Poetry & Conversation: Hailey Leithauser

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By Shaileen B.

Hailey Leithauser"Re-voodoo do-over..."

"Never one-volt love, nor even..."

These glittering bracelets of words are palindromes, the same backwards as forwards. They're also the creations of the Maryland poet Hailey Leithauser, whose new book Swoop won the Poetry Foundation's Emily Dickinson First Book Award. Accompanied by poet Reginald Harris, Hailey Leithauser will read in the Poe Room at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 30, the day before Halloween.

"The generating engine for the poems in Swoop was a series of palindromes, half of which I found online, and half of which I wrote myself," Hailey Leithauser told us in an email. She used her "favorite" of the ones she wrote herself to "begin a poem entitled 'Sex Alfresco'":

"I had no idea as to the title or what the poem was going to be about or what form it would take when I typed that first line, but it ended up as a curtal sonnet, a form invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I enjoyed writing it so much I went on to write five more curtals, with titles such as 'Sex Fiasco,' 'Sex Rubenesque,' 'Sex Circumspect,' etc., and they are some of my favorites from the book."

Sex Alfresco
Never one-volt love, nor even
     lightning bolt's severe and clearer candle;
  nor tact of mooncalf's cautious pawing
     with feathered chaise and bed to cleave in;
nor ease of maid and master's backstair scandal,
        its closeting of coddled mauling,
but ever brisk, and bare, and rarely softened,
  a shrouding bower finds us nabbed and handled;
     in an ample, moony bramble, briar-bitten;
at a doorway, pinned and hidden; behind a shading stable,
        leather-sored, and lather-ridden.

"Here's another one in which the palindrome (line 10) gave me the idea for the poem. As a matter of fact at one point I wanted to use that palindrome as the book title but people thought it was too much of a mouthful."

Swoop Cover
O Sorrow, O Bother
O Sorrow, O Bother, a lover
who loved her
has grown weary of her,
has sloughed her and snubbed her
and washed his hands
of her,
so she’s sticking a pin, again and again
in a fiendish maneuver,
a re-voodoo do-over,
like a perfected,
known sin
into an intricate doll,
its red paper, rather small
and all of its parts, its toes
and its kidneys,
its spleen and its pinkies,
the knees and the jigglies; she’s sticking
and sticking
and all the while thinking
and smiling while thinking
of how much it must hurt him  
to be pricked by her pin,
to be hung by his thumbs
in the spin of her brain; thinking
and thinking with unended
unblinking, unbended
of the lover
who loved her,
and grew weary
of her.

O Sorrow, O Bother, O Poetry! For more Poetry & Conversation, come to the Poe Room October 30. Follow @librarypoems to learn about other poetry events at the Pratt Library. Join the conversation at #PrattPoetry.

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