Getting to know margot douaihy and her new book Girls Like You
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I wrote my first poem in the fourth grade. We studied haiku and tanka, and, like decrypting a code, I was captivated by the puzzle of the poetry mind. I’ve been reading and crafting creatively ever since. I received my BA from the University of Pittsburgh, and now I’m pursuing a PhD with Lancaster University. Writing poetry offers me the space for deep reflection and meditation, as well as problem solving.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I write at my standing desk. Writing while standing imbues my body and mind with a specific alertness. My favorite time to write is in the early mornings with every electronic device switched off. I also thrive in creative isolation. I’ve been fortunate to do writing retreats in rural Montana, Martha’s Vineyard, Pennsylvania farmland, and the windswept mountains of Andalucia.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Anything that arrests me is a potential start to a new poem. Poem origins are present everywhere and in everything—in images, sounds, concepts, or places. From the Scranton Lace Works factory to a rusty road sign to a complicated birdsong or absurdity of a reality show, if something arrests me, turns my focus toward it, I have the seed for a poem.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
I love the depth and bold storytelling of Jan Beatty and Marie Howe. I love the smart musicality and surprising structural choices of Paul Muldoon, Sylvia Plath, and Amy Lemmon. Claudia Rankine’s work satisfies my hunger for deeply intelligent yet agile and resonant writing. Anne Carson’s experimentation with form and content inspire me to innovate and make surprising synthesis. I admire the quiet meditative magic of Jane Hirshfield and Joy Ladin. Etheridge Knight’s raw yearnings and candid expressions keep me up at night. I crave poetry that transcends the page, takes risks, tells stories, and examines the DNA of moments, but, as Mary Oliver suggests, stays “obedient to a mystery.” I love poetry that both grounds me and induces vertigo.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
In my new collection, Girls Like You (Clemson University Press, 2015), I explore the contradictions of language—its severity and finitude, as well as its malleability. The narrative arc of Girls Like You tracks a speaker navigating fast-moving terrain—from toxic, internalized homophobia to legal gay marriage—and the friction, cleaving, and contours of consciousness. Informed by phenomenology, this book examines the structure of experience of “how to be gay” and authenticity as social mores change rapidly. The title, Girls Like You, is double-entendre that can be read two ways—“like” can be a verb or a preposition depending on how you read it. “Like” is also a word that is losing its meaning as it becomes a symbol (on Facebook, Instagram, etc), threaded into mainstream speech, and proxy for nervous filler. The title initiates readers into a world where everything has the potential for double meaning, where the background becomes foreground, and there are myriad ways of seeing, hearing, and interpreting a shared experience.
Read a sample poem from Girls Like You and listen to some audio recordings here:
My days are all water, not that 70%-of-the-body lie. Water is the tonic in every atom of sky & earth. The sun? It’s actually water: orange floating in a vast black sea, charging the dark like electric eels tied at the tails. We’re born liquid—drooling & pooling, dimpled elbows & knees—water sliding us from one world to the next. In the morning I am an envelope licked & sealed shut until I pour water down my throat with my eyes closed. Like bone, water has memory, remembering what dissolved in it, though I will never recall in what lakes I’ve hid my reflection, or what tears have carved my face. Ocean keeps no record of where we sail, but it sank Atlas in one wet second. Water shocks: an ice-bath keeps greens green after steaming, holds hues in. At night, we swallow each other like water—two streams sweat into one. In the same hour, nameless men are water-boarding someone in a nameless building on a nameless street. Hear that? She’s in the bar bathroom splashing cold water on her face to sober up before driving home. The bartender is as uninterested as fog. Water gives, water takes. Frost likes to bite. Ice is quite delighted to burn & dismember. Water hides, water saves. Water loves to tell stories, even in death—like Ötzi the Iceman who emerged as 6,000-year-old snow melted in his narrow valley. Ice peeled back revealing his murder, his crawl to the gnarled tree, his coat of woven bark. Ötzi’s shoes of sewn grass & many animal skins let him cross ice & snow, a slow-motion loner. How holy must one be to walk on water? How lonely & free? Maybe God is water; the same water that breathed eons ago lives still—in this glass held by these fingers. In the shower I remembered one line from my dream poem—one single, perfect line. As each drop of water opened each cell like an egg, the line was clear. The moment the water stopped, I forgot.