With Anya’s stunning book, The Ninety-Third Name of God: Poems, I’ve decided why poetry is published as chapbooks– shorter books usually no more than 40 pages long. It’s because no more pages are needed when every poem is its own stunning revelation about life and humanity.
This is even more true in Ninety-Third, in particular Part II, where Anya explores the grief and injustice of losing loved ones to cancer, as well as her own diagnosis, surgery, remission, and then recurrence.
While I savored every poem in this collection, I read one in particular over and over again. It’s entitled, “Letter to Myself, in Remission, from Myself, Terminal.” Here’s a short passage:
Instead of the truth, you took refuge in stories and souls, wore the word survivor like a pink nimbus.
All the while, my dear, I waited, knowing
You’d catch up to me one day. I’m holding the black-
backed mirror to your face. Look into it.
I suppose there will never be any adequate words to describe cancer. But there is poetry– lyrical and hopeful, devastating, yet determined. And there is Anya, putting pen to paper and enchanting us with magical phrases that tell a thousand stories of a thousand souls.
When Does She Write?
As a university professor and poet, I’m both lucky and unlucky. On the one hand, I can arrange to teach only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, thereby theoretically leaving myself large chunks of time in which to write on the other days of the week. On the other hand, I never “clock out” of work. I’m forever reading something for class, grading an essay, or writing a letter of recommendation. I regularly work until 10:00 at night, and then realize that I’m far too tired to write a poem. However, for those who want to write, teaching is an ideal profession, because it leaves one the summers free, and it allows one (at the college level) to work one’s teaching schedule in a way that allows writing time.
I write very ritualistically. I only write first drafts of poems in my home office, sitting in my rocking chair, in a notebook set aside for the purpose, with a black pen. I can only write when there is no one else around and the room is silent. I never write when travelling, or when my child is at home and unoccupied, because the distractions are too great. I force myself to write a poem a week, no matter how bad. When it comes to revision, though—and revision is ¾ of the writing process for me—I’m able to work in little chunks. While my son is in the bath, or while my husband is making dinner, I take advantage of fifteen minute openings to pop into a poem and fiddle with line breaks, internal rhyme, an image here or there. In general, my best writing times are 10:00 am- 1:00 pm, the least practical hours of the day. Revision, though, I find that I can do at night, in rooms other than my office, and while travelling.
I’m very fortunate to have the luxury of time and flexibility. I tell students that if they’re really committed to writing, if writing is truly their vocation and they can’t live without it, then they need to arrange their lives in a way that makes writing possible. You can be a professor, work at Starbucks, sell car insurance at Geico, be a landscaper, or be a medical doctor—but writing must remain at the center of your life, however you make that possible.
BIO: Anya Silver is the author of a book of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God, published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2010. Her next book, I Watched Her Disappear, is forthcoming from LSU. She has published poetry in many literary journals, including Image, Crazyhorse, Five Points, Prairie Schooner, Witness, The Southern Poetry Review, and others. Her work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac,” Poetry Daily, and in Ted syndicated column, American Life in Poetry. She teaches English at Mercer University and lives with her husband and son in downtown Macon, GA.