Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Nina R. Alonso: A Poet with a dancer’s sensibility.

Nina R. Alonso (Left) Kathleen Spivack ( Right)

Nina Alonso is a poet, who also happens to own the Fresh Pond Ballet in Cambridge. To her poetry and dance are in step, and she brings her poet’s sensibility to her young charges at her school. Alonso’s poetry has appeared in the Southern Women’s Review, The New Boston Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares and many other publications.  The renowned David Godine Press published her book “The Body.” She is also the founder of the literary magazine Constellations. I had the privilege to interview her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You have an unusual name Nina Rubenstein Alonso.

Nina R. Alonso:  My background is Jewish, Russian,  and Ukrainian. My grandparents fled Russia and the Ukraine many years ago. I got Alonso from my late husband Fernando. So I keep those two names. They identify me…they mean something.

DH: Reading your poetry I can see that you have an affinity for Spain.

NRA:  My late husband and I spent months traveling there. It was a great privilege to roam around Spain—Morocco, Tangier, Spain…it all made a deep impression on me.

DH; You had a poetry collection “This Body” published by the prestigious press, David Godine, Inc. How was your experience with them?

NRA: It was great working with this press. They were extremely cordial and helpful. It was an early book.

DH: What is the history behind the book?

NRA: I was working with two wonderful writers at Brandies University, where I was studying. They were Howard Nemerov, and Allen Grossman. Both of these writers didn’t try to make you like them. They were respectful that I was not the easiest graduate student. I was an artist first. They helped me. Instead of doing a traditional PhD thesis, I wrote a book of poetry. This was allowed back then. They put me in touch with David Godine and the rest is history.

DH You taught at U/Mass Boston, Brandeis, and you said you were eventually “saturated” with academia…. Explain.

NRA: Maybe it is different now, but it was a very high-pressured environment. At the time I was teaching poetry, short fiction and dancing. I loved to teach, but I didn’t want to write scholarly papers. I didn’t like the politics that is part of any academic community. I wasn’t on the tenure track. I didn’t fit.  I was skipping out of faculty meetings, to go to dance classes and write poetry. It was a tough environment because in the 70s male faculty had very little respect for women in the context of the literary tradition. I wanted to teach a course about women writers, and I was grilled mightily. They finally let me do it but it was with the greatest skepticism a lack of respect. They really didn’t have a formulated idea that there was a tradition of women writers. The core curriculum excluded women except for a few exceptions, Dickinson, Wharton, etc…

DH: How did the Fresh Pond Ballet School come into fruition?

NRA: I taught t Boston Ballet for 11 years. I got that gig after I left U/Mass. Eventually I left there and by chance opened up my school.

DH: Does Ballet inform your poetry?

NRA: At times I write about ballet.  The thing about ballet is you are talking French most of the time but for the most part it is nonverbal. I always wondered why I am so incredibly nonverbal in ballet and so verbal in poetry. They are two things that feel right for me.

DH: In reading your poetry in your collection “Nightingale Notes,” I find your poetry to be stripped down. Do you feel this gives it more power?

NRA:  I am very strict about what I use in my poetry. I don’t like language that is too common. I work a poem until I can’t push it anymore. I don’t use extra word, filler. I see filler in a lot of poetry. Some people are comfortable about using language that is not exactly cliché, but close. It can be done well, or it can be empty.

DH: In a section of your collection “Nightingale Notes,” tilted “Pilgrim Café,” you seem to compare the culture of Spain vs. the Hollywood clichés of the United States.

NRA:  It is more like  that’s the way places are especially in Spain in the 0s You wander around this pilgrimage site, walk the sacred paths; then you go to the café, and a cowboy flick from the states flickers on the TV there. There is no culture that is monolithic.

DH: Tell me about your literary magazine, “Constellations.”

NRA: We are in our fifth issue. I founded it with Jack Miller, a fine poet who does the entire tech work. With the magazine I wanted to create a community that feels authentic to me. I am trying to create some permanence. I look for poetry that has something to say.