Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Q&A with Cynthia Manick


Photo by Robin Martin


Cynthia Manick is the author of the new poetry collection No Sweet Without Brine. Her other books include Blue Hallelujahs. She is the founder of the reading series Soul Sister Revue.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your new collection?


A: Five years. Looking back at all the poems – I knew I was writing into something in 2017. Most of the time when you write a poem, you’re writing for the sake of language – to emote, to experience, and to wonder. But then sometimes you write a poem that acts like a signifier to something more. I had that moment in 2017.


Q: How did you decide on the order in which the poems would appear?


A: I’ve always believed that poems should talk to each other. So poems within sections are like a playlist and at times they are ordered in terms of emotion.


If you’re at party – do you play house music, then a slow song, then a Motown jam? Actually no, you try to create a gamut that’s ether seamless or builds. Poems should be able to tap the next poem on the shoulder.


I went back to my folders – (I think every poet has them) and this is what I originally had taped on the wall when I was working.


Poems across the collection relate to identity – what creates it and what affects it. Additionally, the section order of the book changed.


Originally “If We Should, Who Will Fly After Us?” opened the book, but then in editing we realized that the reader should experience a narrative progression. Starting the book with the first tanka and “Self-Portraits and Other Skies” opened the reader to what happens next.


Q: The writer Roxane Gay said of the book, “These are exuberant, engaging poems composed with confidence and flair.” What do you think of that description?


A: I freely admit that when I got the email that Roxane tweeted and reviewed No Sweet Without Brine – I think I sat still for about 20 minutes. The description is fantastic and I love the word exuberant.

I’m not a fan of trauma poetry – where poems open a wound and the wound never closes. So I attempted with Brine to do more than pull back the scab and address what happens after that – something exciting, sorrowful, or something in between. When I think of the word “engaging” – I go back to the playlist metaphor of creating something that builds.


And lastly, I always tell my students that good poetry is combination of craft and heart, so Roxane Gay’s description fits perfectly.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: While I’m Brooklyn born and raised, my family is originally from Santee, South Carolina. When cooking sometimes you must start with a brine aka salt base to bring out the flavor. You have to soak and live with it, to prepare and to figure out what comes next – the sweet.


When I think about life – we have loops of sweet and brine and for Black culture, one doesn’t exist without the other.   


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished writing an instruction poem on how to find joy for The Brooklyn Rail, poems for The Rumpus, and the hybrid book tour started April 1, the first day of National Poetry Month! I’m excited for other people to experience the collection.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think everyone experiences their version of the sweet and the brine in poetry and life, so don’t be afraid of it; embrace it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb        

No comments:

Post a Comment