National Poetry Month Spotlight: Laura McCullough

Tropical Reefs
The bodies of the dead accrue to the cities’
formation, millions over millennia;
every hour, every day, some coral polyps
perish and others are born,
those two old stories,
one way in, one way out,
the sea the same, essentially,
and our souls soldered by what?
Culture reefs, absorbing, releasing, the oil
of our media noise, not joyful, but needy
in loud suffering, a line between desire and greed,
the wide maw of our endless need like a sea
canyon deeper than we can go,
and down there, that leak, all that oil bleeding out,
an unstoppable mess, some of us making so much money,
we can barely suck in air for the stench of it,
and what we can’t catch,
the breathing reef, going black and stony,
like bones, like the absence of desire,
and maybe that is what we want,
to stop the cycle, get off, and go home.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: I breathe. I write. I breathe. Writing is a kind of thinking rather than an act. It feels qualitatively different than my normal, unfocused mental activity. Writing, whether I am recording it in some fashion or not, is a kind of composing. Composing is about creating form, making a container to hold things, finding order, establishing sense. In this sense, I am always writing now. What that looks like from the outside is hard to say. It may mean I am interfacing with technology–iphone, ipad, laptop, etc.–or it may mean my eyes are closed, arm over brow, and everything is happening internally. On a practical basis, everyday, I do something–usually many things–related to my writing life. I do not take off from this work as it is the work of my life, and my life is this work: reading, writing, editing, processing, engaging, responding, drafting, discovering, quarreling, querying, wondering, constructing, re-visioning; it’s all part of the same thing. I breathe. I write. This is how I am.
Q:  Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: I really like the work I’ve seen by Roger Reeves; it’s very smart and restrained. Jaamal May’s work is unabashed in its willingness to confront human stakes. Emilia Phillips out of VCU is kicking up a storm with her poems; she’s fierce. Tarfia Faizullah, also out of VCU’s program, has really beautiful poems circulating. And I met a young guy, Fritz Ward, from Philly while I was at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference last summer. His poems ride the divide between different aesthetic camps with great verve and alacrity. He kicked my butt.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: I don’t have the means or the time to travel for pleasure, so it has to be writing or teaching related. If that were not the case? And I learned early in my life that I am not a tourist. The conditions of a place effect me spiritually, so social injustice and wealth disparity makes me unable to consider travel for fun. But two places I would like to write in: Ireland and Taiwan.
Black Lawrence Press published Laura McCullough’s book of poems, Speech Acts, and will publish her next one, Rigger Death & Hoist Another in February 2013. Her other books include Panic and What Men Want, and she is editor of the anthologies An Integrity of Aloneness: Essays on the poet, Stephen Dunn, forthcoming from Syracuse University Press, and On Poetry & Race: The Task of Un/Masking, in process.