1. The poems your chapbook, This Admirable Miry Clay published by Dancing Girl Press, can be haunting, much like the pair of eyes on the cover done in watercolor by Kitty Rababah. Can you tell me how you chose the art for the cover to draw the reader in and prepare him or her for the poems that follow?
Kitty Rababah is my fraternal grandmother (Nana), whom I’m very close to, and I always thought that if I was lucky enough to get a book published, I’d have her do my cover. She’s the hip, 70-year-old chick depicted in my poem “Age & Experience.” When I got word that Dancing Girl was going to publish the chapbook, I immediately asked her if she had anything she thought would work. She spent a few days painting things that she thought had a similar mood or tone to my poetry. I sent them along to Kristy Bowen and she chose one from those. I think it’s been good for Nana, as she’s been doing some abstract painting, a style she hadn’t tried much before, and is now teaching a painting class at her apartment complex.
2. Your poem, Shiver, depicts various eerie visuals and a feeling of uncertainty. How did this poem come about and what do you hope readers take away from it?
as birds are often crushed
so we swallow the
lemon, tomato, the orphan.
hard water pounding stainless steel.
Washington Monument strikes through a cloud.
My Indiana crumbles down.
the lightning flashes so silent;
that frozen moment where
Sudden meets Unknown;
where sprouted my own fear;
what crash, what jarring, what
piles left over.
sensation of emptiness.
I think the most successful part of this poem is, perhaps, the title, as that is what I hope the reader feels or grasps when experiencing this poem—an emotional equivalent to that little breeze that blows down one’s back and sends a chill to shake off.
3. In “Yellow Madness” I get the sense that this poem is about a family member who is dying or has died and how that is affecting the entire family? The end of the poem makes reference to the color yellow--am I right in assuming it is in reference to a diseased liver? I think it is interesting that you include a common turn-of-phrase in the poem with a slight change in its verb: “Death is warming over” Can you explain what you mean in the poem by “Death warming over” and the impetus of this poem?
Blanched grass is beaten down flat. I hose it
and hope to resurrect it, like the floor
that bubbled up when my father tried to
break a heavy dish against its
soft and waxy linoleum.
A welt grew in all of us, only temporary,
to be rubbed numb and mostly forgotten.
And there sprouted a pattern, a thing that
killed the good-enough of life itself with
its thick tumors visible.
Forget about seamlessness.
Anger cooks up and my mother sets it
at my father’s place. Steam gathers up
and drips back like stalagmites.
Death is warming over
in the bright eyes and fresh livers, in the
thirsty in the virtuous in the guilty.
The sick yellow thick of it is there, in the
jaundiced madness and the marigold.
In the amber-liquid nightmare.
The yellow glazing
over and waxing
hard silent cymbal goes crashing.
The idea for this poem came from the name of a breed of petunias (White Madness) that I bought one summer for my flower garden. The name intrigued me so much that I thought of a color that I could associate with a number of meaningful images, and the rest kind of happened. In the poem, I do name some experiences, which lead me into colors that could be associated with tragedy. While I write about this I hope that the line “Forget about seamlessness” stands out loud and clear. Life is messy. That’s the truth of it. I don’t expect seamlessness.
4. My favorite poem in your collection is titled “Age & Experience.” I get the sense that this is one lively grandmother that makes you feel dull in comparison. I love the lines “My body, a wilted flower, though well-preserved” as a description of yourself. Then later, the description of your grandmother: “100% silk. Expensively perfumed…Her blond curls/vivid, her clothes, a new and crisp complement.” Can you tell us a little bit about this poem and more about your grandmother—or the woman you’ve taken poetic license to label as your grandmother?
Note: Line 6 taken from Norman Dubie’s “Sky Harbor”
Age & Experience
My grandmother, a legend of her own,
flicks cigarettes into the grass. Practiced
with the parietal bone. Steps on them
with her kitten-heel sandal. Seduced
with their red lipstick rings.
I have been dead for hours.
My body, a wilted flower, though well-preserved,
like a florist’s bouquet, arranged in a
crystal vase of water mixed with powder.
But my grandmother excellest them all.
100% silk. Expensively perfumed.
Her pick of husbands before and after
marriage. Her habits of chain smoking and
false teeth are no deterrent. Her blond curls
vivid, her clothes, a new and crisp complement.
Her words well-practiced with age and experience:
I am not as alive.
Yes, my Nana, the same one who painted the cover, is one of those fun, spunky people who when you meet you never forget. I’ve gotten a lot of writing material out of her. She really radiates throughout the family, leaving her mark on her children and grandchildren in interesting ways. I’ve always been close to her and felt comfortable sharing things with her, and have really come to appreciate her all the more, now that I’m an adult and realize how lucky I am to still have a grandparent, let alone one like her. She’s very much a unique individual. She has the open-mindedness of Oprah Winfrey and the growing-old-gracefully of Madonna. She’s also been a real encourager and cheerleader for me in my creative endeavors. A few weeks ago she had me come over to her apartment to sign copies of my chap that she had sold to some of her friends.
5. Your most moving and visceral poem is “To Grief” to which you say in the poem you met through death. The last line which really begins on the second to last line: “Ready/ for you, having birthed you, raised you, killed you” is an amazing way to describe how so many of us have felt when facing an extraordinary loss in regards to grief. Can you talk about your experience being translated into this poem? May I ask who passed away and what made this person mean so much to you?
Grief you are some bizarre
new birth that I parent;
rinsing clean the muddy view,
dissecting the chosen few,
slitting the throats,
wounding, burning, devouring
the bodies of what I thought I knew.
The twinkling comes first:
silver-lined cloud nine;
how the smile gleams—
hacksaw tooth sharp serrated blade
trimming down the unmade
corners of my lips. It is this:
the graveyard full, the body gone. Death is how I met you.
Being with me, a thorn
in the side. Carry you,
carry me. Small strides
from darkness to dim light. Bloody rivulets
for such a cut, a cut no less,
babbles out enough remorse
to rust, to mourn, the torn repeating course.
Some beautiful, scary, spoon-fed
vessel leaks this teary seepage;
sliding and ebbing onto a
well-worn shore and the faces know
deep creases with well-made beds
flat mouths, stern stance, and steady. Ready
for you, having birthed you, raised you, killed you.
This poem was actually my first poem ever accepted for publication—from Main Street Rag—and I’m glad of that because it represents things in my life that sort of brought me to my knees, made me wake up out of my youthful stupor and make some real decisions. An old friend was killed in a hit-and-run accident, and the grief that haunted me afterward was incredibly unexpected, and extremely difficult for those around me to understand. It took me quite a bit of work to overcome, which ultimately resulted in my returning to writing poetry, and even getting a college degree, as well as some other interventions. Because this is one of my earlier poems, I think the heavy Plath influence is very apparent here. But I’m not ashamed of that one bit!
6. I notice in your collection a tendency towards certain words such as “shiver” and “bone.” What are your favorite words to see visually on the page and what are some of your favorite words to say? Feel free to give any explanations for any words that you choose.
Words are the things that draw me into writing, and the ability to be broken and fragmented with them is the reason I’m drawn into poetry. I like to look in certain crevices of the world for words—news articles, and other people’s poems are good resources—and I think discovering words out of context allow my mind to explore situations out of context, allowing for, hopefully, a fresh way to experience the world. I do keep a word document in my computer saved as “Brainstorm,” onto which I paste copied text from, mostly news articles. Here are a few samples I have currently in that document:
7. Which poem in this collection are your proudest of, and if it’s not already included, please include it here and explain the poem’s origins or why you are so proud of it?
I’m pretty proud of “Trust Me,” but I really think I lucked out with the way it came to me. It was published by Avatar Review, and they recorded my reading of it for the website. I think it echoes a rhythm of urgency that I feel necessary in terms of tone in my poetry, or at least in this collection of poetry. I very much feel like what’s inside of me is “pent-up heat” in the chambers of a gun, ready to be “unloaded.” And that unloading is the poem itself.
Trust me. There could have been a real explosion
with all of this flammable notion
in the air, and me unloading
my gun, with its pent-up heat in the chambers.
There could have been more billboards of those
wordless conversations—enough of them
towering into the ether.
Our skulls could have kept rattling around
shaking the insubordinate thoughts like
a maraca .
But trust me. We melted down the energies
of some of our dreams and poured them into
other things. We kept awake by slapping
our cheeks and feeling
the warm wind rush on the long haul home.
8. Do you have other hobbies and interests outside of poetry and do you mind sharing them? Do they influence your writing at all?
I teach 8th grade English in a very rural community and that has really softened me a little. I’m beginning to become more of a “people person” something quite far from the introverted poet cliché that I’ve always been. I’ve written a poem or two about a student, but more than anything being around adolescents who are very much in tune with trying to find their own identities at that strange point in life has sent me on many nostalgic, soul-searching adventures of my own.
9. Are you working on another collection of poems right now and can you tell us a little bit about them? Are there any future publications we can look forward to seeing and where can we find them?
I am not working on any collections. I’m just trying to crank out a new poem every now and then, fine-tune it, and then find a home for it. I have written a few poems dealing with various Indiana locations and have clustered them into a single file, sort of as an experiment to see if it will grow or not, but being a school teacher has really consumed me in the last twelve months. I wrote a little this summer, but mostly took one long deep breath. I’m OK with that. I think I’ve got a lot of growing to do, and am going to see how that turns out.
Mrs. Reed, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and for being an active member of Poet Hound since its inception. It’s been a pleasure commenting back and forth and I hope our tradition continues. Good luck on your future artistic works and keep us up-dated!
If you enjoyed this interview and the sample of poems featured here, you can purchase a copy of Talia Reed’s chapbook, This Admirable Miry Clay from Dancing Girl Press for $7.00, which includes shipping and handling, at:
Dancing Girl Press is headed by Kristy Bowen who publishes women’s poetry so please check out her main website at:
To learn more about Talia Reed or find more of her work, you can visit her blog at:
Thanks always for reading, please drop in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…