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A Conversation with Dorothea Lasky

From: The Missouri Review
Volume 36, Number 3, 2013
pp. 152-172 | 10.1353/mis.2013.0068

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Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dorothea Lasky has emerged over the last few years as one of the most important poets of her generation. Her bold, unmistakable voice, both on the page and in person at her booming public readings, somehow brings together the comic and demonic, wonder and horror, sincerity and irony. Underneath the seemingly artless, accessible surface of her poems lies a sophisticated play with speaker and audience. Lasky has published three full-length collections of poetry, most recently Thunderbird (2012), as well as Black Life (2010) and Awe (2007), all with Wave Books. She has also published five chapbooks: Poetry Is Not a Project (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010), Tourmaline (Transmission Press, 2008), The Hatmaker’s Wife (Braincase Press, 2006), Art (H_NGM_N Press, 2005) and Alphabets and Portraits (Anchorite Press, 2004). Her poems have appeared in many venues, including the New Yorker, the Paris Review and Boston Review. She holds a BA in classics and psychology from Washington University, an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, an EdM in Arts in Education from Harvard and an EdD in Creativity and Education from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently an assistant professor of poetry at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and lives in Brooklyn. This interview was conducted at the interviewer’s home on August 5, 2012.

Jason Koo:

When did you start writing poetry or thinking about writing poetry?

Dorothea Lasky:

I don’t have a clear memory of when or what caused me to start writing poems. I try to resist this narrative because I don’t really believe in it, but as a girl, I did see it in a very muse/divine intervention/mystical way—I felt as if something were writing through me. My mom was a painter, and my dad was a very brilliant judge—so I came from people talking a lot, and obviously that had a lot to do it. For whatever reason I just started writing poems. It was late at night, and I didn’t want to go to sleep, and I had a notebook and I would just write poems and lines. At some point I told my parents that I was writing these things, and I showed them. And they started getting me poetry books.


So your experience came as a writer first. You were conscious of writing in lines?


Yes, I was conscious of writing in lines. But I do remember having almost a possessed feeling. And that’s how I perceived it for a very long time. And probably a large part of me still sees it that way.


Has anything changed? Is that still the feeling you trust when you write a poem today? That you want to feel as though it’s being channeled through you?


I guess—sadly—a little bit? I know I resist this, because I think it’s a brain process. When you’re being creative you’ve been storing up and processing. Especially when you’re a poet, you’re always processing language, talking. Right now I’m saying these sentences, I’m practicing language, and you’re giving me language; I’m always calculating stuff. So when a poem comes out, it’s not like it really is out of the blue; it’s been germinating for a long time. But I do somehow trust that “channeled” feeling.


What happened when you went to college? Did you start taking workshops and showing poems to peers and teachers?


When I went to college, I really wanted to be a scientist. Or a psychiatrist—that was all kind of bundled together. Then I took a workshop my freshman year. And it was like an explosion. I had been writing poems consistently my whole life, but I remember that first year it was insane. There was something about the experience of the classes, having free time. I had this workshop where we read poets and went to museums and wrote poems; I wrote so much. I was writing poems all the time, to the detriment of my grades. I was writing poems through every...

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