Collage, Hard-to-kill plants, Kissing: an interview with Anna Meister
If you're not familiar with Anna Meister's work, I bet you will be soon. Her poems are real and sad and never hopeless, always self-aware. They sometimes feel like collections of small beautiful things, and like the ordinary happiness of sour cream potato chips. You can read her poems all over the internet, including The Mackinac, Prelude, The Adroit Journal, Twelfth House, Third Point Press, Moonsick Magazine, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Barrelhouse, Flapperhouse, Word Riot, Print Oriented Bastards, and Maps For Teeth.
I spoke with Anna over email about her writing process, memory and truth-telling, the pleasure of naming things, and her forthcoming chapbook NOTHING GRANTED (Dancing Girl Press, 2016).
- Laura Creste
LC: What's your process like? I feel like you are such a prolific poet (you have new work coming out all the time!). How do poems happen for you? Do you have a lot of discipline in your routine, or is it more inspiration-based?
AM: i try to write something every day. often, notes on my phone (snippets of overheard speech, a single line, grocery lists) have to be enough. i like freewriting on the train & then not looking at what's been scribbled for a long, long time. a poem doesn't happen unless i carve out many hours to sit in bed & really get into it. that said, i rarely sit down thinking "i'm going to write a poem today about ____" & then do it. i usually start because of a buzzing in my head that goes "you need to write a poem right now in order to keep feeling somewhat human." listening to that voice feels like the only option.
LC: Cool. I'm curious to hear about the recurring interests or "themes" of your work. I can think of a few subjects that you mine, having been in class with you, but I'd love to hear how you articulate it: what are you obsessed with (in poetry and in life)?
AM: i love & am obsessed with: maps, crystals, windy spring days where blowing petals look like snowflakes, drake, chopping garlic, non-linear narratives, being the only car on the road, braised meats, coconut-flavored anything, hip-hop samples with horns, murmuration, butts, moss, girl power, staying inside, sweetened condensed milk, cliffs, gin, TV, sparkly shit, casseroles, sending/receiving mail, collage, hard-to-kill plants, kissing. i think it all comes into the poems.
i love & want to write poems you can taste & smell, that love to name & catalogue, poems that succeed in saying what seems unsayable, that are wildly specific, poems that are generous, that are aware of themselves as poems (sometimes), poems that are letters, poems that mimic how the mind behaves.
thematically, i keep returning to family, conceptions of home, sexuality, womanhood, trauma, mental health, childhood/adolescence, grief/death. starting from a place of memory, always.
LC: What is your relationship to joy?
AM: i am currently trying to investigate joy more in my work. i want to think there can be an ode for every elegy. it's much easier for me to write into darkness, but the good shit deserves just as much attention! managing my depression & staying afloat is a huge theme in my poems (& life), making it all the more important to document/honor the blissed out moments.
LC: Beautiful. What about memory? You mention the desire to name and catalog. (That's such a pleasure to read in your poems - I've told you this before, but I love it when you write about food. Describing taste is usually so joyful.) Do you have a good memory? Or think about how memory could be changed by the act of transcribing it, etc? Basically: how important is remembering in your work?
AM: i think remembering is everything in my work. i have a great memory, but it consumes me. sometimes i wish i remembered less. when i think of how memory is working in my poems, it feels related to trauma & witness & truth-telling. "truth" is a whole separate conversation, so I'll just say that making shit up is not a skill i have. Sharon [Olds]'s line "do what you are going to do, & I will tell about it" feels important & accurate to me.
LC: What would you consider an untruthful poem?
AM: a poem that pushes away its reader or one that's "too cool" or one that resists intimacy/vulnerability/discovery.
LC: I agree, that's a good definition. Can you tell me about your forthcoming chapbook?
AM: my chapbook NOTHING GRANTED will be out with dancing girl press in fall 2016. these are poems of desire, agency, possession, & belief/doubt. the project began last winter as a collaging of language from two of my biggest (& seemingly most disparate) obsessions at the time. it's been thrilling to weave them into single cogent speaker & find a voice that's very much my own from entirely borrowed language.
LC: Can you tell us where the borrowed language is from or are you keeping that to yourself for now?
AM: hmm. i've been questioning how (much) to talk about the source texts -it's interesting, but not at all necessary to know in order to take in the poems. for now, i'll remain somewhat mysterious & just say: hip hop & experimental religious poetry (but a couple gin drinks would lead to me sharing all).
LC: I'll buy you a g&t after Sharon's class, and you can tell me then.
Anna Meister is an MFA candidate in Poetry at New York University, where she serves as a Goldwater Writing Fellow. A Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net nominee, her poems are forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Barrow Street, Powder Keg, Gabby, & elsewhere. Her chapbook NOTHING GRANTED will be published by dancing girl press in fall 2016. Anna lives & works in Brooklyn.