Brave: an interview with Nancy Mitchell, Poet Laureate of Salisbury, Maryland continued


Continued from the home page.

NM: This is fascinating question, to which the answer, after long consideration, is yes. The poem was written during a long and excruciating estrangement from a beloved whose body, in my longing, I projected onto every shape in my field of vision. As time went on the imaginative energy required to sustain this waned. What became more worthy of consideration is "that which gathers between us"—the formation of the self "the you" as she is better able to separate the "me" from what was never the other, the "what is not you."

BKR: There is a path through this book, a path from enduring what is dealt to a bursting forth of self. You start the book with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “What seems so far from you is most your own.” The last section of The Near Surround circles back to that quote. That section feels hopeful and something the book is running toward. Was that your intent?

NM: Absolutely. In the poem "Today I conjure your spirit" the speaker has moved beyond grief to the point no longer needing mementos of the relationship so close to her:

Your letters—taken

from the nightstand

stuffed in the dark

basement cupboard—

no longer among the first

things I will save

from fire.

And, in the event a memory of the lover should arise, it will be fleeting:

it will be like that shadow

against these white blinds:

a bird, a leaf

or some other bird.

Yes, the last section is hopeful; in the last poem of the book, she is running into the light— "that sun"— of a new life.

BKR: The poem “Sister” in your second book, Grief Hut (Cervená Barva Press, 2009), is an accurate description of sister rivalry and you set the tone of the poem instantly with the first word, cocklebur, but then immediately follow, in the same line, with the words “my heart”. The reader knows with that first line (Cocklebur, my heart) that there is strife buffered with love. The poem ends with hope. There is such balance in this poem: the words of the first line, then the travel through strife to hope. Is that what you were seeking when you wrote this poem, balance in relationships?

NM: Yes; I was most definitely seeking to find balance in this relationship— in the poem, if not with my sister, —which has always been plagued with rivalry for the love, attention and approval of our parents. I also think we both struggled to find an identity beyond "the girls" as we were often referred to collectively, and sometimes that meant pushing each other away. I'm the elder sister, and enjoyed a few, but very few, privileges of that status, but in this poem I speak through the voice of the younger siste