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10 Questions for Carly Joy Miller

Meanness is not the only way to access it.

I grew adjacent to Christ: knew him purely by name and sight (limbs on the patibulum)

The crossbar—the patibulum—is an incorrect representation.
—from "A Humility Essay," Volume 62, Issue 3 (Fall 2021)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
My second-grade teacher let me continue writing a Space Jam fan fiction after craft time was over! I also wrote Sailor Moon fan fiction in my early middle school years. And for poems, I remember an orange notebook I would carry with me—lots of song lyrics, flowers and investigating my feelings a la Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Brigit Pegeen Kelly is a constant source of astonishment. When I’m stuck, I reread Jessica Fisher’s poem, “Daywork,” which was sent via the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series in 2015. I’ve been reading Jennifer Chang’s Some Say the Lark at least once annually since it was published. I’ve been considering how Louise Glück and Linda Gregg play with distance and declarative statements lately. Dionne Brand as well—I’ve only encountered a few poems from The Blue Clerk, but I’m eager to read more of her work.

What other professions have you worked in?
My favorite past professions have been in the service of others: a barista, a server at an Italian American joint in San Diego called Pat & Oscar’s, a special education aide, a mentorship program director.

What did you want to be when you were young?
A doll-maker!

What inspired you to write this piece?
“Toward Tenderness” is a meditation on Aracelis Girmay’s fantastic line from “The Black Maria”: “& so to tenderness I add my action.” My partner had just moved in at the start of the pandemic. We went for a walk to clear our minds, and I shared my anxiety and sense of feeling “stuck.” The conversation broke the poem open for me: How I’m building this tender, wonderful life with him. How he demonstrates tenderness with me and how I strive to extend that tenderness back to him, myself, and others.

“A Humility Essay” began through a conversation with two lovely poets and friends, Anna Rose Welch and M.K. Foster. We were catching up, and M.K. said something that escapes me now, but it must have circled the idea of Noah’s wife (which Anna wrote a fantastic poem about in her book We, the Almighty Fires). I thought of the delicate balance of everyday interactions and the tripwire between humility and bravado.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I find music an incredibly important process to center my mind and provide a rhythm for the language to spill onto the page.

I used to start every writing session by playing Feist’s “The Bad In Each Other.” I realized just the other day that the new work strives for the depth, balance, and nuance of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” I’ve been singing it everyday as I sense the next poem’s arrival. Other music tends to filter and sway—James Blake, Bon Iver, the xx, London Grammar, Lianne La Havas. I explained to a friend once that I wanted to capture the blare of a trumpet in the xx’s “Dangerous” in a poem.

For editing, however, I need silence: I need to hear the language’s musicality. I need to sense its falls and lifts.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I’m very, very lucky with my first readers. Erin Rodoni has been my first reader since we’ve graduated from San Diego State University’s MFA program. Analicia Sotelo has been my accountability buddy for a few years now, and knowing she gets excited by the work thrills me. Finally, Paige Lewis: Their enthusiasm for my poems has been so incredibly generous.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I would love to bake extravagant bread and fancy desserts.

What are you working on currently?
I’m slowly writing toward the next collection of poems! I have a sense of the book’s structure and its title. The poems, thus far, are grappling with inherited belief systems and how the mind is impacted by desire. It’s absolutely a continuation of my first collection, Ceremonial, but we’re leaving the fable and getting closer to the real world (with its slight slant). I’m close to the point of writing “past” the collection, so to speak. When that happens, it means I’m writing the work that pushes the poems to even deeper, brighter places.

What are you reading right now?
I’m usually a “one book at a time” reader, but my pandemic mind has found balance in multiple books. Late nights and weekends have been for prose: I’m halfway through Melissa Febos’ Girlhood and it’s striking such a bell in me. Nichole Perkins’ Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be is next: I’m traveling to SoCal and I just feel like the book will have that wonderful quality of a vacation read, where I’ll feel like I’m in communion with a close friend. I cannot wait to get my hands on Caroline Crews’ Other Girls to Burn, which is what I’ll most likely be reading as people read this answer!

Early mornings and after work, I long for poetry: Phillip B. Williams’ Mutiny has been marvelously dexterous and lyrical. I’m anticipating Sandra Lim’s The Curious Thing’s arrival in my mailbox—until then, I’ve been reading her newer work online. I’ll be bringing The Curious Thing and Conor Bracken’s The Enemy of My Enemy Is Me with me on the subways and on my vacation as well.

CARLY JOY MILLER is the author of Ceremonial (Orison Books, 2018), selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 2017 Orison Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook Like a Beast (Anhinga Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Rick Campbell Prize.

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