10+ QuEsTiOnS! with HEATHER HUGHES
by Laurin Macios | June 2016
Heather Hughes was featured at Mass Poetry's very first U35 reading in May 2014. // 10+ Questions! is a new series in which we catch up with poets who have been featured in our programming.
It's been two years. What's new in life?
Well! I completed a Master’s at Harvard Extension in foreign literature and my MFA at Lesley University. I share my living space with a polydactyl cat. Discovered and lost the most significant romantic relationship of my life, which is teaching me an incredible amount about how to exist in the world. Am learning letterpress printing. Quit teaching yoga. Made both my panelist & moderator debuts at the 2016 Mass Poetry Fest. Probably a bunch of other excitement that is escaping me. It’s been an adventuresome time!
What are you working on these days?
I’m currently juggling the writing & revising of two distinct poetry manuscripts while researching a third. Project 1 is affectionately nicknamed “ghostfish” and houses a lot of poems about bodies/culture/language (several that debuted at U35!). Project 2 recently manifested and is a triptych that includes a sprawling and fragmented outer space lyric sequence, a fantasy cartography/bestiary sequence, and my first real narrative poems which can’t help but meander into a surrealist zone even though they are supposed to take place in the really-real world (an accurate description of my life in general). Project 3 will take I don’t even know how long to research; I have to learn a whole lot about nuclear waste disposal and how to construct a book-length poem sequence before that all takes off.
I’ve also been printing letterpress broadsides for the Cambridge Public Library and am beginning several long-term poetry printing projects, including a postcard series that I’m excited about.
And I have an abandoned translation project that I keep searching for time to get back to, and a chapbook that I’m sending out, and, and…
Is your poetry different now than it was then, and if so, in what ways?
I’ve certainly branched out and, I hope, gotten a bit braver, more committed, and confident. Where I had been reluctant to get too weird, too sci-fi, or too nerdy on the page, I’m less afraid, though I still have a long way to go in developing emotional clarity. During my MFA I worked with Cate Marvin (if you haven’t read her latest, Oracle, get your hands on it immediately), and there was a massive shift in my poetry-guts that happened with her. I had amazing semesters with Erin Belieu and Teresa Cader as well, but Cate pushed me toward a visceral relationship with my poems at a time when I was both prepared for and desperate to start that raw, unending journey.
Who/what are you reading lately?
My current reads are: Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies, Sarah Howe’s Loop of Jade, Natalie Eilbert’s Swan Feast, a bunch of Samuel R. Delany’s essays, and Stefan Ekman’s non-fiction study Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings. I’m also rereading and vivisecting Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire.
Any major publications, readings, etc. we should know about?
I'll be among the performers in Salem for Feminist Art Wednesdays at Koto on June 15th at 7pm, and I’ll be reading with Lori Desrosiers on June 28th at 7pm at Červená Barva Press at the Somerville Armory, 191 Highland Street. Poems are forthcoming in Vinyl and Gulf Coast, among others. And a poem accompanied by audio and a guest essay will be published any minute at Split Rock Review. My website, birdmaddgirl.com, has all the latest, and will soon feature my letterpress work as well as publications & events.
And in the style of early 2000s email surveys...
What’s your favorite animal & why?
Corvids – they’re smart and adaptable and have excellent collective nouns.
Beach or mountain?
What’s the last song you listened to?
Kristin Hersh’s “Me and My Charms (Strings Version)”
What are your current top 5 favorite books of any genre?
Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec
Sylvia Plath’s Ariel
Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
Beowulf (in multiple translations)
Are you a good dancer?
Let’s say, enthusiastic. You can find me at the club.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
What do you use more often, the dictionary or thesaurus?
Thesaurus, but it’s a photo finish with the OED
What’s your favorite flower?
You’re stranded on a desert island but luckily you have these three things with you…
Infinite writing materials, the boonest companion, and magic avocado trees
A NEW POEM:
If dry season, then wet season.
The land a shallow dish interrupted
by sinkholes. I got here blindfolded.
Anhingas, identified by their hanging
angular wings, profess: I love you thiiiiis much.
Long charred pine trunks scrape up. Chasm:
synonym for womb. Humid: synonym for too full.
What am I asking for, here in the marl, the short-flooded mud?
Hush, precious ghost. Grant me a rare bird omen,
spoonbill or snail kite. Grackles descend.
The too many meanings of discharge.
Dry, then wet, then wetter.
Saw palms silver the path. I am
porous, interrupted with growth.
I am fraught. No, I am fertile. Hotter with my eyes closed.
About This Poem
“Refused” originally appeared, in a much different version, in Portland Review in 2013. It was important for me to have this poem published, that vote of confidence allowed me to keep thinking deeply about how I connect body and landscape. It’s a poem that’s had a long path, and I’m not entirely sure whether it’s settled down or is just hitting a rest stop. The original drafts date from around 2003. Between fall 2015 and now, I dismantled and expanded it. And I would be remiss if I did not thank Michael Mercurio and Sumita Chakraborty for supporting that process.