10 Questions for Alexis Orgera
- By Edward Clifford
the Georgia coast,
to their murky
—From "The Book of Other," Volume 62, Issue 4 (Winter 2021)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I can do more than tell you about it. Here it is:
in the sand.
Shave the beard
and bite the chin.
In the ninth grade, my English class included a semester of poetry, and that was the beginning for me. We read widely from Xeroxed pages, wrote our own poems, and made handmade poetry anthologies. I’d tried to write some stories before then, but I was more a reader. My favorite poems as a kid were Alfred Noyes’s tragic “The Highwayman” and Elinor Wylie’s “Sea Lullaby”: “The sea creeps to pillage, / She leaps on her prey; / A child of the village / Was murdered today.” Dark.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I’ve recently been reading Ross Gay, and while I’m not writing poems like his, I am thinking a helluva lot more about gratitude and what that word means to me inside a poem. Also about how to more organically (pun intended) incorporate the green world into my poems. So, I think everyone we read and admire, whose writing is exciting in some way, has an influence.
Early and foundational poetic influences were Elizabeth Bishop, Nikki Giovanni, Yusef Komunyakaa, Philip Levine, A.R. Ammons, James Tate. I’ve recently been going back to Jean Valentine a lot. I read a ton of Jeanette Winterson and Toni Morrison in my twenties. Those stories still echo around in my chest.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve been a professor, a school librarian, a high school creative writing teacher, a publisher of children’s books, a book editor, a bookseller. I’ve also done things like sell high-end kids clothing (if you’re in the market for a $250 onesie, I’ve got you) and manage coffeeshops. My next iteration will involve plants.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be Magnum PI from the age of three through maybe nine or ten. In middle school I went through an archeology phase. In ninth grade biology (wow, ninth grade was the year), we did a landscape architecture project that was the most fun I’ve ever had, and I wanted to do that for a minute. I got to college, and literature just consumed me.
What inspired you to write this piece?
This piece is part of a larger series of apocalyptic eco-poems that comprise an imaginary book called The Book of Other, the poems from this “book” are written in the first and third person and braided throughout a larger manuscript. They’re poems from the future, the near future, about the world during and after various environmental catastrophes. This piece opens with the true story of a cargo ship that capsized and dumped thousands of Hyundais off the coast of Georgia a few years ago. Talk about environmental disaster. The speaker in these poems is basically walking, witnessing.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I think a lot about that. Calvino’s Invisible Cities is always in grabbing distance. I’ve lived in a lot of places; I was a wanderer for twenty or so years. I’m come to this: I love the energy of cities; I love the energy of wild spaces; I love places where I can hike, dig in the dirt, and grow things. So yes.
Liminal spaces excite me: cliffsides, shorelines. Gregory Orr writes about it in “The Edge as Threshold” when he says a poet needs to go to “that place where energy and intensity concentrate, that place just beyond which chaos and randomness reign.” That’s my spot.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I can only listen to ambient, electronic, post-rock type music when I’m writing. Following the emotional arc, the build-up of a piece of music while writing can be powerful. If there are words, I’ll just sing along. Oh, I can listen to fast punk rock I’m not familiar with, too, because deciphering the lyrics takes attention.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
The editors who publish it. I’ve traditionally been rotten at sharing poems with other writer friends, though I’ve done a few writing and/or accountability groups over the years. I’m not necessarily advocating for this; I often wish I were wired differently. But that’s a pointless road to go down.
What are you working on currently?
My memoir-in-fragments, Head Case: My Father Alzheimer’s & Other Brainstorms, just came out so I’m winding down from that. But I have two or three poetry manuscripts I’m tinkering with and two books of essays, one about plants and one about circles.
What are you reading right now?
Currently in the middle of two poetry collections: Morgan Parker’s Magical Negro and Mark Leidner’s Returning the Sword to the Stone; nonfiction: Barry Lopez’s 1978 book, Of Wolves and Men and some Wendell Berry essays from the same era; Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time; and fiction: Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves.
ALEXIS ORGERA is a writer, editor, and publisher living in North Carolina. She’s the author of two poetry collections, How Like Foreign Objects and Dust Jacket, and a memoir-in-fragments, Head Case: My Father, Alzheimer’s & Other Brainstorms (Kore Press). She spends much of her free time walking in the woods, digging in the soil, and recently writing eco-apocalypse poems from the vantage of the near future.