I’m grateful to Michael Leong for tagging me in The Next Big Thing, a viral self-interview, and to those I tag here who will follow and who will follow them.
What is the working title of the book?
Yrtemmys. The image, on the level of the word—“symmetry” spelt backwards—is perhaps a response to something my mother and I have been arguing about for a while. By arguing I mean: she likes the aesthetics of symmetry, such as the arrangement of columns in a colonial style frontis, whereas I prefer asymmetry. I thought the “mirroring” of the word to itself lent an ambiguity between the two. (My mother, in turn, responded by painting an abstraction for me that appears symmetrical but upon close inspection is not!)
Wondering whether this play-in-word had been thought of a million times before, I entered the title into two separate online search engines, and the machine asked me each time, had I meant “Artemis”? The deep attachments to myth, divinity, twinning, and androgyny through homophony further illuminated the image to me.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The book collects three poems: “Yrtemmys,” “Myriad vantage,” and “A Discourse on Gender in Eden.” “Yrtemmys” grows out of walks I took through the architectural museum of downtown Buffalo after I moved back to this city in 2005…Buffalo’s is a vastly asymmetrical history, in terms of class disparity, though the city’s swift decline may also appear symmetrical to its earlier boom. (The decline has not remedied the aforementioned disproportions, especially with regard to race and ethnicity.) I was also at the time reading Fagles’s translation of The Odyssey with a topnotch class of student readers, and revisiting H.D.’s Helen in Egypt with a friend. “Myriad vantage” extended my walks to Buffalo’s Forest Lawn cemetery, where much of my paternal ancestors are buried. I had to revisit them and this site in returning to my so-called ancestral city…How to make the form open and personal? “A Discourse,” the third segment, grew directly out of freelance research I did on children who identify or are identified as transgender. The stringencies of gender as it is coded in our habits and language—like it, critically, or not—are imperative to accessing the ways we are able to describe ourselves. I thought of Marianne Moore’s wonderfully obtuse poem on “Marriage.”
What genre does your book fall under?
Probably it belongs to the lyric, maybe even the long lyric, or to the sequence.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Who knows? But: buildings by Louis Sullivan and Zaha Hadid; thoroughfares by Frederick Law Olmsted; gardens by Edith Wharton; furniture by Eileen Gray; wardrobes by Edith Head; obelisks by Edward Gorey, fonts etched by David Jones; theremin accompaniment, Clara Rockmore; cast of thousands brought to you by the Burnt-Over District.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Things friends have said of my writing in the past might here apply: “For you, language seems to function on the level of the syllable—perhaps even of the letter…”; “Antique furniture in modern rooms…”; “Meaning swims up here and there, amid abstract music, then swims away…”
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I’d been writing “Yrtemmys” for several years, and thought I’d said farewell to it; seeing it in print makes me realize it’s not yet done. “Myriad vantage” seems it should go on and on, but hasn’t. “A Discourse on Gender in Eden” wrote itself.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Ghosts. Unfinished business. The hanging shard of Buffalo’s trajectory. Those silenced and those for whom autonomy is compromised.
I dedicated the book to my sister, in memory of our grandmothers. They remind me always what an intimate act reading is—not only learning to read with someone and from someone, but how every time one engages in the solitude of reading one is enfolded in the arms of others.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It has a beautiful cover, printed by publisher Patrick Riedy. I’ve told Patrick many times that the cover makes the poems quite homely by comparison!
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The manuscript had an odyssey of its own, having been twice prior accepted for publication. The first house stalled, likely due to a glut of accepted manuscripts; this happens in the world of small press, where unpaid labor meets the heroic desire to bring innumerable works into print. The second house, a British maverick, folded before publication (but then happily reopened). I feel grateful to both editors who read the work and encouraged it toward print, and that neither overture was for personal gain nor through network, but for the poems, as are.
In between the folding and reopening of the English house, Yrtemmys found its third home with PressBoardPress, printed handsomely by poet Patrick Riedy, here in Buffalo.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
Purchase Edric’s new book, Yrtemmys & Other Poems by clicking the image below ($10/ Canada and UK add $5 for shipping)
Profile: Edric Mesmer