What Happens is Neither
Four Way Books Feb 15, 2021
As a poet of memory, you are a miner of the past and, in this book, your family’s past. What did you learn about yourself, as a daughter and as a poet, while writing these poems?
Writing about the past can be daunting. There’s always the fear that in writing as a stay from oblivion we find ourselves ill-equipped to locate all that we wish to keep in language. In writing these poems I learned to trust in memory—its infallibility as well as its faithfulness to what really matters. Like memory, language will fail us eventually, but the act of writing is essentially an act of hope, of trust—that what we write will honor the emotional, if not the historical truths, of our past.
I’m always curious about the changes that go into a chapbook becoming a full-length, because they do stand as two separate books. There is a contrast between the order in which certain poems appear in To the Bone and how they appear here. The focus is so closely drawn to the portraits of family and to loss, whereas the breadth of the latter collection comes from its movement, from time elapsing and growing. I see this in the placement of poems like “Stone Fruit” and “Pearl Diving,” which formerly came at the end but are now in the beginning, as if the point of conclusion has become a new place to begin. What was the objective in sequencing this collection?
To the Bone focused mainly on my mother’s Alzheimer’s journey, poems I started writing from her diagnosis up to just before her demise. In What Happens Is Neither, the losses span a much wider time frame—losing my mother to Alzheimer’s, yes, but also losing my father eleven days after. And beyond that there are poems about children growing up and moving away from home, the body’s fragility, the maturation of a marriage and a family. To the Bone had a more linear trajectory whereas What Happens tends to embody the title poem’s message that time is not linear—and that beginnings and endings offer a false dichotomy at best. I wanted the speaker’s relationship to time be reflected in the sequencing of the poems. I wanted the book to embody the idea that losses and rebirths recur throughout life and are not static points that appear in any predictable or predetermined fashion.
The title poem ends with the line, “I try not to think of endings” yet this book deals a lot with death and the inevitability of time. How did you know when the book was finished?
I was very fortunate to have a poet-friend’s keen editorial eye and encouragement in completing this manuscript, which I undertook barely months after burying my parents. I was also immensely fortunate to have this deadline from Four Way Books following publisher Martha Rhodes’s kind interest in my work. One helped me begin the project, and the other, to finish it. The poems were there but I needed help seeing these as a collection, no easy feat for me at the time, being so fresh from loss. In the end, I knew it was done when I could let go of the manuscript as the most complete homage and elegy to my parents and to the losses I’d experienced thus far. It helped to remind myself that there would be more poems and more grief work ahead, and that was okay, because a book is neither an ending nor a beginning—like any moment in life, it just is. It reflects where we are at any given time.
You said in an interview in 2018 with Spoon River Poetry Review, that the central question of To the Bone was, “how does one continue to choose beauty and meaning in the face of brokenness, division, and loss?” What is the central question in What Happens is Neither?
I think What Happens Is Neither continues to explore this question more deeply and expansively, as mentioned above. But it also asks the question, how does one reinvent oneself after losing the very foundations of one’s being—a mother, a father, and memory?
Angela Narciso Torres is the author of What Happens Is Neither (Four Way Books 2021) Blood Orange, winner of the 2013 Willow Books Literature Award for Poetry, and the chapbook, To the Bone (Sundress Publications 2020). Recent work appears or is forthcoming in POETRY, Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Cortland Review, and Poetry Northwest. A graduate of Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and Harvard Graduate School of Education, Angela has received fellowships from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Illinois Arts Council, and Ragdale Foundation. She received First Prize in the Yeats Poetry Prize (W.B. Yeats Society of New York). New City magazine named her one of Chicago’s Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Manila, she currently resides in San Diego. She serves as a senior and reviews editor for RHINO Poetry.
Kylie Gellatly is a visual poet and the author of The Fever Poems, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press (Summer 2021). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Counterclock, DIAGRAM, Iterant Magazine, Gasher, Literary North, Palette Poetry, SWWIM, and elsewhere. Kylie is the Book Reviews Editor for Green Mountains Review, Editor-in-Chief of Mount Holyoke Review, and is a Frances Perkins Scholar at Mount Holyoke College. For more, visit www.kyliegellatly.com