Molly Brodak is the author of the book A Little Middle of the Night (U of Iowa Press, 2010) and the chapbook The Flood (Coconut Books, 2012). She lives in Atlanta and is the 2011-2013 Poetry Fellow at Emory University.
Her poem "Awoke" appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.
Here, Molly Brodak talks to interviewer Melissa Goodrich about Moby Dick, comedy, and the attractiveness of short poems.
1. Does “Awoke” begin in waking? Dreaming? That liminal space between?
Yes, waking, which can be kind of a disturbing or disappointing experience, although it seems like it should not be. I always feel like I have just materialized, or been gathered together. It feels primitive.
2. When you write “in the Boethius,” what do you mean? Isn’t Boethius a Catholic martyr?
I woke up and realized I had fallen asleep reading, and found my hand in the book, marking where I had left off but also seemingly estranged from me. I remembered that totally weird small moment in Moby Dick when Ishmael describes waking up as a child and seeing his own hand dangling off the bed and feeling terrified of not being able to recognize it; nor does he want to move it and risk breaking the “spell.”
Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius has been an important book for me because of how it was written—imprisoned for suspected conspiracy, I think Boethius breaks his mind and writes this imaginary conversation with philosophy—kind of an insane act—to keep sane. The way he switches from verse to prose and back, and the pieces of Greek, Roman, and early medieval writers he adds all feels patchy and jumbled in a way that looks like a lot of contemporary writing. But he was not pasting up half-understandings, this is just all he had access to in prison, his own memory. The pieces grind together in memory. The mind does this anyway while we are asleep, in dreams. To me the funny part of the idea of having or not having ‘control over’ our own minds is not the control bit but the other half of the idea that there is an “I” that is not the mind, some way to function out of another other device that can observe the mind—it seems like a brain wants to turn in on itself so much sometimes.
3. How do you craft such a tiny poem? Does your work tend to be so contained?
I don’t usually write poems that are quite this short, although I do feel attracted to a short poem. I think you craft it by having the humility to lift your fingers off the keyboard and leave it short. That seems brave. I try to do this but often fail.
4. Whose work do you admire most, where brevity is concerned?
The short poems of Mary Ruefle are some of my favorites, and most of the poems in Laura Jensen’s Bad Boats, which is a book that can be hard to find but is worth looking for, it is so good. I also think Andrew Michael Roberts’ book Something Has to Happen Next is great for short poems. And many of Christine Garren’s poems, specifically, “The Underpass,” one of my favorites, feel like a whole world compressed into a dozen lines or so.
5. What are you writing now? Is it all so pocket-sized?
I’ve been writing a lot of poems over the past year loosely focused on the place I think you land when you go as far as possible into, and all the way through, pain and despair—which is comedy. I don’t mean the poems are funny; they are not funny at all. I just think it itself is hilarious that the most intense tragedy can considered funny with the right framing, or soundtrack. The poems are of all shapes and sizes.