On the Road with Poet Angelina Oberdan Brooks – The poems in Angelina Oberdan Brooks’ new chapbook titled Heavy Bloom have their origins in two cross-country road trips that Angelina took with her three dogs a few years ago. When I first learned about the story behind her chapbook, I immediately flashed back to reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley when I was a teenager. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Steinbeck’s account of traveling across America with his French poodle, and ever since then I have had a fondness for road-trip books, especially ones that involve dogs. In the case of Angelina’s Heavy Bloom, she focuses on images and telling moments that she recalls from her travels. Intrigued by the Angelina’s approach to writing these poems, I contacted her and asked her for more information about how she came to write Heavy Bloom. Here is what she sent to me:
Since I moved to Charlotte in 2014, I’ve been working to support the literary community, so you may recognize my name or my face. I’ve worked with Charlotte Lit, the Betchler and Gantt Museums, and many amazing individuals. I was co-chair (with Amy Bagwell and then Colin Hickey) of CPCC’s Sensoria Literary Committee for five years—bringing the likes of Tracy K. Smith, Hanif Abdurraqib, Carolyn Forche, Eugene Scott, and Juan Felipe Herrera to Charlotte. Through this, I also helped honor the winners of the Irene Blair Honeycutt Legacy and Lifetime Achievement Awards. I’m a proud East Charlotte homeowner. If you haven’t run into me at Book Buyers or Bart’s Mart, you probably will one day.
Heavy Bloom, my first chapbook and first collection of poetry, was written while living here. I amassed the originating images in these poems during what was a tumultuous time in my personal life. A formerly accurate and speedy typist, my hands largely stopped working in 2017, which led to a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Around the same time, my dad’s cancer became terminal, and he slowly died at home in Clemson, SC—over months and then days. Through all of this, the relationship I was in didn’t hold up. In the summer of 2018, unable to continue the life I’d planned, I moved my three dogs into my SUV and solo-camped from the Blue Ridge in NC to the Uintas in UT and back. Then, we did it again the following summer. The first road trip brought clarity, and the second brought healing.
The poems in Heavy Bloom move from watching an 18-wheeler strike a blue heron to being stalked by a mountain lion in West Texas to considering the carelessness with which we humans harm each other and the world around us. Upon the advice of Morri Creech (my mentor and friend from the McNeese MFA Program, a Charlottean now, too), I fully embraced Robert Bly’s Leaping Poetry. In his book, Bly writes, “In many ancient works of art we notice a long floating leap at the center of the work. That leap can be described as a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known part of the mind to the unknown part and back to the known.” So, my poems start as images or bits of language or memory fragments, and then I meditatively follow my brain wherever it goes. You’ll find that in many of the poems in this collection, I’ve abandoned linear trains of thought, allowing my mind to jump to whatever is stirring in my subconscious. I trust that these associative leaps will eventually make sense, and in this way, my writing is surprising to myself—as Robert Frost recommends it should be in “The Figure a Poem Makes.” These wild jumps are where I learn the most from my own writing—about myself, being human, and living in this universe. (Don’t worry; a workshop on this is in the works!)
Publishing this collection is a feat of which I am very proud. I went through my academic career quickly; I started teaching college at twenty-one and finished both my MA and an MFA in three years. While I published a lot of what I wrote in my twenties, I struggled to figure out what I had to add to the vast canon of poetry. I also had to make a lot of mistakes, repeatedly prioritizing the wrong things. While I think I got it right in this collection, many of the poems didn’t find their way until I participated in Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project in November 2020. The same year, this collection found its cohesiveness during a Tupelo Press Manuscript Conference wherein I learned so much from Jeffrey Levine and Kristina Marie Darling. Notes from some beloved-Charlotte poets certainly helped, too—especially from Amy Bagwell and Lisa Zerkle.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the impact my UNC Charlotte creative writing students had on this chapbook. I began teaching part-time at UNCC in Fall 2021—as an attempt to combat post-pandemic burnout. Always happy to share my journey in ways that will help students navigate their own, I was impressed by the attentiveness my students gave to me and my lectures. Empowered by them and coming off the thrill of hosting Juan Felipe Herrera at CPCC’s Sensoria, I quietly left my associate professorship there to give more of my energy to my poems. At UNC Charlotte, I’ve had the opportunity to teach introductory-level technical and creative writing classes as well as liberal studies courses on travel and environmental writing. Teaching classes that allowed me to discuss the words and writing I find most important made a difference in the publication of my poems—which took off in the last year.
Through writing these poems, I learned what I already knew: America—its landscape and its people—is beautiful and horrifying. Indeed, death is more certain than life, and loss is more common than love. We want to turn towards our screens and away from any discomfort, but we can’t. Richard Wilbur wrote that “[o]ne of the jobs of poetry is to make the unbearable bearable, not by falsehood but clear, precise confrontation”; the poems in Heavy Bloom sit with the uncomfortable, look at loss directly, and make way for future joy.
If you’re in Charlotte this summer, please join me for Heavy Bloom’s Launch Party! I’ll be selling and signing books on July 20th from 6-8 pm at Bart’s Mart (next door to Book Buyers), and I’ll read a few poems at 7 pm. Copies are also available here: https://bottlecap.press/products/bloom.
In the meantime, here is “Echo,” a finalist for the LitSouth Award and one of the poems from Heavy Bloom:
For more poetry, road trips, ruminations, and dogs, follow me on Instagram: @ab3dogride.
I thank Angelina for telling the story behind Heavy Bloom and for sharing “Echo.” I also thank her for all that she has done over the years to promote the reading and writing of poetry in Storied Charlotte.