Inside the amazing brains of Lauren Tivey,
Meg Pokrass & Heather Sullivan
Lauren Tivey's poetry collections include The Breakdown Atlas & Other Poems (2011), Moroccan Holiday (2020, winner of The Poetry Box Chapbook Prize), and Traveler in the Sunset Clouds (2022.) She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, and her work has appeared in South Florida Poetry Journal, Saw Palm Connotation Press, and Split Lip Magazine, among dozens of other publication sin the U.S. and the U.K. After much international travel, including a six-year stint in China, she now resides in St. Augustine, FL, where she teaches English and Creative Writing and Flagler College.
BLM: How has your writing changed or surprised you since the publication of your first book, The Breakdown Atlas?
LT: Going back even further than The Breakdown Atlas, I had two earlier chaps, in ’93 and ’96, so I’m really looking across thirty years of writing, and one thing I noticed is that all of my earlier work centered on relationships. That began changing with The Breakdown Atlas, which was written while abroad; while the first part of that book focuses on relationships, the second part shifts toward place-based travel poems. In Moroccan Holiday, there’s a complete fusing of the two, with a relationship falling apart against the background of Morocco. Traveler in the Sunset Clouds is full of pure place-based poems, about my time living in China. I feel I’ve shifted once again in my recent work, away from both relationship and travel themes, toward a more experimental style. I’ve been having fun! I think now that I’ve fully settled back down in the States, it’s allowed for a sense of play to emerge. I’ve tried my hand at traditional sonnet crowns, and sestinas, as well as more prose poems, ekphrasis, and persona pieces. I’ve been playing around with “columnar” poems, wherein I’ve got a poem with two columns, and each column can be read down individually, or across the page, encompassing both, and make sense either way. There are also ouroboros poems that can be read in an unending circular fashion. I still write my usual lyric-narrative pieces, and probably always will, but I can’t deny there’s been development and maturation in those, as well. Thanks for this question—I don’t know if I would’ve thought about it much, otherwise, but it’s good to be aware of these trends in one’s writing.
BLM: What celebrity death or deaths devastated you, and why?
LT: Anthony Bourdain’s suicide gutted me. That felt like losing a close friend. I’d been enamored of his work ever since Kitchen Confidential, and had followed his career, watched all his shows, and I just adored him (actually, I had a huge crush on him). He had such a warm and intimate way with people of all walks of life, while still maintaining an edge, a sense of humor, and an adventurous spirit. He seemed so real, you know? That someone could be suffering so much, while maintaining this very public and exceptional life, but was somehow unable or unwilling to get the help he needed, is tragic. I feel deeply for his family and friends, and this loss that must’ve left a giant hole in their lives. I like to think that wherever he is now, he’s made his way to some heavenly kitchen, and is whipping up gourmet meals for other souls, and regaling them at his table. He was a true individual, and we were lucky to have him for the time we did.
BLM: What do you feel is your favorite or most successful poem, and why?
LT: There’s a prose poem I wrote a couple of years ago, called “memetics, my love.” It was published by Menacing Hedge in their Spring/Summer 2020 issue. That was a fave, because memes helped get me through the chaos of 2020—they were really on fire that year. I think memes are a sort of love language shared among friends; if anyone can make me laugh, especially amidst the insanity of this world, they have my gratitude. I started thinking about the process of memes, their birth, their unending iterations, their spread, their delivery, and this was the result:
memetics, my love
take the one of a woman shouting in frame a, the sneering cat in frame b; in the time it takes you to read this poem, it’s gone, swallowed into the web, data packets racing through routers, networks, device to device, a replicating virus jumping from host to host, the meme pool spreading, propagating to infinity—hell, evolving—fractaling into outer space, a throbbing, spinning, infectious mass, sucking up ideas and splitting them off like a modern day Hydra, transmitting at speed of light, rocketing through ozone layer, aurora, troposphere, stratosphere, whizzing among the celestial bodies—such swift hustle, such alacrity, such zip and zoom! the intergalactic rush to geostationary satellites, hurtling through a vacuum, marrying plasma, hydrogen, helium, humming across the magnetic fields, collecting traces of cosmic dust, subatomic particles, and then the whoosh back, reverse interstellar, plummeting through the atmosphere, tumbling via fiber optic cables *poof* direct to the stylized hunk of aluminum, glass, and plastic vibrating in your hand, to the screen, to your eyes, your gleaming eyes! fanfare of arrival, meme melting into corneas, pupils dilating, clever joke gushing through veins and brains, sparking adrenaline and dopamine, your neural receptors firing like disco balls, sweet joy lighting your face—this, this is how we show love in the 21st century.
Meg Pokrass is the award-winning author of 8 flash fiction collections and 2 flash novellas, including Spinning to Mars (Blue Light Book Award, 2021) and The Loss Detector (Bamboo Dart Press, 2020). Her work has appeared in over 900 literary journals has been anthologized in 3 Norton anthologies: Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015), New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (W.W. Norton, 2018), and Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton & Co., 2023). She is the Series Co-Editor of Best Microfiction and Founding Editor of New Flash Fiction Review. Meg lives in Inverness Scotland.
BLM: How did moving to Scotland from California affect your writing?
MP: I am not sure it did.. I still write about characters living in California. It feels like, emotionally, my stories will almost always be set there. That’s where I grew up and lived for most of my adult life. I don’t know that we can change the places that take up permanent residence in our hearts. You can take the girl out of California… that kind of thing..
BLM: What in your life has been your greatest delight, and what has been your greatest disappointment?
MP: Greatest delight: Finding what I’m good at doing (writing and editing flash fiction) and the luck of being able to pursue that world full time.
Greatest Disappointment. Living in America, how terrifying and polarized it has become. Leaving it doesn’t help, at all. I worry about America just as strongly and passionately from abroad.
BLM: What do you feel is your favorite or most successful story, and why?
MP: I’m very fond of “Little Duckies” from Atticus Review. I like it because I feel haunted by it. I could feel the presence of the ghost of an ancient queen when I wrote it and now, when now when I read it.
Her neck is long, milky-white and ropey. She looks like the painting of some decapitated queen. We can’t remember where we met her or how she chose us, but we hope she doesn’t leave.
Our closest friends ask nosy questions: Where did she come from? When is she planning to depart?
We don’t have answers for such rudeness, and stop communicating with them entirely.
On difficult days, she wanders in circles around the dining room, a loose little raincloud waiting for a push. We see how hard she is on herself. Some nights she crawls into bed between us, poking me in the belly with the sixth finger of her poor right hand.
“Do you like thee deformity?” she’ll ask, the will of a child sneaking into her voice.
“We’re all deformed,” I say, hoping my breath is okay.
At breakfast, a projecting tooth pushing out from her lips, she teases us about our sturdy Labrador retriever.
“You mutht thtop feeding him those Yorkthire Puddingth,” she lisps, swinging her blood-colored hair around like a lasso, tying it up and letting it fall.
“Fantastic hair,” I say.
“Thank you. But I’m waiting for that one’th wolf whistle,” she says.
My husband squeezes his lips together and blows.
When we take our evening stroll, she’s there at the end of the path, a galaxy of moles near her throat. In many ways she has conquered us.
“Happy rainless night,” my husband says, kissing her outstretched hand as if he’s Lancelot, she’s Guinevere. In the gloaming, I notice her long, flat chest.
I turn to my husband, studying his face. “Anne Boleyn had nothing on her,” I say.
My husband agrees. “No joke,” he says. “There must have been a queen in her genes.”
Not long before Christmas, she hobbles around the living room wearing striped damask slippers, moaning with a toothache. I’m afraid she’s broken a crown on my home-made toffee.
At dinner, she watches us chew, lacing and unlacing her fingers, lips drawing an unzippable line.
“Beer anyone?” I say, hoping to crack the mood.
“Hops are a wicked, pernicious weed!” my husband scolds. I find myself taking deep breaths, apologizing for everything.
“Wouldn’t music be pritty?” she trills. My husband stares at her invisible breasts while I fetch my ukulele from the garage.
“It’s out of tune,” I say, smiling and curtsying.
Later, I light a few candles, leaving the two of them alone with home-made cherry pie. I sit in the back of the house next to the fat dog, where it’s warmer.
She guest-stars in one of my dreams, wearing a scarlet petticoat, kneeling next to my husband who holds a bottomless chalice.
“Please learn to love him,” I plead. I wake with a stiff neck, feeling claustrophobic and weird. That night she slept between us again, something I’m still learning to appreciate. The bed can withstand an earthquake, but the curtain-posts tend to shake.
“Is that a sword? Or are you happy to see me?” she squeaks, while my husband cradles her tiny breasts. I can barely see them beneath the economy light-bulb.
“Little duckies.” He giggles.
Today she vomits on my side of the bed.
“How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?” I say, wishing she could be healthier.
“Go away please,” she whispers in my ear, hiding her neck with her hands.
“Do we know whose it is anyway?” my husband says to me in private, a salacious leer upon his face.
Men! I think, ruined by how much I care—wishing he’d leave us alone.
I’ve been juggling bean bags in front of the mirror. “Why did the King ban the Queen from court?” I say to the two of them at breakfast, trying to make them laugh while perfecting my three-ball cascade.
The three of us, alone in the world, toss around boy baby names. “Egbert? Edmund? Alfred? George?”
“Henry?” she says, sad black eyes on my husband’s pie-shaped face.
“Yes, yes, yes!” he shouts. It really feels like Christmas here, with so many smiles.
Heather Sullivan’s work has appeared in numerous online and printed journals, from Chiron Review to Barbaric Yawp, Free State Review to Paper and Ink Literary Zine. Her two collections, Waiting for an Answer and Method Acting for the Afterlife, are available from www.nixesmate.pub. She lives outside Boston with her family and a small herd of cats.
BLM: What inspired you to start a magazine with your husband?
HS: In actuality, my husband, the novelist and poet Rusty Barnes, started livenudepoems.com back in 2009. I joined the fray a couple years later, and we’ve been at it ever since. We’re drawn to the idea and function of poetry. In our opinion, we have a job to do as poets, even if only to better know our own humanity. Knowing that, we like to showcase poetry that breathes and presents moments in time, that tells a story, changes the reader if only for a second. BLM: Did turning 50 provide you with any surprising insights?
HS: I’ve always believed that age is a societal construct, with the numbers and their perceived turning points a contrivance. That being said, I have reached a mark where I know what I like and what I don’t like and I’m no longer concerned with making those distinctions known. We spend far too much energy as younger women concerned with couching our interests and being palatable to school, work, lovers. Hopefully age gives you a healthy dose of fuck that noise. BLM: What do you feel is your best or favorite poem, and why? HS: I was reflecting one day on the physical pain of heartbreak, and the knowledge that it can actually kill you. This conversation caused me to research the anatomical causes, i.e. trauma to the chordae tendineae, and the resulting effects. From there, I allowed myself to live in that emotion for a while and create my speaker. There’s always a part of me in everything I write, but that sense of my heart bottoming out from the pain really made me ache, and it still does when I read it again.
Chordae Tendineae Each tendon that connects the papillary muscles to the tricuspid valve and the mitral valve in the heart can be broken under extreme stress. Stretched taut and then snapping one by one through loss or betrayal, these heart strings, these tender chords. Your heart balloons and bottoms out under the increased weight and loss of support, just as a suspension bridge collapses when the cables snap. Your heart can break in the oddest places, a doctor’s office in Boston when you learn she will be your last child, on a side street in Somerville when he says goodbye, when your mother turns gray in a hospice room, when your beloved weeps in his sleep for a dead father. My heart is suspended in the middle of my chest by my will to stick around to see who makes the playoffs. No longer held in place, she bobs and weaves against my ribs, looking for the exit signs.