In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Alison Morse
1. Tell us about your poem, “Dream Rematerialized in Bangladesh,” in Volume 21. How did it come to be?
I really did have a dream in which long threads that extended from my mother’s tongue were stitched through my fingertips. She spoke, my hands typed. I was her marionette. When I woke up, I thought, what a useful image. For many months, I’d been attempting to write a poem about my family’s relationship with the garment industry. The dream image gave me what I needed to enter the world of the poem.
The second half of the poem is taken from an experience I had during a research trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh. There I interviewed garment workers, mostly women, who told me stories about their work in Dhaka garment factories. I always sensed a gap between what I said in English, what the workers replied in Bangla and what the translators told me in English –– until the interview I wrote about in the poem.
2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?
I’ve learned to be a patient reader because writing that bugs me usually ends up teaching me something new about what writing can do. It’s a bit like the experience of learning to read in a foreign language. What makes no sense at first ends up expanding my fluency as a reader and writer.
3. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?
My current poetry project is inspired by several authors but I keep going back these specific books for help: Muriel Rukeyser‘s The Book of the Dead; Seam by Tarfia Faizullah; Bao Phi‘s Thousand Star Hotel; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders; Daniel Borzutzky‘s The Performance of Being Human and Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith. These books use inventive language and great heart to create politically charged historical and personal narratives that shout out to the present. They read like verse plays.
4. Do you practice any other art forms? If so, do these influence your writing and/or creative process?
Before I took writing seriously, I was an animator. For 20 years I made experimental animated films and worked on commercials and children’s TV shows. I chose animation because it was an interdisciplinary art form that integrated my love of theater, dance, drawing, painting and music. I tend to approach writing as animation made with words, a call and response to other art forms.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I’m currently immersed in a poetry project about the garment industry propelled by the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse. When the Rana Plaza building fell to the ground in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing over 1,134 Bangladeshi garment workers in 5 garment factories and injuring thousands more, I took it personally. I come from a family of NYC garment workers who made a living in garment factories during the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (NYC, 1911) that killed 146 immigrant garment workers, any of whom could have been one of my relatives. The poems I’m writing animate the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire and the Rana Plaza collapse; bring to light my present day connections with garment workers in Bangladesh and reflect on my role as an American consumer in the fast fashion supply chain.
A group of these poems were originally written as part of a multi-media installation made in collaboration with visual artist Rachel Breen and exhibited at Carlton College’s Perlman Museum and the Sabes Jewish Community Center in 2018.
Photos from reading of Alison’s poems during the Price of Our Clothes exhibit at the Perlman Museum. Artwork by Rachel Breen. Poems by Alison Morse. First photo reader: Sara Paller.