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National Poetry Month: July Westhale Goes to the Moon's Moon

On the podcast: Writer and translator July Westhale reads from her forthcoming collection "Moon Moon."

Episode notes

July Westhale ’13 imagines life in outer space with her forthcoming poetry collection "Moon Moon." On this episode, she gives us a preview with "the world as it is."

    About our guest

    July Westhale ’13 holds an MFA in Poetry from Lesley. Westhale is a novelist, translator, and the award-winning author of six books, including "Via Negativa," which Publishers Weekly called "stunning" in a starred review. Her most recent work can be found in McSweeney’s, The National Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, CALYX, and The Huffington Post, among others. When she’s not teaching, she works as a co-founding editor of PULP Magazine. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Transatlantic. Learn more at www.julywesthale.co.

    Check out previous Poetry Month episodes:

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    • Transcript

      Georgia Sparling

      This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode we bring you conversations with authors in the Lesley community to talk about books, writing and the writing life. Hello, everyone. My name is Georgia Sparling, and today we're continuing our special National Poetry Month series with July Westhale, a novelist, translator and the award winning author of six books, including "Via Negativa," which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Today, she shares a poem from her most recent project "Moon, Moon."

       

      July Westhale

      I'm July Westhale. I am a Brooklyn based poet, and novelist and translator, and I got into poetry as a teenager, when I had an English teacher who said to me, "You're a good person, but I suspect you're an even better poet." There's a joke that every poet's first book is about their childhood, and I'm not the exception to that. So my first collection is called "Trailer Trash," and it's about growing up in 80s and 90s Southern California during the chemical warfare period of pg&e, and growing up in abject poverty, which is not what people usually associate with California. And my second collection, "Via Negativa," is about this correlation between what we think of as the divine in poetry and this ambassadorial role that a poet or a writer plays, and how that also has much in common with the way that we think about desire, and the way that we think about divinity, and Ars Poetica. 

      So today, I'm going to be reading a poem from a collection called "Moon Moon" and "Moon Moon," may or may not be the astronomically correct term for a moon that orbits another moon, kind of like space debris. And this collection was written during the first part of lockdown as a modern epic, about explorers who go, like the world has been vanquished, they go to the moon, they find that the moon has been colonized, so they go and colonize the moon's moon. There are these oracles that are two different versions of Whitney Houston that are modeled after the Oracles and the Neverending Story, and it's imaginative and otherworldly and not at all, even remotely autobiographical. So big, big departure.

      I relocated to Brooklyn last June, from California and heretofore, all of my writing has been about California, whether I want it to be or not. So even though this is also a departure from that variation on a theme, it still talks about the complications and pains of loving a place that is somewhat ravaged. California is a barometer, we know it as a barometer for climate change, and seems to be the place where destruction tends to hit first, and it's becoming quite unlivable. So this definitely has a different mask to it; space travel, but it's also about the same sorts of things. So this is a poem called "the world as it is." 

      There’s snow on the ocean, which is meant to confuse them

      and does, though not because they are unprepared for it

      but rather because the sight of it reminds them

      of the static-hearted parts of their bodies as they prostrate

      themselves in years-over-yonder: exploratory attempts

      to find warmth—not unlike a surefooted expedition—,

      in the disappearance of everything ripe—now covered

      with snow’s annihilating speeches—, in the blank stares

      of our children as they amputate themselves from the world,

      in the cloudscape of come forgotten to be enjoyed,

      on the snow of a down comforter at which they’d first begun

      (circle back to exhibit A), in the cold expanse following

      the question am I like winter to you, in the unspooling

      that happens when they, I, I mean I play a memory

      over again for the too-many-ith time, in the television’s

      convex and prudish eye, in the snowy sound of over-use,

      in the way empty feels like brain-freeze, in the brilliant

      and nearly-neon white of the sign which mourns vacancy

      even if everyone around us says off-season, says they love

      the snow, the way it makes well-conquered land possible again.

       

      Georgia  

      Thank you for listening to this week's episode. Before you go, take a look at our show notes where we've got links to July Westhale's website and work, as well as info about our creative writing program and previous Poetry Month episodes. Next week, we'll be back with a third installment in our series. In the meantime, don't forget to subscribe, rate and review "Why We Write." We appreciate it so much.