41.2 Feature: An Interview with Emily Goodman Means

Jun 15, 2015 | Archive, Feature, Interviews

Emily Goodman Means is currently completing her MFA at Brown University. She is a co-editor of A Perimeter and her poems are forthcoming from Lana Turner Journal. 

Interview by BETHANY STARTIN

Listen to Emily Goodman Means read section 1 of “Dulia” from 41.2.

Listen to Emily Goodman Means read section 6 of “Dulia” from 41.2.

Black Warrior Review: One of my favourite aspects of “Dulia” is its playfulness with the sentence: ideas merge and flow into one another constantly. How do you see this fluidity on the sentence level functioning? Additionally, there’s a focus throughout the poem on aspects of the body, and its use as currency and sacrifice. Where else in your work can we see the body come into play?

Emily Goodman Means: I think this question regarding the sentence is related to the following question about the body. A lack of traditional punctuation and structure allows phrases to, at times, collide and at others, to continue, syntactically, visually and thematically, as a way to allow for multiple views of the body as a means of decoration, perception, disposition, expression etc.

It was necessary for the work to allow the marks or seams between phrases to remain through capitalization, which may be marked visually but not necessarily syntactically, depending on how you may chose to read.

Perhaps there is, in these poems, as I think there may be with most contemporary poetry, an attempt to engage the way we read where listening to music while reading two articles at any one time while g-chatting, places otherwise unrelated ideas and conversations in relation to one another.

BWR: I’m also intrigued by the linguistic elements of the poem (“Augustine/defines two kinds of servitus/one which is due to men/which in Greek is called dulia/and the other Latria”). Where did this linguistic interest stem from?

EGM: I’m very interested in medieval literature and Augustine always seems a good place to start. The high level of rhetoric and the persistent self-questioning in The City of God and other of his works are of particular interest. Aquinas and Augustine focused quite a bit on the terms dulia and latria and their meanings as systems of worship. I was first interested in the etymology and history of dulia as the category under which women as saints could traditionally be worshipped.

My focus on etymology and language, syntax and citation are all in attempt to bring the histories of gendered terms and images to the surface, juxtaposing, for example contemporary presentations of sexuality with those in the Harlots of the Desert, that is the lives of Thaïs, Pelagia etc. Medieval histories, that is re-creations of religious and occult mythologies, narratives and symbolic systems, in the modernist tradition, allow a historical framework through which to re-consider contemporary issues of gender and sexuality.

BWR: I believe this is part of a longer project: can you tell us a bit about the germination of the project as a whole, and how this section functions within that?

EGM: This section is from Whether Or Not A Fountain. It begins with Augustine and references to the Harlots of the Desert. The section which follows continues into more overt contemporary references and biblical allusions. The final sections move further into contemporary issues of gender, sexuality and immigration.

BWR: We at BWR are always seeking out new work and new writers, so what’s your favorite lesser-known book (or chapbook) from the last year or so?

EGM: Jane Gregory’s My Enemies (The Song Cave) and Aaron Kunin’s Four Mottoes of Exchange (The Song Cave).

BWR: Lastly, can you tell us a little about what you’ve been working on recently?

EGM: I’ve been researching the history of women in sports, especially women’s soccer in light of the upcoming FIFA World Cup and my own training for the NY Marathon. I’m also working on a re-creation of The Book of Judges.


To read Emily Goodman Means’ work and more, pick up a copy of Issue 41.2 or order a subscription from our online store.