Song of Herself
I hesitate to introduce singer-songwriter-guitarist-writer-philosopher-poet Anne Malin Ringwalt as “artist.” The word to me implies a kind of pretentious loftiness (think: artiste, auteur), which is precisely the opposite of Anne Malin, who is incredibly—perhaps alarmingly—humble. And yet I still struggle to find a word that can encompass the creative genius of Anne Malin better than “artist.” Anne Malin creates deliberately, diligently, and with more passion and less self-promotion than anyone I’ve met. To say that she is prolific would be an understatement. Her poetry and prose has appeared in more than twenty literary journals (both online and print), she’s received multiple awards for her writing (think: YoungArts Finalist, U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts semi-finalist, a national gold medal for Scholastic Art and Writing Awards), she’s performed her original music at a plethora of shows (including Rookie Magazine’s Yearbook Two launch at the New Yorker Festival and the YoungArts Backyard Ball), she was a fellow at the Beargrass Writing Retreat, and has released four records (she’s currently working on a debut EP for her folk duo, Fawn, set to release next month). She most recently read her poetry at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and will be presenting at the New York Theological Seminary later this month. If anything, Anne Malin has earned an unironic ‘e’ at the end of “artist.”
At one of our lunches on a Thursday afternoon, I asked her if I could record our conversation, hoping it might reveal what makes her both so lyrical and so grounded. Printed below is Anne Malin’s poem Song, which meditates on the act of writing, inspired by Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. Directly following is a conversation she and I had, also (kind of) about writing. It has been transcribed here in (almost) its entire unedited glory. It might not have answers, but it’s oddly fascinating nonetheless to juxtapose a form of literature so meticulously composed with a pseudo-journalistic chat over orzo salads and tea.
I celebrate and sing myself, in this bluegold morning light, this religion of breaking down churches to flood with water from the Seine, Lake Michigan; the fountain in my grandparents’ front yard, Corona del Mar
I celebrate: that stone angel, water pooled in its hands while California dries like a toothin model tanning in Death Valley with nothing to drink: thirst, skin peeling, this bluegold morning light, religion of breaking down, building, worship in accumulation:
you, America—land of greenhouses, gas stations, plaid skirts in private schools, grease from French fries and shopping malls, land of grassy sprawl, this bluegold morning: illuminating cemeteries of mashed cranberries, red pulp as ancestral drink, ghostconjuring, ageold thirst in night club or sauna: so America, dehydrated, to flood through with what I make with holy accumulation: this Rimbaud, du Pre, Tom Waits, Cleopatra, this Bonaparte seducing Virgin Mary to a Britney Spears song, radio static, wooly mammoth carnival, this bluegold light when I drive through you listening to Fratres, Arvo Part
My body of many, gutted: to flood through with what I make, contain, accumulate: sweat on my collarbone, sweat on the backs of my thighs, sweat on my lips even as I fuse landscape, sensation, O, body, gutted: to sing itself
What I like, I fill with beyond fluorescent screen: My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, this sacrament, bleeding heart, this Cambridge flower shop, this family portrait among flora, body lilting before stained glass, this funeral and baptism, cataclysmic fog, forest fire mountainside
—cut open by river:
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much? Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
—on a Sunday: nine hours, ten? Coffeefueled in cathedral? Have I reckoned the earth? Have I—cut open by river?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
possess MacBooks propped open on library stacks, drunken walks through art museum halls, possess iPhones alit with the BBC News, violence illumine possess, beyond fluorescent screen: privilege, protest, hands up, thinking how can I change possess, on a Sunday: nine hours, ten? Coffeefueled in cathedral? Have I reckoned the earth? the good of the earth and sun, there are millions the good of my body of many, to flood through in this bluegold morning light, O thirsty America, possess the good of the earth and sun, unknown bodies on rafts, unknown bodies at sea
Have I created to change?
—the good, my body of many —the good that floods through in this bluegold morning light
O America, thirsty
Unknown bodies on rafts, unknown bodies at sea, to flood through in this bluegold morning light, O thirsty bodies at sea, unknown
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self—
that stone angel, on a Sunday: cut open by prayer to filter poem like purified water, old jewelry turned to gold, old centuries, poem like: antiques mined, heart of sacrament, bleeding heart, Cambridge flower shop poem like: this funeral and baptism, this death/rebirth, this cleansing in California, oxymoronic: to accumulate water in a dry land, to write, to sweat and shape it
Look up: beyond fluorescent screen
—Here this family portrait of accumulation, pile of voices, diachronic choir, stone angels, grandmother, mother, baby in the womb
Look up, up to the diachronic choir: I celebrate myself, and sing myself in this bluegold morning, light, old jewelry turned to gold, amethyst, quartz, these voices purified, to write, to sweat and shape it, to write, to sweat and shape it
AMR: How was my weekend? It was good. This [gestures to her quinoa] is also really good.
PP: What did you read from?
AMR: I read from my poetry manuscript.
PP: The one that’s going to be published soon.
AMR: Hopefully. That's the dream.
PP: You have so many published poems I can't keep track. And so many albums out. How many records have you released again?
AMR: Four? Then Will and I have our new EP coming out so, yeah. It’s been really fun–oops. [spills quinoa] If you're trying to publish a manuscript ideally you need half of the poems in the manuscript placed in journals so when you send it to a publisher or an agent they see what you're doing and they see that other people are receptive to it. I realized that I'm very close to having half of my poems in journals.
PP: Wow. Okay. This is you before you get famous.
AMR: No! This is me spilling quinoa on a napkin.
PP: I printed out your poem. I’m not very profound or knowledgeable when it comes to poetry, but Song is beautiful. When did you write it? Wait. Was it when we were reading Whitman for class?
AMR: Yeah! I based it [off of] Song of Myself.
PP: I saw that. Celebrating yourself and stuff.
AMR: Yeah! So I was approached by the YoungArts foundation. I had gotten an award for a short story I wrote when I was a senior in high school and they approached me again last fall and said, “We want you to write a poem to base our alumni performance on.” It was for their gala. I said, “Yes please.” They asked me to write a poem about the process of writing poems. So that's why I thought Whitman was appropriate as this celebration. I really liked it when we read it in class.
PP: Perfect timing.
AMR: Totally. I was a very large hermit in the fall.
PP: I remember that. Right now I’m supposed to be reading Seamus Heaney.
AMR: Last semester I went to… somewhere in Ireland. I would have a good interview moment for you but I can't remember the name. I went somewhere that was Heaney related.
PP: That’s okay. How’s Will [her boyfriend]?
AMR: Will's great.
PP: Where do you write your poems?
PP: Wait. Do you base your songs off your poems?
AMR: No, they're totally different. I was talking to my friend Casey, who you met, about this. We're both in bands and we write poetry and we're talking about how it's so different. He and I both found that sometimes we turn bad poems we write into songs. They're really good songs but they're really bad poems.
PP: Does it ever go the other way round?
AMR: That question is sort of at the back of my mind and I'd like to understand it, but at the same time it's nice to not over-analyze all the time. But yeah, I write anywhere. I think the best poems I write when I feel like my mind is going to explode if I can't get it down. This one time I was on a walk in Wisconsin and I was visiting my family. I was on a walk along Lake Michigan and all of a sudden lines started forming in my mind but I was walking in and I didn't have anything with me so I just started talking to myself. [laughs] Luckily where I live in Wisconsin isn't populated and so if someone saw me...
PP: It's not like Boylston.
AMR: Yeah, exactly. You know how I can't run? My knees are really messed up because I trained in ballet when I was younger and I had a teacher who forced our turnout so my knees are really bad. I can walk, but for exercise I don't run. Anyway, I found such an urgent need to get home that I just sprinted. Sometimes it's like that. Sometimes… like I just wrote a poem on the bus back from New York. I get inspired by blurry landscapes a lot. And I write at my place.
PP: Your new studio apartment! How is it?
AMR: It's great! I feel it's important to create a space that's conducive to creating. It's definitely my sanctuary.
PP: It's a lovely space.
AMR: Thank you. When you said I should hang plants from the pipes from the ceiling I was imagining completely covered and I thought how much that would cost.
PP: That's ideal, but you’re right. Plants are so expensive. How are yours doing?
AMR: The aloe? I love it. I love aloe and the idea that a plant can be a soothing thing. I sing about aloe, actually, in the song version of the poem I sent you. I say something about my brothers cracking aloe leaves and soothing my burns—and by that I mean emotional burns.
PP: Yes. [laughs]
AMR: [laughs] Not like literally rubbing aloe on me [demonstrates].
PP: And now you have an [actual] one in your studio.
AMR: Yeah, I think aloe is just a really fascinating plant. They're really easy. You only water them every 15 days. How are yours?
PP: My snake plant? He's well. Instead of a plate I bought this, I don’t know, this spinning plate type thing that you put fruit on or something. Sometimes I'll walk past and spin it. Because living alone—I love it so much, but sometimes I want movement, you know?
AMR: Totally. Me too.
Photo courtesy of Anna Malin.