From a Newtown Literary contributor: Aileen Bassis
When you think of Queens, what first comes to mind?
I love the diversity of Queens. I think it’s the heart of NYC with an amazing range of people from all corners of the world.
How does Queens influence your writing?
Queens definitely entered my two poems that Newtown Literary published. The subway experience threads through my poem “Journey Back.” I recently read a new translation of The Odyssey and while riding the subway home, thought of all of us, making these journeys and like Odysseus, just trying to get home and reach a place of familiarity and solace. My other poem, “Waterkoude,” started running through my head as I walked in Gantry Plaza Park by the river, watching people, hearing snatches of conversations while the expanse of sky pressed above me.
What is the last piece of writing you read that made you laugh or cry (or just especially moved you)?
I’ve been dipping into The Tale of Genji which is said to be the world’s oldest novel. I feel the need to escape our present world, which grows more distressing every day and enter a world where subtleties of emotion and desire are paramount.
What inspires you?
I’m often inspired by images or a concrete detail to carry the poem into a wider experience.
What does your writing process/routine look like?
I work sporadically, usually late in the evening.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
I’ve been a visual artist all my life. My art practice includes artists books, printmaking, and photography. A lot of work includes text, which is how I moved into the world of poetry. I was thinking of doing a collaborative project with a poet and then it occurred to me that I might develop my own text. I had retired from my job as an elementary school art teacher and suddenly had the time and energy to explore, and I took a poetry workshop at Poets House. If I was going to create my own text, I wanted to have a better sense of how to use language. I was immediately fascinated by poetry’s power to communicate despite its immaterial nature, and no need to frame or store the work. I think visual art will always be my primary art form, but I get tremendous pleasure from writing too.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I have a chapbook that I’ve been revising. My artwork is very political, and this project is about politics and race. One workshop prompt was to write a poem inspired by research. I came across a colonial plantation owner’s diary, and that material provided me a way to address issues of race and history. Several of the poems have been published and one was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
What should I have asked you that I didn’t?
What’s my most recent artist book? It’s called “Wants & Needs” and was inspired by the Flores v. Barr case that went to federal appeals court last summer. Our government argued that migrant children in U.S. custody didn’t need soap or toothpaste. I wrote a list poem and combined that with fragments of the court case and images of children.