Five Questions with Deborah Landau by Washington Square

Photo by Sarah Shatz

Photo by Sarah Shatz

Deborah Landau is the author of three collections of poetry: The Uses of the Body and The Last Usable Hour, both Lannan Literary Selections from Copper Canyon Press, and Orchidelirium, which won the Robert Dana Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Poetry, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Best American Poetry. She is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow.

What's more, Deborah is the fearless and generous leader of the NYU Creative Writing Program, where she also teaches an "Art of the Book" class, which, having taken it, I can vouch for as fantastic. "I never know until I get to the end of one line what the next will be. Life is also like that," she writes in a beautiful article on living line by line, which you can find here. And over here listen to Deborah reading a poem from her latest collection, The Uses of the Body. One of my favorite lines from that book is: "Oh, skin! What a cloth to live in." Indeed. 

—Alisha Kaplan

1. What is your greatest extravagance?

Walls of books, Berthillon ice cream, extremely hot baths.

2. Whom would you consider to be winter poets, and does your poetry have a season? 

Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Anne Carson.

I’ve never thought about it, but my second book of poems is probably a winter, my third, a summer. 

3. What's your favorite New York City neighborhood?

Prince Street from Lafayette to Mott (McNally Jackson, the graveyard, the cupcake shop).
(And also: the stretch of West Tenth from Writers House to Three Lives.)

4. What music do you turn to in dark times? 

Chopin’s Nocturnes, Lucinda Williams, Nick Drake.

5. Describe the most beautiful color.

Dark plum velvet.

Five Questions With Sigrid Nunez by Washington Square

The author of six novels, including The Last of Her Kind and Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag, Sigrid Nunez has contributed to The New York Times, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, and Tin House. She was the Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, won a Whiting Award, and has been published in four Pushcart Prize volumes. She was elected as a Literature Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and currently teaches a fiction workshop at NYU.

Featuring one of the best lines of overheard coffee shop banter, this micro interview was conducted via email with the wonderful Sigrid Nunez.

— Hannah Gilham

1. Something interesting you overheard today?

In a café, an older woman was talking to a friend. “The doctor says I weigh too much and so I have to eat less. I said, That’s not fair. Food is the only sex I have.”

2. What did you imagine you would be when you grew up?

A writer of rhyming children’s books like those by Dr. Seuss.

3. What is the scariest thing you’ve ever read?

The headline of The New York Times, November 9, 2016: TRUMP TRIUMPHS.

4. What's your least favorite thing about Thanksgiving?

The thought of all those poor factory-farmed, slaughtered birds.

5. What is your favorite neighborhood in the city?

Alas, overdevelopment has destroyed the character of the many neighborhoods I used to love. Now my favorite places are Central Park and the botanical gardens in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Five Questions with Emily Barton by Washington Square

Photo Credit: Greg Martin

Photo Credit: Greg Martin

Emily Barton is the author of the novels The Book of EstherBrookland, and The Testament of Yves Gundron, as well as many essays and book reviews. She has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, an artist's grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bard Fiction Prize. She currently teaches a graduate fiction workshop at NYU and is working on a series of essays.

It has been my pleasure and delight to be in Emily's class this past semester, and I was ecstatic when she agreed to answer my fun micro interview questions! 

–  Katie Bockino


1. What secret talents do you have?

I’m really good at knitting and fixing things. I pack my kids adorable bento lunches. In college, I was the lead singer in a band that covered The Paranoids’ songs from The Crying of Lot 49, but now I prefer to sing harmony.


2. What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy? 

I was alone and outdoors much of the time, making up superhero stories while I roller skated. My favorite toys were a baby doll named Babes and a stuffed Siamese kitty named Tajma, after my next-door neighbor’s cat. I think she must have thought the palace was called the Tajma Hall and not the Taj Mahal.


3. If something “goes without saying,” why do people still say it? 

“It goes without saying” is a rhetorical strategy for saying that you wish something was so self-evident that everyone agreed on it. It’s not an especially elegant strategy, but it works. People say it because a) they haven’t reread Strunk & White recently, or b) they would edit that out and phrase their statement more concretely if they were writing and/or had the time to edit.


4. Do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?  

I have actor’s nightmares. A friend invites me to see something like Hamlet. I arrive at the theater and people are furious at me, because it turns out I am supposed to play Hamlet. I go backstage, pick up the script, and tell myself, “It’s okay, it’s okay, I can memorize this thing in the next . . . fifteen minutes.” But I know it won’t be okay.

Sometimes I have a teaching nightmare, in which, say, a writer I’m working with shows up to a yoga class I’m teaching, talks on her cell phone for half an hour, and then walks out.


5. What do you want your tombstone to say?

An end date a hundred years from the start date. I want to see everything that happens.


Everything Is Endangering Something Else: A Conversation with Francisco Márquez by Washington Square

Francisco Márquez is a Venezuelan poet in Brooklyn. His work can be found in The, Lambda Literary and elsewhere. He is a 2016 Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts fellow and an MFA candidate at NYU.

I spoke with Francisco about risk-taking in poetry, family, and more.

—Alexandria Hall


AH: What are you working on right now?


FM: I recently gained hope in two separate projects that I've been working on for some time now. One is related to what I'm calling "family violence" and "inheritance of violence" and how I feel it's been passed on through my family inter-generationally. And the other one is a sequence of poems chronicling, and archiving, how I reacted to a break-up.  They started out superficially, but now they've evolved into deeper explorations of human survival. One of angst and levels of depression, and the other one of a literal, physical survival. They, of course, always intersect.


AH: So, that's making me think of the "risk-taking" panel that you recently invited me to be a part of for the creative writing class you're teaching at NYU. What does risk-taking mean for you in your work and in others' work that you admire?


FM: I guess the notion of risk really came to me when I was working with Sharon Olds. Every time I would go to her with my poem, her edits were about the heart of the poem. She would always lead me with this big personal question, and she would want me to interrogate myself even further. I think I internalized that and it wasn't until this summer or a little before, that for the first time, writing my work, I began to get genuinely concerned for myself, and what I was saying. I was getting scared and even crying. I think that's when it hit me that some of my best poems are poems that I actually suffered writing. Not that I think we should only suffer when writing—there are different ways of doing it—but I had a very visceral experience with it, particularly at a residency this summer. 

I think that the kind of work the poet needs to do is one of grief-digging. It's something that people don't like to do on a regular, human, day-to-day level, what we tend to avoid, and that's what makes us these interesting creatures—people who are in tune with everything around us from joy to pain, and who have to look to the future at the same time. That's what I think risk is in poetry. You have to be able to capture the nature of something, it's history and permanence, and really consider the nature of it. Not just one side of it but every side of it. And once you do that, you'll see that everything that you're interested in has some risk to it. Everything is endangering something else. And I guess once you realize that, the poem probably becomes more difficult to write but it also becomes more exciting to write. 

Oh, and as for work that I think does that really well: Bluets really affected me. Mothers by Rachel Zucker. Beloved by Toni Morrison—of course. Most recently, Voyager by Srikanth Reddy and Averno by Louise Glück.


AH: Is there a particular risk you want to take in your writing but haven't yet?


FM: That's a hard question. I guess I could answer this question in many different ways. One, I don't feel like I've experimented with as many forms or modes that I would like. Like, fiction--I almost don't feel I have the stamina or eye for that yet. Even, essays, or erasures. Two, I don't tend to write as directly about Venezuela, which is probably something having to do with fear. Now, given the striking resemblance in the USA, I almost feel an urgency to. Three, the variety of anxieties and trauma I know to exist in myself and my family's history that  I've yet to really explore.


AH: What kind of work have you been reading lately?


FM: I guess right now I'm obsessed with writers who tackle emotion in understated / undercut / possibly joyful ways. So, I was reading Aracelis Girmay's The Black Maria and her challenge is to write about the black body without having to invoke a kind of violence, and there is such a delicacy and surgical precision to her writing that in seeing her enact this gracefulness, you witness all of the ugly things she had to dig through to get there. Writers I'm obsessed with that I feel make this happen are Sharon Olds and Ross Gay.


AH: Are there other poets / artists in your family? How is your work received by your family? 


FM: Yes! My sister is a fantastic painter. My grandfather was also an artist, and art gallery owner. Everybody in my family is pretty weird too, so there's something artistic to that too. My family is very supportive of my writing. I've always been very artistic, so I think they're used to seeing me be ridiculous and get into an art form—be it performance, or filmmaking. But as with every art and everyone I know, there's always that heightened feeling of utter nakedness you feel when a family member sees your work. I think it has to do with how well they know you, and how broken (and whole) they've seen you, already. 


AH: I remember reading a poem of yours called "Happiness" and it really was a happy poem! Do you think it's challenging to write about happy stuff? 


FM: Yeah! Actually, I don't know. This was something that came up with my students. I gave them an assignment to write about family and a lot of them said that they hadn't had anything traumatic happen to them or their families, and that they tried to think of something really bad and painful, and that struck me, because it showed me what they thought was needed of them in order to write something. So, I told them something that somebody told me: If you're interested in it, then it's worth writing about, even the joyful things. And you might think it'll sound sappy or "what's the point in even dedicating a page to this," but it's exactly why you should dedicate a page to it. 

You used my poem as an example. In that poem there was a sudden image of someone getting a phone call, without context. That's it. I just kind of left it in the middle of the page. And it wasn't to lead anybody on to anything. It was something that was really joyful to me. But, I think, in even the happiest poems, like I was saying, you have to do a serious emotional interrogation of the subject. Even in the happiest things, there's always going to be an edge. Which, I think, makes the poem complete. I don't know whether that's true, but there's something to happiness that is moment-by-moment and therefore it's fleeting and just by the nature of that, it's always going to be touched by something else. Weirdly, that particular poem wasn't hard to write. I think because I wrote it right after it had happened. So, maybe that's related to the answer. As it's happening, record your happy moments. 


AH: Record your happy moments! I love that. What does your writing process look like? 


FM: It depends on what I'm doing, but I've learned a lot from Catherine Barnett in terms of how you can look at one thing and use a multitude of forms or lenses and you'll find yourself with so much material. That's what it's sort of been like for me at this moment. It has to happen organically but, for example, if I'm writing about one very painful aspect of the break-up, I'll find myself going to the grocery and I'll be struck by something, an apple maybe, and all of a sudden I can tell there are many ways to talk about the same sentiment in a variety of different ways. Then, as I come to revise it, I discover it becomes an entirely different thing. It's almost cubist, you know?


AH: Do you feel like you tend to revise a lot or things come out already knowing where they're heading?


FM: The more I write, the more I learn, the more I read—the more I want to revise. I think I've gotten better at being able to say what I need to say at the moment, but often it's like when you're having a conversation and the first things you say are the more polite, superficial things to say. But the more time you spend together, or the more drinks you have, the more the comments that you say actually get to the root of the problem. You could write a poem, but you might end up finding out that's not what you actually wanted to say. So you'll rewrite, you'll turn a poem over, you'll write through an image and then find, "Oh, that's what it is."

Spotlight on Issue 38: Safia Elhillo by Washington Square


Safia Elhillo’s “triptych” contains multiple layers that reveal and disguise themselves with each read. That is, it is one of those amazing poems that always feels like I’m encountering it for the first time.

On first read, I was struck by the simultaneously tender and threatening images throughout: 

& i have only ever loved    men marked to die    reassure me
i watch the wind tangle up the curtains    in a way that is not
cruel    tell him    to push me up against the cinnamon tree
to be kissed    watch me disappear into its bark


a boy who made me a wound a door
to open and close    he made my eyes & fills
my eyes like a tear or like the hot white sun

On second read, I noticed fragility. The body and material objects are destroyed as the speaker commands “dismantle me for firewood / & with what is left    a house.” The room the speaker shares with another becomes grimmer and less visible with “…i let // his mouth open & add / to the dark in the room / with my name.” But perhaps nowhere is fragility more felt than in the  poem’s close: “[the boy] who broke the beads i wear around my waist / materials objects my mother says absorb the harm / meant for my body.” The speaker’s body becomes as vulnerable as everything else in the world.

On another read, I was struck by the poem’s deft triangulation of desire. The speaker modulates desire and a fraught relationship with a lover through nature: a tree and autumn; then night air and a dark room; then red sea and hot white sun. This aspect showed me another layer of the title, as I wondered if the triptych was the three sections of the poem; or the speaker, the lover, and desire; or both.

The lack of punctuation and subsequent ambiguity allow readers to pass through the poem from multiple angles. Sometimes, the “him” of the first section is the same as the one in the second and the “boy” third. Sometimes, the boy is someone else. Sometimes, the three sections reflect on three different figures. With each new angle of entry, we see the poem in a different light. As if it’s a crystal hanging in a window, how we see it depends on where we stand, the time of day, our ability to see the way Elhillo does. 

Regardless of the reader (or viewer), “triptych” is ever brilliant. 

Read Our Favorite Creepy, Crawly Halloween Stories by Washington Square

While horror movies have their obvious, visceral appeal this time of year, it is often a passage from a favorite book or poem that continues to haunt us well into the night. From the horrific to the insane, here are our favorite creepy stories and lines from literature. Happy Halloween!

Alyssa diPierro
Assistant-Fiction Editor, First Year Fiction

Whitley Strieber's The Hunger is probably the most underrated, and most horrifying, vampire novel I've ever read. Spoiler alert: it ends with the main character, Sarah, locked in a box by Miriam, a thousands-year-old vampire who keeps her not-dead and not-alive former lovers in boxes in her attic. This image has haunted me for years:

"Little rustlings and sighs filled the air around her, coming from the other chests. So Miriam had done this before. The thought of what must be in the other chests terrified Sarah. How many were there? Some of them must be hundreds of years old. Some thousands. Thousands of years like this.”

Matthew Chow
First Year Fiction

One of my favorite horror-esque stories is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. One of the moments that sticks with me to this day is when he decides to experiment on the vampires and see the effectiveness of sunlight against them. He goes out, finds a vampire woman sleeping, drags her into the sunlight, only to watch her die a horrible death. It is pretty gut-wrenching and it shows how strange and inhuman Neville has become under the circumstances.

Alexandria Hall
Web Editor, Second Year Poetry

A very creepy thing addressed to a beloved, Charles Baudelaire's "Une Charogne" ("A Carcass") is realizing your love will one day be a corpse. 

Maggie Millner
Assistant Poetry Editor First Year Poetry

What’s creepier than Cannibal Holocaust, the bloody Italian horror movie so realistic that the director was charged with murder after its release? Try Kea Wilson’s masterful and spine-chilling debut novel, We Eat Our Own, which takes the 1980 splatter film as its inspiration. Like Cannibal Holocaust, Wilson’s novel is set in a jungle outpost in Colombia, where guerrilla fighters, drug traffickers, and wild megafauna lurk menacingly behind the scenes of an unscripted experimental movie. As the danger mounts, Wilson’s prose remains incisive and insidious, weaving between chilling plot and vivid character study. I can’t remember a smarter, cannier, or more haunting debut.

Bruna Dantas Lobato
Fiction Editor, Second Year Fiction

There's a scene in the final chapters of Madame Bovary that always gives me the creeps, featuring a pretty mistress to be buried in her bridal dress with "her open mouth like a black hole in the lower part of her face" and "the outline of her eyes beginning to blur under a pale film of mucus, as though spiders had been spinning cobwebs over her face."

Razmig Bedirian
First Year Fiction

From Hassan Blasim's short story called "Crosswords":

"Why couldn't it have been the policeman who incited Marwan to swallow the razor blade?!"
Wilson Ding
First Year Fiction

This comes from a short story called "Chickamauga" by Ambrose Bierce:

"There, conspicuous in the light of the conflagration, lay the dead body of a woman—the white face turned upward, the hands thrown out and clutched full of grass, the clothing deranged, the long dark hair in tangles and full of clotted blood. The greater part of the forehead was torn away, and from the jagged hole the brain protruded, overflowing the temple, a frothy mass of gray, crowned with clusters of crimson bubbles— the work of a shell. The child moved his little hands, making wild, uncertain gestures. He uttered a series of inarticulate and indescribable cries—something between the chattering of an ape and the gobbling of a turkey—a startling, soulless, unholy sound, the language of a devil."

Lindsey Skillen
Managing Editor, Second Year Fiction

As inspired by Lipsky, on Halloween I'm assigning these two stories to my students: Michael Chabon's “The Halloween Party” and Lorrie Moore's “You're Ugly, Too.” The Halloween costumes are what stick with me the most: Nathan's horrible lightbulb concept - "a guy about to have a great idea for a costume" = Nathan the Lamp post. I also love the Chabon line "a barrage of miniature-demon knocks" to describe trick-or-treaters at the door. And the dancing adults at the Halloween party ("the diligent men as the jogged in place"). 

I like how both stories build up to the Halloween party - the main event to look forward to. Much how we all treat upcoming holidays in this season. 

And Earl in "You're Ugly, Too" with the breast "protruding like hams" and how "His pubic hair slid over to one hip, like a corsage on a saloon girl." I'll never forget that Magic Marker line on his buttocks spread wide "sketchy black on pink, like a funnies page." 

Samantha Facciolo
First Year Fiction

"The Husband Stitch" is a modern take on the spooky legend of the girl who wore a green ribbon around her neck. This updated, sensual rendition combines the traditional story with commentary on marriage, sex, and just enough horror to keep us hurtling toward an inevitable conclusion.

Megan Swenson
First Year Fiction

I finally got around to reading Stephen King's IT last year. It took me an absurdly long time to read--my sleep schedule was obliterated by nightmares, so I had to take a lot of breaks from the book to make sure I was actually getting enough sleep most nights. No other book I've read has freaked me out quite like that. 

Azzuré Alexander
First Year Fiction

One line from The Picture of Dorian Gray comes to mind when thinking of creepy things. Dorian’s overall reaction to the murder he committed is chilling, but when preparing to dispose of the body Dorian returns to cover his portrait and notices that the hand in the painting is dripping red, “as though the canvas had sweated blood.”

Hannah Gilham
Assistant Web-Editor, First Year Fiction

Charolette Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is one of my absolute favorite pieces, and just so happens to be incredibly cool and creepy. Gilman’s protagonist famously obsesses over the horrible yellow wallpaper while she’s recovering from, you know, being a woman in the late 1800s, when she starts to see (and become?) a woman crawling around behind the paper, trapped. “There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.”

The wonderful climax sees her doctor husband fainting in fear at the sight of his wife: “Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” YES.

Issue 38 Launch Party in Photos by Washington Square

We had a blast at the launch party for #38 on Friday! Here's a glimpse of our night in pictures:

Fiction Editor Bruna Dantas Lobato and Assistant Poetry Editor Maggie Millner with issue 38 and lots of other new Washington Square goodies.

Fiction Editor Bruna Dantas Lobato and Assistant Poetry Editor Maggie Millner with issue 38 and lots of other new Washington Square goodies.

Former Poetry Editor, Linda H. Dolan, introducing Emily Brandt.

Former Poetry Editor, Linda H. Dolan, introducing Emily Brandt.

"I declare myself and the hour turns violet." -Emily Brandt.

"I declare myself and the hour turns violet." -Emily Brandt.

Former Fiction Editor, Mike Sarinsky, introducing Matthew Baker. 

Former Fiction Editor, Mike Sarinsky, introducing Matthew Baker. 

Matthew Baker reads his story "Meanwhile" from issue 38.

Matthew Baker reads his story "Meanwhile" from issue 38.

Former Poetry Editor, Chase Berggrun, introducing Jay Desphande.

Former Poetry Editor, Chase Berggrun, introducing Jay Desphande.

"Wanting nothing, you became the want." -Jay Desphande.

"Wanting nothing, you became the want." -Jay Desphande.

Managing Editor, Lindsey Skillen.

Managing Editor, Lindsey Skillen.

Editor-in-Chief Joanna Yas.

Editor-in-Chief Joanna Yas.

Selfie time.

Selfie time.

Poetry Editor, Jessica Modi with Former Poetry Editors, Chase Berggrun and Linda H. Dolan. 

Poetry Editor, Jessica Modi with Former Poetry Editors, Chase Berggrun and Linda H. Dolan. 

Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate with us and thanks to our readers, Matthew Baker, Emily Brandt, and Jay Desphande. 

Issue 38 Launch Party by Washington Square

Please join us this Friday for a celebration of our latest issue, featuring readings by Matthew Baker, Emily Brandt, and Jay Deshpande. There will be beer, wine, hors d'oeuvres, and, of course, copies of #38 for sale.  

Matthew Baker is the author of If You Find This. He lives in Michigan, where he was born. Read his story "Meanwhile" over here.

Emily Brandt is the author of three poetry chapbooks, a cofounding editor of No, Dear, and a web editor for VIDA. Check out her poem "Taking Up Space."

Jay Deshpande is the author of Love the Stranger (2015) and teaches at Columbia University. He has three poems in Issue 38.

RSVP here!