Recently, I have become obsessed with examining colloquialisms, particularly in supposedly intimate dialogues. So often, I feel we censor ourselves, even when we are talking to those closest to us—for me, the subway is my main inspiration, because I literally overhear how people live, how they survive. Through overhearing these conversations, I always notice there is a dance: the underlying meaning is implied, but usually not explicitly explained. In these poems, I am both the interrogator and the interviewee; I purposefully ask a question that has an ambiguous, surreal answer, because I believe this is what most conversations are: dances without an explicit outcome.
Ever since I can remember, humans have fascinated me—the way they look, act, interact; in some ways, I felt as though I were an alien as a child—observing others always, constantly questioning: How do we survive? To say the least, America is a strange place, where its modern foundations lie in the idea of dreams; at once, it is a nation that prides itself on puritanical work ethic and family values, but also reveres magical thinking. It is full of contradictions, as Whitman would say. Honestly, these ‘interview’ poems, as I call them, are written while I’m on the subway. I actually use the notes app on my phone to record my thoughts and observations, which I later turn into poems.
This is a land where, supposedly, anything is possible—hence, the birth of the ‘American Dream’ in suburbia, its earliest origins in the late 1880s.1 As a citizen, I seek to illuminate this strangeness in the present moment, which is one of murky transition, into a digital age, which I don’t fully understand. In particular, in the poems Mother and Father, I am purposefully exploring these archetypes within modern American culture, focusing on sexuality, parenthood, and their greater understanding of things as they are in time.
Dreams, in general, are hard to reconcile: our dreams define us psychologically—what we yearn for, where we decide to live and who to love. Yet, then there are the dreams that occur within our sleep, which also change us physio-psychologically. Surrealism has always influenced me from a young age. I loved Man Ray and Dali, and still do. In Mother and Father, I am trying to intertwine dreams, both conscious and subconscious, within the modern construct these people, including us, live in. In Mother, the character cannot differentiate between physically becoming a mother — and subsequently, raising a child — to her dreams of finding a child within the space of her body.
Similarly, in the poem Father, I ask the questions I want to answer, that I want to discuss with a friend, without either of us censoring each other by accident. He answers earnestly about what he believes and questions—the answers may seem naïve (like questioning whether the dead can be seen), but are also at the root of our very humanity, so I think, of course. That being said, I always try to include some moment of dark humor, because we cope with humor; it’s a type of ritual magic in some way. We expect humor to make us feel better, and it usually does, even if it is short-lived. How many decisions do we make on this basis?
By using an interview format to structure the poems, the dialogue is forced to abandon the dance through its uncorrupted honesty; this may seem mildly contradictory, as there is a disconnect between the questions and answers, but I believe in the absurdist humor where we can find meaning. Most of all, by taking ourselves out of the poem by reading a seemingly short interview, the audience can relate, and hopefully, feel comfort.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams, forthcoming from Aldrich Press in late 2014. She is also the Founding & Chief Editor of Yes Poetry, as well as a columnist for Luna Luna Magazine. In her spare time, she is a mermaid.