Getting to know kathy nilsson and her new book The Infant Scholar
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
In 1991 I walked cold turkey into Lucie Brock-Broido’s workshop like a monkey preparing for an early space flight to the moon. I’ve been on the moon ever since. She spoke in tongues and I did everything she said –– even when I didn’t –– or tried to even when I couldn’t.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Mornings on Monhegan Island are perfect two weeks out of the year –– the rest I have to settle for mornings at home in Cambridge.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
They come out of gleanings and trash and gold from reading, going to movies and exhibits. Films by the Quay brothers, Tarkovsky, Kenneth Anger,
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Celan’s Last Poems I wish would influence me –– Thomas Transtromer, Lucie Brock-Broido, Sylvia Plath, Louise Gluck, Franz Wright.
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?
’m drawn to scholarly minds that fasten to knowledge early, which inspired the title. My worries for the future of people and animals and weather are some themes. It took twenty years learning to write a poem and then put them together in a manuscript to send out and then shape it into a book.
A sample poem from The Infant Scholar:
I’m having trouble looking animals in the eye.
Their empty suits in outer space!
Monkeys injected with a virus to show off
Our eminent domain, the nervous system.
Teacup pigs we breed and obsessive mice
Worrying themselves bald in a miniature opera.
For pleasures of the tongue we are
Winking cattle out of meadows
Slashing their throats and swiftly quartering them.
In riding habits with gold flame pins we ride horses
To hounds, chase a fennec fox until his red
Coat flares up against the extinction
Of light. Once in a circus we made
An elephant disappear and he did not mind.
Originally published in POETRY magazine.