Welcome to the Mettasphere! There is still oxygen to breathe, the weather is to your comfort, some days, and you need to tune your ear to a major note, sometimes unheard, sometimes heard all too much. Maybe it’s a beat sampled from an ancestral song, some psyche mash-up, but what we love about Metta Sáma is that she is a woman of the word, her words, of vision, and just all-around badass. She is the author of, most recently, After “Sleeping to Dream”/After After (Nous-Zot Press 2014) and Nocturne Trio (YesYes Books 2012). Her poems & stories have appeared in All About Skin, Apogee Journal, The Baffler, bluestem, Kweli, Pyrta, RedLæf Poetry & The Rumpus, and among others. She is an assistant professor and director of creative writing, where she oversees the Center for Women Writers, at Salem College in North Carolina.
1. What was your last bite?
Not sure if this qualifies as a bite: I’m a title biter. I take titles from lines of other people’s poems & make them titles to my poems (the first time was “From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen,” which was pulled from Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” & the last was “the body, a myth,” which was taken from Tracy K. Smith’s poem, “History”). In my current chapbook collection, After “Sleeping to Dream”/After After, each poem takes the title from a piece of visual art. I love ekphrastic pieces and attempted my first one a decade ago with “After Gustav Klimt’s “Mother and Child” ” a rather dreamy strange image of three generations of women.
2. What’s going on in the Mettasphere—what is it we need to know, should know, and better know?
I’m pretty obsessive about seeking out injustices and thinking of various ways to address injustices—via art, via community actions, via scholarship, via family, etc. It’s rather exhausting, of course, because it’s spirit work and psyche work. So, what to know about me: I spend a lot of time looking out of windows, more time walking up and down pathways, although many times when I go out for a walk, I think of the way that my mother would discipline us: “If you lie to us, then one day God will take your brain and you will become one of those crazy people walking aimlessly all day long.” This haunts me. I love walking aimlessly and would do so all day long if I could. And I love being tuned in to my brain, finding ways to control it, to relinquish control to it.
3. In your latest collection of poetry, After “Sleeping to Dream”/After After, which poem brought you the most complicated joy? And why?
The Argus poem, “Mycene vs the Transcendent I,” that sees the mother before it sees the son, that sees, then, the child before the child became a monster in mythology. I enjoyed thinking, in this poem, about where those eyes would be, if the mother would be able to feel the flutter of the eyes, while also thinking about how pregnant women often say that they feel all the eyes of the world are on them, how they lose a sense of privacy because so many eyes are on them, so many are waiting to touch them. It was complicated to imagine an already existing text and to then extract text from that imaginary piece. It was even more complicated to only compose the visible parts, to keep the unwritten parts in the mind, to only write out what is seen. To make an erasure without a text to erase from: that was the task. & the joy was writing the text while imaging the gaps/the erased bits. The entirety of the Argus poem, in fact, was complicated joy—as Argus’ story has yet to be written. So, the research, was difficult (there is great dispute over the minimal story of Argus (was it possible, for example, for Argus to be that Argus of Argos, that Argus who built the Argonaut for Jason) ), exciting, not exacting, and yes, joyful.
4. Show us something.
5. How can we do/say it differently? (You define “it.”)
The other day I saw another one of those Grammarly posts and I got irritated, the way I get when I see these grammarians diss and scoff at and humiliate typographical and grammatical errors. This one had to do with the difference between who’s and whose. I thought, as I often do, if you can’t determine the difference, as a reader, then you’re the one with the problem, truly. You’ve seen those postings that have words all wonked out, letters everywhere, and the test is to see if you can read it. That poster does it differently. That poster shows us that, in fact, we are more adaptable than we think. How to do it differently: set aside the need to be perfect right and righteous.
6. Describe being a director for the center of women writers poetically. As magical realism. And as speculative fiction.
Metta’s computer screen is filthy. Her fingerprints have punched, pushed, nearly punctured the screen; families of fingerprints swimming across the screen; some mongrel, some twinned and tripled, some solitary floating on the bottom of the screen. When Metta takes a towel to the screen, she can hear the prints scream, each grossly lined face puled open and howling. Metta wipes the screen, pulls open a new document, prepares a new contract. When she makes an error, she pummels the screen with a flat fingertip again and again and again. The new arrivals litter the screen and fashion a new scene. This time they belong to a cracked wall in Berlin, a piece of crumbling marble in Athens, a brick building in Brooklyn, a chipped wooden fence in downtown Toronto. The prints begin to arrange themselves as graffiti. Metta’s opened a new document, a program she needs to make for a new event, the graffiti of fingerprints dotting every ‘s’ on her document. Metta imagines the screen has a wide mouth in the center of the screen, as she opens yet another document, this one a housing request, then another document, this one for catering, that one for a venue, this one for a check to send out to a writer, she attempts a smile when she types in the honorarium—so happy to support a writer—her smile flops when she opens yet another document, this one a budget report, that one a request for parking spaces from public safety, this one a work order to move chairs and bring in tables, that one to the bookstore for book orders, this one, that one, so many documents. Metta punches the screen’s belly for the first time and this time the filthy screen yawns, a slight yawn, a test yawn, and the fingerprints gather around the yawn and peer in and then peer at Metta. Metta looks quickly towards the door, hopes no one is coming by to ask for this or that, and places an entire hand in the yawn of the screen, then an arm, and a shoulder—and whoosh, her head goes in and Metta is gone. The screen, done with its long yawn, closes. Metta’s fingerprints, too, are gone, disappeared into the mouth, too.
7. Make a list of 9 items.
1. Valerie June on a chilly sun-dappled Sunday morning in November
2. Sumatra blend with a hefty amount of coconut almond milk and a
dab of honey
3. A phone call from a friend whose stutters make you tap your foot
4. That tiny spot of heat where the sun’s orgasm on the window burns
5. The flickering green light that says WiFi
6. The promise of the sauna in the afternoon
7. Your stomach still sitting in your lap, keeping your upper thighs
8. A dream of a kitten the morning after you nearly step on a NC
9. A phone call you wait for & wait for that will never come as long as
8. What birds sing in your sphere?
(There are also robins and blue jays and finches and a john crow)
9. What rituals do you have for autumn?
I don’t practice rituals. In autumn, I do give more time to saunas and blankets.
10. To divine or undivine, and what?
To divine: love
To undivine: toxic ideologies
11. Please offer our readers a Mettasphere inspired writing prompt.
I’m sharing a photo. Imagine the world in which this image lives. Write a poem that uses the syntax, punctuation, grammar, i.e. the specific language, of the image(s).
Contributed by Metta Sáma