Martha Silano’s books include The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception and Reckless Lovely, both from Saturnalia Books. She co-edited, with Kelli Russell Agodon, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice. Martha’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Blackbird, AGNI, New Ohio Review, Copper Nickel, Massachusetts Review, and Orion. Martha edits Crab Creek Review and teaches at Bellevue College.
TCR: Both “How Do You Spell Minutiae?” and “The Day of Resolutions” have a prayer-like feel to them. Can you talk about creating that tone without sounding dogmatic?
Martha Silano: In “How Do you Spell Minutiae?” the tone is likely a result of following a loose iambic-pentameter rhythm … or perhaps because I keep quoting Blake! In “The Day of Resolutions” it’s likely the subject matter tilting the poem toward prayer-like; also, that word “May” in the third to last line, which often surfaces in actual prayers. Consciously or not, I tend to offset the highfalutin and the pious with humor.
TCR: Another connection between the two that interests me is “Blake’s grains of sand” and “Battle on the Plains of Abraham” (who heard from G-d concerning sand as his descendents). What drew you to those images of sand?
MS: I think I was remembering this short film I watched when I was in my teens that kept quoting Blake’s line about seeing eternity in a grain of sand. I chose the Battle of the Plains of Abraham for its sound, for its association with a mountain-biking trail near Mount St Helens (which I keep meaning to visit but never do), & because, well, said battle lasted all of 15 minutes.
TCR: What were the impetuses for these two poems?
MS: “The Day of Resolutions”: I have been unsuccessfully trying to write about New Year’s Eve/Day for decades. I have a failed poem about watching the Space Needle explode, and another about Mount St Helens (I seem to be obsessed) putting on a fireworks display for the Klickitat back in the day. My husband and his family refer to January 1 as “the day we put on the hairshirt.” I was curious about this expression, so I did some research. Lo and who knew, there were actual ascetics who donned this itchy vestment as a form of penance. I just had to get a snowy owl into a poem, trespassing for a glimpse of immaculate beauty. Also, I love that there’s a whiskey called Jameson.
TCR: “How Do You Spell Minutiae?”: I was guest poet-ing at Northern Michigan University about five summers ago, sipping too many Pimm’s Cups with fellow artists and writers … and the word minutiae came up during one of our cocktail-hour conversations, the idea that minutiae, though it can be mind-numblingly boring, is actually a trick to keep all of us sane, our minds focused on what we ate for dinner the other night rather than eternity, dark matter, or the immensity of outer space. I had been trying to write a sonnet, and the subject matter seemed to work in my favor.
MS: As Poetry Editor at Crab Creek Review, what do you look for in poems?
TCR: I look for poems that, when I finish reading them, I immediately go back to the beginning and read them again. If I repeat this half a dozen times, getting increasingly jazzed, tickled, shocked, stunned, pleasingly confounded, and/or envious, I know the poem is, at the very least, going to the next round. I want to be thinking, as I’m reading a poem: Whoa, woot, wahh, I’ve never quite seen that before.
TCR: Who are you reading right now?
MS: Just Kids by Patti Smith. I’m always reading about six poetry collections at once. Right now it’s Keetje Kuiper’s The Keys to the Jail, Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Todd Davis’s In the Kingdom of the Ditch, Oliver de la Paz’s Post Subject, a re-reading of Natalie Diaz’s My Brother Was an Aztec … plus current issues of APR, Poetry, Post Road, Adroit Poetry Journal, Mississippi Review, DIAGRAM (along with a DIAGRAM anthology I picked up from their table at AWP in LA), Cincinnati Review, AGNI, North American Review, River Styx, and a whole bunch more I’m forgetting.
Oh, and my summer prose reading on deck: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, Hold Still by Sally Mann, H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, Mary Beard’s SPQR, and Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary.
TCR: Congratulations on the expanded reissue of What the Truth Tastes Like (Two Sylvias Press, 2015). Tell us about the new edition.
MS: Thanks!! It was wonderful to work with Two Sylvias editors Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy. When they approached me about doing a new and much-expanded edition, I was completely thrilled! The only tough part was that the first edition had been saved on floppy discs, so I had to re-type the entire manuscript. The upside was that I was able to look at each poem critically. I did quite a bit of much-needed tidying and tightening. Also, since they asked me to double the length, I was able to weave newer poems in without jarring the book’s trajectory, mood, and through-lines. It turned out to be a really fun project. The design re-haul, including vintage pen and ink graphics and a much-improved cover, rock my world. Another really cool thing is that poet David Kirby wrote an amazing introduction. I’m very pleased with how it all turned out.