This week’s poetry review is contributed by Chelsea Lemon Fetzer, whose poetry has appeared in Stone Canoe, Callaloo, Tin House, and Mississippi Review. She is the founder of The Create Collective, a non-profit organization working to bridge the gaps between artists and community based organizations. Chelsea currently leads NY Writers Coalition workshops for homeless LGBTQ youth at CAMP Brooklyn.
In her debut poetry collection Hurrah’s Nest, Arisa White offers a lovely and haunting family portrait. Drawing from he life as a young girl raised in Brooklyn, Arisa is neither guarded in her honesty, nor self-indulgent. The collection poignantly recovers moments of a childhood, simple as they are impacting, dark as they are colorful, while it explores a refreshing range in style and form.
Ultimately, a narrative is assembled in Arisa’s lines, and we come to love and hope for her characters — seven siblings and their mother, who cannot be protected from her own struggles and search for love. At the same time, Arisa’s style shapeshifts into the abstract, expertly playing with the possibilities of poetry, so that the story of a family grounded against its will is ultimately told in a language that leaps into dreamlike flights.
I had the privilege of interviewing Arisa on her experience writing Hurrah’s Nest.
What sparked or guided this collection?
My obsessions. I was writing – and writing the things that I was obsessed with, which were my family and my relationships that played out family dynamics. There were moments from my childhood that stuck with me and those moments would appear over and over in my poetry. They were a part of my cosmology, my vocabulary.
Those moments became my metaphors to constantly riff off of. I discovered something more about myself and others from the moments of pause that writing welcomes. I got to look closely and feel deeply and see things more clearly. And to really sit with those givens in life: Everything changes, things do not always goes as planned, life is not always fair, pain is part of life, and people aren’t always loving and loyal all the time.
Can you describe your process of translating memory, especially the often chaotic narratives of family/childhood memory, into a poem?
All of my writing is translation, regardless if it comes from my memory or another’s memory. I’m often working from this place of how to write the emotion I am feeling, how to make it seen and felt. Because I know that I am not going to be able to remember every thing that happened, I rely on my emotions as guide. I start from a central truth that I know everyone can agree on — everyone in this case of Hurrah’s Nest would be my family. That this event happened.
From there, it’s an exploration of my feelings — I’m trying to locate images and sounds, how it sits on the page, to speak my emotional narrative.As much as I can, I allow myself to take personal and artistic risks when writing. I allow my vulnerability to occupy the poem. There is no point in writing if I am not tapping into my vulnerability because that is where the beauty is. That is where language seems to freshly flow. And I feel like I’m reconnecting to something great in myself, something untouched by circumstances, something essentially good.
That is when I know the translation has been successful, because I managed to reconnect with a moment in time that felt incomprehensible to me. There is less chaos between what is felt, seen, and heard. The poem is what makes peace between them all.
Why did you choose “Hurrah’s Nest” for the title?
While researching nautical terms for the poem “An albatross to us both,” I came across the definition of hurrah’s nest, a bundle of cords or rope in disorganization, which later came to mean, disorder and confusion. I like the multi-layered meaning of hurrah’s nest. If you don’t know the definition, it sounds kind of jovial, celebratory, lively. Coupled with ‘nest’ you have that feeling of nurture, home, care, being tended to, a starting place.
All those conflicted feelings one can have about home and family are embedded in hurrah’s nest. It felt like a perfect title because that is what I wanted to convey. I wanted that sense of celebration and frustration of family. The hard and gentle lessons that come from our childhood, how it shapes us and cracks us, opens and closes us to our selves — forever these seasons of water and burn. From every thing that has happened to me, I have been given and made more aware of my tools to be an adult, a writer, comfortable in my skin. And I can nest in that.
We alone together is me, one egg in the pigeon’s nest
between my rusting ten-speed and brick wall.
The wind blocked my body from her.
Night and day we were audience
to feathers tossed and shit about.
It’s hard to listen to courtship.
She tells me, With children you will never be lonely.
-from “Disposition for Shininess” by Arisa White