Monday, April 27, 2009

Malena Mörling

Malena Mörling was born in Stockholm and grew up in southern Sweden. She received an MA from New York University and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She is the author of two books of poetry, Ocean Avenue, winner of The New Issues Press Poetry Prize in 1998 and Astoria published by Pittsburgh Press in 2006. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times Book Review, New Republic, Washington Post Book World, Ploughshares, New England Review and Five Points. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008 and was a Research Associate at The School For Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM also in 2008. Her translation of Philip Levine’s book 1933 is due out in Sweden at the end of the summer. She is currently co-editing the anthology Swedish Writers On Writing with Jonas Ellerström, which will be a part of The Writer’s World series from Trinity University Press. She lives in Santa Fe, NM and teaches at The University of North Carolina, Wilmington.


If there is another world,
I think you can take a cab there—
or ride your old bicycle
down Junction Blvd.
past the Paris Suites Hotel
with the Eiffel Tower on the roof
and past the blooming Magnolia and on—
to the corner of 168th Street.
And if you’re inclined to,
you can turn left there
and yield to the blind
as the sign urges us—
especially since it is a state law.
Especially since there is a kind of moth
here on earth
that feeds only on the tears of horses.
Sooner or later we will all cry
from inside our hearts.
Sooner or later even the concrete
will crumble and cry in silence
along with all the lost road signs.
Two days ago 300 televisions
washed up on a beach in Shiomachi, Japan,
after having fallen off a ship in a storm.
They looked like so many
oversized horseshoe crabs
with their screens turned down to the sand.
And if you’re inclined to, you can continue
in the weightless seesaw of the light
through a few more intersections
where people inside their cars
pass you by in space
and where you pass by them,
each car another thought—only heavier.

When was this poem composed? How did it start?

I wrote it sometime in the Spring of 2005—I remember riding in a car on the Long Island Expressway where the four or five lanes of traffic was moving forward fast together. I was somehow able to hear the line I think as a result of feeling a certain degree of wonder at everything then--that sometimes happens when I am between two places and there is nothing to do but be for a moment. I had traveled this stretch of the expressway many times and often with my notebook—writing down things along the way. The Paris Suites Hotel was one such item that was probably sitting in my notebook for some months. The idea of the “other world” is something that I often think about and I thought then for a moment that ”the other” world was not a separate far off place but that it was right here on the earth and on this side of things.

How many revisions did this poem undergo?

I think a few. It took me awhile to write it—maybe a few weeks—I remember feeling I did not know how long it would be—I thought that perhaps it was going to be much longer than it ended up being.

How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?

I think it was a week or two. This poem was definitely a gift. Many of my other poems are not gifts and stubborn and sometimes take months and years to reveal themselves to me or rather it takes me months and sometimes years to see and hear them.

Do you believe in inspiration?

Yes, I do. So much can be accomplished under the spell of inspiration.

How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?

Pretty much the whole thing was a gift, it just took some time to hear and know what was to be the length of the poem. As I mentioned, at first, I thought it might be much longer. When I reached the last line I sat for a few days trying to continue to write it. But nothing else happened and I decided to just end it there.

How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?

I just followed the first two self-enclosed lines and the rest of the lines took their cue from them.

How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?

I generally don’t have any rules—it is different with every poem.

Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?

It is of course a conglomeration of both—as most of my poems are. My poems are I guess often little fictions—but it is hard to know.

In this poem you manage to include a range of disparate material in a way that seems organic, not at all disjunctive. How did it first occur to you that the Paris Suites Hotel, “a kind of moth . . . that feeds on the tears of horses,” and “300 televisions / washed up on a beach in Shiomachi” belonged in the same poem together?

I don’t exactly know how but the three things somehow fell together here and they fit together so that pleased me. My oldest son told me about this kind of moth one day—my kids used to watch a lot of nature shows on TV when they were little and as a result their minds have become little libraries of wondrous odd facts of the natural world.

Is this a narrative poem?

Probably not entirely.

Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?

I think I was reading Federico Garcia Lorca and Rafael Alberti and Larry Levis’s book The Afterlife.

Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?

No, I am pleased to have anyone—anyone at all to read my poems.

“If There Is another World” is the first poem in your second book, Astoria. What made you decide to give it such a place of prominence in the manuscript?

It seemed a natural choice–an entry point to the rest of the book.

What is American about this poem?

Its setting is American—it is New York City.

Was this poem finished or abandoned?


NOTE: Some questions have been adapted from Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process, edited by Alberta T. Turner (White Plains, N.Y.: Longman, 1977).


  1. I'm really enjoying reading through these posts. It's a wonderful idea to examine poetic process like this. Thankyou.

  2. I agree with Maxine. A great service is being done here.

    I especially enjoyed this entry, featuring a favorite poet of mine who I just discovered through _Ocean Avenue_. Grateful to have more to run with, more to inspire.

  3. A wonder-full poem from one of our best poets. If you've never heard Malena read "If There Is Another World" you've missed something significant about it. This poem is one of those that can spin off additional poems because of its lego-like connectivity of images and diction. Thanks for sharing.

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