Tiana Nobile is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Kundiman fellow, and a recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award. A finalist of the National Poetry Series and Kundiman Poetry Prize, she is the author of the chapbook, The Spirit of the Staircase (2017). Her poetry has appeared in Poetry Northwest, The New Republic, Guernica, and the Texas Review, among others. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Her poem, "The Night I Dreamed of Water," appeared in Issue Eighty-Three of The Collagist.
Here, she speaks with Angela Redmond-Theodore about family, dreams, and revision.
The title is a bit of a giveaway, but with poetry, there's always more than meets the eye. Can you talk about how this poem came to be written?
Around the time I wrote this poem, my great aunt, who lived in New York City her whole life, had recently moved to a nursing home. My father traveled two hours each way to visit her every Saturday morning, even when she couldn't remember who he was. My father was also the primary caretaker for my grandparents who were in their nineties, and only a year before, my aunt had passed after a long struggle with cancer. My father, ever the devoted nephew/son/brother, took all this in stride. The poem was born out of this idea of filial duty, in spite of the inevitability of death. How families must continue to show up for each other, even as the boat begins to sink. Especially if the boat begins to sink.
Skillfully executed by punctuation and line breaks, the cadence of the poem reads like an incantation; or, more precisely, like the recitation of a dream it as enters the dreamer's consciousness, one fresh image at a time. Tell us something about the importance of dreams and the influence of dream-language in your work.
I'm an active, vivid dreamer. Usually, I'll lose the dream after a few minutes of being awake, but this particular dream lingered. As dreams go, I think I was carrying a lot of heaviness on behalf of my father. Most of my dreams are mishmashes of whatever I've been absorbing. This one just happened to sustain a cohesive, albeit surreal, narrative.
The poem begins with an image of quiet, rhythmic action—A man in a boat scoops water. And although the poem ends with a similar image—Front to back. Side to side.— it's very clear that the storm has left the speaker, and the reader, in a very different place from where they started. It seems to me that the tension between harmony and upheaval is something you've studied. Would you say that it's an ongoing theme in your work?
I love your observation. I do think that a poem can act as a container for turbulence. I often turn to a poem in order to process a feeling or make sense of something intangible or out of reach. I think the poem – its meter, rhythm, form, syntax – can provide a container of "harmony" in order to get close to the upheaval that you mention.
Probably everyone who is reading this has at least one pile of reading material in the room they're sitting in. What is in the pile nearest you?
Interrogation Room by Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Drifting House by Krys Lee, To Afar From Afar by Soham Patel, SWOLE by Jerika Marchan, and Arabalis by Leah Silvieus.
Are you writing, or have you written, something that would come as a surprise to people who know you, including yourself?
I'm a slow and meticulous writer, and for me, the surprise often comes through revision. I will work on a single poem for years, and most of my poems undergo several transformations. Most of the time, the "final" poem ends up significantly different from the original, and that can be surprising. It's also the fun and challenging part of working through the life of a poem.