Lori Desrosiers new book of poems, The Philosopher’s Daughter, is available from Salmon Poetry.
Her chapbook, Three Vanities, was published in 2009 by Pudding House. Her poems have appeared in New Millenium Review, Contemporary American Voices, BigCityLit, Concise Delights, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene’s Fountain, The New Verse News, Common Ground Review, Wingbeats: Exercises and Practices in Poetry, and many more. She has an MFA in Poetry from New England College.
Lori is editor and publisher of Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry. NRR treasures and advances the narrative form as few journals do, and Lori’s broader, tireless support of a vibrant poetry scene in New England is well known & cherished.
I bought The Philosopher’s Daughter (finally) at AWP this year, and had the chance to talk with her about it: consider yourself introduced to Lori and the book, and enjoy!
One of the things I like so much in your writing is the light touch that creeps into the poems, the turning toward humor and celebration of the absurd. This can become a cop-out if it’s avoidance or cowardice, but in your work, it’s woven powerfully with difficult losses and complex emotional realities.
“A Dog’s Day” is a perfect example of that weaving:
“That day we visited our father, sick with brain cancer,
her was barely able to speak.
We walked with him in the woods,
his yellow mutt Hector bounding alongside. …”
The final line of the poem is devastating, funny, and tender all at once.
What’s your writing and revision process with these kinds of layered-mood poems?
Maybe it’s the way I was raised. My parents were children during the Great Depression and especially my mother’s family dealt with trauma through humor, and still does. The funny stuff comes to me first, and I find myself crafting a poem around it. The poem about walking with my father was a true story. It happened just the way I wrote it. I remember arguing with my brother in the car, letting out a long sigh together, then laughing. In our family, pain and anger are tethered to humor and tenderness.
The images of family are so secure in these poems, even as loss is both imminent and immanent. In “Looking at Bees,” “In the Croton Woods 1965,” “’59 Olds” there is a sense of innocence hurtling toward loss “faster than a red dwarf swell/sudden as a supernova burst” (“Star Cancer”).
There are also vivid and complex portraits of people and places past (“Womanly Ways,” “Blanche Remembers,” “Mom at 16″), and then some have a striking, sharp darkness inside the light voice (“From the Porch,” “The World is Flat,” “Wedding,” “Drunk”) –
“…The way you look at me sometimes.
Bridges crumble in your eyes.
Cold and blue with drips of water rushing into grates.”
Amidst these darker poems, there’s something very gentle, so present in the memorable line “eiderdown’s the measure of her heart” ( – “Room with Feathers”).
There’s tremendous sense of solitude and yearning in the poem “Call.”
And in the structure of the book, the reader is moved through these changes easily.
What was your thinking in structuring the manuscript as you did?
It’s interesting how when we order a manuscript, sometimes it is hard to find the string that holds the poetry together so that it creates an arc. I spent a good deal of time with these poems.
Eventually, I found myself listening to them to see which poems spoke to one another. I ended up grouping them by people and place, pretty much. The mother and father poems are near one another, and the rest was more an organic process, letting the poems sing. I come from a musical background (I was a singer/songwriter before I was writing in earnest) and it has helped me listen to this music.
What poets do you read for comfort and camaraderie? Whose work feeds you?
I love this question because it is not just which poets do I read, but who brings me comfort, who is my friend by the side of the bed at night. There are several poets I seem to return to again and again. Ruth Stone and Maxine Kumin are two of my go-to poets. Their humor and attention to nature and poetic detail is inspiring, and they are two of my poetry mothers. I have recently been spending time with new work by Dan Vera and Howard Faerstein, both of whom have that uncanny ability to combine humor and pathos in their work. I have a new favorite every week, so these are poets I’m thinking about right now.
If my spirit needs to dance, I reread Ilya Kaminsky’s “Dancing in Odessa” or stories in poetry by Susan Deer Cloud or Pam Uschuk. I think one reason I love editing Naugatuck River Review is it is full of poems which nourish whoever reads them. I’m always reading a new book of poems by my amazing friends, whose work surprises and inspires me. I also listen to music quite a lot, and it consistently inspires my writing.
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