This interview by H.L. Hix continues a series that began as multi-question interviews but now has taken the form of one-question “mini-interviews.” To ask a series of questions about a book is to keep returning to the book and thus to emphasize its opacity, to regard it as one would regard, say, a painting. To ask a single question, Hix tells himself, is to emphasize the book’s transparency, to regard it as one would a window, as what offers a vista, what frames for us a world. The subject of this interview is Lily Brown’s Rust or Go Missing (Cleveland State University Poetry Center).
H. L. Hix: Near the middle of your book, there is a poem called “Knower,” and near the middle of that poem is the sentence “Here, / my trick: accompaniment.” I don’t mean to make too much of one moment in the book, but I wonder about its importance—for you personally, for this poem, for your book, for the project of knowing, for our culture—of “accompaniment.” (Just as one for instance, do the quiet woman and loud man in the title poem accompany one another, or fail to accompany one another?) I think this is a question, but in any case I’ll be interested in any way you choose to respond.
Lily Brown: The issue of accompaniment is a loaded one for me, and I think you pick up on my ambivalence with your question about “the quiet woman and the loud man” in the title poem from my book. I observed those people in a coffee shop in Berkeley, and while I have no real way of knowing whether they did or did not accompany one another, the exchange got me thinking. I was actually touched by the conversation because the man seemed to want the woman to know she would still have her coffee to accompany her, even if he went to the restroom. Perhaps he was projecting his own worry about leaving her in his utterance. Or perhaps he himself was not a person who liked to be alone. Or maybe he liked to be alone but was concerned about what that meant with regard to his significant other. By transcribing that exchange and then giving it a sort of metaphorical equivalent in the poem (“He says, while you enjoy your coffee, / I’ll go to the bathroom. // He says, here’s the light. I place it in your glass. / Here’s how light stays when I’m gone.”), I wanted to raise questions about accompaniment and maybe highlight its complexity rather than provide answers. I see that as an issue with cultural significance, actually: to give space to questions, rather than answers and to complicate notions of identity and relationships.