Posted by: DéLana | August 11, 2010

Lauren Alleyne on What’s the Word? Wednesday

photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Call me a sucker for hugs. Lauren gives great ones. Her heart is huge, and it shows in her poems, in her person, in her always-laughing talk. I first met Lauren in 2007; we were in workshop together, and we’d go off into a corner and want to workshop more, talk poems, talk poetry. Since, we’ve developed a healthy dose of sending poems back and forth via e-mail, or whole manuscripts. Her eye and ear for editing are unmatched! Her poems, evidence of her tireless work perfecting. She’s just moved Mid-West, and I wanted her to know we’re still thinking of her back East….she stopped in her settling down into Dubuque, Iowa to answer some questions.

1. If you had to introduce your own concerns in poetry to potential readers, what would you say your work is most interested in?

One pretty clear concern is that of gender. I engage the world through a feminist lens, and my poems tend to as well. Other than that, it’s a little hard to say; I’m all over the place—politics, feminist issues, personal narrative, love, revisionism, religion all show up in my poems. That said, I think I can point to a common connective tissue—desire. Whether it is sexual longing, religious longing, longing for home, longing for voice, desire for “—“ is present in everything I write. Of course, half the time the longings are in conflict with each other, and beyond desire itself, it’s that tension between conflicting desires that the poems tend to circle—the body’s desire pitted against religious calling, the simultaneous allure of limitlessness and order, the transformative possibilities of immigrant life undergirded by the persistent heartbeat of home…

2. I just got finished teaching a class in which I introduced my students to writers from different cultures. A strong connecting point that we made between the majority of the non-American writers was how much their homeland played into their own poetry, even when they weren’t living in the country they wrote about/in. This might be an assumption, but how does your (dis)location from Trinidad play into your writing?

I left Trinidad for the first time just after my 18th birthday, and have lived mostly in the States, with some stints in the UK and the Middle East and visits to a total of 23 countries. My early poetry really tended to think about Trinidad in particular—I tried to capture the dialect; I did persona poems of the legendary folk characters, I was invested in trying to summon/understand/remember what I had left back “at home”. It’s been over a decade since I left Trinidad, and so the very specific nature of that work has changed. The crisis of belonging that I think now, inspired those poems has lessened, rather than intensified, with time. I guess I just chilled out about the whole thing—I’m from Trinidad and realizing that was a part of me that I couldn’t lose or change freed me immensely.  The connection, I think is far more subtle, more organic, and somehow more fundamental . For example, Trinis love a good story.

3. Who do you return to again and again as a reader? Why? Who do you return to again and again to teach?

I enjoy poems that move me on multiple levels: I want heart and smarts. I want depth and clarity. I want questions, answers, curiosity, wisdom, sass, surprise – the whole shebang. But I love poems that are brave. The poems I return to risk openness, and challenge me to do the same in my own work. I return to Frances Driscoll’s The Rape Poems, everything by Lucille Clifton, but particularly Mercy and The Book of Light, Kim Addonizio’s Tell Me, Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires, Sharon Old’s The Father, Tony Hoagland’s Donkey Gospel, Eliot’s Prufrock, Ash Wednesday, Four Quartets…

In terms of teaching, I try to be as wide ranging as possible. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to teach collections, which has been an advantage because I get to pull from my favorite poets and be embarrassingly dorky in front of my class by getting all excited: Do you see what Tyehimba Jess can do with a line?! See how much Joy Harjo gets out of repetition?! Here, watch how Patricia Smith, Cornelius Eady and Laurie Shek inhabit these personas. Isn’t Tony Hoagland hilarious? Sure T.S. Eliot is hard, but see how he builds Prufrock from his name to his rolled up pants… I can go on, and you can bet I often do!!

4. Can you spend some time talking about your current projects/ poetic interests?

Right now it’s a little calm in my poetry world. I just completed and am sending out my second manuscript, Without the World. The title for that collection comes from a line in Mark Jarman’s Unholy Sonnet XVII, which reads “without the world, we met the death of God and Language. Both of them had died.” For the last couple years, that line’s been circling in my head, and the book tries to think about the idea of this “world” without which Jarman claims faith and speaking would not be possible. The poems went in so many directions I didn’t anticipate, and so many things became “worlds” in their own right—Death the world, Body the world, War the World, Love the world

Now that that’s done, or at least is in a working draft form, I’m apparently not done with the world. I’ve since become interested in objects—their histories and functions, how we do or don’t interface with them, how we assign them meaning etc. I’m thinking the next collection will be called Made, and will look at the world from a much more concrete perspective—stone, liquid, gas, flame, plastic, circuit, cord, wood—and think about how matter matters.

5. I understand you just moved to Iowa. What are your dreams/plans for creating a writing community there? How do you imagine this new landscape will factor into your work?

I’m very excited about my move to Dubuque. I’m here as an Assistant Professor of English and as the Poet-in-Residence at the University of Dubuque, and my first goal is to get a vibrant reading series going. I want to bring major and emerging poets to campus, but also to Dubuque in general. I’m really committed to making poetry one of the links between the campus and the community, so I’m planning to knock on the usual doors (and some unusual ones too!) and make my pitches for poetry as both useful and necessary. I’ve visions of workshops in the community center, in senior homes, in the Boys and Girls club; of poets being a part of the Dubuque Arts Festival; of our very own slam team; reading groups; writing groups… And that’s just for starters.  I’ve just been here for a week, but I’m looking forward to jumping in to the already active arts scene here as an ambassador for poetry.


Lauren K. Alleyne is a native of Trinidad and Tobago. Her work has been awarded prizes such as the 2003 Atlantic Monthly Student Poetry Prize, the Robert Chasen Graduate Poetry Prize at Cornell, an International Publication Prize from The Atlanta Review, and honorable mention in the 2009 Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize and the 2003 Gival Press Tri-Language Poetry Contest. She has been published in journals such as Black Arts Quarterly, The Caribbean Writer, The Belleview Literary Review, and Crab Orchard Review among others, as well as in the anthologies Growing Up Girland Gathering Ground. She is co-editor of From the Heart of Brooklyn, and her chapbook, Dawn In The Kaatskills, was published in April 2008 by Longshore Press.

Read more of Lauren Alleyne here:



  1. Interesting to observe the maturity of the young writer, and the wide spectrum of topics she is comfortable writing about. Since however, Trinidad , her birth-place is noted for stories and her travels to other countries so numerous, it may be iinteresting if she could include some in her writing.

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