Getting To Know Joey Gould & Their New Book, The Acute Avian Heart

So, the calendar has flipped to another year since the release of this collection; have you found your feelings towards these poems or the themes they deal with shifting over time?

Yes! I finally feel like TAAH is finished. It’s exciting to focus on new projects & poems with a sense of having fulfilled the promise of the previous project. For most of 2019 I felt really nervous about TAAH; now, I can thumb through it with all of the stress & yearning settled. It helps that Eileen Cleary was such a fastidious & caring editor—the book turned into something even better than I imagined under her care.

The themes of the book are blooming for me as I have now come out as non-binary, which my poet-self realized about me before the rest of me. I think that happens because writing allows me to bypass many of the social filters I put in place & walls I put up in my brain so I can sleep at night. 

I read in another interview that Louise Glück is an influence of yours; do you think the presence of nature in her work inspired or shaped the way you use nature imagery, especially birds?

Absolutely, Glück’s use of nature, interiority, & myth have informed my work greatly. She often uses nature as an extended metaphor for feeling, which I try to do as well. Moreover, in “Starling”, I particularly wanted to write poems from the same natural setting: an abstraction that imagines Broadmoor Audubon Sanctuary in Natick, MA as a highly personalized interior world. Doing this, I thought a lot about the garden in Glück’s The Wild Iris. I also admire her ability to voice poems—her speakers are very sure of who they are speaking to & why.

Speaking of which: Most poets I know have a specific kind of image they return to again and again throughout their work. I wonder, why birds for you? And have they always been a part of your work, or did they seem to emerge with this collection?

I have loved birds (& written about them) ever since I started birdwatching out the back window of my mother’s house as a teen. The moment in “thrushes” where I’m staring into the eye of a robin as I grieve the loss of my friend, Colleen, happened at that house. & since there’s so many birds, all with their own personalities, they make a good base for diverse metaphors, with the idea of “birds” as a through line in what might otherwise be four separate stories of TAAH. Birds are the glue! Also, when I am overcome with feeling, I go birdwatching to quiet myself, so when I’m writing, birds are already associated with how I felt at certain times. On the other hand, I do think TAAH is my bird project & I am moving away from birds as omnipresent image so that I don’t write the same book again.

A book cover with a drawing of a green anatomical heart with the words, 'Joey Gould, The Acute Avian Heart.'

Why did you decide to break this collection into distinct sections? Was it preplanned or did it happen organically?

The sections happened intentionally. I tend to write in super-productive bursts, & the bones of TAAH happened as distinct projects. I wrote the oldest poems in the book, the ones about my stepfather, as a chapbook. I wrote most of “Haruspex” on one writer’s retreat, & when I had edited them I thought they were a chapbook, too. By the time I wrote the first poems of “Starling”, I knew I was writing a book. After that, I wrote “Hard Turn” in one trip to LA & “When I Was a Man” in a friend’s trailer in Oakland. These were intentional acts of writing sets, rather than writing a bunch of individual poems & hoping for some coherence. I sprinkled a few one-off poems in at the end, but that was after it took shape.

Were there any writers or other artists you found yourself returning to for inspiration during the process of creating this collection?

Besides Glück, July Westhale, Emily Corwin, Tommy Pico, & GennaRose Nethercott are writers whose work sustained me in my writing. I dove headlong into reading gurlesque & feminist poetry, particularly as I was writing “Hard Turn” & “When I Was a Man”. I like Tommy Pico’s earnest brashness, the lushness of Corwin’s poetic world, the deep myth of Nethercott’s fables, & the sharpness of Westhale’s imagery. I love music, too, & I made a playlist of music that I was listening to. Lots of Purity Ring & Cocteau Twins.

What are you working on now?

A new book! TAAH focused on gender, identity, & grief. Since those are all so personal, I want the next book to be more explicitly political. I’m thinking a lot about my religious upbringing. I also have become obsessed with the patois & idioms people use as in-group semiology, so there’s a section of poems about turns of phrase. I am not abandoning the interiority that often drives TAAH, but I want to write more socially-aware poems. I’ve also started The Poetry Prompt Project, so if you want to play along please follow my blog! It’s fun for me to get back to analysis as a way of discovering the real depth of poetry. There are eight editions; I haven’t updated it in a while but I’ll hopefully start back up soon.

Are there any poetry releases you’re highly anticipating in 2020?

SO many books! I was very happy to pick up Emily Corwin’s Sensorium at AWP—it’s SO GOOD. I just received an ARC of Via Negativa by July Westhale, who is writing amazing poems & teaching me about sharp imagery & the art of writing iterations on a theme. There’s also When My Body Was a Clinched Fist by Enzo Silon Surin, another friend whose work deserves so much attention. A couple books I’m excited for by people I don’t know: Homie: Poems by Danez Smith & Obit by Victoria Chang.

Sample poem from The Acute Avian Heart:


I will love you again 
dear me     you stumbler
you swimmer     you walking
past the boy calling your name     hey
I will write of calling     you will 
right the need     to be called of the need
of that need     someone loved your love
but not you     can I ask you
not to feel like you always have to ask     
having circled yourself too long     looking 
down     a pile of lanky sticks     auguring 
every time you butterflied a dead breast
looking in the fridge for out-of-codes
instead of lunch     auguring sour
spoilage     circling against your own
call song     dear heart I don’t want you 
to be sad     anymore I wish
you’ll be happy     you survived

listen:     try to swallow 
a compliment     don’t take it 
to the windshield     unfortunate 
cicada     catch it   keep those words 
in a jar on the stand     where you lay 
your wallet     bring it to the beach
take off your shirt     go wading
with it     introduce it to your sadness
so they can be friends

Buy The Acute Avian Heart

Joey Gould, a non-binary writing tutor, wrote The Acute Avian Heart (2019, Lily Poetry Review). Twice nominated for Bettering American Poetry and once for a Pushcart Prize, Joey’s writing has appeared in Bad Pony, The Compassion Anthology, Memoir Mixtapes, & Glass: A journal of Poetry. Joey’s character Izzie Hexxam features in the Poetry Society of New York’s Poetry Brothel. A long-time event organizer at Mass Poetry, they plan & execute poetry events at Salem Arts Festival. They also write 100-word reviews as poetry editor for Drunk Monkeys.