An Interview with Eve L. Ewing, "Requiem for Fifth Period and the Things That Went On Then"

Can you discuss the meaning of the title "Requiem for Fifth Period and The Things That Went on Then"?

I used to teach in a school building that had previously been occupied by another school. That previous school had been shut down: when the projects were torn down and the families that lived there were relocated, the enrollment suddenly dropped and they closed the school. Sometimes in quiet moments in the auditorium or the cafeteria or my classroom I would imagine the ghost of that previous school-- not in the sense that the people were deceased, of course, but in the sense that the school itself had evacuated the space, but that its spirit still resided in the building. I would try to close my eyes and imagine the children, the teachers, the staff members that had walked that same hallway. Ironically, in the following year, my school was closed down and consolidated with another school. So this poem was inspired by my desire to honor the spirit of the school, to honor the view outside my classroom window, to memorialize and celebrate the everyday interactions and seemingly insignificant events that build a culture and a community. That's why it's a requiemit's a song of remembrance for those tiny moments that we can never get back.

You're on a deserted island with only one poem.  Which one is it and why?

I want to say "The Anniad" by Gwendolyn Brooks because that is a poem that is full of endless puzzles and challenges and secrets, and I could amuse myself by trying to unpack it. But in truth, I would probably be feeling alone and despondent on that island all by myself and I would need some help staying positive and bolstering my resilience, so I would probably need "i thank You God for most this amazing" by e.e. cummings, a poem that would help me celebrate my daily survival and even find some beauty on that stupid island. 

Who has been influential in your development as a poet?

Oh, boy. Everyone I've ever met! I grew up in the midst of some very strong youth writing communities in Chicago, and was influenced a lot early on by Gallery 37 and Young Chicago Authors. YCA in particular is a community that has grown with me, in a sense. Folks who were my mentors then, as young teaching artists, have grown to be acclaimed in their fields and continue to be mentors and role models for me: Kevin Coval, avery r. young, Krista Franklin, Tara Betts, Anna West, Idris Goodwin, and others. They established among us a very strong culture driving poetry of place, a deeply Chicagoan poetic sensibility. And the young people who came from that culture continue to be my dear friends and influences, though we get less young by the day: Kristiana Colón, Amanda Torres, Nate Marshall, José Olivarez. Mike Haeflinger, a poet who was a teaching artist at YCA back then, has coined the term "Chiaspora" to refer to the way we've all kind of spread out and become artist-educators who continue to be very close and collaborative. Visual art is definitely another influence; my father is a visual artist and took me to a lot of galleries as a kid, and I spent time around a lot of visual artists in high school. My encounters with visual art very much inform the way I construct a poem as an art object.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I am a person who often feels slightly out of place or outside of social situations-- not in a negative way. More like I feel like I'm inside a novel or watching a one-act play or something along those lines. Like I'm watching myself and others interact. That feeling can be uncomfortable but it can also be creatively productive because it inspires me to document the beautiful and strange things I see happening, the scenes that are unfolding in quotidian spaces. Many of my poems are intended to document those happenings. So I find my inspiration in memories or moments that I want to understand for myself, or that I want to recall through the different sensory lenses. On a different note, I have a fascination with writing about historical figures, but in non-literal or even absurd or farcical ways. I also find inspiration from poets I encounter whose work is very different from my own, people who push me to take on a challenge of craft or topic. 

What have you learned about the craft of writing poetry?

I have learned that the work of writing is a deeply socioemotional enterprise. My work, especially in the last year, is constantly motivated and refined and challenged by my peers, especially my partner, Joshua Bennett. No matter how craft-oriented you are, how austere your workspace or solitary your revision, it's the quality of the people around you and their commitment to your work that really catalyzes it. By no means do I think that's some universal truism, but it's definitely the case in my life right now. Josh especially keeps me from under-promising to myself and over-committing to others. I have so many jobs, commitments, and projects that it's my friends who keep me honest about what I can do. And they elevate my craft through example. It's really remarkable to me. I don't know if these other people will ever understand how much my work depends on them.

Would you rather have the power of invisibility or the power of flight. Why?

Invisibility. No contest. Invisibility always emerges as my number one most desirable superpower. Why take flight or fight someone with your superstrength or flee with your superspeed when you could just fade into the background and slink away quietly? Plus, I could wear short dresses on the train without anyone talking to me.