Myronn Hardy is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Aurora Americana (Princeton University Press, 2023). He is a winner of the Griot-Stadler Prize for Poetry, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award.
Poets.org: Can you describe your writing process while composing the eponymous opening sequence poem “Aurora Americana”?
Myronn Hardy: “Aurora Americana” began with me seeing an image of a snow-covered, frozen landscape filled with aspens. On one of the aspens, several yellow leaves had remained attached despite the cold, the frost, the snow. This image held me, induced me to begin writing the poem. For me, writing a poem usually starts with an image that I can’t unsee, that holds me. I’m then waiting for a shift in that image, and then the music. “Aurora Americana,” began exactly in that way. The shift for me was knowing that the poem took place around dawn. That dawn light became clear to me. And the music was the cold air moving against those yellow leaves, against the snow, against a face. Perhaps because I wake up before dawn to write, this also informed this poem. The poem was made during several dawns, written through and induced by many restless dawns, four years of dawns. The first several drafts had one voice: that of an imagined member of the Central Park Five, the five Black teenage boys falsely accused and wrongly convicted of assault in New York City in 1989.
That singular voice wasn’t working. I eventually decided the poem needed to be polyphonic. That realization came at La Maison Rouge, a former art gallery in Paris. There I saw an exhibition of the Romani painter, Ceija Stojka. In that same gallery space, there was another exhibition, one of handmade Black antebellum dolls. I walked through it and saw a nineteenth-century doll, from a Congolese tradition, made of leather and raffia. That doll’s imagined voice became one of the four voices the poem inhabits. All of those voices are fueled by the questions: who are we? Who are we becoming? What can we become during and after this dawn?
Poets.org: Repetition is a motif in nearly every poem within this collection, notably in “Democracy Americana.” The emotion that repetition, particularly repetitive forms such as the ghazal or sonnet crown, can evoke through a poem may vary from joy to despair to relief. How might repetition, formal repetition in particular, appeal to you as a poet?
MH: For me, repetition can reinforce an idea, elevate musicality within a poem, and recontextualize a word, phrase, or sentence so that the repetition isn’t merely repeating language, but deepening it: a re-seeing, a rehearing. It’s a boomerang. You throw it into the air, into the world, and it returns warmer, colder, the particles on it have changed, been reordered. But it has returned, seemingly, in the same shape, the same naked-eye visible form. In “Democracy Americana,” anaphora brings the speaker closer to the vulnerable thing the speaker perhaps doesn’t want to confront fully. Anaphora enacts a kind of calm, familiarity and shelter to stretch a bit more, to get to the actual and arduous truth. The calm of anaphora, specifically, but repetition in general, can lull us into necessary realizations both uncomfortable and comfortable. Repetition in poetry is as old as poetry itself. And it still works powerfully across languages and continents and traditions.
Poets.org: The collection’s final poem, “To the Linear,” reads, at least in part, as a reclamation of linearity. Shimmering with urgency, the poem seems to shirk the postmodern virtues of nonlinearity and fragmentation in favor of charting a forward path—a sort of enlightened linearity, leaving us with the thought of an uncertain future, though a future, nonetheless. Why did you choose to end with this poem, and what is its importance to the collection overall?
MH: Many of the poems in the collection are profoundly nonlinear and fragmented. You are right in asserting that this poem, and ending with this poem, speaks to “an uncertain future.” Or a future that is certainly uncertain. For me, the speaker of this poem is responding to language and ideals that speak to an “easy” resolution or conformity or singularity: “If you just believed this…. If everyone just acted in this way…this is the human experience….” If we believed this, if we knew this, there could exist certainty, clarity, and stability. No feelings of exile, no “wrong” political upheavals, that last line, “I leave you here,” has a “ponder for yourself” trajectory or initiative. Live inside of this uncertainty so that you, we, can have individual time and space to assert some hopeful solutions, certainties. Or realize how silly it is to prize linearity in a world that constantly contradicts that construction. This last poem in the collection, I hope, reinvents the book. The speaker is no longer the guide. The one being spoken to is now the guide and can, now, invent something new (or not).
Poets.org: Your poems move between first, second, and third-person fluidly, as well as through time, location, and modes of exile. How were you thinking about point of view in relation to context, particularly points of view pertaining to one’s sense of place?
MH: I’m interested in the constantly shifting self. The use of “I” can be “you,” can be “he,” “she,” etc. With those subtle linguistic changes, our perspectives shift, all of this in one body and in a very short period of time. For example, “I” marks a self, a positionality within; “you” marks a self, a positionality outside looking at the “I.” The poems make these shifts easily, fluidly, because this is quotidian. Where we are, our points of view, both imagined and in “real time,” are in flux.
Contextually, I wanted to investigate or chart the differences between inhabiting a place when one is physically there as well as how one experiences or knows that same place when one isn’t, when one is remembering it. Our points of view have the ability to shift, minute-by-minute, hour by hour, etc. The poems are interested in that moment-to-moment, those shifts that are often done unconsciously. The memory of a place, a moment, places us there in multiple ways and, potentially, from multiple points of view within one self.
Poets.org: What are you reading now?
I’m reading Leslie Sainz’s Have You Been Long Enough at the Table; A. H. Jerriod Avant’s Muscadine; Sean Singer’s Today In the Taxi; Carl Phillips’s My Trade is Mystery; Yamen Manai’s The Ardent Swarm; Brahim El Guabli’s Moroccan Other-Archives; and Iman Mersal’s The Threshold.
Poets.org: What are your favorite poems on Poets.org?
There are so many stellar poems here but, if I’m forced to choose, “Black Stone Lying on A White Stone” by César Vallejo; “Facing It,” by Yusef Komunyakaa; “My Lebanon” by Edna K. Saloomey; “Ongoing” by Jenny Xie; and “Suicide of a Moderate Dictator” by Elizabeth Bishop.