Poet Emily Motzkus capsulates us in the wings of baby blue sunglasses and the starting of yellow. How change is inspired in the body and movement shifts us to awe, the reason why she writes. Her poetics round anatomical research to matter. She extends these to mathematics, “like suppleness and intimacy with the divinity of consciousness and spacetime tanks.” This awe importantly, “[wears] your flesh off, so you might as well let it,” and let go of fear.
Motzkus explains the movement toward innocence as physics. She describes, “neurologically speaking love distorts memory … Now a little bit of our encounter just transferred to these cherry pits in the sand. The best memories bleed on forever this way.” External and internal forms translate body to the page. The encounter of the desert, Chicago, and Denver is the medium of experiment. Female bodies align numerically structured to the moon’s frequency. As we move closer to the infinite, structure becomes “intensely fragile,” but never disappears. This challenges our perception of chance and how structure sinews chaos. In this way, “the end is always there and never there,” on the page intuitively as something we feel as whole.
Emily Motzkus is a PhD student at The University of Denver. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has appeared in Manor House Quarterly and in a chapbook by The Offending Adam. She lives in Denver with her cat.
1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
My first inspiration was poet Derek Henderson.
I never read books with any alarming regularity. I never dreamt about becoming a writer, or really even thought of it. With some synchronizing luck I found myself writing in Derek’s class at the University of Utah. It was his ecstatic presence and vision for poetry that opened me to the infinity in certain breaks of the line and folds of the page. We read Cole Swensen’s book Park—that was the first time I’d ever read something that physically changed me, changed my bodily vibration and chemistry. It’s safe to say I fell in love that day, but with what? That’s why I write.
It’s easy to fall in love (but I prefer awe). Like right now I’m in awe with my green tea, an overly attractive man wearing babyblue sunglasses, also a few leaves starting to yellow. I’ll always love Swensen’s book. As for my favorite writer…I suppose it’s whoever I am reading. It changes too often for me. My favorite writers are my friends.
I will say the first poem that ever made me cry was Ronald Johnson’s Beam 4 (the enormous purples part). Today I adore Clarice Lispector: “Everything in the world began with a yes.”
2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?
This is a tough question because everyone who’s ever read my work and discussed its form remains an important voice, even the dis-likers. I’m going to have to answer this question keeping in mind the all-elusive word soul, although I could use the word knowing.
My brother is first and foremost my artistic mentor. Nick works harder than anyone I’ve ever met and graciously shares his soul without fear—it is my greatest intention to work and love in this way. I always show Nick my poems first and he gives me courage.
Donald Revell, Janet Desaulniers, and Bin Ramke are my literary heroes. These three marvelous beings are dearer to me than they can ever possibly imagine. The closest thing I can think to compare them too is my own mom and dad, but it’s a different kind of bond; with them I share the transformative awe of language, which is where I eye. They are my poetry mother and fathers. They’ve helped raise my soul. Everything I write, I write it because they’ve given me love, encouragement, and faith to trust my vision. I want nothing more but to make them proud and happy. Of course I also want to make my real mom and dad proud and happy too.
Kelli Anne Noftle is my poetry soul mate, there is an incredible level of trust that I have in her “reading” of my poems because I feel connected to her poetry and vision. If she tells me a poem is off, I know it’s off. KA might be the only person in the universe who knows my work better than I know it.
3.) How has your own work changed over time and why?
I think the form of my work has changed in response to the various locations and circumstances surrounding my body. In the desert my poetry had more space. In Chicago it had more frequency. I can’t quite articulate what these Denver poems are doing just yet/ I think they might be having dispersal situations. Everyone I love and hold dear is scattered across the United States, it’s like having your centers away from you, this displacement affects my work. I miss my sister a lot.
4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
I love modernism, does that count as a genre? Hybridization enthralls me. Science is often pleasurable. Mostly I find that I am influenced by singular moments—genre aside. If genre can be an author I have been influenced by the genre Kathryn Cowles, the genre Eleni Sikelianos, and the genre Jack Spicer. If genre can be a poem I have been influenced by the genre One Art, the genre In Memory of My Feelings, and the genre Meditations at Lagunitas. If genre can be a book of poems I’ve been influenced by the genre “Crush” and “Commons”.
5.) What are your plans for the future?
Here’s the short list (I can’t be entirely sure about the order). I’ll travel to Turkey and take a Turkish bath. In Greece I’ll ride a donkey. In Japan I’ll follow the cherry blossoms. I will publish beautiful book after beautiful book. Meet the most phenomenal man that finds me to be the greatest creature/specimen he’s ever encountered. I will collect enough art to be termed an art collector. Beauty will surround me wherever I go. I’ll teach experimental poetry by a large body of water (preferably an ocean). I will raise a couple of incredible, talented, and well adjusted kids, and hopefully inspire others to recognize their genius and divinity along the way. I have no idea what’s coming, I’m open to anything, but I know it’s going to be good.
6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?
Women have been and continue to be individually brave. This spring I sat in chocolate shops and backyards studying écriture feminine with a group of women varying in age, race, sexuality, and aesthetics. We pondered for many months whether or not there was a discernible difference or characteristic of “women’s writing.” In the end I’m not sure we could decide on any hard and fast rule or singular quality. Mayer and Hejinian. Braveness. Lucinda Williams, Lana Del Rey (who actually cares about SNL). Bravery. Yes, our body’s experience of the world is always present in the text and meanings we create, but before we are gendered we are whole. For me contemporary women’s writing is steeped in simultaneity. There are no dichotomies, it’s never and always at the same time. Read the short story Never, Ever, Always by Janet Desaulniers. Read Amy Bender’s The Rememberer.
7.) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?
Erin Kautza, Shannon Salter, Nan Burton and Sarah Boyer are all outright brilliant. The world needs their work. Erin’s for its goddess embodiment, rawness and sonic boom. Shannon’s for its overflow of joyful insight, truth, and unbounded play. Nan’s for it’s utterly astonishing aesthetic beauty and starry brilliance (yes like a star), and Sarah’s for its peripheries, norm crashing, and medicinal impact. These women are going to be hot.
8.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?
As a writer I’d want my label to read open, just open. As for my poetry maybe a research inspired poetics that worships plant life, anatomy, and the mathematics of veils and thresholds. The poems like birds. The lines in the poems like suppleness and intimacy with the divinity of consciousness. And spacetime tanks. I’d want my label to be exactly what Twombly said about his own work: “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization.”
9.) We open with a poem, untitled, performed across the page. “I am a fish then, thrust into wanting a lung I have no memory for //// cartilage skull spine caged against her / tiny-boned pelvis /// a crushing how love reverses itself.” How does love affect memory, furthermore the body, how does trust affect extravagancy?
Neurologically speaking love distorts memory. The memories we cherish the most are furthest from our actual experience—replay them enough and their pathways first alter then disintegrate. This disintegration happens through a series of additions. Say I’m remembering the first time I met someone, but as I remember our meeting I’m eating cherries on the beach. Now a little bit of our encounter just transferred to these cherry pits in the sand. The best memories bleed on forever this way. Just like my finger did.
Emerson wrote “Love is our highest word and synonym for God.” In meditation or “flow”states connecting with the force of love/god/the universe/whatever-your-into can move your body into an unbounded state. When you love someone you want for his or her body what you want for your own. After awhile body stops mattering. Don’t wait for death, I say transcend while you’re alive. Love can wear your flesh off, so you might as well let it.
This poem is about birth; the first one, and every subsequent one. The second time I was born into field of hot air balloons. Excess is our natural state. I’m thinking suddenly about something Donald Revell said in a lecture, he said an “uncontrollable birth of heavens,” in this state of extravagancy there is no need for memory. My instinct is that trust and true extravagancy are really the same thing: knowing there will always be enough.
On the next page, “your eyes honeycomb holes / (i was) afraid I’d eat your brains / invited pollinators/ to plug— / every orifice.” Is this obsession as wanting to devour, dependent, or transitory? How do you see the transitions; how do you view body/passion/love?
Transitory. But I’d like to say that in this case it’s actually fear of devouring. I imagine the transition here is to fill or allow outside creation to enter, to ensure consumption can’t/won’t happen—but I think fear suffocates any chance of love. For me this is a love poem with sad problems. The body is for entering and exiting; love and passion do this, your spirit does this, food/air/water do this, good art (in all its subjective glory) does this. You can’t be afraid, if you are, you’re in hot trouble. I get afraid all the time, that’s when I “phone home.”
10.) If time is a matter of light, how do you view the body? The poem, “Phenomenology: Sectors & Airy Tangles,” begins, “1. // inside the body is dark) / even light’s smallness cannot permeate all the skins.” So we use “radioactive” dyes to make visible these internal mechanisms. When we dream about how time illuminates the body, how is this different from movement?
For me the body is a medium for experiment. Time, matter and light make up the conditions for this experiment. Time illuminates the body by moving it away from innocence. Movement illuminates the body moving it toward innocence. Movement is essential. Time in an imagined construct. Motion is physics.
11.) Poetically, if movement demands light, how does the body perform in this sphere? You say, “took too long to figure— / how bugs attract the flood of light … when we pick up speed in the night / all this had to do with mantels / and the pull of the / moon.” Can you further the discussion of this invisible “pull,” and how does this manifest in your own creation of the poem?
For me writing a poem can happen in 10 seconds or take months (even years). I am waiting for an “invisible pull” to move me from one image to the next. I observe until I experience/find/imagine what feels like a vibrational match slightly altered—I guess I could say the body performs movement when the lighting is right. I like that, I’ll probably put it in a poem.
12.) In the poem, “Adverbial Conjugation, Labial Geometries & A line by George Kalamaras,” we read, “but loving that is how I’ve come to know these parallel points of ache inside my chest which are—going to cross. I’ve charted their likenesses.” I’m interested in the site of the female body as it intersects with mathematics. The structure of math insofar has recently accredited an order to random numbers, specifically prime numbers which are supposedly indivisible outliers. This would mean a structured place upon a structurelessness; linear blueprints to coincidence.
The female body aligns most directly with the mathematics of the moon, a cycle every 28 days. Coincidence? Maybe?
I don’t know much about prime numbers but yesterday I met a man named Moses who was charting prime numbers while I struggled to plug my computer charger into the wall. He offered to trade me tables and told me that when he saw my orange shirt (the healing color of sunset/sunrise) the math he was looking for came to him. This he said was not a coincidence. He told me that as you move closer to infinity, prime numbers become less and less, but, Moses said they never disappear i.e. their structure becomes intensely fragile but not obsolete. Perhaps this means coincidence does indeed have a blueprint! Perhaps this means there is really no such thing as coincidence–I view this as really good news. I like Jung’s idea of synchronicity or “meaningful coincidence” : “a simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state,” the simultaneity of “two or more events, where something other that the probability of chance is involved.” I believe we have the power and ability to create meaningful simultaneity in our lives, the blueprint for this isn’t female or male though, as far as I can understand it, it’s simply thought without fear–I’ve found the Universe responds well to brave thoughts.
13.) The poem continues, “I’ve charted their likenesses / which are at a point unconjoined, but near the end a labia always loses itself into itself.” This “random” end site is the female body, and also at once loving. If the end was not inherited, but a part of an invisible structure, how do you suppose this would change the inherited view of the female body and how the body interacts in our everyday lives?
If it were possible to chart the point where a labial geometry joins itself would you/or could you call it an endpoint?
Any point will do then, pick one. Pick a random point and point to it: say this is where it happens… this is where it ends and where love happens.
Suddenly this point exists as dawn or dusk exists, perfectly exact in inexactness. The end is always there and never there. Maybe because female bodies are connected to the moon they are able to comprehend this intimately. I think when this realization happens the inherited view of the female body dissipates; in fact, the inherited view of any body dissipates; now our daily interactions are full with love and awe.
I just want to say one more thing, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s no fun. The best poets I know listen to Drake and eat fancy cupcakes, they have dance parties, you know.