In late August, 12 promising writers showed up on our doorstep in the thick of the night. We've taken them under our expansive wing and called them our first year MFA candidates. We're going to give you the chance to get to know each and every one of them as if they were your very favorite sweater. First up is Elisabeth Workman!
Name: Elisabeth Workman
Where are you from?
Philadelphia's sprawling suburbs
What was breakfast like?
A sensitive beach
Which zoo animal is your writing?
A macaw in love with a narwhal
Greatest poetry/fiction reading you ever bore witness to:
Amiri Baraka performing with Sonny Rollins was pretty mind-blowing. But also: I was living in Boston when Allen Ginsberg died. That night a throng of Boston-area poets got together in a small auditorium at Harvard to read Howl. The last to read, a short bald man poet (who was probably a poet of influence and academic stature, I just didn't know), took on the Footnote to Howl and embodied those anaphoric "holy's" with all of his red-faced being. It was chilling. And lots of us were crying. When he finished, all of the readers filed out of the room; there was a long pause and then they played a recording of Ginsberg reading "A Supermarket in California." After it ended, no one knew what to do and that was palpable in the air, this question of "what now?" And here's the best moment ever at a reading: a large man in the audience stood up, and sang in this sonorous voice "There's a man by my side walking. There's a voice within me talking. There's a voice within me saying, 'Carry on. Carry it on.'..."
Also, describe your headspace while you're reading something really wonderful:
Emily Dickinson is purported to have said, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." (Maybe this is where the phrase "mind-blowing" has its roots?) I love this standard, and would definitely say I experience a partial decapitation of sorts, along with an inaudible humming/disorientation (the sensation of all normative synapses being rewired?), and an elevation and opening with a great momentum pushing it. So, basically, something like the French Revolution.
Now describe your (physical) writing space:
I'm stationed in "the library" of our little house, so three walls are mostly lined with books. The fourth wall has a painting of an ampersand by our friend Chris Thomas. Wooden floors. Yellow walls. Red desk. Old wooden desk chair on casters with a seal reading: "Property of Department of State." Little bed (for guests and naps). Piles of books on the floor. Windows facing west. Pictures hanging in spare spaces: a disco ball, Purple Rain Prince, two headless sparkling horses, a little owl saying "Poetry's heavy," and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. On my desk, besides my computer: Yoko Ono's Grapefruit, a book of surrealist games, a photo of my man, a weeping Buddha, and a glass paper weight from a dear friend that has scrawled on its paper bottom in an antiquated hand "Mon cher"--over the summer the high humidity somehow sealed it to the desk, so now it's more of a desk growth or partial orb I can touch when I need to.
Something that inspires you that isn't a writer or a piece of writing:
Movement. Getting to the point of physical exhaustion.
Last great/horrible thing you overheard:
"My wife compares my relationship with Freud to that of a child's with Santa Claus."
Society lacks what flavor of Doritos?
Mayan Apocalypse -- The New Yum!
Read some of Elisabeth's poems! They are full of all the right vitamins!