Monday, February 8, 2021

TBR: Made to Explode by Sandra Beasley

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!


We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?


This collection presents a strange catalogue: tater tots; NASA; topsy-turvy dolls; the lies of monuments; pinto beans; bacon; disability; marriage; cats. My poems are always distinctively infused with research, and Made to Explode explores the particular intersection of the speaker’s cultural inheritance with a larger American history. I pay a lot of attention to shaping—sestina, prose poem, Golden Shovel—because form enacts content, and can create conversation across centuries.


What boundaries did you break in the writing of this book? Where does that sort of courage come from?

Brilliant writers of color such as Toni Morrison and Claudia Rankine have called on white writers to interrogate whiteness on the page. The moment I type out that sentence, my blood pressure surges—uncomfortable with the phrasing, with the danger of applying monolithic handles to racial identity—and that exact discomfort has been many a white poet’s excuse to avoid the topic or find some other way into the material, often through appropriated dramatis personae. I titled a poem “My Whitenesses” and thought, Okay, then, guess I’m going there. But truth be told, I was already headed there.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

 The toughest part about assembling any collection is working toward that moment when I sense a critical mass, both in terms of drafts that I like and an emergent set of themes. My work editing the 2018 anthology Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance became key to jumpstarting this project. Because I was spending days with others peoples’ food poems, I began writing food poems of my own. To write about culinary traditions is, invariably, to consider the larger landscape of history.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

The poet Erika Meitner, who was paraphrasing Voltaire, who was evoking an even older Italian proverb, gave me this essential life advice: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” This suggestion applies to chores, teaching, and writing.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Isn’t it simply a surprise, every time, that we have another book in us? Here’s one thing I’ll report: my mother says this is the first time she has sat down and read a poetry collection of mine straight through, page to page, as if it was someone else’s novel. I was surprised and delighted to hear that.


How did you find the title of your book?

One title of this manuscript was “Second Reckoning,” a phrase from a food allergy poem; then it was “Miraculous Swarm,” from a poem commissioned by the Academy of American Poetry, which captured my grandfather’s time with the space program. My team at Norton hesitated. We needed a title that would make quick, explicit impact. Trusted reader Maureen Thorson was kind enough to dive into the collection on my behalf. She pulled out about ten phrases for consideration, including “Made to Explode,” which I recognized had the quality of telegraphing our immediate political moment. Steve Attardo’s stellar cover design fit the last puzzle piece into place.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

I love cooking legumes—black-eyed peas, Fordhook limas, black beans, pinto beans—because they’re inexpensive, it’s a multi-step meditation, and the result feels hearty and warming. Pick up a bag of any dried bean, heirloom if you can get it. Start the pot with chopped and rendered bacon, fat included, or else a swig of olive oil on medium-high heat. Add a diced onion, garlic, and jalapeno, stir and soften; add 3-4 sliced carrots and celery sticks; add a few bay leaves, and dashes of sweet paprika, smoked paprika, cumin and/or cayenne if you have it. Stir in the rinsed beans. Cover it all with water, so the water line sits 2-3 inches above ingredients. Sometimes I’ll punch up flavor by stirring tomato paste into the water, or using chicken broth, but it’s not essential. Turn the heat up high and bring beans to a hard boil for 10-15 minutes—this is what gets you past needing an overnight pre-soak—and then simmer on low, pot lid mostly on, until tender. The first time you’re cooking any variety, give yourself two hours, but it might take as little as one. Don’t add salt and pepper until the beans are already tender.








READ A POEM, “American Rome”:





DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.