“My first poem?” repeated Alexis Orgera to the Catalyst, a smile spreading across her face. “I can tell you my first poem. It was in the ninth grade and it was called Kiwi, and it goes like this: ‘fuzzy football in the sand, shave the beard and bite the chin.’”
With that first simple, surreal vision of a citrus fruit, Orgera was hooked on poetry. Now a New College alum and Emerson graduate with an MFA in poetry, Orgera is celebrating her first full length publication: a collection of her poetry entitled How Like Foreign Objects.
“There was a line in [one] poem, that ‘they were like foreign objects in their own skin,’ or something, and it just kind of came out of that,” explained Orgera.“It’s a little bit about dissociation, the title kind of says that. Like when you feel like you’re a foreign object in your own body. A lot of it has to do with landscape and when you have to change landscapes.”
Growing up in Surfside Beach, S.C., Orgera was surrounded by landscapes that have affected her writing today.
“It’s really swampy, and there are a lot of old native american burial grounds and lore around native Americans there,” she said. “A lot of the poems in this book that just came out have to do a lot with that landscape.”
Though this is Orgera’s first full length collection, she has two chapbooks already published. A chapbook is a shorter collection of poems. “My first chapbook was published in 2008,” she said. “A chapbook is almost like a business card. It’s a short collection of poems, usually around a specific theme. So whereas a normal book of poetry might be around 100 pages, the chapbook is going to be maybe 30 pages. It’s just kind of like a calling card, almost, and they’re usually handmade.”
A practiced writer, Orgera has the ability to pull from previously written poems should an editor call and request a chapbook from her, but she can also generate completely new compositions as needed.
“For the chapbooks, editors just called me up and said ‘Hey, we’d like for you to write us a chapbook,’ so it didn’t take any effort, really, except writing the poems,” she explained.
“One of the chapbooks I wrote from scratch. An editor called me up and said ‘I want you to do something’ and I had this idea — it all centers around light. It’s called Illuminatrix. It’s all about light and darkness and that sort of struggle. And so I just wrote it in one summer. The other one consists of prose poems and that’s an online chapbook. It only exists on the Internet. It’s a press called Blue Hour Press, and so I just gave them a bunch of poems. It’s kind of a travel narrative, it’s a road-trip book, and a lot of the poems in my second book — it’s now being circulated around — are in that chapbook.”
Even though her first book was just published, Orgera already has future works in mind.
“I have three books finished,” she said, describing the sometimes arduous publishing process.
“You’ve gotta have consistent publications in magazines and literary journals, and also I send out to a lot of contests that a lot of the big presses put out. It’s one of the only ways in this publishing climate. You’ve got to send to contests and then once your name gets out there then you can sort of start querying publishers and start sending them that way.”
Balancing her own writing career, running the New Collage and Gouie magazines, and her position as assistant director of the Writing Resource Center has been challenging for Orgera.
“It’s a real juggling routine because basically, in the mornings I write my own stuff or I write when I go home,” she said. “It’s kind of like having two jobs because you’re simultaneously sending out your manuscripts, you’re sending out your poems to magazines. It’s a big job.”
But her discipline as a writer and poet has carried her through.
“It’s just like any other craft: you have to practice it,” she noted. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to get inspired everyday, but you have to sit down and do it every day. I wake up, I get my coffee, I let the dogs out and sit down with coffee to write usually. Some days it’s five minutes — some days it’s two hours.”
Orgera’s style has developed and changed through what she describes as “phases,” meaning a particular kind of poem or even the way a certain style looks is suddenly very attractive to her. Though styles come and go, Orgera has been steadily progressing towards finding her true voice as a poet.
“I think just as you get older, I think you’re able to delve deeper into emotional landscapes,” she described, “and kind of find the truth through the words. So, I think if my writing has progressed, it’s just been getting deeper into my own voice, knowing who I am more.”
How Like Foreign Objects includes poems that Orgera has written over the past six years and discusses themes that vary widely but all connect in one way or another.
“I wouldn’t say it’s themed. I’d say it has a narrative arc, but I wouldn’t want to trace that for anyone. You’re going to find that yourself,” she said, smiling again.
How Like Foreign Objects is available at Amazon.com and on the publisher’s website. The publisher is Hangman Books.