Anya Silver is the author of two books of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God (2010) and I Watched You Disappear (2014), both published by the Louisiana State University Press. Her third book, From Nothing, will be published in fall 2016 by LSU. Her work has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies, including the forthcoming Best American Poetry 2016. She is Professor of English at Mercer University and lives in Macon, Georgia with her husband and son.
Her poem “St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Lent” appears in Issue Six of The Cossack Review. More info at www.anyasilverpoet.org or follow her on Twitter @anyasilverpoet
TCR: “St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Lent” contains a lot of tension. Does that speak to your personal faith journey? How?
Anya Silver: The poem is based on the tension between Lent, which for Christians is a traditional time of self-denial, and the sensual outburst that is spring in Georgia. Paul’s second Letter to the Ephesians is wary of the body and sexuality. Paul believed in a neo-Platonic separation between the soul and body, and often presented the body as base, in lines such as “Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man. . . has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (5: 5). In my personal faith journey, I have rejected the idea of the body as inherently evil and corrupt, and I consider the luxurious fertility of spring to be nature’s proof that material creation can be both loveable and good. A fixation on purity almost always leads to the exclusion of others—women, LGBT people, sexually active unmarried people. On the other hand, I do think that self-denial is part of leading an ethical life—we shouldn’t always have what we want just because we want it—and this poem acknowledges that refusing sensual desire for whatever moral reason can be difficult.
TCR: Tell us about the choice to repeat “pink” four times.
AS: I broke my own general rule about not repeating words in a single poem, in my repetition of “pink,” for a couple of reasons. First, I like the hard “p” and “k” sounds of the word, and wanted the reader to hear them several times. The sounds and the repetition of the word “pink” are my little, somewhat bratty, rebuke of Paul. I also repeated the word “pink” because of Paul’s repetition of the words “fornicators” and “impurity.” He uses a lot of repetition in the Letter, and I wanted to counter that with the repetition of a word that, in this poem, symbolizes lushness and muchness.
TCR: What compelled you to reply to St. Paul’s letter via this poem?
AS: I was irritated with St. Paul after having heard the Letter read in church, and wanted to respond to him, and the way that I respond to the ideas of others is often in poetry.
TCR: Give us a glimpse at your revision process.
AS: I normally write upwards of twenty revisions of any published poem. I go over poems again and again in order to make the language more precise, to improve the quality of the sounds and music of the lines, and in order to eliminate tired images or phrases. This poem, though, came very quickly to me and I didn’t revise it nearly as often or radically as I usually do. I did take out a dreadful allusion to Narnia that I had initially included (that image was replaced by “bleak midwinter,” from Christina Rossetti’s poem). The last line of the poem was once, “If God gleans my soul, I hope it bursts,” but I decided that that didn’t really mean anything and was far too vague. I wanted to end with a very specific image.
TCR: Who are you reading?
AS: There are certain poets whom I am constantly reading, over and over again. They include Anna Akhmatova, Adam Zagajewski, Tomas Tranströmer, and Friedericke Mayröcker, a contemporary Austrian poet. Oddly, none of them write in English, and I can only read Mayröcker in the original German because I don’t read Russian, Polish, or Swedish. So I realize that I’m reading these poets at the vast remove of translation. Nevertheless, they’re essential poets to me because they all write, in their own styles, about what I consider difficult and profound subject matter, including the questions of what makes us human and what makes a meaningful life. In terms of contemporary American poets, I’ve been reading Simic, Jennifer Maier, and Laura Kasischke. They’re poets whom I admire for their facility with image and with surprising figures of speech. Besides poetry, I try to keep up with contemporary novels at my very slow pace (Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend was my favorite last year) and nonfiction about the Second World War (Stargardt’s The German War and M. T. Anderson’s YA history about Shostokovich’s Leningrad Symphony, Symphony for the City of the Dead are both superb).
TCR: Congratulations on your forthcoming book, From Nothing. What should we expect? Give us the pitch.
AS: I’m very excited about From Nothing. The book includes some of my favorite kinds of poems, such as those based on fairy tales, and ekphrastic poems inspired by favorite paintings. Of course, there are a lot of poems about living with cancer, but I’d say that the collection as a whole is airier and lighter than my first two books, like I’ve opened the windows a little wider. It’s a collection that’s grounded in imagery. You’ll see a lot of color in the poems, especially red. If you like the color red, then this is the book for you!