A room in Bed Stuy, shared by three
Natalia Panzer contributed poems to The Puritan: Issue 28. The Town Crier asked Panzer several questions about her work and its origins. She answered them here.
These poems were written in New York during an addiction to Gertrude Stein. My life was dominated by my domestic living space. I did not have money to go out, so I spent much of my four years in New York in my apartment, a badly renovated 3 bedroom in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I lived in what was meant to be an office. The room was tiny and oddly shaped. There were seven walls, a water pipe running up one wall, and a small window. It was dark and cold in the winter and insufferably hot in the summer because the window was too small for an air conditioner or fan. I did not have room for a desk, so I did all of my writing in bed. I remember reading an interview with Alice Notley during this time. She described how she wrote The Descent of Alette exclusively in bed, which gave me some solace. I did not spend too much time in the living room. I moved from the kitchen to the bathroom and back to my room where I did all of my eating. At the time: chicken flavoured ramen with sautéed onions, garlic mashed potatoes with kale, chickpea salad, pancakes from a box, tuna salad and crackers, tomato soup, salad, coconut rice with vegetables. I worked at a stuffy, bohemian cafe that left my clothes smelling like a mixture of espresso and pan spray. They stunk up my room. My room was an embarrassment.
Compared to Stein’s lavish life in Paris, I was living in a sad little tenement similar to George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London. Both texts were incredibly important to these poems. One helped me reconsider the narrative potential of my poverty and the other my relationship to rooms and the objects that filled them. Writing about these things became a compulsion because they were all I had. My most intimate relationships were with books, rooms, and kitchenware. I became hooked on the idea of repetition with variation. This concept helped me to explain my obsession to myself. Look at a wall long enough and many textures and details will emerge. Say wall enough times in a row and the word becomes strange. I enjoyed the tension that emerged between the poems’ dizzy, spiralling, morphing perspectives couched within long stretches of crisp, repetitive, rhythmic sameness. A friend once described “Codex Borgia” as a cube that starts out as a cube and slowly begins to swivel and expand into something that could only be called a cube but isn’t. There is some mystery here, something sinister, even.
These works are necessarily about obsessions with certain available words. These words cycle in and out, drift and fade into others to keep up the poems’ momentum. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, etc. At the time, I was also reading Miron Białoszewski, Jorge Luis Borges, Inger Christensen, Lydia Davis, Christian Hawkey, and César Vallejo. They are here, populating these poems like gnarled pieces of blown glass, hot and pulsating still. These poems were composed by collaging endless pages of fragments. Their cohesion feels odd or off because it is artificial, made to work together because there was no other choice, like hiding away with dinner in a weird little room.
Natalia Panzer’s first chapbook Missing Chicken was published by Cooperative Editions in 2013. New work is forthcoming in the first issue of Cookcook magazine. In late 2014, she came up with the term gastro-poetics to help explain her interest in the intersection between food, the service economy, consumption, and art. She blogs about poetry at Queen Mob’s Tea House as Natalia, Texas. Tweet @tunameltdeluxe.