Robbi Nester is the author of a chapbook of poems, Balance, that follows a sequence of Iyengar yoga poses (White Violet, 2012). She has published poems in many journals, including Poemeleon, Inlandia, Broadsided, Lummox, Qarrtsiluni, Northern Liberties Review, Philadelphia Stories, Floyd County Moonshine, and Caesira. They have also been anthologized in Point Mass, Poised in Flight, and The Poetry of Yoga, II. Her essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in The Hollins Critic, Switchback, and The New York Journal as well as the anthologies Flashlight Memories and Easy to Love but Hard to Raise. Robbi is currently assembling an anthology entitled The Liberal Media Made Me Do It!, composed of poems and artwork inspired by NPR/PBS stories and shows, to be published by Nine Toes Press.
Feather and Flock
Consider the crow—alone
or among his fellows.
Shard of obsidian.
Splinter of night.
Like any intelligent being,
he bears all the weight
of ambivalence: at once
an eight-ball, atavistic
symbol of death,
cannibal and clown, both
vain and beautiful–
aware of the slick shine
of a blue-black back, beak
honed sharp on a branch,
fit to spear a songbird midair
or sing a crooked song.
All this, we claim, is hardwired
in the gut, the mind.
And yet, the bird is also
himself, so much more
than the gauche scavenger,
the cruel carnivore
we take him for.
The night-blooming cereus, Queen
of the Desert, perfumes the yard,
giving her one-night-only performance.
Everyone knows this show for what it is:
an effort to employ olfactory wiles
in service of the seed, attracting
avid Cecropia and Io moths,
metallic scarabs like bouncers
in their glittering regalia.
A scent strong as a snare,
tangible as the bug-eyed peepers’
insistent shrilling in the sodden leaves.
For a week, the bud hung heavy, until
just yesterday it began to turn
up toward the light, green bodice
beginning to swell, as the double
flower prepared to meet its suitors.
Fully open now, it holds itself out
to be tasted, petals a cupped palm
nestled in a jagged ruff of lower leaves,
crowned by a yellow starburst.
As I watch, a moth’s proboscis
unfurls like a fiddlehead.
Before morning, the flower will wither,
having done its duty for the plant
and the moon too deflate
like a day-old helium balloon,
until it seems that I can snuff it with a thumb.
And I too play a role, as surely
smitten as the moth or beetle,
the peepers, singing despite themselves,
compelled to stitch a song
out of the perfumed air.
Describe the inspiration or process of creating the particular pieces you wrote from the prompts you used.
I have used exclusively the 6 words prompts, though I have looked at all the others as well. These word prompts tend to be the best sort of spurs to making a poem for me, probably because poetry is mostly about the love of words themselves. I have heard and read about people with synesthesia, the power of seeing colors associated with certain words, letters, ideas, etc. I think poets, me anyhow, have a sort of synesthesia related to words. They have a certain feeling attached to them for me. And if they are a likely set, begin to suggest scenarios, concepts, images. That is what has happened when I have written these poems to the six word prompts.
How much of the pieces was the result of initial inspiration, and how much was the result of “working through it,” so to speak, coming to ideas and decisions along the way? Did it turn out pretty much as planned, or take on a life of its own?
In the case of these two poems, I quickly homed in on key words that suggested the topic for the poem–“crow” in the case of “Feather and Flock” and “night-blooming” in the case of “Evolution.” I love the natural world and thought when I was young about becoming a naturalist. Even now, I love to commune with the animals at the San Diego Zoo. I make a pilgrimage there a couple of times per year. I also enjoy plants, though I am no gardener. I knew I wanted to write about the crow and the night-blooming cereus, and had read and heard quite a bit about both. But I didn’t know what I wanted to say, exactly until I started writing. About the crow, I had written a poem a few years back about an incident I witnessed, in which a crow snatched a song bird out of the air and ate it alive. The poem was about eating meat, and the ongoing debate I am having with myself about that topic. This poem was sort of response to myself and what I said about crows in that poem.
“Evolution” was different. I hadn’t written about that plant before, but I was interested to learn more about it, so I began to research and read about it, and found photographs of the extremely beautiful flower. I wanted to evoke the beauty of it and its much-vaunted perfume, even though I had never actually experienced it in real life.
Are there any themes that tend to pop up frequently in your writing? What draws you to write about these? What appeals to you about the particular genre(s) (i.e., poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc) you tend to write in?
I guess that in the process of answering the previous questions, I have begun to answer this one as well. I often write about the natural world. I think in fact that all the poems I’ve published in your journal have been on this theme. I just finished a collection of ekphrastic poems, collaborations with artists and photographers, mostly contemporary ones. I hope the book will appear next year. My first collection, A Likely Story, will be published this summer by Moon Tide Press. And I am also in the process of completing an anthology of NPR and PBS poems I edited, The Liberal Media Made Me Do It!. I am thinking that the next collection of poems I write will focus on the natural world and scientific theories and ideas of various kinds. It is a topic I have treated before, but not to the exclusion of everything else. This time, that’s what I’m planning. But we’ll see how it goes.
The question of why I write about this subject is a hard one to answer. I have not really studied science formally. I just like to read and think about it in a more informal way. Why I write poetry is another sort of question. I can answer it obliquely. Before I fall asleep every night, I hear music. Usually it is music of my own composition, I think, though I have no training in music, and indeed cannot read or write notes. Writing poetry is definitely connected with this music. The words and concepts make music of a sort. They have that added dimension of sound that makes something a poem rather than just a bunch of lines. I love telling a story, but I do not naturally gravitate toward the creation of characters or a plot, though I enjoy reading novels and short stories. I do not write them.
Does your writing tend to be factual, fictionalized, or some combination of the two? What about these pieces in particular?
My writing tends to be factually fictionalized. Generally the scenarios I describe are imaginary, the perspective feigned, though not always. The Louisiana poem grew out of an actual experience, and so do other poems I have written. Neither of these two poems was of that nature.
Suggest some interesting words to be used as future Six Words prompts!
I have always thought the word “borborygma” is delightful. That’s the onomatopoetic word to describe the sounds a stomach makes. And spasm, speckle or speckled, frank, phase.
“Author Spotlight” highlights the work that talented writers have been creating based off our monthly prompts and submitting to us. These pieces of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction are all in the running for our Spring 2014 contest and publication in Issue 3 of Promptly! To learn more about submitting your own work, check out our Submissions page.