I met Lindsey Boldt in spring 2022, when she visited the Bay to celebrate her first full-length poetry collection, Weirding. I was charmed by her immense and evident generosity at parties and readings, and I devoured Weirding. Reading, I was both mesmerized and comforted by her ability to hold grief and humor with the same straightforward embrace. It was like talking with an old friend who’s been through it, is going through it, and is holding your hand while you go through it, too.
A few months later, we read together in a beautiful backyard in Berkeley with Ted Dodson. Since then, we’ve corresponded about being funny, poetry, and music’s relationship to spell casting, Mad Men and saying “fuck it,” among other things.
HLV: I think something everyone who doesn’t know you should know about you is that you are funny. In Weirding you say, re: humor, “I AM IT,” which I definitely agree with. There’s something about this self-awareness around funniness that I find really intriguing. Can you tell me about your relationship to humor and goofiness, in “real life” but also as it relates to “poetry”?
LB: First off, thanks Hannah! I feel like humor is basically a survival skill, the way babies are cute so their parents will want to keep them alive. Here I am, being a human (inexplicably) and I feel the need to justify my existence and make it worthwhile for others. My mother (hi Mom) got her masters in child development and talks about birth order the way my friends and I talk about astrology, so she would probably say it has something to do with me being the youngest, the family entertainer.
It’s tough out here, maybe especially these last few years, and humor makes it more possible to live in a very basic way. Honestly, most of my poems come from a place of deep despair and alienation. Writing them helps me see the absurdity of my own suffering. Who says I get to have a nice life? And who says my life isn’t nice already? And where did I get the idea this was all supposed to add up to something coherent?
I guess this could still be part of the first question, but I want to ask more specifically, too, about humor, self-awareness, and performance. Maybe the disgusting beating heart of this question is: “How do you do it?” How are you so funny? Do you have to try, or does it just happen?
To be honest, I have to tone the goof down like 75 percent around most people. So when I can let it out, it’s really a good day for me. I love dress-up. I love silly voices. I love props and gags, the whole bit. I was just visiting some dear friends in Berkeley (I won’t name names, but they know who they are) and we ended up dressing up in Little-House-on-the-Prairie dresses and bonnets and pretending we were in a post-apocalyptic world in dirt piles under their house. That’s my idea of a perfect afternoon. My sincere hope is that someone will read this and invite me to do some sublimely goofy shit with them.
As a baby poet in college, it didn’t feel like there was a lot of room for humor and silliness, or even play. Everything was supposed to be hermetic and sublimated, which is basically the opposite of my deal. When I started coming around to things in the Bay Area and meeting people Iike Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy, David Buuck, Brandon Brown, Alli Warren, I realized there was room, and more than that, a community who wanted and respected it. Kevin invited me to be in his plays, Buuck invited me to be in one of his B.A.R.G.E. performances, and to participate in SPT’s Poets Theater night. (I built a juke box out of a cardboard refrigerator box and played songs in it by request.) Dodie gave me all kinds of permission to be coarse and gross and funny in her writing and in her prose writing workshop.
I’ve heard you described by multiple people as “Bay Area poetry,” but you’ve been living in your hometown recently. How has the geographic change influenced the way you read, write, interact with poetry?
When I first moved back to Olympia from Oakland, Sophia Dahlin said something about how maybe I would write forest flaneur poetry. I’m not sure I have, but I love that idea—a poet walking through a forest, absorbing and reflecting, commenting on the state of the ferns and moss, making catty comments about the squirrels. The information is different (city/forest) but the filtration system is the same: poet. That said, it’s also so so different. I don’t even know where to start! I do actually write more poems about squirrels now.
I found out that I am not as much of a hermit as I thought. The pandemic really showed me those limits. I did need to put some trees and water between me and other people for a while. I think I needed to read and write without my community to back me up and fill in the gaps. I needed to know I could think on my own. There are some wonderful writers here and a lot of potential for writing community to build. Miranda Mellis and Eirik Steinhoff have become close friends. I’m also very lucky that I live with Steve Orth and get to talk to my brilliant Nightboat co-workers and the many authors, editors, and translators we work with every week over email and video calls. My co-workers in particular have been a real lifeline for me.
One of the things I really love about your poetry is how you use mostly plain language, conversational and slangy, to create this cadence like a magic spell. I mean, your work is very musical and—dare I say?—catchy. At the reading, you sang part of one of your really silly but simultaneously really powerful poems, “There Are No Cops in America & the Streets Are Paved w/Cheese.” Do you sing any of your other poems? What’s your poetic relationship to music and song?
Oh, I love melody, harmonies, layering tones. It’s my hope that my poems feel pleasurable to read and to hear aloud. I like the idea of a poem’s prosody working on the ear and the body first before the conscious mind can make sense of the poem. The music catches the ear (like you said) and ideally opens the reader up to something they might not have been receptive to otherwise.
Pop music and spells aren’t so different. They both take into account the power and intelligence of our bodies. I’m curious what ideas a pop song might deliver that, say, a polemic can’t? The polemic zine found in an info shop, the critical essay read in a study group, have been just as important to my political education as dancing in a crowd to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” as we blocked an intersection in downtown Oakland. The polemic instructed my emotions, the essay instructed my intellect, and the pop song instructed my body by showing me temporarily what it would feel like to be free. We need all of the above.
I just finished rewatching Mad Men, so I’ve been thinking about advertising, manipulation, and seduction. Advertising is basically poetry that fully accepts and serves Capitalism. So, I’m curious about the flip side. How does one make the end of Capitalism look and feel attractive? How can poems help readers experience something different, stranger, unhinged from the pace set by punching the clock, so they can feel, on a visceral level, a different reality?
Back when I was an energy healer, one of my goals was to help my clients experience what their own energy feels like in a more balanced state, even if only temporarily—the idea being that once they had the physical memory, they could access that feeling again through memory. Whether I was able to do this for others, I don’t know, but I was often able to do this for myself. I read a scientific article recently about the idea that music is encoded emotion. Someone in the distant past could write a song, a melody, a rhythm, encoding their emotions and send it into the future to be decoded by a future listener. Someone in the present could do the same. Sometimes, when I’m writing poems I try to imagine what it would feel like to live in a future where conditions are better (an abolitionist future, for example) and write from that feeling. Like working backwards to decode that music.
Especially when it comes to the spell stuff, and particularly with your book Weirding, who are your influences?
That book covers over ten years of writing between my late 20’s and late 30’s, so there’s a lot in there. It feels steeped & saturated to me. In terms of poets, I thought about Joanne Kyger’s little book Some Life a lot, particularly when I was writing the long poem “Some Ennui.” Her subtle wit and humble self-assurance was something I wanted to emulate. I read those poems in The Post Apollo Press office, when I worked there. I foolishly left one of the few remaining copies behind when I left the job, so didn’t have it to refer to. I like to work that way though, with a healthy distance from an influence. I’ll sort of glance over my shoulder at it now and then, but mostly rely on the idea that I already absorbed it and that it’s working on an unconscious level. Looking straight at it would cause a distortion or just kill whatever energy I’m trying to call up.
Hannah Weiner is another person I think about a lot, particularly her book The Fast. That book, and Weiner’s early journal writing where she’s describing these intensely painful and bewildering psychic and physical experiences gave me a lot of permission to write about things that felt taboo in poetry, things you could hint at but not name directly about the conflicted intersection of mental illness and spiritual-psychic life.
My Dad loved music and would make these great mix tapes of the oldies he grew up with for road trips. He introduced me to The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, The Big Bopper. My Mom introduced me to Patsy Cline, and I just learned over Thanksgiving this year that we share a love of ABBA. As a teen in Olympia, I was gratuitously lucky to be surrounded by music and musicians, going to rock shows in basements and all ages clubs almost every weekend. Friends introduced me to indie rock (sweater punks anyone?), riot grrl, queercore, punk, metal, and country music (I built a shrine to Johnny Cash after he died). Later, once I moved to California, I fell in love with reggae (The Harder They Come Soundtrack was my gateway drug), sixties girl groups (The Ronettes are my favorite), and Southern rap (Gucci Mane and Plies in the 2000’s). All these pop aesthetics are deeply embedded in my psyche, especially those early influences, so I spend a lot of time trying to get cadences to feel right, to match an internal rubric. “Some Ennui” is one of my favorite pieces to read aloud because the skinny lines just tumble down the page in a satisfying way.
Oh, speaking of “Some Ennui,” you sent me this incredible song by the same name. I love it. Can’t stop listening to it. Can I include it as part of this interview?
Do you think it sounds good? I just recorded it this afternoon.
The audio sounds fine to me.
Yeah, I think quick and dirty is much better when it comes to my songs. I’m glad you liked it. Do with it what you will!
It’s cool to think about your work in terms of these different media. If “quick and dirty” is your process for music, what would you say your process was for Weirding?
You know, I’ve had this bad habit of writing something, putting it out as a chapbook and then sort of disowning it. I’m glad I have this first book of poems later in life, and I’m sure there’s still something to be embarrassed about, but I do feel like this book is tight: I can fully stand behind it. Which is all to say, I am a cut-throat editor when it comes to my own work. In terms of editing individual poems, I’m pretty rigorous. If there’s a false note, musically or conceptually, I cut it. I just love tinkering with language, playing with sounds, making sentences work.
In terms of sequencing the book, Eric Sneathen, my editor, helped me immensely. I composed so many versions of that manuscript. As an editor myself, having worked on so many other books, I really craved that collaboration and found it rewarding. At one point I literally cut out every poem and arranged them into a spiral on my floor while in a trance (lol). I cut and cut and cannibalized fragments from old manuscripts. In a way, everything that didn’t make it in is still in the book, resonating from the outside world. Eric helped me see what I had, helped me articulate an arc that was still latent, and even reminded me of pieces I had left out from past projects which, wow, really makes a writer feel seen. Throughout the writing and editing I used the dual motion of pulling out and pouring in–whoa, just realized this is exactly how I practiced energy healing–holy shit.
Anyway, I wanted Weirding to be a container, but a very porous one, like me.
Like how when we choose to say something, make any sort of statement, we’re excluding all these other things that are also true. And we’re making a choice. All the space you’ve left for those things to exist in the margins, or in the negative space, is really effective.
Thank you for saying so!
Throughout the writing and editing of Weirding, I was so anxious about how politics appeared (or didn’t) in the book. I didn’t want to get it wrong, didn’t want the moves to feel performative or virtuous, didn’t want to take up undue space. Stephanie Young, who read early drafts of the manuscript, assured me that I could rely on the fact that the politics were baked in. Still, even with that assurance, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it “right.” Then, early in the pandemic, during the George Floyd uprisings, white people with guns were riding around in trucks and posting up on rooftops in downtown Olympia to “protect” businesses during protests and harassing people of color on the streets. A photo went around of a local cop posing with heavily armed three-percenters. It was terrifying.
I’ve been to a lot of gnarly protests, but never with visibly armed fascists. The pressure of pandemic stress, rising facism, and racialized violence kept building and, like many people, I didn’t know how to cope. I ended up getting physically sick with a digestive condition, around when I wrote the “No Cops in America” section. I honestly think being exposed to actual danger in a way I had never experienced before (without ever being personally targeted or harassed) exhausted my ability to be anxious about my art. At some point I had to say, “Fuck it.” Let me give up and try to make something. Compared to everything else that was going on, the stakes were so low.
Ultimately, I decided I wanted to say some things explicitly and make some statements, but I also wanted space and mystery. I’m just not as interested in poems that have it all figured out. But for someone who advocates for play so often, it can still be hard to practice what I preach.
Which is so interesting, because I find your work so playful. But that section definitely even more than the rest.
A lot of that book was me feeling like something really bad was going to happen. Obviously something really bad was already happening, getting worse and worse. The heat turning up on a situation that was already untenable. Then we hit 2020 and it was just like, “Oh. This is ridiculous.” What else can you do but laugh about it?
Hannah Lamb-Vines is a writer and library worker in the Bay Area, as well as an interviews editor at Full Stop. You can find links to her work here and pictures of her dog here, and you can email her about interviews here.
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