Poets Online Talking About Coffee: Rachel Mennies

How much coffee do you need in the morning before you feel ready to write poetry?

I almost never write in the mornings, actually—I find that my productive times for writing are flipped from my productive times for All Other Things (teaching, grading, exercise-things). So I usually write in the evenings after I’ve returned from campus, and for that, I apply a reasonable dose of Campari.

How much before you’re ready to teach?

A giant to-go mug, iced in the summer, hot in the winter. I make it at home and drink it in the car like a good American commuter.

Say you’re commuting and you think of a line or two. Do you stop and write it down? Or can you remember? I tend to forget if I don’t write stuff down.

This usually leads to me scrambling in my purse for a pen (at a red light, promise) and scrawling what I can manage onto a piece of scrap paper. I still haven’t mastered the art of leaving myself a voice mail, or any other phone-recording wizardry, in an instant when it’s needed. But I absolutely also forget if I don’t somehow write down what’s bouncing around in my head.

Who are M and V in your book No Silence in the Fields?

They’re imaginary friends of mine, in a way, and people I know from real life, in a way—they’re a couple in love (maybe married? maybe not?) who’ve suffered a traumatic loss, and that loss enters into each of them differently, and takes hold of them differently. It spins them away from each other, in the end.

I’ve witnessed a few of the women I love experience miscarriages, and I started writing this chapbook after one friend’s loss in particular. I found myself orbiting around her pain—I became unable to stop thinking about it, and I started writing into those thoughts from there—and that’s the origin story of V.

How does The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards relate to your experience of religion?

I became a secular Jew (as opposed to a practicing Jew, which I was up until the end of high school) right around the time I started developing/interrogating my identity as a woman and as a feminist. I don’t think these two events are directly related, especially since the Jewish tradition I grew up in was fairly liberal and progressive; I just couldn’t reconcile the version of God that tradition showed me with how I, as a young adult, was beginning to understand the world, especially in the context of my own family history as it related to the Holocaust. The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards starts at that moment of religious change, and looks back through versions of my family’s history and forward through a teen girl’s coming of age (based largely on my own) in order to consider these paradoxes and tensions in full view.

 How Will You Raise Your Children?

Abraham or Abraham, spring
feast or spring fast? In what tongue
must you pray, Hebrew
or Latin? Do your holy men

anoint babies with water
or knives? Do you bless the wine
for the prophet coming or the prophet
gone? Where is the sun when

you bless the wine for the prophet
coming or the prophet gone?
Which fetish did your great-great-
grandfathers teach your great-

grandfathers, to sign
the cross or to pin
the yarmulke? Whose fetish
will live on in their tiny hands; who

will guide them through the air?
Will you lead down
the path of your certainty
with the left foot of day

or the left foot of night? And what
of us? The ones who mourn
a change, then change;
the ones who must.

Poem republished from The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, published by Texas Tech University Press in 2014.

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