The BTS Interview with Anna M. Evans
The bees are disappearing.
In England beekeeping is at risk
of replacing the national pastime.
Meanwhile, what some Americans call bees
are often wasps, a waste
of language sharp as a bee sting—
so keen it can only be perfect once.
I was stung by a wasp as a child,
stuck at the top of a corkscrew slide
behind a boy too scared to go down.
His screams paralyzed my screams.
Sometimes the thing you can see
that's wrong, is not what's most wrong.
Why do we call wasps bees?
Because color is dangerously
over-important to the species
homo sapiens. Seeing the same stripes
we miss the slender waist, the sleekness—
wasps and bees are only of the same
order, Hymenoptera. My elbow,
when I finally reached the ground,
had swollen to the exact size of a baseball,
a sport I knew nothing of then.
Nor could I have defined "allergic."
Despite zero bee stings
and the puzzling absence of bees,
I always feared wasps and bees equally,
wrongly. Bees are not predators.
Wasps are fitter for this imprecise world
from which gentleness fades, unnoticed.
first published by Autumn Sky
Vera: Although you are known for formal poetry, and especially sonnets, you also write free verse. Aside from your obvious talent for meter and rhyme, do you have a preference between the two, or does each form make its own demands, and if so what do you think they are?
Anna: I do have a preference for meter and/or rhyme, but free verse poems occasionally ‘seize’ me, so yes, that ‘form’ makes its demands. Those poems of mine are typically the discursive ones, with long lines that are difficult to accommodate in iambic pentameter. As for distinguishing between the demands of the various received forms, the sonnet is perfect for a certain kind of succinct argument. Meanwhile, I have a sense for when a topic will benefit from the various kinds of repetition involved in a villanelle, or a rondeau. And of course I have invented a few forms myself, like the haikoum (a series of haiku that is also a pantoum.)
Vera: With your use of colloquial language, and with never a sign of inverted syntax in your poems, you are making a contribution to a 'modern' formal poetry. If poetry isn’t ‘dead’, there are those who believe formal poetry is. What do you think?
Anna: It’s not dead, but it isn't currently very trendy to write formal poetry. When I was studying for my MFA in Creative Writing at Bennington (which IS a trendy program), I used to bring my sonnets to workshop and the other students would criticize them heavily for being an outmoded form of writing. I tried to write differently for a while, but then I gave up. This is what I do. The pendulum may swing back, or not. But there will always be a few people who enjoy the kind of poetry I enjoy (and am good at) writing.
Vera: You write about experiences many share, such as parenting, sex, relationships. Do you think that poetry has a social purpose beyond entertainment?
Anna: Oh absolutely! Aside from the obvious role of political poetry in highlighting social injustices (Blake) or bearing witness to cataclysmic world events (World War I and Holocaust poets), poetry is about communicating experiences. Sometimes, that’s a shared experience and the purpose is to make those suffering through something like parenting feel less alone; other times, it’s a unique experience that benefits the reader by giving them the chance to inhabit feelings and sensations they might not otherwise have the opportunity to know.
Vera: How do you see the internet, and the way it is making poetry available to many without cost, affecting poets and poetry publishers?
Anna: The Internet has its pros and cons. It’s a venue with very low barriers to entry, which means that pretty much anyone can set themselves up as an online publisher. On the one hand, that means more people are sharing and reading poetry than ever before; on the other hand, some of it simply isn’t that good. But there are some excellent sites and resources out there, and I do love the fact that these days you can find almost any poem you’re searching for online (with the exception of contemporary poets who keep a stricter eye on their copyrights.)
Vera: What future plans, if any, do you have for The Raintown Review, aside from continuing to produce this impressive semi-annual journal?
Anna: The Raintown Review, like many poetry journals, is a labor of love. I don’t get paid for it, and it doesn’t make money. I am grateful to all those who continue to send me their work in the confidence that there will be another issue, and I don’t look too far beyond that.
Vera: Tell us about your political aspirations
Anna: This fall I am running for the second time for my local Township Committee in Hainesport, New Jersey, having lost narrowly in 2016. It’s an intense process and does take away from the time I have available for poetry and related projects. On the plus side, I have written a number of poems both not only about the experience, but also about the state of the nation generally at this fractured time in our history. I am planning to bring out a chapbook called “The Unacknowledged Legislator” (after the famous Shelley quote) collecting all these poems, but of course, I won’t have time until after the election!
Vera: How did your British heritage influence your relationship with poetry. Have you melded the 2 cultures in your work and your life, or do you consider yourself bi or multi cultural?
Anna: I think the main influence my British heritage had on my craft is that it underpins my love of meter and rhyme. I don’t believe that English poets broke with tradition quite as decisively as their American counterparts, and if you look at poets like former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, they are just as comfortable working in form as in free verse. I’ve lived in New Jersey now for seventeen years and I became a citizen in 2009, but I’m told I still have a pronounced English accent, especially when I’m reading my poetry, so I guess I’m bi-cultural, like many Americans. One thing, though, is that I do drink a great deal of tea, especially when I’m writing!
The ice, newly smooth:
a sheet of crisp white paper;
the skate blades, the ink.
Skaters trace the ice,
a sheet of crisp white paper,
with strange loops and whirls.
The skate blades, the ink
emptied into new poems
strange with loops and whirls.
All life's sadnesses
empty into new poems:
Our life's sadnesses,
erased by skating backwards:
Keep checking behind:
erased by skating backwards,
your first strokes forward.
Keep checking behind;
avoid others in your path.
You're first! Stroke forward!
The ice, newly smooth;
avoid others in your path,
skaters. Trace the ice!
first published by Tilt-A-Whirl
My Life as a Victorian Streetwalker
It wasn't wot I dreamed of as a kid—
I thought I'd get the factory or the mill—
but ruddy Barry knocked me up, he did,
an' then the baby kept on falling ill.
I share a basement with a girl called Nell,
an' we take turns to go an' earn the rent,
Most of the blokes are ugly or they smell,
though every now an' then you get a gent.
I mostly think about me little boy,
not God or punishment for mortal sin.
'E is the only thing that brings me joy,
an' wot's the point? There's no way I can win.
I'm up against the wall or on me back,
an' either way the next one might be Jack.
from Sisters & Courtesans
Vera: Describe how you came to do translations from the French, and tell us about your previous, current and upcoming projects in that area., as well as how translating differ from writing
Anna: When I was studying for my MFA at Bennington I read a number of books by contemporary poets which included translations, and was stunned to discover that often they were translating without knowing the language of the original, simply basing their version on a prose crib. I speak French pretty well (not quite fluently), so I figured that if THEY could do translations without even a working knowledge of the language, I ought to be able to do even better. I started by translating poems that I loved in the French but hadn’t found a decent contemporary verse translation of, and was relatively successful–my versions of Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat” and Victor Hugo’s “At Villequier” were both finalists for the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. These poems are among those collected in my book “Saint Pol Roux and Other Poems from the French.” My biggest undertaking to date arose because I decided to write an essay on the French poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore for the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. I could find very few translations of her poems that captured their nuances, so I translated all the ones I wanted to quote in my essay, along with an essay on her work by Verlaine. These translations are available in my book, “Selected Poems of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore,” and I’m also delighted to share that a couple of lines from my translation of “The Tears” will be appearing in an original musical work on Joan of Arc by the composer Amy Kirsten.