Rachel Moritz: Veil–Reveal–Sever–Unleash


Rachel Moritz is the author of Night-Sea (2008) and The Winchester Monologues (2005), both from New Michigan Press. A chapbook is forthcoming from Albion Press in 2013. Her poems have appeared recently or soon in Aufgabe, Cannibal, Horse Less Review, Iowa Review, and VOLT. She edits poetry for Konundrum Engine Literary Review and lives in Minneapolis with her partner and son.

TSE: I just had your chapbooks The Winchester Monologues and Night-Sea at the “The Poet Is In” table at the Walker yesterday and was re-musing on how beautiful they are. What has drawn you to the long form, if you would call them that, or, serial poems? Also, how do you see what you’re working on now as growth and/or on a continuum with those two works?

RM: Thank you for mentioning those two chapbooks, which feel formative for me as a writer and tender in the way earlier forms of yourself can feel.

The long form/the series: I remember my first encounters with poetry that helped me to think differently about the more compressed, image/narrative poems I was writing in graduate school: George Oppen’s, “Of Being Numerous,” the spare, elusive series in Fanny Howe’s books, Gone or Selected Poems, Myung Mi Kim’s amazing Under Flag. I’m so enamored of silence and white space; when writing long, I can allow the space around each section to contribute to its drama and unfolding. I can also work against/with my tendency to write small, or in tight and often static compression, allowing images to develop more fully and in resonance with each other.

I think of Fanny Howe’s line, ‘Nightwalk of faith;” navigating a longer poem feels akin to this experience. The series as interconnected doorways opening onto the empty space of experience. The long poem carrying its reader farther away from and closer to some center or origin.

Currently, I’m working on a manuscript that considers thresholds of two different experiences: giving birth to a child and losing a parent. Both The Winchester Monologues and Night-Sea were written as thematic series that interwove my experience with historical figures and subjects. More recently, something has happened to my sense of reality; life feels more oblique and less grounded, more located in present-tense. My poems seem to want less to weave and more to unmoor.

I think this is the result of a few real things: sleep-deprivation, which has been a reality of the first two years of my son’s life, and the totally altering experience of grieving a parent.  My short term memory feels nonexistent. The external world appears similarly dimmed, or foggy. My sense of reality has shifted. What this means for poetry is that I feel an odd severing from the (human) collective, which in the past, gave me subjects or characters to grab onto as a writer. I hope I can find my way back to it, in some new configuration.

TSE: That’s so interesting–you’ve gone deeper into a kind of in-between, as one part of the previous generation has vanished or fallen away (although not sure if that would feel accurate to you) and the next generation has been literally generated by you. I’ve always loved how you mix the abstract and the material in your poetry, as in these lines:

Rain the velocity of gunpowder
pours the tree canopy, all sparrows unleashed, and horseflies, this world is

brutal or rather, evolutionary

Life one edge of movement dissolving—we pushed the lawn mower
another day another

and your use of the non question-marked question,

What if you need to be used up instead of leaving

Could you talk a little about your composition, and how you think about these energies (if that seems accurate or interesting)?

I also really love how you use motion and directionality, spatiality, it’s always struck me as a very subtle but powerful energy in your work, as in your poem “Dormant”:

hammock below the clouds passing
and someone’s long exhale

nicotine crosses the neighbor’s garage

his footsteps erased, as from the room
where we plan ourselves
did you leave me breadcrumbs

a similar fear approaching my boy’s birth
couldn’t ‘live’ toward it, the event
that would come for me

There’s always a kind of delicious menace in these nascent approaches that may or may not happen, or have happened “off-stage.” Can you trace any of this to other aspects of your development as an artist, person, woman, etc?

I’m also very interested in asking how your work with museums has influenced, if at all, your work as a poet, which sometimes to me seems to have an “exhibit” quality, of deliberately moving through very atmospheric “rooms” of feeling, embodied but also sort of supernatural tensions in and through the body.

RM: I love the idea of “nascent approaches.” If this doesn’t sound too self-reflective, an astrologer told me once that having my Sun in the 12th House means that hiddenness is a theme for my selfhood. And I think these questions of the soul and identity come out in the very composition of our poetry. As a person in the world, I navigate questions of hiddenness, veiled-ness and vulnerability. My general state (and isn’t this everyone’s?) is that of feeling deeply blind to my own existence on some core level. I’m interested in approaches toward and away from what can be seen, but I don’t really believe in a center to anything. I think it’s the quest that guides us, and the movement toward becoming. I love poetic confidence in terms of that confluence between syntax, image and line, but I’m not particularly interested in the confidence of a fixed identity or even, these days, of narrative. And I feel a deep sense of inner otherness that has to do with being something of an alien to myself, to the daily world I inhabit. I suppose some of this is about my childhood experience of living overseas and feeling alienated, upon return, toward American culture. I also think I inherited my father’s inherited-from-his-father’s immigrant anxiety, a sense of not belonging. I’ve lived in the Midwest for most of my adult life, but this isn’t where I grew up. And I’ve navigated duality and hiddenness in many ways through my identity as a queer woman for as long as I can remember.

Compositionally, I feel as if writing is akin having a veil drawn up. In draft stage, writing isn’t a very conscious act for me. I don’t generally think about poems beforehand, and I don’t mull them over when I’m away from the page. I take a lot of notes when I can—usually on a retreat—and I write in a collage style, gathering phrases and images that I’ve written down, drafting from the present moment in more of a dream/trance state, and then winnowing, winnowing, sculpting toward abstraction or toward the weird without losing the original emotional current of the poem, which is key to its life force. I’m forever trying to remember, though, what the poem is about and to make sure that I don’t edit the life out of it. This remains a challenge.

Re: museums, I haven’t generally connected my work life to poetry, but I know that I’ve always loved the abstraction/definition that happens when you isolate an object or a story to introduce a viewer, and a frame. This happens in museums, and it happens in poetry. I absolutely love the phrasing, though, of your “rooms of feeling.” It makes me think about the pile of shoes at the Holocaust Museum, or about rows of hundred-year-old birds’ eggs on display in a natural history exhibit. One thing I’ve been ruminating on lately is how the material world reveals (betrays?) time to us so clearly. My mother’s childhood doll, for example, brought out on a recent visit to show my son, reveals a level of decay that I don’t see in her living body, and that doesn’t make sense to me on some level (as mortality itself doesn’t make sense). So if museums are places where we curate the real and the material, poems are about curating the non-material, the spiritual. Language can certainly reveal change, and the passage of time, culture, etc. It can, of course, disappear or be obliterated. But language, for me, feels eternal, too. And that’s closer to how the soul feels.

TSE: Thank you, Rachel Moritz. 

* * *


Inwardness takes time,
its certain solitude

, blinders around my words let go

like the sun, one cannot look on them steadily

A sparrow off the road makes grasses
quiver not so much like sadness any longer, but change—

Discovering a folded lawn chair someone left the vista
of the lake it didn’t matter


Shale streaks in water

Hold a larger view of yourself

Rain the velocity of gunpowder
pours the tree canopy, all sparrows unleashed, and horseflies, this world

is brutal or rather, evolutionary

Life one edge of a movement dissolving—we pushed the lawn mower
another day another

What if you need to be used up instead of leaving


‘a disquiet in the soul’                               I stopped creating

after I created him

more certainly at my side than if I saw him there, enmeshed
nipple & throat—

‘Either the soul desires to understand or it doesn’t’

each feeling, at best, is a movement
toward that inner self

who runs from her figment of houses


Do you leave the child to discover what it will feel like when he leaves

I wasn’t going anywhere, work became my stifling script
how he formed, vision, over several years

lost in sheer caretaking

To connect us as I drive—cell phone tower, nascent, absent
Packing a cooler with cherries and glass bottles of juice

Do you know how many hours I’ve spent trying to create something

The scalloped flange of the instrument used to peel me
She saw first his legs crossed, thought ‘girl’ the dull white vernix
I saw him second


  1. Hours of watching him alive
  2. Impossible
  3. chorus

Bull frogs where the sky is transient
and someone blindfolds her       thoughts, can you hear them

astral body, invisible, returned to—

where a boat anchors the playground’s plastic
Asked to climb on, the mother assents

First she came as pilgrim here, then as pilot


hammock below the clouds passing
and someone’s long exhale

nicotine crosses the neighbor’s garage

his footsteps erased, as from the room
where we plan ourselves
did you leave me breadcrumbs

a similar fear approaching my boy’s birth
couldn’t ‘live’ toward it, the event
that would come for me

practicing yoga or breathwork in the basement
I pictured his raft, miniscule pilgrim
sailing across

‘and without fear, who are we’

solar lamps popping on
behind the ash in the southeastern corner, the moon
sort of sails over branches

more elegantly, the silence of domestic lawns
is nothing like the silence of death after
not being close enough

a fact too absent to feel
more and more thinking this is life’s preferred state

as I wept harder waking from the dream he left
than in the real aftermath


* * *


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