MHR: Your chapbook, Benign Protection, (Cervena Barva Press), is dedicated to your deceased parents. How were these poems beneficial to your grief process?
AEP: Writing the poems was the grieving process. My father died at 91 in 2004; my mother at 92 in 2012. When I was a teenager my mother and I made a pact; whoever died first would let the other know what death was like. I imagined that she would appear to me in a dream shortly after her death; she didn’t. The poems became the dream.
MHR: The chapbook opens with the poem” The River Styx.” On this journey you set upon, we are with you. You take us into myriad griefs. Can you tell us about the process of sequencing which lends itself very well to the reading experience of these poems?
AEP: The first part of the book is about my mother – the second part about my father. I wanted to play with their life-times and insert those poems into the liturgical calendar, but make the movement circular and not linear. The reader crosses over in the first poem – into the memory of life in Brooklyn – then into the Virgin Birth – and the journey into Christmas/Epiphany/Lent/Easter – leaving that for the secular – back to memory – lost family members (“Matryushka” is for my maternal great-grandmother – whose name is long forgotten) and leads to the supreme dream – “I have been to Samarqand.” “Fog,” the last poem is the reprise – it is gentle – we cross over in the first poem; we roll over with the world in the last one.
MHR: The poem “Without Form” is a poet’s eye, looking always to the unknowable. Can you speak to the mystery and mysticism in which you ground the dish, plate, brush, house, and kitchen so well? Maybe a few words of how the ordinary is essential when writing the extraordinary.
AEP: The ordinary is always extraordinary. I wrote the poem a few months after my mother died – it was summer – it was very hot – I was alone in my house looking at items I had taken from her apartment – things she had touched, used, loved. My house is haunted. The ghosts were noisy that day. It was a perfect storm.
MHR: We embrace the experience of your longing in a poem like “East 16th Street.” The business of the aftermath of death is its own heartache. Can you speak to the way you weave the “necessary business” experience into a poem, which holds emotional impact?
AEP: I like to play with line breaks – read the poems out loud to see how they move – this poem came easier than others. I was in Brooklyn – staying with friends who live 2 blocks away from East 16th Street. I walked to the supermarket – bought some item my mother would have had and then walked back down East 16th Street – hoping to see her ghost. It was a powerful moment – spring – beautiful fragrant April – no one was walking there but me. I wanted to capture that experience of profound aloneness in the poem.
MHR: Seasons and religious seasons are knitted into the shape of the book. Are you personally oriented by these seasons?
AEP: Yes – I live in New England where we have 4 seasons – the religious seasons naturally follow.
MHR: Your family’s complex Russian culture is deftly described throughout. Can you speak to some of the held beliefs about death in your personal heritage and upbringing that many readers may not be familiar with, limited to the scope of this book?
AEP: I have to answer this outside of the church. My parents were spiritual – they believed in God – were Orthodox Christians – but they did not attend church. My mother was allergic to perfume and the Russian Orthodox Church uses incense in their service. My father had escaped death several times during WW II – he believed God had spared his life. My father also believed that after he died, my mother needed to wait 7 years (as she was 7 years younger) before she died so they would be the same age when they met again. She died 2 months after her 92nd birthday. I wouldn’t be surprised if their ghosts were living in apt. 2E. They believed in a deep rich life of the soul – the eternal Easter.
MHR: On a personal note, do you have a sense, a prescience perhaps, that envisions your departed beloveds?
AEP: Yes, and that prescience ties into the life of the soul, but sometimes I think my parents have come back as my two parakeets, Fin and Gertrude, and their cage is apartment 2E. We laugh about that in my house.
MHR: What is the period that these poems were written? Can you speak about how the chapbook came to be?
AEP: From 2012 – 2015; there were more, but I edited them out to make the book tighter. I sent them to Gloria Mindock and was very happy when she agreed to publish them.
MHR: Thank you for indulging our questions. How can someone buy your chapbook?
AEP: Thank you! I have copies available. Readers can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cervena Barva Press
Anne Elezabeth Pluto is Professor of Literature and Theatre at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA where she is the artistic director and one of the founders of the Oxford Street Players, the university’s Shakespeare troupe. She is an alumna of Shakespeare & Company, and has been a member of the Worcester Shakespeare Company since 2011. She was a member of the Boston small press scene in the late 1980s and is one of the founders and editors at Nixes Mate Review. Her chapbook, The Frog Princess, was published by White Pine Press (1985), her eBook Lubbock Electric, by Argotist ebooks (2012), and her chapbook Benign Protection by Cervana Barva Press (2016). Recent publications include: The Buffalo Evening News, Unlikely Stories: Episode IV, Mat Hat Lit, Pirene’s Fountain, The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, Mockingheart Review, Yellow Chair Review, Levure Litteraire – numero 12, The Naugatuck River Review, and Tuesday, An Art Project.