"Some of Those Electric Zaps Hurt Like Hell": An Interview With Christine Tierney

Great Weather editor David Lawton talks to contributor CHRISTINE TIERNEY, who also features at our Spoken Word Sundays series on October 5th from 4-6 at the Parkside Lounge on the Lower East Side. Christine Tierney’s work has appeared in numerous journals including Fourteen Hills, Poet Lore, Permafrost, The Yalobusha Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Cider Press Review, Sugar House Review, Monkeybicycle, and inter/rupture – and the great weather for MEDIA anthology, I Let Go of the Stars in My HandShe is an MFA recipient from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Writing Program and is employed as an afterschool director. Website

David Lawton: Christine, first off, tell us the poets and writers who most influence your work, and particularly those you return to for inspiration.

Christine Tierney: My two favorite poets are Louise Gluck and Cynthia Cruz. Gluck’s Descending Figure still gives me goosebumps and Cruz’s Ruin and The Glimmering Room are both hauntingly delicious. Other poets I love: C.D. Wright, Mark Wunderlich, Matthea Harvey, Sylvia Plath, Linda Gregg, Jay Hopler, Dan Beachy Quick, Mark Strand, William Virgil Davis, Gary Soto, Brian Turner, and Mercedes Lawry. Some of my favorite fiction writers are Margaret Atwood, JD Salinger, Junot Diaz, Andre Dubus III, Julie Oranger, Donna Tart, Hillary Mantel, Tana French, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut, and Elizabeth Strout.

DL: Much of your work, including your poem in the anthology, exists in a world of Bob Seger songs and shag carpet. Tell us about the importance of seventies culture in your writing.

CT: I grew up in a dinky little town north of Boston in the late seventies/early eighties. Much of what I write about these days is about that experience. It was such a cool and bizarro time. Everything was so different than it is today. Musicians like Bob Seger, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Robert Smith, Pat Benatar, and Freddy Mercury wrote lyrics with intense stories, metaphor, and compelling characters. Their music had rhythm and substance. Musicians actually performed on real instruments without the aid of computers. Earth, Wind and Fire was actually considered pop back then. And the shag carpet often appears in my work because, well, it was such a big deal to have wall-to-wall shag carpeting when I was a kid. I remember when we first got our olive-green shag carpet installed. My brother and I would run on it in our bare feet and then shock each other. It was hilarious! But some of those electric zaps hurt like hell.

DL: Although I grew up in the Boston area and went to college there, I have been away for thirty years. Tell us your experience with the Boston poetry scene.

CT: I’d say the Boston poetry scene is okay, but not great. Boston is still pretty conservative and experimental writing is a tough sell, but there are a few local readings that are worth the price of admission. The Brookline Readers Series and the Mr. Hip Presents Reading Series are the best literary venues in Beantown.

DL: I've heard good things about the Stonecoast program where you studied. Did the work that you did there keep you warm through the cold Maine winter?

CT: My experience at Stonecoast was pretty great. The winters in Maine were spectacular, so snowy and picture-perfect. I had the pleasure of working closely with a slew of talented people: Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Patricia Smith, Kazim Ali and Annie Finch. I also attended a residency on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. It doesn’t get much better than that!

DL: Your October 5th reading at the Parkside will be your New York feature debut. What can we expect from you that day?

CT: Jesus, I guess it’s my New York feature debut! I hope I don’t disappoint. The only thing I can say about my reading is you will laugh, you will cry, and you will leave the Parkside Lounge saying, “Man, that reading was better than Cats.”

DL: Tell us what is next for Christine Tierney.

CT: This is big, so big maybe I shouldn’t even say it aloud in fear that it won’t happen. Maybe that’s my crazy-Irish-jinx-it logic (which I firmly believe in), but I’m slated to start working on my first book with a very hip and experimental press in January (just as hip as great weather for MEDIA).

There. I said it. And damn, it felt good.


Check out Christine's poem The Birth of Me and a Ditty for You in I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand.