10+ QUESTIONS WITH ALYssA MAZZARELLA

by Laurin Macios | November 2016

Alyssa Mazzarella was featured at Mass Poetry's U35 reading in January 2015. // 10+ Questions! is a series in which we catch up with poets who have been featured in our programming.

It's been a while! What's new in life?
Since I read for U35 in January 2015, I completed my MFA in Creative Writing and have tutored and taught at UMass Boston. I’ve also spent a lot of time playing zombie tag and reading stories with my boyfriend’s two wonderful kids. While working as an adjunct instructor and being a caring “grownup” friend sometimes leaves little energy for writing, I’m lucky to work in a department filled with poets, who get together regularly to write. They keep me honest. A good poet friend also recently invited me to join a queer/feminist book club, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.

What are you working on these days?
After I finished my MFA thesis, I was pretty burnt out. So, for the past two years, I free-wrote in notebooks without giving the content a second look. This summer, I finally felt ready to sift through that material to see what I’ve got. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to pull some compelling poems out of the gobbledygook—everything from a persona piece about online dating to the found-language poem (which I’ve included below). While I have future “projects” in mind, at the moment, I’m digging just seeing where the creative tide takes me.

Is your poetry different now than it was then, and if so, in what ways?
A lot of the poetry I read for U35, which was from my MFA thesis, addressed the trauma unmarried moms faced in the 1950s due to forced adoption practices. Some were persona pieces. Others were very formal—sonnets and villanelles. In contrast, the poems I’ve drafted this summer are free verse and autobiographical. That’s pretty new for me.

Who/what are you reading lately?
I’m currently reading The Liars Club by Mary Karr and Digest by Gregory Pardlo. I also read The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson and Sula by Toni Morrison not too long ago, both of which made me go, yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees!

Any major publications, readings, etc. we should know about?
In March, I served as a “vector guest” for Broadsided Press, which was a blast. My poem “Birth” was published in a gorgeous issue of The Briar Cliff Review in May. In July, I participated in the annual Boston Poetry Marathon, which is always invigorating. Nothing “major” is lined up for the future, but I hope to publish a few more poems in journals that I admire and eventually pull a chapbook manuscript together using my MFA thesis and the new poems I’m writing. We’ll see!

AND IN THE STYLE OF EARLY 2000S EMAIL SURVEYS…

Rain or sun?
Sun. In the grass, through the bedroom window, from the car sunroof, on the bar patio… I’m a damn cat. I just want to close my eyes and purr in it.

Beach or mountain?
Mountain. I love downhill skiing, hiking, and simply being in the woods.

Are you a good dancer?
I’m not above doing the sprinkler and I can skank in a concert crowd. “Good” seems completely beside the point.

What’s a habit you’re proud of breaking?
Needing to make my bed every day and wash each dish in the sink within an hour of dirtying it. Seriously, whatever inching toward Type B I can make is probably going to extend my life expectancy.

What’s a word you hate?
“Synergy.” I don’t ever want to work somewhere that word would be spoken earnestly in a staff meeting.

Pancakes or eggs?
Both. This is why god invented the “truck stop” breakfast. So we don’t have to choose.

Is there a poetic form you feel strongly about? Love, hate?
I love villanelles. They’re the perfect form for longing, grief, anxiety, obsession, sarcasm—the best stuff of humanness. And it’s very satisfying as a writer when you’re able to pull off a narrative—move the villanelle forward while also having it loop back on itself through refrain. SO GOOD.


a new poem

“A Terrible Tragedy”
The Boston Globe • 2/11/2015

This winter, the sky glows blue even at night, the snow:
teeth bared at culpable clouds. Six-foot icicles
wrap the second-floor apartment, glitter
not far from where Kenny Lamour was shot
yesterday—the young man shoveling for residents,
struggling to make changes, exasperated
by mound after mound of hardening granules.

We are trying to piece together why this all took place
in this location
, said Police Commissioner Evans. I feel bad
for the neighbors here. Two or three gunshots around 10:30am,
then a man on the sidewalk…on Centre Street
. Beyond
shocking, said Councilor O’Malley. Jamaica Plain,
broad daylight. Kenny, 21, one of the Roca work crew,
targeted far from Chelsea. Oaks in the Arnold Arboretum
rubbernecking in the distance. The banks labyrinthian.

Pocks of blood dot the frosted sidewalk.
I trail my fingers along police tape at the parking lot.
A local resident defends the word “thug.”

I shovel, think of the men who wrote poems
circled silently at table-winged chairs,
shoddy oak creaking beneath restless
pens, their leans as we passed a paper to play
exquisite corpse in the prison.

Where is it? That exquisite corpse, the one someone
just burned up their life for, the one left to drift
like a flurry to collect in a heap of so many. Thank God

the officer wasn’t hurt, said the Commissioner. Great restraint…
in the face of a deadly threat.
I eye the icicles
that might stake my heart down. Stay here,
not some migrant bird. Stay, adapt, evolve:
bigger, feathered for warmth. Bills, brows, and reptile feet
armored, cold resistant. Like Lamour’s mother
saying, I feel safe. God will take care of it.

About the Poem

I’ve been working on revising this narrative poem, which attempts to honor Kenny Lamour, who was shot in a neighborhood that I lived in. I was struck by the attention lawmakers, residents, and the media paid to the circumstances and police response rather than the loss of Kenny, who was serving our community at the time of his death, or the loss of the young perpetrator, who is most likely in prison now.