Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! Today artist and writer Summer J. Hart joins us to discuss the Louise Erdrich, being left breathless by writing, and poetic origin stories. As always, thank you for tuning in!
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What drew you originally into Louise Erdrich’s poetry? Is there an origin story of how you discovered her work?
Summer J. Hart: I encountered the novels of Louise Erdrich long before reading her poems. After graduate school I spent a year or so temping. One of my jobs was as a receptionist for a realty management office. A retired New Yorker cartoonist named Boris Drucker rented the office next door and we became friends. My job was neither challenging nor interesting, so I would often read or draw behind my desk. Boris saw my copy of Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine and the next day brought in his copy of Tracks. For the rest of my time in the office, Boris and I spent our lunch breaks talking about our love of drawing and Louise Erdrich. Erdrich’s writing, whether prose or poetry, never fails to goose-pimple my arms. I’ve spent years researching, collecting family lore, and making art about my own mixed Native and settler heritage. Before reading Love Medicine, I had never heard stories as similar to those my aunts and grandmother shared with me about life on and after leaving the reservation.
AH:I was absolutely in love with the details woven into the poems you’ve read! What were your favorite lines and/or images?
SJH: From “Owls”: “Each night the noise wakes me, a death / rattle, everything in sex that wounds.” I love the way Erdrich writes about sex in this poem as “raw need / of one feathered body for another.” The owl is a symbol of death so terrifying that even children don’t enjoy the lilting repetition of its name spoken in Ojibwe. Which was very fun to read! Kokoko. This poem rips bodies open—pulls feathers and bones from flesh. But, it also nourishes.
A barred owl asks again and again, Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?
The couple in the apartment also have an aching, visceral need. “This is how we make love” she writes, “when there are people in the halls around us…” The world inside the apartment is stripped back until there is nothing left but two bodies clinging together. All around them the gears of domesticity churn, relentless. The grinding consumption and expulsion of days whir along. Outside, birds fly from one throat to another. Neighbors scrub plates in the sink. A glass breaks. The pungency of frying onions drifts down the hall.I am drawn to the images (and sounds) of the owls, the humans, and the dead tree. I read this poem as both love letter and Memento mori.
From “That Pull from the Left”:
I love how she begins this poem with a name. Butch. This Butch, even if I read nothing more of him, has somehow been with me my whole life. “But something queer happens when the heart is delivered.” The word delivered. She follows the first iteration of this line with “when a child is born…” A baby is delivered. Cattle are delivered and again to slaughter. Meat is wrapped carefully in brown paper and delivered to the outstretched palm of a customer. The heart, cut from the body is how we begin and end, the start / stop of a muscle. We cling to life in life (our lolling eyes), and our bones fight to keep the flesh and sinew attached even after a final blow delivers death. The poem talks also of the queerness of the woman’s own heart. How she can feel “That pull from the left…” Then, there is the queerness of the sky, or perhaps internal weather, before the dark plunge.
AH: As a writer and creative human, how have you been inspired by Erdrich’s work?
SJH: Louise Erdrich is my forever-favorite. Her work absolutely inspires me to be a much braver writer—my instinct is to self-censor, skirt around the truth of a thing. But she writes fearlessly about living, loving, dying in the natural world…with a bit of magical reality woven in. Her words leave me breathless, but my senses are sharper having read them.
AH: Got any news to share? It can be life, writing, creative updates–anything!
SJH: I am honored to be the Land Acknowledgment Writer for The 3rd Thing Press’ 2021 cohort (forthcoming November 2021). My poem, “Salt for the Stain” appeared in the Massachusetts Review’s Winter 2021 special issue, A Gathering of Native Voices. The website accompaniment to this issue including video readings and links to Native resources will launch this fall. My first full-length collection of poems, Boomhouse will be published by The 3rd Thing Press in 2023.
Louise Erdrich is an American novelist, poet, and children’s book writer. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, she has devoted her work to exploring the lives of Native Americans and those of mixed heritage. She has published three poetry collections and several novels, many of which have received critical acclaim.
Read her poem “Captivity” at Poetry.
Listen to an interview Erdrich had with NPR here.
Read her poem “Original Fire” at Lit Hub.
Summer J. Hart is an interdisciplinary artist from Maine, living in the Hudson Valley, New York. Her written and visual artworks are influenced by folklore, superstition, divination, and forgotten territories reclaimed by nature. She is the author Boomhouse (2023, The 3rd Thing Press) & the microchapbook, Augury of Ash (Post Ghost Press). Her poetry can be found in Waxwing, The Massachusetts Review, Northern New England Review, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her mixed-media installations have been featured in galleries and shows including SPRING/BREAK Art Show, NYC; Pen + Brush, NYC; Gitana Rosa Gallery at Paterson Art Factory, Paterson, NJ; and LeMieux Galleries, New Orleans, LA. She is an enrolled member of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation.
Find her website here.
Read her poem “Boy Crazy” at Waxwing.
Find her her forthcoming collection Boomhouse at The 3rd Thing Press.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear in Barren Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press, and reads for EX/POST Magazine. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com