery sift of milk on the tongue.
suspended from the rafters,
furled tight as a drying rosebud.