While we compare sex stories,
flaunt lines crossed —
a married man — a loading dock —
a stripper in the state that pays its strippers best —
the fireflies do their thing,
blinking neon hearts . . .
—from “The United States: An Introduction,” Winter 2017 (Vol. 58, Issue 4)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
In 7th grade I was obsessed with Stephen King and wanted to write like him. I wrote a horror story for English class about my sister being cut up into pieces and dragged across the “alabaster” snow, leaving behind “crimson” streaks (I looked up what I thought were sophisticated sounding synonyms for colors in the Thesaurus). My English teacher praised my use of detail but suggested that perhaps I consider a more joyful ending next time.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
There are so many. A spontaneous list of writers who inspire me to write: Naomi Shihab-Nye, Claudia Rankine, Jean Valentine, Louise Glück, Lucille Clifton, Anne Carson, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson.
What did you want to be when you were young?
At first I wanted to be a robber. Then I wanted to be an architect.
What inspired you to write this piece?
A couple summers ago I attended an artist residency in Nebraska, and this piece came out of a conversation one night with my fellow residents. We were grilling food for dinner, playing poker, and drinking beers out in the courtyard garden. We were loud and rowdy and laughing a lot.
At some point late in the evening, one woman grew quiet and serious. She suddenly wanted to share with us something “terrible” she had done, something she couldn’t shake off. We sat there in silence, anticipating the unimaginable. The woman slowly told us that once, years ago, she hummed in agreement when a friend of hers said something cruel about a girl she knew. The girl overheard the comment (from behind a door) and became hurt. The woman seemed haunted by her choice to affirm her friend’s mean words and therefore hurt the girl.
I was struck by the intensity of sadness this experience from long ago left in this woman, and in her story I found a history of this country—a history smudging printed Histories—a history we each carry in our bodies in one way or another. It’s a history of the quiet actions of bystanders, of complicity through passivity, of the illusion that the person who simply hears and nods is not responsible for someone else’s pain, of the surround-sound of silence. How this woman told her story—the tightness in her telling—gestured at the ways pain can accumulate and transfer.
Such a pain stains the monument. It pulses with traces of hands that touch/have touched/will touch other histories: histories entangled with our own and how we come to imagine others. This poem came from that feeling and point of connection.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
All the cities I’ve lived—Boston, Tel Aviv, New York City, Florence—and many of the places I’ve traveled have found their way into my writing. I see the imagined as part of those places too.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Just the music of everyday sounds: passing cars, sirens, people chatting, leaves rustling, trains rumbling underground, the wind, an occasional drunk man shouting into the air.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I tend to handwrite my poems first, rewrite them several times by hand, and then eventually type them up. I’ll then make handwritten revisions on the typed poems I’ve printed out. But there’s no steadfast ritual that I adhere to.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
It could be anyone. Sometimes it’s a friend I’m meeting to workshop poems, other times it’s my partner, or my students if I’m joining them in an in-class writing exercise that we then share aloud. It depends on the context and the moment. The most recent poem I wrote, for a friend’s project, will be placed in a time capsule in a glacier in Antarctica to be read in 1,000 years or maybe never at all.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I also work as a visual artist, and that practice includes drawing, mixed media, installation, and public interventions. If I could work in another art form it would be dance.
What are you working on currently?
Currently, I’m working on 1) revising my dissertation into a book of visual and written poetry that speaks to memories produced and carried by schools 2) a series of actions on a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and 3) a collaboration with a friend on an exhibition that addresses the concept of the monument and the fantasies attached to that concept.
MAYA PINDYCK is a poet and interdisciplinary artist. Her latest collection, Emoticoncert, was published by Four Way Books in 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate in the English Education program at Columbia University’s Teachers College, she lives in Brooklyn, NY.