Rachel B. Glaser with Natalie Lyalin

Glaser Lyalin
Natalie Lyalin and Rachel Glaser

Natalie Lyalin’s second book of poetry, Blood Makes Me Faint, but I Go for It (2014 Ugly Duckling Press), constantly negotiates issues of scale.  The narrator has a “mild stigmata.” In another poem, “Bad things happened, but I harvested a giant pepper and ate it whole.”  The narrator is often humble and matter-of-fact, though not without danger or conflict—“terrible jokes leapt out of me,” “I was exhausted and very mean,” “something changes in my eyes and I am terrifying.”  This anxiety or unpleasantness isn’t separate from the world—it is one of the cornerstone qualities of living.  “My head in an ache from all the life I was in.”  The poems show how the experience of living is constantly changing and often horrifying. “The sun had many knives of light.” The poems find a cutting beauty within the terror and uncertainty.  This is how life has always been. “What happened in caves in still happening indoors.”  

Rachel B. Glaser: I keep imagining this book as a sort of nonlinear Anne Frank experience. The poems feel confessional and diary-like, but as if they come from a narrator who has seen her own end, and the end of us all.  The portrait on the cover encourages this reading.  It is hard for me not to see all the narrators as this young female. There is a coping and confusion that I can relate back to Anne Frank’s diary, even if the writing style and content is very different.  The lines have the starkness of truth to them.  Every exclamation mark tears the line in two ways– one, a teenager exaggerating for attention (writing sensationalist letters home?)(taking over a chat room?) and two, a woman absorbing the grief of the world and calling out, finding no one, but still calling, like someone narrating their own last words, their private worries, someone writing to confirm existence, message in a bottle-style.

Natalie Lyalin: Writing to you from a Dunkin’ Donuts in Bethany Beach, Delaware, so hopefully my answers will take on an air of sugar and horror.

The Anne Frank comparison is startling to me, in a good way. I can see similarities between the narratorsin that they want to bear witness to the present and past, and imagine a future.  I think that’s why I’m so taken with the concept of time travel. I mean, I would never want to actually do it because I’ve seen enough Quantum Leap to know that one time misstep can ruin EVERYTHING, but that time travel is one of the function of poems, or maybe just my poems. There is power in writing, and Frank’s writing is such a clear and beautiful testament to that. Same with the message in a bottle concept – there’s this insane hope that you can make contact with someone across an ocean and maybe they will get your message, physically, emotionally…what is that if not the act of being a reader and writer?

RBG: Totally!  Do you think of the narrators in the book as one mega-narrator? Or variations of one narrator?

NL: I see it as multiple voices coming from one mega-narrator. I don’t think that was an intentional choice in the beginning. But it took me four years to compile these poems, and they were written on two different continents (while I was in Israel, and then back in America), so there’s a lot of time and experience that stands between some of the poems, so it makes sense that the narrator is kind of fluid.

RBG: When you speak about time travel, are you ever including reincarnation? There were a few poems that made me think of reincarnation, especially: “Zusya, Open Your Ears,” “The New New Testament,” and “In The Future We Are Not Screaming,” all of which appear in a row in the middle of the book.

NL: Sometimes, yes! Sometimes it’s about putting myself as a witness in situations that I conjure from bits and pieces of family stories I’ve heard over the years. Sometimes it’s more of a eulogy – that’s the case with ‘The New New Testament.” I guess I’m being stubborn about not being able to be in the past or travel to the future. It just seems like it should be an option on some level, no?

RBG: It very well might be!  Have you read the book “Many Lives, Many Masters?”  The book is transcriptions of hypnotherapy sessions in the 1980’s, in which one patient is able to go back in her mind and tell of the different lives she has lived.  When the woman is deep in hypnosis and reporting about a particular life, her sentences are often stilted, like “I have a braid.  I am a woman in this life.  A slave.  I live in a hut.  My husband is in the field.  He is a good man.”  These aspects of her past life are stated very basically, flatly, and yet they are clues to an epic mystery.  I got a similar vibe from many of your poems.  Everyday sentiments and vast realizations occur in alternating lines, and some lines are somehow both.

NL: Rachel, That’s one of my mom’s favorite books! She’s told me all about it, and I think my aunt and uncle read and loved it too. I love that comparison. Writing is an incredibly powerful time travel tool. It’s the only way we can really do it, it’s all we’ve got.

RBG: Definitely!  I find reading and watching movies to be enormously transformative, and the best way to exit the confines of being oneself.  You should definitely read “Many Lives, Many Masters”!  It can be very convincing…  But moving away from the metaphysical and over to the technical—Do you often read your poems aloud when you are writing/editing them?

NL: I usually read them aloud at the very end, when the poem feels done. And then I’ll read them to Josh and see how he reacts. If he laughs and looks at me like I’m nuts, I know I’m going in a good direction.

RBG: What is your editing process? Are some of the poems in the book written in one take while others have undergone many drafts?

NL: I used to very much subscribe to the “first thought, best thought” method of editing (or not editing), but that wasn’t really possible to maintain after a while. With the “Blood”, I went back and looked over almost all the poems as I was writing them. I like to give poems a day or two just to exist, and then go in and work on them some more. I do trust that a majority of the poem will stay as originally envisioned, but there’s always room for trimming, taking away. I love doing that, but I try to be careful about it. I find that when I over-edit a poem there is absolutely no way to bring it back.

RBG: Why didn’t you put that amazing prayer-like poem that has the chorus “and you are alive and you are alive” in this book? Is it the star poem of your next book?

NL: That poem is called “Wolverine”, and you are so kind to mention it. That poem is definitely in the next manuscript. I have no idea where it came from, but I love the way it connects me with an audience. It’s incredibly fun and moving to read to people. Just reminding them that they are alive is strangely personal and uplifting.


Wool, wool, wolverine
Wolf Slonim

And you are alive! And you are alive! And you are alive!
And you are bowing in the direction of Jerusalem

And he was laughing in the bread line
And he was laughing in the milk line
And he was laughing in the soap line
And he was laughing in the meat line
And he was laughing in the flower line
And he was laughing in the shoe line

And you are alive! And you are alive! And you are alive!

And you are crying in the car
And you are crying on the phone
And you are crying at the movies
And you are crying at the sun
And you are crying at the stars
And you are crying on a mattress
And you are crying on a husband

And you are alive! And you are alive! And you are alive!

Wolf! Wolf Slonim.
That’s who. Who! Wolf. A whole wolf.
Vulf. Vulf Slonim. Vulf Carp.

And he was breathing in a village
And he was breathing out a car
And he was breathing in a war
And he was breathing out a bicycle
And he was breathing in a city
And he was breathing out a wagon

And you are alive! And you are alive! And you are alive!

And you are huffing in a field
And you are puffing out dust
And you are huffing in a pixel
And you puffing out a dot
And you are huffing in an ocean
And your puffing out sand

And you are alive! And you are alive! And you are alive!

Vulf. Vulf!

—this poem first appeared in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art

RBG: Great poem, Natalie!  Readers, I was lucky enough to witness Natalie read this poem as part of the Jubilat Jones Reading Series last year, and this poem was definitely the highlight!  The audience got chills when Natalie declared us living.  Our blood beat in agreement!  I’m glad we’ve just printed it on the Internet.  Natalie, you are on a roll!  Another brilliant and recent poem at Fanzine shares the dark humored, time-collaged visions of the “Blood Makes Me Faint, but I Go for It” poems.  “Are You Crazy” starts with G-d giving the people the Torah on the smallest mountain.  Here is a section from it:

The drones were out
humming the hymns
and we were on their radars
for sure, we were in the crosshairs
of that beautiful moment
And G-d was pissed
as always
We didn’t look right
We were flawed
Not in a moving way, either
In an annoying way

RBG: I love that one so much!  It really has it all—God, drones, flaws, beauty.  The spiritual and historical aspects of your poems are so sublime because they are never overstated.  These narrators aren’t academic scholars; they are cave woman geniuses from the future.

NL: Thanks, Rachel. I’ve been interested in the story of Moses for quite some time. There are so many inexplicably strange and scary elements to the story, including G-d frequently getting mad and, well, killing people. Which made me think about G-d being really disappointed and frustrated. So much of the wandering in the desert story is filled with these moments of confusion and uncertainty, so it was fun to imagine this exchange between the Almighty and his people.

RBG: Congratulations on your new book!  May it touch the eyes and ears of this world!

NL: Thank you, my dear! This was real.

Rachel B. Glaser is the author of “MOODS”, “Pee On Water,” and the forthcoming “Paulina & Fran.”  She lives in Western Mass surrounded by great writers.

Natalie Lyalin is the author of Blood Makes Me Faint, but I Go for It (Ugly Duckling Presse 2014), Pink & Hot Pink Habitat (Coconut Books 2009), and a chapbook, Try A Little Time Travel (Ugly Duckling Presse 2010). She lives in Philadelphia.