Welcome, Lisa Dordal!

This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us since last summer—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.
Today we bring you Lisa Dordal, whose poetry collection Mosaic of the Dark will be available in the winter of 2017/2018.

The AuthorLISA_DORDAL_Author Photo

Lisa Dordal holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Fine Arts (in poetry), both from Vanderbilt University, and she currently teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Robert Watson Literary Prize. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, including Best New Poets 2015, Cave Wall, CALYX, Vinyl Poetry, The Greensboro Review, Nimrod, Sojourners, and The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.

The Book

Study_DordalWhere did you write the book?
I wrote this book over the course of many years – the earliest poem in 2005, the most recent poem in 2016 – and I wrote the vast majority of the poems at home. Up until two years ago, my partner and I lived in a very small house (less than 800 square feet) and there was only room for one desk in our study. For a long time she and I would have to take turns using the computer. But two years ago we moved into a bigger house and now we each have our own desk and our own study. My study is small (it’s actually a converted walk-in closet) but it has a window with a gorgeous view of the woods and a door that I can close when I need to.
What is your favorite memory from working on this manuscript?
If I have to pick one favorite memory I would say it’s the experience I had working on the poem “What Eye Is This.” The inspiration for the first part of this poem came from a dream I kept having about a flock of birds. After the 3rd night, I decided I’d better look up the word flock because I was starting to think that maybe I was getting some sort of message from the universe! And I was surprised to learn not only how many different ways there are to refer to a flock of birds but also by the fact that so many of these words have rich theological resonance. I wrote what would become the first part of the poem that same day. Then, a couple days later, I started to have this nagging concern that I was making too much of an objective claim about the divine, about God with a capital G. I started thinking, wait a minute, how can I (or anyone else) say anything definitive about the divine? But I really liked the poem and I didn’t want to completely scrap it. So I wrote another version of the poem with a more subjective – small g – claim. At first I thought I would just use this second version but, in the end, I decided to incorporate both versions into one poem as a way of claiming both the desire for God (with a capital G) and the subjective reality of god with a small g.
How did you know that the book was done and ready to send out?
Several years ago, I went to an AWP panel about how to get a poetry book published and someone on the panel said that every single poem in the manuscript needs to be strong – you can’t just bury the weaker poems at the end of the manuscript. That bit of advice really stuck with me because, at the time, I had already begun to send out earlier incarnations of my manuscript and I had been doing just what the panelist had advised against – burying my weaker poems at the end of the manuscript! This didn’t stop me from continuing to send out my manuscript, though, and every so often I would find out I was a finalist or semi-finalist in a contest or I’d get a very positive note back during an open submission period. So, I knew I was basically on the right track and just needed to keep fine-tuning my manuscript. The final test for me was looking through the table of contents in my manuscript and asking myself if there were any poems that I wouldn’t be excited to present at a poetry reading – only when I could say Yes to every poem, did I know my manuscript was finally where I wanted it to be.
What’s on your reading list for this summer?
Lots of poetry – Ada Limón, Nin Andrews, Ocean Vuong, Denise Duhamel, Patrick Rosal, Danez Smith, to name a few. And BLP poet Cynthia Manick when her book arrives! Also some fun non-fiction books. One thing I love about being a poet is that it allows me to follow and immerse myself in all sorts of different research interests – from the cultural history of rain to the burial practices of Anglo-Saxon Kings. And the more I immerse myself in my own exploration of the world, the more connected I feel to something larger than myself; something that transcends my own life. So, in addition to reading lots of poetry I’m also reading Bog Bodies Uncovered, London Fog, The History of God, and 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. And, last but not least, a work of fiction: Jazz by Toni Morrison.


Pretty Moon
Pretty moon, everyone said.
Before the noise, before
the fire. Two cars
and the cornfields idle
on either side. Like the eggs
of monkfish, emerging
a million at a time, knitted
into a gauzy shroud,
forty feet long, buoyant,
built for dispersal – the veil
between us and them,
thin. My cousin,
beautiful at sixteen,
dead at seventeen.
Pretty, pretty moon.
And me, at five, mouth open
not to a scream or even
to a word. Just taking in air,
quietly as a spider
entering a room.
– Published in Rove Poetry, 2015 and Best New Poets, 2015
On the night of December 16th, 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student boarded a bus in New Delhi to return home after watching the film Life of Pi.
The hyena kills the zebra,
then the orangutan.
The tiger kills the hyena.
And the boy survives.
Pi is an irrational number.
And a woman boards a bus.
If horses could draw,
they would draw one god
in the shape of a horse.
Oxen would draw many,
each with a body like their own.
And the bus is not really a bus.
The relationship
between the width of a circle
and its circumference
continues infinitely without
repeating. And Pi is a boy
who just wants to love
God. If dark matter could draw,
it would not draw itself.
The human intestine
is approximately five feet long.
Only five percent of hers
would remain. They would be called:
joyriders. The instrument used was
metal. The instrument used
was flesh. And the woman,
it was said, died peacefully.
– Published in CALYX, Volume 28, Issue 3, 2015
You Ask How
You ask how and I tell you about the fire,
that day every soft spot lit up
in the deep under-skin of my interior.
My look too long into the eyes I’d loved
since 7th grade. Lips, pinked
and glossed, legs urgently shaved –
the rapidly emerging sex
of our bodies, meant only for boys,
later men. You ask how
and I say: cup tipped on its side,
empty of itself; angel hovering
above her own numb flesh;
walking, until I couldn’t tell waking
from sleep. You ask how and I tell you
about the centipedes I had seen
in the night. Reality pressing through
my dream eyes. How I awoke
to find them alive – antennae to tail –
along the white crown molding
of my bedroom. You ask how
and I say: small word forming
in my mouth, in my body,
rising through limb and gut.
The man, the dream. How many times
had I seen this already? The man
to whom I am saying: no.
By morning, only the sticky remains
of a spider’s home, sufficiently
abandoned. You ask how and I say:
cavern and ceiling and mind that is
home now to shaman and mystic –
where air flows into aperture,
and out of the darkness emerges
your own wild face.
– Published in Nimrod International Journal: Mirrors and Prisms, Spring/Summer 2016