NEPR Interview – Water Street

This June, I was interviewed about my chapbook Water Street by New England Public Radio’s Karen Brown for her summer literary series.

Summer Fiction: ‘Water Street’ by Naila Moreira

Naila Moreira is a science and environmental journalist who also writes poems. Her new book of poetry, “Water Street,” is immersed in the natural world. She wrote it while living alone in a farmhouse apartment on the Mill River in Leeds, Massachusetts.

Instituto Militar de Engenharia

The story of science

As the return of spring brings a breath of hope, my latest for the Valley Advocate: a touch of memoir tangled up with politics and science.

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As a kid in Brazil, my dad was science-obsessed. When a teenager, he convinced his uncle to bring him chemicals so he could make them react in his bedroom. Once, he burned through his windowsill when a beaker of sulfuric acid bubbled over.

He came of age during the early computer revolution and was quick to realize its potential. His own father wanted him to become an electrical engineer. But my dad is nothing if not stubborn. He followed his dream, working for Sperry Univac, which took him to London and finally America. Now, having once worked on room-sized vacuum-tube computers, he writes software for cell phones.

All through my childhood, my dad did science with me. From business trips he brought home toy science kits that he and my sister and I opened together. I still remember the chemistry one. It was crammed with little tubes and colorful reagents and stirring rods and instructions. The impact was indelible. My sister today is an organic chemist and teaches at Hampshire College.

My dad taught me how to program a computer. He took me birdwatching on Audubon Society field trips. With him, the world was rich, full of natural surprises to discover.

But I was also passionate for stories, for novels and poems and comics. So I ended by studying geology — the earth’s story…

read more here, at the Valley Advocate

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The image at the top of the page shows the Instituto Militar de Engenharia, the military engineering institute in Rio where my father received his degree.

Adoring the fleet world

What struck me most about poet Ross Gay, during a Q&A at Smith College this afternoon, was his response to many questions: a huge smile, a pause, and then a thoughtful “I don’t know.”

When people asked his intentions in any particular poem, and stated what they themselves had taken from it, he often answered, “Maybe. I like that way of looking at it. Sure. I don’t know.” He seemed to have a poet’s need to express himself via experience and poetry itself, rather than metadiscourse.

Only when he entered the “thinginess” of things, escaping from intellectualizing, did he light up and suddenly begin speaking. His comments were full of people, basketball, experimental teaching methods, making meals together with friends, gardening, mulberry birdshit, making puppets. Nouns. Actions.

He did, however, have wonderful comments about his newest book, A Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude, and the drive behind it.

“Isn’t that what we do, to write poems we wish were in the world?” he said, when asked if he writes for any particular group in society. “Really what I’m doing is assuming other people have similar hopes and fears and desires [as me].” He said he never assumes people will read his poems, that it’s always a surprise.

He spoke a great deal about the vitality of writing what we love: but that there’s a risk in doing so.

“I’ve spent a lot of time writing against things, things that I don’t want. But it’s also important to write about love.”

Asked about the relationship in his poetry of joy and loss, he said, “Maybe that’s the way I’m made up, to adore things because of the going-away-ness of them. Even the title, it’s about wanting to adore the fleet world.”

“To adore things is also to make space for others to adore them. In my poems, I want to love people. And the earth, and other things, but – people.”

“What I notice about my grad students, is that there’s a reticence – it makes you vulnerable, to love something. Sometimes people think love is not rigorous, joy is not rigorous in the way critique is. But they don’t realize that love can be critical.”

“Good feelings are never just good feelings. Joy is joy to me because it contains sorrow. Joy is a complex feeling, it’s rich.”

In perhaps my favorite comment of the evening, he added, “Writing with profound attendance requires that we see fractures in things. It’s not just all joy, joy, joy, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful all the time. It just isn’t.”

Asked how he sits with sorrow, he said, “I’m still learning that. Part of writing this book is recognizing that there’s an aversion to sadness. An abiding aversion to sadness. It’s like self-mutilation.”

Currently, he’s working on a “Book of Delights,” a series of mini-essays or prose poems on delight that he tries to write daily. He dug into his bag to read us a gem of a prose poem in progress, titled “Irrepressibles” and detailing an escaped amaranthus plant poking up from the asphalt, attended by bumble bees (ballerina bees, Gay called them) and his memory of the “irrepressible” intellectualizing of his bookish father: that by the laws of physics, the bumblebee cannot fly. “That’s impossible!” exclaims his father, pointing to a ballerina bee waltzing by.

Gay also spoke at length of his experimental teaching style. He values play, and runs a course where students make puppets, or sing, or discuss their dreams with one another, then choose the dream with the best narrative elements and create a three-minute performance. Gay described his class as exercise for the imagination.

As a a boy, he said he didn’t like to read, but rather to play sports and play pranks – like leaving fruit in his locker on Friday to attract clouds of fruit flies by Monday. At home, he remembers hearing through his headphones, as he read the back of an album cover, his father say to his mother: “At least he’s reading something.

He described his admiration for a particularly creative basketball maneuver by famous player Dr. J (Julius Erving). Gay stood up, tall as a beanpole, to act out the maneuver. He explained how Dr. J’s layup, dodging around two top-class defenders and coming in from the back of the baseboard, resembles poetry: one can’t go in a certain direction, because there’s a brick wall, so another route must be found.

“Duende,” said a member of the audience.

“Duende,” agreed Ross Gay, and laughed.

Water Street

I have a new chapbook of poems coming out from Finishing Line Press. Very exciting!

The collection is called Water Street and explores the tension between freedom and domesticity. I spoke more about the book in this interview.

Of the book, poet Doug Anderson, author of The Moon Reflected Fire, Horse Medicine and other books, said

Naila Moreira is a natural born pantheist. Her day job is writing articles on sustainability of the environment and her poetry is reflexively in love with the earth. The health and sickness of our souls is held tenderly in this lover’s touch. There is no digging out of meaning: it is there if we are able to see it: our “high journeys” will take us “Pole to pole, senseless and invincible, great arcs, like the travelings of the stars.” A fine book with more love than pain and pain held lovingly.

The collection will be out in March, and you can preorder it by clicking here or on the cover image above.

A few sample poems: Frogs, Tractatus, and Lines from Base Camp. The beautiful cover image is by photographer Stephen Petegorsky.

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Update: Poet Deborah Gorlin also has graciously given a thoughtful review:

In these urgently engaged poems, the natural world serves as witness and accomplice, muse and mirror, companion and liberator. Hearth and home chafe against wildness, habitats of freedom and promise and untrammeled exploration. Domesticity and desire duke it out in the poet’s quest for profound experiences nothing short of cosmic. By the end of the book, the drama calms, and opposites reconcile, as the poet puts her faith in the instinctive wisdom, mystery and contradictions of the heart, “a dark water that shines.”

Summer’s end

As summer rolls to a close, I’m thinking back on its best moments. One highlight of the summer was my trip to England and Scotland, a three-week jaunt from corner to corner of the UK – from Eastbourne’s white cliffs in the southeast, to the black shale cliffs of Cornwall in the southwest; from the dolphins of the Black Isle in Scotland’s northeast, to skylarks dropping fullthroated from the blue above in northwest Gairloch. We had comfortable stops with family in Lancaster and Leeds; we stumbled across the Queen visiting Edinburgh. A trip to satisfy the eternal wanderlust. A travelers’ trip among cloud and damp and mist, or in the occasional sunlight glittering across the dunes at our campsite by the sea or on the barges of the Lancaster canal.

We visited the writers’ museum in Edinburgh, lovely place, and I felt a kinship with Robert Lewis Stevenson, who left his dank home to adventure off to Hawaii and Samoa. May travel never lose its savor.

More contemplations on Great Britain: Americans have no right to roam, but they should, in the Valley Advocate:

One can crisscross the British landscape on foot, exploring farmlands and forests and graveyards and churches that date from the 1100s and even the bottoms of people’s back gardens. Blackbirds, wrens and chaffinches twitter in the hedges; snails creep past underfoot; wildflowers crowd the path edges… read more

A honeybee frequents the wildflower spiderwort.

Bees, wild and tame

As the number of backyard and urban beekeepers surges nationwide, I visited a friend’s hives to write about honey bees. I also looked into the bees’ struggles with colony collapse disorder.

But writing the article, I found that a still more urgent problem than honey bees may be wild bees. Honey bees, lovely and important as they are, aren’t native. And the troubles that challenge them also afflict our native pollinators.

Many wild bees are in even more trouble than honey bees. Honey bees are highly productive pollinators and honey-makers, so human beings who need bees for their economic livelihood – from farmers to apiarists to restaurant owners – fret over their future and work to save them. Less so wild bees.

As biologist Lynn Dicks writes in Nature: “Although there have been dramatic falls in the numbers of managed honey bee Apis mellifera colonies in some countries, it remains a widespread and common bee, not in imminent danger of extinction.”

She reminds us that “there are bee species around the world in genuine danger of extinction, such as the once-common rusty-patched bumblebee in the United States, which has vanished from 87% of its historic range since the early 1990s.”

Wild bees saw a 23% decline between 2008 and 2013, according to a PNAS study.

Fortunately, efforts to help honey bees often help wild bees, too. I visited beekeeper Bonita Conlon at Warm Colors Apiary, which she co-owns with her husband Don Conlon, former president of the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association. Alongside diseases, the parasitic varroa mite, and pesticides, she pointed to a loss of forage area for both wild and honey bees.

“There used to be fields of wildflowers in the West, but they’ve plowed it under for corn and soybeans,” she said. “You need some wild areas for all the pollinators. Plant for the bees. Don’t mow the whole lawn, leave the wildflowers.” She also suggested that wildflowers should be allowed to flourish on highway median strips.

I took Conlon’s advice in the backyard of my own building, leaving patches of tall blue “weeds” scattered throughout the grass when mowing before a barbecue:

Spiderwort growing in my backyard.

They’re called spiderworts, an ungainly name for a beautiful flower, and they’re native from Canada all the way down to Argentina. In the top photo of this entry, a honey bee visited one of the flowers I left growing. I see native bumble bees on them from time to time, too.

I wrote more about the local history, poetry, and troubles of honey bees in my article for the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

I’ve always had a thing for creepy crawlies. I was the kid who always caught the wasp stuck in the classroom to let it out the window. I’ll still crouch to move a worm from the sidewalk into the grass.

So when a colleague of mine, Sara Eddy, started her first beehive, I devoured her Facebook posts about the process. And this spring, I had a chance to visit her and her bees.

The hive sat pertly in her Amherst backyard, painted lavender and protected from bears by an electric fence. The smoker she uses to calm the bees waited in her driveway, puffing a stream of gray into the air from its metal spout.
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