My Life Is a Dogwood Tree: A Winter Conversation with Alison Prine & a Folio of New Poems – curated by Vi Khi Nao

Alison Prine’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Harvard Review,  Michigan Quarterly Review, and Prairie Schooner, among others. Her debut collection of poems, Steel, was chosen by Jeffrey Harrison for the Cider Press Review Book Award and was published in January 2016. Steel has been named a finalist for the 2017 Vermont Book Award. Alison Prine lives in Burlington, Vermont where she works as a psychotherapist.


VI KHI NAO: These three poems, “Ghostwriting my Autobiography”, “Mother Who Never Grew Old”, and “Letter to Time” all arrive from a diverse place/reservoir emotionally, how do you feel about them being in conversation with each other in the same portfolio, Alison?

ALISON PRINE: Actually, I feel these poems draw from the same reservoir in many ways, a place of desire in this moment pulling against traumatic loss in the past.

VKN: Which poem was the hardest for you to work on?

AP: “Letter to Time” was the most laborious of these. It is a part of a series of poem/letters I wrote in conversation with time. This poem speaks from a deeply bruised place.

VKN: What is the opposite of loss? What is the opposite of a bruised plum?

AP: My current manuscript is titled “Loss and Its Antonym.” The poems in it try to answer this question. I believe the opposite of loss is connection. But connection is also the essence of loss.

VKN: What a beautiful title, Alison. I love it. Are you finished with the collection?

AP: I have been sending it out. But I still tinker and change it often, it evolves.

VKN: I can’t wait for your collection to find a loving home then. When one is this close, it’s almost light where there is darkness and it feels like home. In poetry, when one is alone (a lot), how does one experience anti-loss or connection?

AP: Poetry is a means for me to connect with my self. In it I circle through fragmented memories and discover connections to the beauty of the current moment.

VKN: There is one line in particular from your “Letter to Time” – “velocity of mistakes” that keeps returning acutely and firmly on my tongue whenever I read it – what “mistakes” were you implying? Could you share? Reference: “Moved forward by the velocity of mistakes.”

AL: I think I am speaking of the power of our weakness, our fumbles and failures to shape the landscape of our lives. Mistakes – both my own and those of others in my life – have challenged me to become resilient, to love more bravely. They have been a force.

VKN: Can you talk more about your Letter to Time project? Where did you draw the source for it? In your “Letter to Time,” December was repeated three times within eight of your lines. If each December was a month in our calendar, December would occupy ¼ of a year. Can you talk more about your relationship to December?

AP: My mother was killed in a car accident when I was a young child on Christmas Day. Each December still builds grief and tension that I must contend with. Losing someone so important creates a complicated relationship with time. Time carries that person farther away, while it also moves life forward. Time is even more strange for me now that I am older than my mother ever was.

VKN: I suspect that was the case, Alison. The ominous aura of December emitting a halo of loss for you. Please remind me again, what is your favorite month?

AP: I guess it would have to be August, or July. I adore the sensuality of mid summer.

VKN: To borrow a verb from the title of your second poem, if a tree were to ghostwrite your autobiography, what kind of shape would its limbs take and what kind of tree would you like it to be?

AP: My life is a dogwood tree. Small and wild, with tough little blossoms that hold on in the wind. An ordinary tree, with a bit of grace.

VKN: If you were to “rummage anxiously through the junk drawer” of your unpublished poetry collection, what poem would you include in this portfolio as well so that they can fit and expand?

AP: I have a poem, “Recovering” which I feel would compliment this group.

VKN: Of the two, which one do you prefer more? : crowbar or wheel?

AP: The wheel.

VKN: Why the wheel?

AP: The wheel goes forward. The crowbar tries to fix things in place.

VKN: If someone were to misunderstand your poetry, what kind of misunderstanding could you see being able to embrace with enormous beauty and grace?

AP: I will embrace all understandings of my poems. Each reader has a wisdom different than my own. Their reading is correct for them, the poem holds truth for us both.



A Folio of Poems by Alison Prine


A Folio of Poems by Alison Prine


Vi Khi Nao is the author of Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018) and Umbilical Hospital (Press 1913, 2017), and of the short stories collection A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016; the novel Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016); and the poetry collection The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in NOON, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review and BOMB, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.