Well, it happened again. I was minding my own business when these fantastic poems just appeared on my computer screen, temporarily unhinged my jaw, and caused my eyes to bug out. This time, the culprit was Michelle Reed, a poet whose work balances grit and tenderness and probably could, if called upon, single-handedly redeem narrative poetry for generations to come. Do I sound excited? Well, you will be, too, after you read these poems. Michelle’s poems stitch together the strands of human existence—anger, grief, tenderness, even humor—so tightly that you almost feel like you could wear them, but with enough breath to let the sunlight through.
Michelle, thanks so much for joining us! I thought I’d start off by asking about Pink Slayer, your online magazine. What can you tell us about it?
At this point, Pink Slayer is a bit of a failed experiment on my part. I really, really love analyzing pop culture (especially TV!), and I had a pipe dream of spearheading my own feminist pop-culture magazine, but real life got in the way. I started a full-time job not long after I started Pink Slayer, and I’ve had to be selective with my time ever since. When it came down to working on the magazine vs. working on poems, the poems won. They usually do. So the magazine is dead for now, but I would love to return to it someday when I either have more time or become better at managing it.
I’ve seen a couple of your Catcall poems elsewhere (in Watershed Review and Bodega Magazine) and I love their smoldering balance of energy and craft. At the risk of asking such an obvious question, what was the inspiration behind this series?
Most of my poems come from my attempts to make sense of my experiences, but I think each Catcall poem is more of a callback than a meditation. Being catcalled is such an absurd, upsetting thing; I don’t think I will ever be able to write a poem that helps me make sense of some dude yelling wanna fuck as I walk by him. But I can take my agency back by telling these stories in my own voice. These poems are my way of taking control (retroactively) of situations that leave me feeling powerless.
Do you have a certain approach when addressing political topics in poetry, and how does that approach differ from poems like For Ruby, if at all?
I’m a bit of an obsessive writer. I can revise one poem for a very long time, and I often make several different versions of it, changing the breaks and phrasing until it feels just right. This is not always the case with my more political poems—for whatever reason, they tend to pour out of me a little more easily. Maybe because they come from an angrier place. For Ruby, on the other hand, came from sad, nostalgic contemplation, and took many forms before I settled on the one it’s in now. It actually started out as an essay, believe it or not.
I appreciate the attention you pay to form! I wonder sometimes if that’s getting to be a lost art. What’s your aesthetic when it comes to breaking lines?
As I mentioned above, I am a little obsessive. I usually try breaking lines in many different ways before I make a choice, and I save each draft of the poem, returning to them and comparing old and new versions. It’s very much about music for me. I read poems out loud to myself as I write them, and I try to find a rhythm that suits the tone of each one.
Any new projects in the works?
I’m in the process of sending out my first manuscript, so I don’t have any fully formed ideas about what I’m doing next just yet. I read a lot of nonfiction, and I really admire the craft of essay-writing, so I’m trying my hand at that right now. Unfortunately, my essays usually turn into poetry. Maybe my next project should be a collection of failed poem-essays? We’ll see.
On a totally random end note, what’s your favorite non-Earth planet in the solar system, and why?
I’ve always had a thing for Mars. Probably due to reading too much Ray Bradbury (if there is such a thing) as a kid. I also love Jupiter. That storm!