how to talk about drowning without drowning

Mandy Grathwohl: I find that your poetry gives readers strategies on how to understand and digest their grief and trauma—and also their longings and desires, the underbellies of their own selves. Your art has given comfort to those that needed it, even when it seemed that on your end, as artist, there was little comfort at all. With this in mind, what does the writing of a poem look like—"The Field of Rooms and Halls" from War of the Foxes, for example?

Richard Siken: A man found a door and hung it on the wall. What kind of strategy is that? It's not Socratic; it's not scientific. I envy it. I strive for it. How should we size the days, where should we put our sadness, how can we find the hallway that isn't there? Reframe the question, the poem suggests. I love that poem. I love the fact that I can read it in public without crying. It's about desperation but it doesn't enact the desperation, which is the kind of poem I usually write. Admitting failure hurts. Admitting desire hurts.

Remembering with or without feeling hurts. I like all kinds of poems—emotionally distant or emotionally close—and I'm still amazed that words in a certain order can re-enact an event, but I want to learn how to talk about drowning without drowning. And sometimes I worry: what if I'm only painting the walls of the room I'm locked in? That's a really uncomfortable question to consider.

- Richard Siken, in conversation with Mandy Grathwohl over at The Matador Review. You can read the whole thing here.

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