Name: Andrea Panzeca
Hometown: Merritt Island, Florida
Current city: New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation: Teaching Artist
What does poetry mean to you?
Uttering or reciting is central to poetry. I had a tape called Wee Sing Silly Songs I loved to listen to and memorize as a kid. Even little jingles, anything you memorize becomes a part of you. You could be away from your home and anything you can call to mind can keep that part of you alive, in the same way remembering the dead keeps them alive. But maybe you have to go further and utter or talk about them for it to be poetry.
Memorizing little silly songs is something I still do, make them up. It's fun to play, sing random stuff: "My cat's a bunny, that cat's an octopus," just whatever. Shape shifting. That's very poetry. Poems and reciting them is part of what makes up a person, like their ingredients, but poetry also connects two people made of poems. Sort of like how there are infinite points in a line segment, but also infinite points in a never-ending line, so even though they’re both infinite, there's more infinity in a line. I'm full of poems, you're full of poems, we're both line segments, but when we read each other's poems we become a line—connected and more infinite.
Everything’s related and that's the whole point of poetry. You can connect any two things or any number of things.
I read poetry to get a sense of someone’s interiority, how their particular mind works and their particular body lives in their particular world. I should add their particular time.
When the reader comes to it matters too. First read... Second read... If someone says Martha or Robert, my parents’ names, it will mean a lot to me it might not mean to another reader. But if they read the poem again having met a Martha or Robert, the meaning might change.
It's all about having a rich internal life or activating your internal life. There's this cool quote about reading, you sit there and have these wild hallucinations for free. I didn't read as much as I should have, wanting to be a writer, until I went to grad school and had to read so much. Now I go to reading—I'll hit a sentence and it'll make me have a memory and I'll go write a poem, or make me have a thought, or connect two things, and I'll go write it down.
I wrote a whole poem just reading the Wikipedia page for the trial of Clay Shaw at night when I came home from jury duty. I would read a sentence and I'm like “Oh, gotta go write a poem.” I didn't even think of it as writing a poem but then I looked and I had like 12 pages of these connected poems. Claudia Rankine said, “I am a relational being and doing research is keeping the self in relation.”
That's what poetry is. I think people think it's something else, like it's school or there has to be a point but there doesn't.
When I read Eileen Myles's I Must Be Living Twice it was really great because... I like Frank O'Hara; I read his poems, he was recommended to me, and reading Eileen Myles is kinda what I always wished Frank O'Hara would be.
I don't know if it's cause I'm a woman or because I didn't have an Ivy League education or—nouns I might not be familiar with, references, it's not even that. It's just something about the thought process. That's something I'm really into: showing your work, showing your thinking, but also family-making, which Maggie Nelson talks about in The Argonauts and other works.
One thing I didn’t like about poetry was that I was expected to get all these Biblical or Greek mythology references, and yet people complained if they didn’t get mine. Here’s a bit of a conversation I always go back to: Maggie Nelson’s speaking to Wayne Koestenbaum: “I remember you talking about reading Frank O’Hara and people saying, oh, they felt put off by all of his references, and you were saying, “are you kidding, like when I arrived in New York I was like, This is the guide to gay New York that I want to know about, so I’m going to get busy with every reference on Second Avenue,” you know, but I think that that’s a kind of—I think of that as a form of gratitude, and I think of that as a form of homage.” It’s about making one’s own canon from one’s own milieu and sensibilities and fandoms.
Myles talks about female lineage and how it gets lost. I wrote a paper about Zora Neale Hurston and I know she was lost, and Alice Walker rediscovered her in like the '70s. I think that's really important: I guess writing that research paper I got in the mode of footnoting, and being a nonfiction writer, same thing—a "prove it" kind of thing, receipts. Footnoting can be family-making.
In nonfiction but in poetry too, just sort of honoring the associations, how that's the magic of it. For a while I was trying to make things easier for the reader, but it's not about that. It's about how my mind works, my particular mind.
I really responded to how in-the-body Myles’s poems were. Maggie Nelson calls it metabolic. In “My Devil” I read “Genitals / itchy. That’s / me” and thought, same. Lot’s of coffee drinking. Bread. This reminds me of another thing: lectures. Myles’s Twitter bio says, “Poet, writer, talker.” You can look up any number of lectures they’ve given. One of my favorites is on spoilage. Seems like a given, with my last name meaning “dry bread,” but I hadn’t realized how much I share this preoccupation till I watched and listened.
Over a year ago I recorded a bunch of the poems I liked before I returned my copy of I Must Be Living Twice to the library. It’s fun to try to listen for the part(s) of each poem that first struck me.
In “A Poem,” for example, the first poem I recorded, it was “from the point of / view of all the nooks and crannies / I occupied in my childhood.” It reminded me of houses, bay window seats I always wanted to sit in, and also English muffins (bringing store-bought ones for international day in sixth grade while others made recipes to represent the countries on which they wrote reports).
The second time I read “A Poem” was on a turbulent plane. I made a little stop motion animation about it. Funny, when I recorded it I read the line as “and now that it shows we should really go slow” and only when I made the movie did I notice it actually says “go really slow.” The particular mind thing—misreading or mishearing something can change the course of one’s life, you know?
By Eileen Myles
"I can / connect // any two / things // that's / god"—that is writing to me, associations and relations. Making connects is god. And the sadness and shame in there too, based in the body, like in “Romantic Pain”: “I / want to look at myself in the mirror / but I look so shitty I don’t want / to expose my third rate vanity.” (Earlier in the poem: “I looked pasty in the bathroom. / Eyes like raccoons. My hair’s screwed up. / My jacket looks ‘boxy.’”) And cycling between feeling powerful or creative and powerless or depressive, feeling both at the same time. I love bothness.
“bandaid / book / god // that’s / right.” I’m developing a stewardship/arts workshop, and before we begin, say, picking up litter this is one of poems we read. (The others are “Salute” by James Schuyler and “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay.) Sweeping a place of litter you definitely might find a bandaid. That it would be called god or even be in a poem is important to me.
It reminds me of an exercise in Brigitte Byrd’s class, my first poetry class at FSU, to write an ugly poem or a non-poem-seeming poem. I’d been disenchanted by Poem-poems, full of metaphor and Western references, and this really opened things up for me.
Andrea Panzeca is the author of Rusted Bells and Daisy Baskets. She earned her M.F.A. in creative nonfiction writing at the University of New Orleans, where she was associate nonfiction editor of Bayou Magazine. She has published poetry, memoir, and a scholarly essay on Zora Neale Hurston. She also cartoons, sculpts, dances, and teaches in New Orleans, where she lives.