As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.
Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts: what inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.
The two poems that appear in this issue—“Lighted” and “Eucharist as Sortilege”—represent two poles of my writing experience and sensibility. “Lighted” is a private piece, one of those rare poems that emerged fully formed as a first draft. I wrote it in summer 2017 while sitting on my back porch, considering the beautiful decay of the day, the house, my own face. The poem’s fireflies are an invention, a hoped-for vision—the collision of enzymes that make the insect’s brief light, those moments we feel the present purely before self-awareness crashes back in. “Eucharist as Sortilege” has a more public impulse, finding its setting on a community farm. I drafted some of these lines in late 2008. It’s one of the first poems that engaged my formal imagination: each of the four stanzas contains 78 syllables, a constraint reflecting the composition of the Tarot deck. I abandoned the draft for years before returning to it during the assemblage of my MFA thesis. The poem has now gone through a couple dozen drafts.
Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?
The quick visual association—almost like the pairing of cards pulled from a deck—in the final stanza of “Eucharist as Sortilege” seemed like a form of divination when I first “drew” these images; this is the original impetus for the piece and the reason I returned to it. I’m still fascinated by these associations; the wind is embodied in laundry and oak trees, while “Leonids streak / the sky. The clouds are tinged / with flame.” It’s a peaceful yet unsettling scene. In one Tarot deck I saw, The Tower appears as a tree rained down on by lightning and fire from heaven, a figure for both destruction and liberation, a sign of sudden and unforeseen change.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Read as much contemporary literature as you can get your hands on. Then, instead of aspiring to some form of external recognition or validation, aspire simply to write well. I think we remain aspiring writers.
Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!
I started writing poems in college while touring with an indie rock band. You can hear some of that music on my website.
What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?
It’s almost summertime, which for me means a teaching break and some extended time to write. Over the coming months, I plan to start my second manuscript of poems (while of course keeping my fingers crossed for my first collection to win a contest). I also hope to write some songs. I’m eager to see what direction this new work will take.
T. J. McLemore lives and teaches in Fort Worth, Texas. His poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, The Adroit Journal, The Massachusetts Review, and other journals.