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

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

If someone were to write a book about Nancy Mitchell the title would have to be Brave because that is what she is, in her life and in her writing. Mitchell has seen some things and has faced them head-on, eyes wide open. This interview focuses on the poems contained in her three books. She writes about relationships, addiction, loss, and always in the end, hope and love. There is no posturing here. In her poems, Nancy Mitchell opens her heart to us. And aren’t we the fortunate ones?

Broadkill Review: Let’s start with your first book, The Near Surround (Four Way Books, 2002). Isn’t the title a term used in science? Why did you choose it for your book?

Nancy Mitchell: I had another working title for the book and the day before I sent it to Four Way Books to begin the editing process, I saw the term in an article about quantum physics for the unified field around us that we feel but can't see. I thought it was a better title as the book is about palpable felt presences and longing.

BKR: The first poem, “What About”, ends with the line ‘the silence of cold spoons”. Spoons are utensils that feed us; though made of cold metal they are a symbol of nurturing. Why did you choose this strong image to end a poem that doesn’t hold a lot of nurturing?

NM: I'd been meditating for about six months and started to experience the objective perspective of "the observer" which opened a short gap of detachment—the "what about?"—between what I observed or experienced and my personal emotional response. The lines frame this suspension. I must have opened a drawer to get a spoon and for a moment seen them nesting quietly and wondered about the possibility of their sentience, and a life outside of human utility.

BKR: There is something unpleasantly slippery in the poem “The First Return.” Because the subject of the poem sees their face “among the masks/your mother made” is there a fear that the whispering and spit will be passed on?

NM: You know, I've never thought about the poem in quite that way, but it makes a lot of sense that the daughter fears she'll inherit her mother's controlling spirit implicit in her art; the spit and whisper animate the clay— "eyes" to see and "kind ears" to listen to dreams. Yet, to the speaker the masks are spies for the sly mother rather than "guardians.” And because the speaker sees herself among the masks there is the fear the mother has the power to turn her even against herself.

BKR: In the eponymous poem “The Near Surround” who are you talking about? It feels like the shape at the edge of the field that “suggests itself/but not enough to begin” is the woman who is the subject of the book, the woman who is becoming.

Interview continues here.

NM: This is fascinating question, to which the answer, after long consideration, is yes. The poem was written during a