Laura Passin’s first full length collection of poetry, Borrowing Your Body, is the final book the press is publishing in 2021. It’s currently available for pre-order at the sale price of $10 – order your copy today! She answered a few questions so we could get to know her a little better.
How long did it take you to write Borrowing Your Body? What was your process for pulling it together?
Years! Many of the poems in this book originated over 10 years ago, though they have evolved greatly since then. The book has always been centered around witnessing my mother’s experience of dementia and aphasia (a disorder that took away her ability to express herself verbally), and her eventual death. So some of the poems (like “Things She’s Forgotten”) were written or at least sketched during that time period. Many poems, of course, were written years later, in the long aftermath of losing a parent this way. As a collection, though, Borrowing Your Body has seen many incarnations. I think at first it was more of a memoir-in-verse, but I moved away from that as my experience of grief evolved too. I wanted more wonder to be part of it, not just loss—that’s when I started incorporating the sections that explore outer space and my quasi-ekphrastic sequence that’s a tribute to The Twilight Zone. Many poet friends read versions of it and helped me think about sequence and pacing—I want to thank especially Katie Hartsock, Carolina Hotchandani, and Liz Harlan-Ferlo for reading earlier (much earlier!) versions of the manuscript, and Emily Carson Dashawetz and Catie Bull for being early readers of what became the Twilight Zone poems.
How does this collection differ from your chapbook, All Sex and No Story?
All Sex and No Story is, as its title suggests, also about bodies, but in a very different way, focusing on the erotic, the pressures of gendered embodiment, and the threat of sexual violence. I’m really proud of that chapbook, as it includes a wide range of my work from my early 20s to poems written in the last five years. Pulling together that collection involved really examining my work at a thematic level, whereas I always knew that Borrowing Your Body would have a narrative element as well, given that I wanted the reader to come with me through different stages of losing my mother first to dementia and then to death itself.
What’s a favorite poem from the collection? Why?
This is such a hard question! If I have to pick one, I think it would be the final poem, “The Learn’d Astronomer on the Radio.” It takes inspiration from two sources: an episode of Radiolab, and Walt Whitman’s classic “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” which was one of my mother’s favorite poems. This poem means so much to me because it gave me a way to imagine my mother the way I wish I could have known her: “unharmed,” dying of old age. Of course, Whitman’s poem rejects the “learnedness” of the astronomer in favor of simply going outside and looking at the stars—having an unmediated relationship with the universe. But strangely, I found that thinking about the most bizarre theoretical possibility—that there might be parallel versions of ourselves, that “inside / of infinity […] any finite pattern must / repeat”—allowed me to imagine a more direct relationship with my mother, to overcome the profound distance that her aphasia, especially, created.
What’s your writing routine look like? How has the pandemic changed it?
Oh my god, I wish I could say I had a structured and really dedicated writing routine that I stick to every day, but I just don’t. I have writing jags, where I’m writing all the time for days, weeks, maybe even months, and then I have fallow periods, where I’m hardly writing at all. I have a wonderful writing group here in Denver that meets once a month, so that keeps me honest about writing regularly. Every year, I run a poem-a-day challenge online with a group of poets, and that is always incredibly productive for me. But like many poets, I have a day job, and sometimes I have more writing time than others. I just try to always have a notebook and a good pen in every bag I own.
Who are your favorite poets?
The poets closest to my heart are probably Muriel Rukeyser, Mark Doty, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Whitman. Other major “always reread” poets are Louise Glück, Sharon Olds, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Plath, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Tretheway… The list goes on. The poet who most makes me want to be a better poet is Anne Carson. Eros the Bittersweet completely rewired my brain, and Glass, Irony and God is basically always echoing around in there. I mean: “My religion makes no sense /and does not help me / therefore I pursue it.” How does she do it?!
What are you reading right now?
Poetry-wise, I’m excited to be savoring Brian Simoneau’s new book, No Small Comfort, and Clare Wahmanholm’s Redmouth. In the prose world, I am always reading or rereading about half a dozen books, but I’m currently deep in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (smack in the middle of Green Mars, to be precise). I am fairly obsessed with fiction that imagines how we as humans can live now that we’ve nearly destroyed our home planet, and Robinson’s work really attempts to fully imagine this.
What’s your favorite non-writing activity?
Knitting! I have been knitting for over 20 years, and it satisfies my creative self while also allowing me to feel “productive” while watching ridiculous TV. You can’t beat that.
What is one good thing that came out of the pandemic for you?
My partner and I adopted a tiny kitten and an enormous puppy during the pandemic, and they are both wonderful. It’s bittersweet, because we also lost two cats in the pandemic, elderly ones who had lived glorious long lives. But now we have these two young beasts in our household, along with our two ancient rescue chihuahuas. Every day I have to convince myself it’s too soon to get another cat!
Laura has a bunch of virtual readings lined up – join her as she reads from her forthcoming collection!