Written by Dan Kolinko
When Lisa L. Moore thinks about the Pope, she thinks about an isle of lesbos. On her office door is a photo of a cartoon cat with a tagline that reads: “Ask me about my office gun policy.” Moore is a professor at UT and a literary critic whose main focus is on feminist and queer theory. On the side, Moore writes poetry about police brutality, lesbianism, motherhood, the recent presidential election and more. In addition to working on a book entitled The Lesbian History of Sonnets, her new chapbook, 24 HOURS OF MEN, will be published by Dancing Girl Press in April.
The first poem in your chapbook, ‘Inauguration,’ was written the week President Trump took office. Has this political landscape influenced your writing?
It’s about waking up again and again in the new normal that feels like a nightmare. My two sons’ bio-dad, John, was in a terrible car accident a few days after the election, so there was an intense juxtaposition of what was going on politically and this all-absorbing, personal tragedy with a badly injured family member. He’s recovered now, but I was interested in how poor the patriarchy has dealt with male vulnerability and how that’s frequently the root of male violence. That’s my lesbian take on men. [Laughs.]
You’ve written other versions of ‘Raising White Men,’ which is included in your chapbook. What’s been your process for that poem?
I read an account of the David Joseph shooting in Austin—a shooting of a black teenager who was naked and unarmed. After learning he was born in the same hospital as my older son, Max, I couldn’t stop thinking about his mother. [Pause.] It’s a series I keep trying to write: ‘Raising White Men I, II, III …’ One reason is to indicate that it’s a work in progress, and I haven’t figured it out. The whole task of raising white men is still an open question. There’s so much I can’t prevent or don’t know what to do. It comes to discovering how to prepare my kids to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Do you have any fears as a writer?
That my poems suck. [Laughs.] Because of the topics I’m drawn to, I fear exploiting other people’s experience in the service of me writing a “cool poem.” I fear appropriating issues like violence against young black men, when that’s not seen as my issue. I want to be ethical in my art, but I have to stand up for it, too. Anytime you put yourself out there, there’s that risk.
Have you had issues writing about controversial subjects when a large institution like UT is attached to your name?
Major poets on our faculty have been supportive of my work. I’m fortunate, because UT isn’t expecting me to write poetry. I’ve published five books of literary criticism, so poetry is more of an extra for me. No one at UT cares whether I write poetry. I’m just risking looking like an idiot. [Laughs.] It’s part of the benefit of not publishing poetry until later in life when I already have the security of a job and a track record.
How has teaching had an effect on your writing?
Some of my earliest poems are about teaching. Teaching has given me concrete proof each week that literature matters to people. We can create community around literature and reading to explore the things we’re most afraid of and that are most important to us.
Who are your literary influences?
Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Emily Dickinson, Louise Glück, Sharon Bridgforth, Deborah Paredez.
What do you hope that people take away from your writing?
That it can keep them company. That they can feel a connection with someone who’s either not much like them or with someone who gets it in a way they get it. I’m looking to write poems that can connect with people in surprising, funny and unexpected ways. One thing literature does is give us the chance to connect with one another’s humanity around a shared experience.
Okay, last question. You’re on a desert island—
What’s the music artist, book, and movie?
Joni Mitchell. Then, a movie would be The Sound of Music. And a book I can read again and again and again—Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I would definitely say it’s my favorite book. It’s her book about a writer.