Michelle Brown published her two poems, “Kite Festival” and “My student has her foot amputated / I meet you on the platform in Beijing,” in The Puritan Issue 28. In the following interview, she answers four questions posed to her by The Town Crier.
Town Crier: Do your poems have an origin story, or a compositional history that you’d like to share?
Michelle Brown: These poems were written while I was living and teaching in China. I was a really nervous person before moving there, and I think China, being a nervous, jittery country, really forced me to come to terms with my own mind. It pulled me out of myself. These poems are very much about my brain in China, not about China as a country. They’re about how weird it was to be having an experience—a tangible, weird, continual experience—that is just normal life to everyone else around you.
Both of these poems deal a bit with the fear of misremembering things. It’s a real fear of mine—I’m still writing these poems about China, and they get progressively more insane, because I can hardly remember it as a real location anymore. So the series is becoming very sci-fi, very spacey.
I love it there, though. We’ll probably live there again—my favourite student gave me a Mo Yan book in Chinese, and said I can only come back when I’ve read the whole thing, so I’ll be going back in about two decades.
Town Crier: Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately, or a poet/fiction writer you’re jealous of, or a story/short story collection you wish you wrote.
Michelle Brown: I’m so late to the party here, but Aisha Sasha John is the best. Her poems are like sharp little love punches right to my gut.
Town Crier: In your practice, what would you say is the balance between silliness and seriousness?
Michelle Brown: I tend to write about things like death and illness in a sort of silly way. They’re often treated with reverence in contemporary poetry, but I think that the way a speaker interprets death is more precious and true than the idea of death itself. That can be done in a funny, stupid, or inappropriate way. Everything is valid, just as long as there’s some truth in it. Stand-up comedians do this very well. I feel like comedians are always very true to themselves, especially in the face of darkness. I am very serious about cheesecake, though. I don’t think I could joke about that.
Town Crier: Because we are running various blog posts on music, we have a question on song lyrics. Did music lyrics have anything to do with the piece we’re publishing? Were any particular lyrics important to you in your development as a writer? Is there any recent lyricist you’ve been digging, and why? Is there any piece of writing, by you or someone else, that you would like see turned into a song? Why?
Michelle Brown: I can only write while listening to music. I find it very useful to get into a headspace that’s not my own—Jon Hopkins for when I need to feel dramatic, and The National when I need to feel like a city-dwelling, 30-year-old taxpayer. There’s also a secret part of my being that still thinks I can grow up to be Sarah Slean.
Michelle Brown works as a copywriter and poet in Toronto. Her poetry has been published in journals such as CV2, Arc, and The Malahat Review. She was recently shortlisted for CV2’s Young Buck Poetry Prize.