getting to (re-)know laurin macios and her new book, i almost was animal
For those who don’t know, tell us about your history with Mass Poetry. What have you been up to since your time as our Executive Director?
I started working with Mass Poetry in February 2013 as the temporary Coordinator of Outreach, Development, and Volunteers for the 2013 festival and Student Day of Poetry. A few months later, the position of Program Director opened up and I was thrilled to be able to take it. It was a dream job for me--I loved every minute of it. I was in that role until I moved to NYC at the end of 2015, and then I worked at the Poetry Society of America for a year and a half before rejoining Mass Poetry as the organization’s first full-time Executive Director.
Since leaving my role as Mass Poetry’s ED I’ve had my son, Theodore, who is now one! I’ve had two books accepted for publication (both the chapbook featured here and the forthcoming full-length manuscript Somewhere to Go), and spent some quality time with my own writing. I began to do freelance arts administration and helped to produce Poets House’s 2019 Poetry Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m also serving as the Email Marketing Manager for The Adroit Journal.
Tell us about your new collection: What's the significance of the title? Are there overarching themes? What was the process of assembling it?
The title I Almost Was Animal comes from a poem in the manuscript called “When Jade Says Write About the Monsters,” which I actually wrote from a prompt the lovely Jade Sylvan gave to a 6th grade class during a Mass Poetry In-School Student Day of Poetry. (The prompt was “Write about the monsters under your bed.” One of the perks of being Mass Poetry’s Program Director was sitting in on workshops from time to time!) I chose the line as the title of the manuscript because it speaks to what might be the overarching theme of the collection, if there is one, which is the unseen parts of our lives, the things we are/have been through/think about/feel haunted by that no one would ever venture to guess, that live beneath the surface yet determine so much of our lives. As well, the fact that we all are actually animals--but almost as if by chance (if you ask me), we are these particular animals instead of others, and our lives are wholly different for it. Something like that, anyway!
What do you remember most about the poetry community in Massachusetts?
I think I was in a unique position in that a big part of my job was engaging different poetry communities within the state. So what I remember most is how varied, expansive, and rich poetry is in Massachusetts, and how passionate those communities are about the written and spoken word. Despite the state’s many universities, I also fondly remember that poetry doesn’t live in the state’s ivory towers, and I love MA for that.
One of your poems references Aquinnah. Are there other Massachusetts connections in this book?
Yes, Massachusetts is all over this collection! Including “Edge,” which was inspired by the Aquinnah landscape, several of these poems were written on Martha’s Vineyard when I was at the Noepe Center’s Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. I drafted many of them sitting in the garden of Behind the Bookstore cafe in Edgartown. The poem “Shell” was written in one of Fred Marchant’s Common Threads workshops. A lot of these poems also benefited from workshops at GrubStreet and from invaluable feedback at the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conferences.
You have another forthcoming book: Somewhere to Go, which won the 19th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Award (congrats!). What can you tell us about that collection? How is it similar and/or different to I Almost Was Animal?
Thank you! That collection builds on I Almost Was Animal, including these poems but also going deeper and taking a couple different turns, including into a long (well, long for me! Most of my poems are very short.) sequence of sorts that was born as a short poem during the Tupelo Press 30/30 Writing Challenge, grew into a longer poem in a GrubStreet workshop, and then found its current form after feedback from the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference. It’s had a really cool journey (Bachelor Nation, take a drink) and I’m excited for it to be part of that book, which will be out sometime late this year (I think!).
In addition to your own writing, you continue to work in the nonprofit world doing arts administration and marketing. How do you balance your personal creative projects with these other professional pursuits?
I am a very “all in” kind of person, in that I throw myself completely into whatever I choose to do, especially if I feel others are counting on me. While I was working full-time in arts administration, I tried to get up early to scribble drafts in the mornings before my mind started racing with work, and then I pretty much scheduled one writing residency per summer so that I knew I had time set aside for myself where I could dive into all those drafts and shape them into poems. Then I’d revise and submit them on random mornings or weekends throughout the rest of the year. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something. Now I have a bit more of a balance. When I’m not working on a freelance project, my creative pursuits get to be priority #2 after my family. When I take on an arts admin project, writing gets the backseat for a bit, but the beauty of freelancing is that I can reshuffle as needed! At least that’s the goal. :)
What are you reading right now? Which poets are inspiring you?
Right now I’m reading a biography of Wallis Simpson (which for some reason I started when I was halfway through Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, so I have to pop back over to that soon!) and casually re-reading Rilke. I was reminded when going through notes related to Somewhere to Go that the title poem from that book (which is titled “When You Feel Longing” and is also in I Almost Was Animal) was sparked by the Duino Elegies, and I was surprised at that memory. It made me pluck Rilke off the shelf for the first time in about six years to sort of investigate my forgotten self (which is, in a way, what many of those poems are already doing). That aside, Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf has been really inspiring to me, and reading it lately has generated a lot of raw writing. I also find myself going back to Dean Rader’s latest book. Writers I turn to continually include Kevin Young (insert emoji praise hands here), old school Mary Oliver (same), Walt Whitman, Natasha Trethewey, the Coleman Barks Rumi translations, and, representing the prose corner, Louise Erdrich (praise hands once more) and Ann Patchett (we’re not worthy!).
Read sample poems from I Almost Was Animal
WHEN JADE SAYS WRITE ABOUT THE MONSTERS
Remember yourself spring. Recall yourself
summer. Forget fall, your favorite season
snaking you, as you suddenly find
it’s ended and left you empty. I almost
said barren. I almost was a man,
not this woman mistaken for a girl.
I almost was animal—a small one,
the frog blending into the leaf.
In the last clouded sky
you hold three tulips
with two fingers.
You say goodbye to the sun,
watch it creep below the water,
the hills, the big boxy railroad car
full of you-don’t-know-what.
Three deer dart past, almost at your feet,
and you yell at them to stop
but they are wild and run faster
because you are wild too—
just an animal standing upright,
holding what you’re too poised to eat.
Suddenly the tulips’ heads,
the bright red mouths, are gone.
The clouds are eating the stems.
Suddenly nothing is in your hand, cupped in the shape
of what it used to hold.