An Interview with Lindsey Alexander
When Lindsey Alexander’s Good Me/Bad Me series came through our submission manager, it was like receiving a surprise gift in the mail. I had to find out more about this poet, her series, and her conflict/acceptance of identity.
Jenny Mary Brown: Okay, big questions first: How did you come to write this series?
Lindsey Alexander: The series began with “Good Me Attempts to….” In part, it came from the idea of a self divided into two—pretty simple stuff. I was heavy into THE DREAM SONGS, and in a part of life where I was being pretty hard on myself. My mom used to joke with my sister and I when we were kids, “Are you the good one or the bad one?” So the ideas and the joke-y-ness (sp?) were fairly ingrained.
Once the Good One and the Bad One started appearing, it was hard to get rid of them. I probably overdid it for a while. There are lots of bad (sigh, for lack of a better word) poems that I’ve since had the sense to throw out. They were constantly dueling in the poems; the idea of them in a Spaghetti western is funny and seemed fitting, but also . . . natural. I have quantity on my side—bound to hit on that.
Oddly enough, the “Good Me’s Saudade of Bad Me” poem connects two series in my manuscript, IMPOSTOR FROM THE FUTURE, this one and one about saudade, the Portuguese word for a sort of yearning for an imagined love or time that maybe never would have, could have, or has been. (I’m likely somewhat making up a convenient meaning of this untranslatable word.) That poem was difficult to write because I tend to gather phrases and observations and kind of paste them or stitch them together, and I wanted it to have more of an seamless quality. It also felt like an ending, even though the central conflict remains unresolved.
The whole thing felt a bit like, to paraphrase Terrance Hayes talking about holding onto poems—it just kept getting bigger. The longer I held onto it, the more kept seeping in.
Publishing it here feels like a relief in that way.
JMB: I completely understand that feeling. Like you just need to get it away from you, out into the world. Did you think of your writing as “the good one” or “the bad one”? Meaning, did it shape your identity as a writer?
LA: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think it shaped who I am when I come to the page or the screen and sit down to write. But maybe my view of self can be like that—a little black or white, good or bad. That makes me hard on myself at times, but also can make writing a bit easier because the self itself (pardon me!) becomes neutral. Good or bad actions, good or bad writing, and so on, aren’t really part of the self—they just flow through. (Not to get too hippie shit on you.)
During my MFA (skip this graf if MFAs make you yawn), I certainly went through the phase of defining myself as a person and defining myself as a writer simultaneously and leaving little room for nuance. I was the poet who liked Cheetos and Louisville basketball and cowboy boots and straightshooters. I still enjoy those four things, especially Louisville basketball, but I’m less concerned with my writing promoting a sense of self probably than I was when I began writing these poems.
JMB: I’m seeing myself take this interview down an existential rabbit hole, so I’ll pull it back in. Do you see yourself continuing this series? If so, where does it go next? If not, here’s a longer question and then I’m out: I know that after I decide a series of poems is “finished,” or generally that I’ve moved on from them, I start to wonder why it ended, and how my poetry is evolving. Is this only me? Do you see yourself evolving out of this series, and if so, where do you go?
LA: Jenny, it’s only you!
Just kidding. (Sorry, can’t help myself with the dad jokes.)
I think this is the most existential of them all! I didn’t recognize that this series was done for a long time. Sure, I sent certain poems out or felt they were better or worse than others, but I kept seeing all problems with this series or the other as the poetical answer. I got stuck in a rut.
When my own work started to be boring (“We must not say so. . . .”), I eventually figured out maybe this one is as “done” as it’s ever gonna get. To help with another project, my friend Ali sent me a quote from Robert Lowell’s NBA acceptance speech about “raw” and “cooked” poetry. I didn’t want to overcook this idea. The key is to hit the sweet spot.
I definitely spent some time being swimmy and lost, though. Feeling lost seems important.
Like in life, I think one must decide whether to be an expert in one highly specific area, a specialist, or whether to be a jack-of-all-trades (master of none). Writing is most fun for me when I’m failing; when I get too practiced at something it bores me. In that way, I suppose I’m only a specialist at playing and trying and failing.
For me, the series ended when I no longer felt the idea was productive. (Which is a cop out, but the truth, too.)
I suspect I may always be attracted to writing about dichotomies or extremes that stem from the same origin, and of course, the self, particularly imagined selves. But right now, I’m more interested in looking for those things in landscape and in domestic spaces.
Evolving might look like more play—pushing form, pushing humor, pushing musicality.
Lindsey Alexander‘s poems appear in Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other magazines. In 2014, she was a scholar at the month-long NEH Institute “Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor.”