I inter-met Larissa Shmailo through WOMPO, the Women's Poetry Listserv (which, despite its moniker, includes men in the conversation).
Two things grabbed my attention about her: her poetry--it's fresh and surprising--and her email signature, a quote from Rollo May: "The poet, like the lover, is a menace on the assembly line."
It's too easy for me to get cornered by authoritative voices in my life and art. I like art and people that re-remind me, as Foucault put it, that we are freer than we think.
Coming to Poetry
Larissa came to poetry writing in her thirties. She says as a young person she "made a good show of the role" of writer by "drinking and posing with the arty kids." Then as an adult she "turned to turgid, therapeutic prose, and at the age of 36," as she says, poetry "found" her when she was camping outside of Woodstock.
Larissa says, "I was in an altered state due to meditation, and the poems came flying to my pen. Since then, I can't live without exploring language in poems. (They don't appear magically as much anymore). Much of my poetry is deemed political but my main interests are combinations of words and sounds in a way that pleases my ear. Increasingly, the look of the page is important to me."
Influences: Patti Smith for a Day
Larissa says, "I love Elizabeth Bishop, Pushkin, Mayakovsky, Auden, Roethke, Wilbur--there are too many to list. I just reviewed Letters From Aldenderry by Philip Nikolayev and I think he is the most exceptional poet I have encountered this decade. I started chanting my poems after hearing the amazing Anne Elliott and I wish I could be Patti Smith for a day. There are many more, in many ways I only am beginning to explore contemporary poetry."
Two Poems and Commentary
Below are two of Larissa's poems, one short and one long, each followed by her thoughts about them.
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We will love like dogwood.
Kiss like cranes.
Die like moths.
Larissa's comments on "Spring Vow": Not surprisingly, I was in love at the time and experiencing one of those moments in which my hand and the flower petals falling upon it were completely indistinguishable. Blooms and some loves which are finite by definition are nonetheless lovely, hence this poem. (This poem appears in About: Poetry Spring 2007 Anthology.)
* * *
(click here for the poem since I cannot get the formatting correct on my blog.)
Larissa's comments on "Madwoman": I've been following a vigorous discussion of mental illness among a favorite group of woman poets and want to offer a glimpse into the "consumer" (yes, that's what the mental health industry calls us!) side. Those who glamorize the mad artist never mention the years lost in chaos and the arduous task of reconstruction after episodes which destroy careers, social networks, brain cells, and the mad artist herself. However, madness can shift paradigms and challenge conventional values and thinking. That is what "Madwoman" is about.
* * *
Larissa Shmailo has been published in Newsweek, About Poetry, Rattapallax, BigBridge.org, Lungfull!, and many other publications. Her recent poetry CD, The No-Net World, has received excellent reviews. Larissa has received "Critic's Picks" notices for her readings and radio appearances from the New York Times, Village Voice, Maud Newton, and Time Out magazine. Larissa translated the Russian Futurist opera Victory over the Sun which was performed at the first Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and internationally; a DVD of the original English-language production is part of the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. She recently contributed translations to the anthology New Russian Poets forthcoming from the Dalkey Archive Press(under auspices of the National Endowment of the Arts). She is active in the New York City poetry community as curator of the Sliding Scale Poetry series.
Read more of her poetry here, here, and here.