NANCY NAOMY CARLSON – I think I have grown into that name
Nancy Naomi Carlson starts her professional life as a French teacher and a musician before becoming a school counselor and a poet. “An Infusion of Violets” is a book of poetry
published on august 15, 2019 by Seagull Books. The author describes her interior life where happiness and its opposite live together, as life goes on. The cover is designed by Sunandini Banerjee, from India.
Who are you Nancy Naomi Carlson?
What I love about who I am now is that I’m not who I was nor who I will be down the road, but a combination of both. I started out as a French teacher and a musician, and somewhere along the way I became a school counselor and a poet. “Translator” came much, much later, and brought me back to my French, as well as to my music, as I translate “by ear,” paying particular attention to the sound patterns of the original text. Rhyme, slant rhyme, rhythm. The silences. All that is the music.
And my name has evolved. My middle name was always “Naomi” but it was only when I became a poet that I decided to incorporate it into my name. The double “n’s.” Nancy Naomi. I think I have grown into that name.
How can you explain the title of your book: “An Infusion of Violets”?
The title came about from a poem I wrote with the same name. It describes an imagined student I counseled when I was a school counselor, drawing on the combined stories of my counselees. The poem is dark. This imagined student is infected with the HIV virus, belongs to a gang, and has been hit in the head with a wrench. I imagine this student “face up in moon-slicked grass/ forming the sign of the Cross.” I go on to describe the scene: “Violets fill his mouth, the cavity of his chest/ replace the marrow in his bones.” The poem ends on an ominous note: “I try to gather him up in my arms, but he breaks apart/ like porcelain, a sugar skull.” The color violet also appears in “Baudelaire’s Pillared Temple,” as follows: “Crimson for Sousa’s brass and shine/ and for Bessie Smith, scales ascending violet to red/ the chromatic halftones: yellow-orange, chartreuse.” I was pleased I could make use of the fact that violet lives at the end of the visible spectrum of light—just after blue but before the invisible ultraviolet.
“Infusion” is a theme that runs through this collection…particularly the kinds of things that can infuse a body: tears, lovers, music. And sadly, the noxious chemicals delivered into the blood through an intravenous tube to treat cancer.
Violets are your preferred flowers?
Violets are special to me, as they represent my favorite color. Although they are wild, passionate, and exotic, they are also unassuming and imbued with a sense of calm. I am also drawn to amethysts because of their color.
And you took twenty years to write the book?
I think I had to grow into this book, as I did into my name. Some of the experiences depicted in the poem had never happened to me 20 years ago. Indeed, some I would never have guessed could ever have happened to me. These experiences helped shape the collection into a deeper, more intuitive, and more honest volume.
How can you explain the contrasts created by the title image?
Like a good poem, this cover creates tension between two or more contrasting ideas. In this case, the lush profusion of deep-purple violets contrasts with the deep-purple bruising of the depicted fingers. Creativity is not without its downside: what it takes out of the writer. Although we may create a beautiful product, we usually emerge wounded, bruised, and scarred, if we reveal our vulnerabilities. Similarly, a well-lived life, despite how joyful it may be, is not without its losses—great and small.
Can we say that the book is an infusion of happiness?
While there is happiness lacing this infusion, there is also a more somber feeling running through. In some ways, we cannot know true happiness without experiencing its opposite.
A last word as far as the book is concerned?
I am indebted to Seagull Books (located in Calcutta, India) for bringing this book into the world, with its unusual cover, designed by Sunandini Banerjee, that captures the spirit of the book.
Propos recueillis par Marie Léontine Tsibinda Bilombo