Wendy Lotterman’s two poems, “These Paris Airfares Won’t Last” and “Street View” are featured in Issue 3 of The Atlas Review, which you can order here. Wendy’s poems have the kind of dense investigation of era not typically found in contemporary poetry—and whether much of typical contemporary poetry lies in its enthusiasm to sit digestively spaced on the pages of literary journals or if it’s a matter of vision and innovation, this still leaves Wendy’s work as a towering achievement of 21st-century lyricism. These are poems which challenge and embrace status quo simultaneously, namedrop with utmost purpose of identity, and let the pocks and obsessions of the personal remain in full. In our conversation, Wendy talks about negotiating information on private and visible planes in her work, her relationship between the internet and her influences, and clarifies certain references made in both featured poems. We’re happy to feature both poems online because we want the world to gain the fuller scope of Wendy’s brilliance. Enjoy!
Natalie Eilbert: Let’s talk about “These Paris Airfares Won’t Last,” which appears in the third issue of The Atlas Review. This is a fairly long poem that gets its lift from the memories and present mobility of the “I,” and does so in innovative, sprawling ways. How did you conceive of this poem? How did it evolve as you continued to add to it?
Wendy Lotterman: Trip Advisor sends me new emails every day with the subject line “These Paris airfares won’t be around for long.” It’s from an alert that I created in my junior year of college when I was in love with Sylvain, who lived in France. I was so claustrophobic at college, so I’d alternate between Skyping and searching for flights. It’s funny to still receive these emails, both because the threat is obviously empty—these Paris airfares do last, as 3 years later I’m still alerted every day—and because I never deleted the alert. There was a time when I really felt the threat of prices rising, which was symptomatic of a desire I can no longer fully relate to. But I’m reluctant to admit it’s expired, so I haven’t unsubscribed.
The rest sort of follows from there—coveting my own outdated information. When I was a kid I had bad asthma and eczema and allergies, a trifecta of weak defenses. These things are pretty minor to begin with, and have lessened with age, but even though the data is outdated, frailty remains my brand.
The fantasy of illness is contrasted with Mahbod’s brain tumor. I wanted to cast myself in the shade of that giant. Mahbod went really public with the tumor, but also did a lot to make sure I didn’t find out, so the intimacy native to sharing information was displaced onto the act of keeping it a secret. This sort of happens when publicity becomes the default. Actually most of the poem is about publicity, I think. In start-ups there is a goal of going public at which point anyone can buy a share, but seeing that goal appropriated by a person is totally disorienting, especially inasmuch as friends & lovers are repositioned as fans—as one of many. That said, self-identification as a fan could also cause the projection of fame.
Maybe I’m also jealous of Mahbod’s (comfort with) visibility. Even though everyone talks about how democratic the Internet is, that’s not how it feels—that’s what I mean when I say “fame / is positively correlated with a star’s ability to surf safely above crowds, / braced by innumerable hands that know you.” I feel like I’m always about to regret my attempts to advance from crowd to stage, and even more so my attempts to jump back into the crowd and be safely braced. This is so exceptionally minor, but a good example: Andrew just sent out this mass-email about upcoming events, but forgot to bcc. He said don’t reply all, but a couple people did in jest. I did, too, just before we were busted for being a nuisance. My immediate reaction was just like, “shit, that wasn’t my crowd to jump in.” Or, more accurately, I felt like a fan who ran on stage.