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Artist Interview

Dora Malech

April 9, 2019

Elvis lives. A gentleman: elegant man. The eyes, they see. Anagrams are cool. Words that beget other words, using the exact same letters. A fun game, an impressive trick, you think. But then you meet Dora Malech...and your mind is blown. If one can have a way with words, Dora has a universe. Her recent collection, Stet, employs anagrams and other formal restraints to create poems that simultaneously alight and take flight. She works from a lyrically molecular level to get at the heart of the matter. Dora's poetry is much like her visual art: intricate lines meticulously crossing and recrossing each other, creating multitudes. Look close, and the center always holds. But step back, and you’ll begin to see that from all of these lines, these pieces, these iterations, comes the shape of something whole: a living, breathing form. 

Dora Malech is the author of Stet (Princeton University Press, 2018), Say So (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011), and Shore Ordered Ocean (Waywiser Press, 2009). Her fourth collection, Flourish, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2020. She is assistant professor with The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She will be leading a Poetry Word-Shop at Ode on Thursday, April 11th, and reading from her work on Friday, April 12th, alongside poets Nathan McClain, Arda Collins, and Leslie Marie Aguilar. 

An ode and an elegy meet on the sidewalk. How do they greet each other?
The ode would be a big hugger and full of compliments for the elegy. The elegy would just nod in the moment, but she would later send the ode a lengthy formal letter articulating how much that moment meant to her.

                                                           "Ecosystem" by Dora Malech               

Poem that changed your life or poem you wish you’d written:
Gwendolyn Brooks’s “To The Young Who Want to Die,” which ends:

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green's your color. You are Spring.

April has been called “the cruelest month”. What would you call it?
It’s National Poetry Month, so I’d call it a full calendar.


Give us a writing prompt:
Write a poem that describes a body of water from your childhood. You can interpret “body of water” literally—a lake, ocean, or reservoir, for example—or you can go with a more personal interpretation—an open fire hydrant, a bathtub. Try to portray the feeling of being in or near that body of water without using more than three adjectives (descriptive words like “blue” or “warm”) in your entire poem. Use no “adverbs of manner” (the “-ly” adverbs like “madly” or “loudly”). (It might help to write freely, and then go back in and replace these words if you find them.) Restricting these descriptive words will push you to find strong, specific verbs (action words) and nouns (people, places, things), as well as strong surprising figurative language (metaphors, etcetera). Title your water poem either “Origin Story” or “Creation Myth.”

The question “does poetry matter” can be an annoying one, so we won’t ask you that. BUT, if poetry was actual physical matter, what would it feel/smell/taste like?
Rich, wet earth and sunlight—the conditions for growth.
By what quotes/lines/provocations/inspirations/affirmations do you live (or aspire to)?
It changes every day! Right now, it’s the end of Ada Limón’s poem “Instructions on Not Giving Up”:

. . . . Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

                                               "Hover" by Dora Malech

What books are on your nightstand or docket?
I just finished reading Marwa Helal’s Invasive Species (Nightboat Books, 2019). I’m about to start Darcie Dennigan’s The Parking Lot and other feral scenarios (Forklift Books, 2018).

What does your poetry wear to a party?
Velvet pants and a fanny pack. Or maybe that’s just me.

Go-to morning song:
Right now, The Dirty Projector’s “Break-Thru” and Lizzo’s “Juice.”

What are the most recent lines you’ve written:
What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?
What’s a girl like you doing in?
What’s a girl like you?