(Almost) 10 Questions for Susie Meserve
- By Lara Stecewycz
I hate AJ, Sam says, he steals
my blocks and punches me. AJ
didn't go to preschool. Here in the kitchen
my son narrates his day: phonics, Play-Doh,
the device he calls sand timer whisking away
—from "Bioluminescence," Volume 64, Issue 2 (Summer 2023)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
Fourth grade, a poem called “Breeze.” Everyone around me was in agony over the assignment—we had to write acrostics about some kind of weather, then illustrate them—but I finished mine in record time. I thought, what’s so hard about writing poetry? Little did I know.
In high school, I wanted terribly to write good poetry. I was reading Muriel Rukeyser and e.e. cummings, and that raw emotional beauty—it did something new to my heart. But trying to write like that was a bit like learning to play the guitar; my hands wouldn’t form the chords no matter how I contorted them. I didn’t really understand concrete images, for one thing.
The first poem I wrote that began to approximate something good was in college. I wrote a poem about my brother. It had a real “turn” and I used the adjective “rangy.” I could still recite it for you now.
What did you want to be when you were young?
A performer in the musical Starlight Express.
What inspired you to write this piece?
I was inspired by the work of, among other poets, Carrie Fountain, who magically weaves together the personal with the universal in her work, who holds a fistful of threads and at the end of the poem, opens her fist and releases them all. I was trying to do that, too. I write about parenting a lot, because to me it’s profound and painful and complicated, and “Bioluminescence” is, obviously, deeply autobiographical. I was moved by this conversation I was having with my kid, who wanted to make sense of what it might mean to have not gone to preschool, and who wanted to both connect with this other child in his class and be very carefully sure he was different from him.
By the end of the conversation he’d found this moment of empathy that really touched me. And yet, I was doing what I’m always doing—trying to make dinner, track a conversation, create the heartspace to care about things much more significant than my own world—in this case, the devastating threats of climate change and overfishing to the deep sea that I was listening to a scientist talk about on the radio. At the end I kind of landed on tenderness as the way to hold all of that.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I mean, wherever I am, really—I’m heavily influenced by landscape, by, simply, what I see out the window. My first book, Little Prayers, is kind of an homage to the changing seasons in New England. I will never tire of looking out the window and seeing snow or rain or falling leaves or whatever and writing about them. Now that I live in California, these climatic moments are very different, and I write a lot about wildfires and drought. I finally had to will myself to stop writing poems about the backyard of my old house, which I observed in the rain and in various stages of drought; it was getting pretty repetitive! (But that 12,000 square-foot lot filled with flowers and trees and birds inspired me so much.)
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Loose leaf green tea, steeped in a special cup. I also now stretch and meditate before I start, but that’s more about personal sanity than ritual.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Depends. Sometimes, my husband, but usually my writing group.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’d probably be a more serious musician than I am now. I’d love to try pottery, too.
What are you working on currently?
I’m writing a novel. Honestly, it’s a little terrifying.
What are you reading right now?
I’m always reading fiction. I just finished Celeste Ng’s latest, Our Missing Hearts, and for a major change of pace I picked up a Tana French mystery from the library. I’m also usually working my way through a poetry collection. I find poetry very enervating, so I have to go slow. I recently finished Marie Howe’s astounding What the Living Do and am now reading David Rivard’s Some of You Will Know. David was my professor in college and has remained a friend and mentor all these years, and I adore his work.
Raised in New England, poet and essayist SUSIE MESERVE has a master of fine arts from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of the poetry collection Little Prayers, which won a Blue Light Press Award and was published in 2018, and the chapbook Faith (Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and many literary journals. In 2021–2022 Susie was a City of Berkeley Civic Arts Program grantee. She lives in northern California with her family.