.:| ISSUE 11 & Conversation with POET Renée Ashley |:.
ARTIST Ira Joel Haber was born and lives in Brooklyn. He is a sculptor, painter, writer, book dealer, photographer and teacher. His work has been seen in numerous group shows both in the USA and Europe and he has had 9 one man shows including several retrospectives of his sculpture. His work is in the collections of The Whitney Museum Of American Art, New York University, The Guggenheim Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum & The Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Since 2007 His paintings, drawings, photographs and collages have been published in over 200 on line and print magazines. He has received three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, two Pollock-Krasner grants, the Adolph Gottlieb Foundation grant and, in 2010, he received a grant from Artists' Fellowship Inc. He currently teaches art to retired public school teachers at The United Federation of Teachers program in Brooklyn.
POET Renee Ashley is the author of five volumes of poetry: Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea (Subito Book Prize, University of Colorado—Boulder); Basic Heart (X.J.Kennedy Poetry Prize, Texas Review Press); The Revisionist’s Dream; The Various Reasons of Light; and Salt (Brittingham Prize in Poetry, University of Wisconsin Press), as well as a novel, Someplace Like This, and two chapbooks, The Museum of Lost Wings and The Verbs of Desiring. A portion of her poem, “First Book of the Moon,” is included in a permanent installation by the artist Larry Kirkland in Penn Station, Manhattan, NY. She has served as Assistant Poetry Coordinator for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and as Poetry Editor of The Literary Review. Her new collection, The View from the Body, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2016. Ashley teaches poetry in the low-residency MFA and creative nonfiction in the MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators Program at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two dogs.
.:| Conversation with POET Renée Ashley |:.
EDITORS Letisia Cruz and Heather Lang: Renée you’re a poet that we’ve long admired, and a mentor that we feel truly fortunate to have studied under. Today, thank you for allowing us the honor of featuring your poem “And Taken” from The Verbs of Desiring (Fort Collins, CO: New American Press, 2010) in ISSUE 11 of Petite Hound Press.
Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing another brilliant poet, your colleague, a fellow MFA Fairleigh Dickinson University professor, H.L. Hix. He told us, “I’m sure there are ways I’m not aware of, in which my books resemble one another, but the experience of writing each one feels different.” How would you compare the experience of writing The Verbs of Desiring to your more recently published collection, Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea (Boulder, CO: Subito Press, 2013)?
POET Renée Ashley: H. L. Hix nailed it. It sure felt different. Years ago I mentioned to another poet-friend that I thought my work, from book to book, was radically different, that a reader would never know it was the same poet from one book to the next. She said, quite adamantly, and as though I was somewhat short on sense, that my syntax was a dead giveaway. Really? I don’t know. I really don’t. I suppose it could be syntax and sensibility, but it doesn’t feel that way. Because I Am the Shore… was a long time in the brain box and its composition was very deliberate. I wanted work in prose poem form; it seemed to pose such fabulous challenges for me. I thought about it every day; I think I was in that I-want-to-do-this mode for at least two years, and every poem I wrote during that time seemed to demand lineation. I finally gave up. I resigned myself to line. After I let go of the need, it began to happen. It took me by surprise. I had written prose poems before, of course, but they were baggier, perhaps more conventional. I wanted what felt like electricity and I was beginning, I thought, to get it. Those poems became Because…. In it I was focusing on finding a way to make that particular form work for me. A new hoop to jump through. A whole new desire.
EDITORS Letisia Cruz and Heather Lang: Zooming in a bit, how do you feel “And Taken” is representative of your chapbook, The Verbs of Desiring, as a whole? And how is it different?
POET Renée Ashley: Interesting. Well, it’s the shortest poem in the book; that may be the only difference. It’s a book of situation and resignation, though I hope the poems are a bit more perky than my description. “And Taken,” I think, catches the instant between the two, recognition of the situation and resignation to it, that moment of gasp just before you know you’re going to have to live with it.
EDITORS Letisia Cruz and Heather Lang: Your Master’s degree is in Comparative Literature. Could you please tell us a little about your focus in graduate school? Also, did these studies lead you to poetry?
POET Renée Ashley: When I went back to school for undergrad studies, I gave up on trying to make a living. I’d decided to study what I loved. I’d been making a living for some time and it totally sucked. I was still a shy person then, and was so terrified of grad school that I did a triple undergraduate major to put it off for as long as I could without leaving school. They finally had to ask me to graduate. Such a dope. And I wanted, all along, to take creative writing classes, but they wouldn’t let me audit, and I knew myself well enough to know that the first time a piece of mine was workshopped I’d have a stroke on the spot and die—and, if there’s a life after death, the shame of dying in those circumstances and in a public place would have killed me all over again. And so no creative writing for me. Graduate school was absolute heaven, though; well, the nature of it was. I worked full-time and took eighteen units a semester. I had zero life but work and study. That part was a bit rocky. But the studies? Bliss. It was a tiny department. I studied, primarily, with two gay, Jungian men whom I adored. I’d taken courses with them as an undergraduate: Drs Bratset and Wiseman. I learned it was possible to see and articulate and feel, to not just close my eyes, swallow my feelings and opinions, and turn away. It was the best time ever. I’m still learning all that stuff, of course, but I owe those men everything. And another professor, too, Dr. Dorothy Petitt, who got me extra work on campus and was really trying to save me from my other life. I don’t think, though, that grad school had much to do with leading me to poetry. I had Mme Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s granddaughter, for French at some point. The final project I chose was to write poems in French. Her comments? My French was fine but I’d never be a poet.
EDITORS Letisia Cruz and Heather Lang: In the vein of comparison and connection, may we ask about your initial reaction to seeing your work paired with Ira Joel Haber’s “Heart”?
POET Renée Ashley: It seemed exactly right! Before I wrote the poems in Verbs…, I wrote a book called Basic Heart, partially as a reaction to hearing over and over again that a poet could no longer use words like heart, that they were used up. I’m not usually reactive in that belligerent way, but I thought: Screw you. And my heart has always been at the center of my work. It’s all I know for sure. The world outside me is pretty indecipherable. And Dr. Bratset once snapped at another professor, who had been picking on me while the three of us were in their small, shared office, that he “didn’t have to step on my heart just because I wore it on my sleeve.” What could I possibly be but heart? It was out in the open all along.
EDITORS Letisia Cruz and Heather Lang: Thank you, Renée for allowing us to include your poem "And Taken" in ISSUE 11 of Petite Hound Press. We are thrilled to be featuring your poetry and the visual art of the talented Ira Joel Haber.