Fragmented Yet Holistic Portraits: A Conversation with Maya Stahler ✺

Maya Stahler & Ruoyu Wang

Interviews

Fragmented Yet Holistic Portraits: A Conversation with Maya Stahler ✺

Ruoyu: Maya, there is such momentum to your writing and the details of these poems are so sharp and intriguing. I especially love the playfulness of “pole dance on sand / we pop jellyfish heads,” and “duck organs I’m feeling—generous.” However, at the same time, there is such careful earnestness in the voice, gently hopeful yet afraid. Because your poems rely less on explicit narrative, what tools do you use instead to cultivate tension and story? What emotions are you drawing out from yourself, and the speaker?


Maya: When I'm writing I guess I try to get at the emotion of a moment and the images that led up to it. It's hard to pinpoint what creates tension, but I think maybe it has to do with what sounds like the feeling, if that makes sense? As for the emotions themselves, I tend to write from a place of longing like in "Anna's Aria." I'm trying to capture the love I have for one of my childhood best friends, how I long to preserve her even though she's still around. But of course, while I'm writing it's not so concise, I'm just taking images and trying to explain something, maybe. 




Ruoyu: In these poems, you navigate such an abstract terrain, one that seems to bypass limits of constructed setting and space. How has sustaining breaks in grammatical logic across entire poems served as a compulsion or obstacle for you?


Maya: It's definitely a compulsion, one that sometimes hinders my work. I think it's dramatic to jump around and I love a dramatic poem so that's what I try to create, I suppose. I also try to compact entire relationships into singular poems so the jumping can sometimes be necessary. I love when poems feel unexpected but not cliche or meaningless so that's what I aspire to do in my work.




Ruoyu: What are 1-3 pieces of bodies of art—this could be anything from other poems to TV show scripts, —that have been deeply formative in creating the spaces your work exists in? In what way are they in conversation with each other (if at all)?


Maya: A body of art that I repeatedly return to is CAConrad's work. Their poems, especially the Book of Frank, really pushed me to begin writing poems when I was in high school. I wanted to write fragmented yet holistic portraits of people who are me but also not and they do that so well. Their playful yet serious tone has always inspired me to be unafraid of changing my work over time and letting the writing of the poem be something meaningful in of itself.



Ruoyu: If you could craft your dream undergraduate or graduate-level course in writing, what would it be centered on? What intersections, emotions, impulses, desires drive you to discover new revelations each time? Whose voices would you include in the curriculum?


Maya: My dream class would be for people to read and talk about each other's habits. Like a workshop class where everyone describes at the end what they did to create the piece, what they didn't. The reading would be a selection of essays or work about writing poems or just writing in general. I'm always interested in how to keep writing and how others enter their poems. I think it'd be interesting to hear how my peers have changed their practice just over the course of a class. Maybe this is also a desire for comfort in the irregularity of my own practice. ✺

Read the piece here.


Maya Stahler

Maya Stahler is a poet from Oregon who is currently an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her most recent work appears/is forthcoming in Longleaf Review, Squawk Back, Diagram, and elsewhere. 


Ruoyu Wang | Interviewer

Ruoyu Wang (王若雨) is based in Washington state, where they enjoy cold walks. An Adroit Prizes commended winner in poetry, their work appears in The Shore, Sine Theta, COUNTERCLOCK, and elsewhere. Find them at their website.


Published

Feb 19, 2024

Fragmented Yet Holistic Portraits: A Conversation with Maya Stahler ✺

Maya Stahler & Ruoyu Wang

Interviews

Ruoyu: Maya, there is such momentum to your writing and the details of these poems are so sharp and intriguing. I especially love the playfulness of “pole dance on sand / we pop jellyfish heads,” and “duck organs I’m feeling—generous.” However, at the same time, there is such careful earnestness in the voice, gently hopeful yet afraid. Because your poems rely less on explicit narrative, what tools do you use instead to cultivate tension and story? What emotions are you drawing out from yourself, and the speaker?


Maya: When I'm writing I guess I try to get at the emotion of a moment and the images that led up to it. It's hard to pinpoint what creates tension, but I think maybe it has to do with what sounds like the feeling, if that makes sense? As for the emotions themselves, I tend to write from a place of longing like in "Anna's Aria." I'm trying to capture the love I have for one of my childhood best friends, how I long to preserve her even though she's still around. But of course, while I'm writing it's not so concise, I'm just taking images and trying to explain something, maybe. 




Ruoyu: In these poems, you navigate such an abstract terrain, one that seems to bypass limits of constructed setting and space. How has sustaining breaks in grammatical logic across entire poems served as a compulsion or obstacle for you?


Maya: It's definitely a compulsion, one that sometimes hinders my work. I think it's dramatic to jump around and I love a dramatic poem so that's what I try to create, I suppose. I also try to compact entire relationships into singular poems so the jumping can sometimes be necessary. I love when poems feel unexpected but not cliche or meaningless so that's what I aspire to do in my work.




Ruoyu: What are 1-3 pieces of bodies of art—this could be anything from other poems to TV show scripts, —that have been deeply formative in creating the spaces your work exists in? In what way are they in conversation with each other (if at all)?


Maya: A body of art that I repeatedly return to is CAConrad's work. Their poems, especially the Book of Frank, really pushed me to begin writing poems when I was in high school. I wanted to write fragmented yet holistic portraits of people who are me but also not and they do that so well. Their playful yet serious tone has always inspired me to be unafraid of changing my work over time and letting the writing of the poem be something meaningful in of itself.



Ruoyu: If you could craft your dream undergraduate or graduate-level course in writing, what would it be centered on? What intersections, emotions, impulses, desires drive you to discover new revelations each time? Whose voices would you include in the curriculum?


Maya: My dream class would be for people to read and talk about each other's habits. Like a workshop class where everyone describes at the end what they did to create the piece, what they didn't. The reading would be a selection of essays or work about writing poems or just writing in general. I'm always interested in how to keep writing and how others enter their poems. I think it'd be interesting to hear how my peers have changed their practice just over the course of a class. Maybe this is also a desire for comfort in the irregularity of my own practice. ✺