Melissa Broder is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Meat Heart. Poems appear in Guernica, The Missouri Review, Redivider, Court Green, et al. She edits La Petite Zine.
Melissa was interviewed by Kacee Belcher for Sliver of Stone Magazine.
Kacee Belcher: I’m so grateful that you agreed to do this interview. From what I’ve read, you’re basically the not-so-new millennium’s version of Wonder Woman. You’ve put out two full length collections of poetry, When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother and Meat Heart, are a publicity manager for Penguin, co-edit La Petite Zine with D. W. Lichtenberg, are pursuing an MFA at City College, and have contributed to more literary journals than I can count. Melissa, what don’t you do?
Melissa Broder: One thing I don’t do is ever feel like enough.
KB: Is there a character, superhero, or mega-villain you would choose that you feel more aligned with other than Wonder Woman? Please, don’t be modest.
MB: I’ve always wanted to be my antithesis: a skater boy. As for my real archetype, that is still evolving. Maybe I will know at the end. I might be a cowgirl, might be a crone.
KB: In multiple interviews you’ve addressed writing-while-in-transit. I love to hear that you write while walking and on the subway. Every time I read about your process—even though we don’t have Subways in Miami—writing-while-in-transit is something that feels familiar. What I’m curious about is what happens creatively if and/or when you sit still?
MB: Well, I have a meditation practice. I try to sit for at least ten minutes every morning. The type of meditation varies depending on where I am that day. Sometimes I do a loving kindness meditation where I say “may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, may you live in peace and ease, may you have a compassionate heart” toward various people: loved ones, strangers, humans I am struggling with. Or I’ll do a guided meditation with a podcast. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I just breathe.
In terms of creativity, and this may sound esoteric or appropriate-y or woo woo, but one thing I do if I feel creatively blocked is say a mantra to the goddess Saraswati who is the Hindu goddess of music and arts. I say “om aing saraswati-ey namahah” (that’s phonetic) over and over or I’ll sing it in my head to the tune of a rock song. I’ve had very good results with that one. “Aing” or “aim” are the seed sounds for this particular goddess and are said to stimulate wisdom, musicality, creativity. It might be spiritual magic—or it might just be that the mantra is complicated enough to distract my linear mind from itself so that the subconscious can take over. Either way it works for me.
KB: In Baudelaire’s poem, “Get Drunk!” he challenges his readers to not only get, but remain intoxicated “with wine, with poetry, or with virtue: whatever you prefer.” Other than writing, what do you find intoxicating? What, in your words, “finger bangs” you to the very core? Feel free to take this question in any direction you wish, from filet mignon—rare, to medium rare, of course—to a specific cathedral, subway, or act of human kindness. Anything goes.
MB: I love highs. Love them. I want to live there. Relieve me of myself and stuff my holes, please. But because I want every high to be permanent I’ve had to let go of so many things that take me there: booze and drugs specifically (I’ve been sober for 7.5 years). I can bottom out on anything though, even people or the internet. Recently I’ve taken up horseback riding again—something I both loved and feared as a child. Riding horses every weekend feels like a true return to essence. The smell of that barn, the adrenaline rush, the balance between control and no-control of a wild animal, the horses themselves, the humility in being a beginner again—it’s even better than the internet.
KB: In the poem, “Hey, Hey Paula” from When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother, I’m drawn to the stanza:
Buddhas and junkies want more
out of life than life
has to offer. Buddha
wants to want nothing.
Often, I find so much power packed into such a calm, quiet, petit space that I have to go back and read your poems over and over. In this poem the juxtaposition of Buddha and junkie at first seems so far out there, but as we read, it’s as if you’ve established a universal truth and by the end of the poem, it’s almost crazy not to think the two could go hand in hand. When writing, be it lyrical, narrative, or a weaving of both, how do you achieve such a quiet roar while simultaneously quieting the reader’s mind?
MB: Thank you. “Quiet roar” is a really nice thing to say. I’m not sure how I achieved that in this particular poem, except that I used syllabics (I think all of the lines have between 5 and 7 syllables) and the poem went through, like, 14 rewrites. As for the equation between buddhas and junkies, it seems pretty obvious to me. I’ve heard it said that addicts are on “a low-grade search for god” and I have found that to be true of my own experience. It’s just so much easier to reach for something fast and material than to sit under a tree waiting. I still don’t really trust that the world is enough for me.
KB: When I had the opportunity to hear you read last April, I asked about your endings. I’m still intrigued by the way many of your poems seem to have either an abrupt or an open ending that is insanely satisfying. For example, in the poem, “Mr. Bubble” from your second collection Meat Heart, every couplet feels concrete until the last one that reads, “In the air among the insects, our first bodies/and everything we don’t know about physics.” Compared to the earlier sections, this couplet feels as if the speaker has moved us from the physicality of the real world into the ether of uncertainty. Would you mind discussing your approach to ending a poem?
MB: Sure! I think it differs from poem to poem, but one thing I’d say is resist the temptation to wrap that poem up. Wrap-up endings are a trap. I think the best endings maybe launch you back out again or divert you or guide you back to the beginning of the poem to be like “woah what just happened?”
KB: On a completely different note, what are five things in your closet that you couldn’t bear to go without?
MB: Black moto jacket, black moto bag, black moto boots, black clog booties, a dress.
KB: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, I just have one final question. This may sound absurd, but are there any questions that interviewers don’t ask that you wish they did? If so, what are they and what would your answers be?
MB: I actually interviewed myself pretty recently. You can check that out here.
Read some of Melissa’s poems here.