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National Poetry Month: Staci Halt imagines the wilds of New York City with 'Soft'

On the podcast: A visit to New York City expands creative writing student Staci Halt's understanding of poetry.

Episode notes

In our third National Poetry Month episode of the month, a visit to the New York City expands Staci Halt's understanding of poetry and inspires her poem "Soft."

About our guest

Staci Halt is an MFA candidate at Lesley University and mother of six super cool humans and an unseemly number of fur children. Her poems were longlisted for Palette Poetry's Love & Eros Prize (2022), and her work can be found in McSweeny's and is forthcoming in Salamander Magazine.

Check out previous Poetry Month episodes:

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  • Transcript

    Georgia Sparling

    This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode, we bring you conversations with authors and all as a community to talk about books, writing and the writing life. Hello, everyone. My name is Georgia Sparling, and today we're continuing our special National Poetry Month series with creative writing student Staci Halt. Staci is a mother of six, has an abundance of guinea pigs somewhat against her will, and is, of course, a poet. Her poems were longlisted for the Palette Poetry is Love & Eros prize, and her work can be found in McSweeney's and a forthcoming issue of Salamander Magazine. Here's Staci.

    Staci Halt

    I'm Staci Halt, a poet, MFA candidate at Lesley University, and I'm very happy to get to talk about poetry. The poem I'm going to read is an exciting one for me, because I think it came to me at a time where I was just figuring out that a poem can be based on a real thing, but that real thing or that real moment, or that real feeling, that real interaction is really just a jumping off point, and that a poem doesn't necessarily have to stick to the facts of reality, that it can move to a different place.  [classical music playing] So in the poem that I'm reading, it came from last summer where I took my five younger kids to New York, and we were up in Morningside Park in Harlem. And there was a couple of park rangers giving a presentation about wild animals that survive in New York City, despite the city, despite concrete, despite their habitats being annihilated. And I could not stop thinking about all these animals. And so the poem that came from that moment. But what became exciting in revising and re-looking at the poem was that there was about five stanzas about all these animals and how they adapted all these animals about how they interact with the human mess around them. And I realized that the poem wasn't really about the animals, and most of them got chopped, they're not there anymore. What the poem ends up talking about is, of course, human adaption, or adaptation, rather, and how we survive in the ecosystems of our relationships, and or are we surviving? Are we thriving? And so I really liked that poems can be truthful, without actually telling the truth, because the conversation in the poem, it never happened. The speaker of the poem, there's actually two, they don't exist. But I still think it kind of hones in on a sort of truth, or real thing even though it wasn't real. [music stops] 

    This poem is called “Soft.”

    At night, coyotes calm the Bronx for careless strays. [classical music plays] And Harlem backward need blue herons, slurp baby turtles in the algae of shallows of a concrete pond. I turn to you and say, 'I'm not adapting.' You say 'Listen to the presentation. Pet the beaver pelt the park rangers laid out.' She's sweating through her uniform. I think it's because she lied to the child who asked, said it died of natural causes. When I die, I wish a part of me remains. You'll stroke it and remark with surprise and delight. How very soft it is. You say 'don't be so morose.' I insist you peel me keep my skin when I'm gone. Study where I belonged in your ecosystem. You say 'we're leaving.' In the grass around us, birds make a move in mosaic, thousands of them unafraid as ghosts. I ruffle my oil slicked feathers and purr like a pigeon. One who wanders, aimless and stilted as if in a dream and lives off of crumbs. The pigeon, I mean. [music stops]

    Georgia  

    I hope you enjoyed Staci's work and learning about the inspiration behind it. Before we go, I wanted to share a little bit more from my conversation with Staci. As I said at the top of the episode, Staci is a student in our MFA in Creative Writing program, so I asked her a little bit about her journey to pursuing her MFA. Here's what she had to say.

    Staci 

    You know, when I was thinking about tackling an MFA, I was kind of torn between nonfiction essay writing, but I saw that my essay writing was very lyrical. And I tended to break all the rules of excellent writing. And I was writing often in lines and with rhythmic repetitions. And I realized, I write a lot of poetry just for myself, just journaling, and I wanted to pursue it more seriously and actually focus on craft and figure out what I was doing, albeit clumsily on my own. So I became obsessed and started reading more and taking more classes to really learn more about what I was trying to do. My Lesley story is kind of fun, because fifteen years ago, when the low res program at Lesley was kind of in its fledgling years, I think it was pretty new at that point, a friend told me about i and said, "You should really consider this, you should do this." And I wanted to and I had a pamphlet and things didn't work out. But I kept an email I'd written to myself about Lesley MFA and then finally, 15 years later, I was able to pursue it. One kid at the time, now I have six [laughs]. Little harder now, it turns out, but like, you know, I actually feel like I am a stronger writer because I've experienced a lot of life. And I have a lot of material. [laughs]

    Georgia  

    I hope Staci's story is an encouragement to you in whatever creative pursuits you find yourself. And I just want to say thank you so much for listening to week three of our month-long poetry series. Check out our past episodes and last year's series through the links in our show notes. We've also got a link to our MFA in Creative Writing program, of course. It's low residency, and obviously it's totally doable for someone with six kids. So be sure to tune in next week for the final installment of our series where we hear from Bonita Lee Penn. Her poem is so good. I know you won't want to miss it.