Stay in the Silence:
A Conversation with
Lara Mimosa Montes
Spring 2023 || Interviewed by Sarah Haas
I first read Lara Mimosa Montes’ THRESHOLES while the forest around me burned. Obscured by fire and smoke, I imagined the landscape as what it would become—a place where life used to be, an absence, a death. Pregnant with my first child, I wondered what kind of life I could make for him here in this would-be dead place.
So I did what people do when their houses might catch fire: I tried to save what I could from destruction. I packed the car with precious things. Prematurely, I cut down trees and shrubs I loved in order to give the house a fighting chance. And then I waited, intermittently watching the fire and reading until it was too dark to read. At night, I climbed to the roof and looked at the glowing hills while ash rained down upon me like THRESHOLES’s final words:
I thought of the things about us that no one could ever take away and the fact that it took years for us to feel the beauty of our mistakes as they moved against us and slowly parted the waves.
I slept. I dreamed of water until it rained and the fire was extinguished. My house remained, and the surrounding forest did, too. But the horizon was now a ring of black. A THRESHOLE: the place where heaven separates from earth separates from space. A placeless place I hadn’t intended to occupy but that, in a way, I always had. For what else is a THRESHOLE but the source of creativity itself, unreal and ineffable and yet it is the place Lara Mimosa Montes has dared to name. With the fire safely a memory, I reached out to Montes to talk our way around the artistic process so that we might better understand its source.
Lara Mimosa Montes is the author of THRESHOLES (Coffee House Press, 2020) and The Somnambulist (Horse Less Press, 2016). Her writing has appeared in Academy of American Poets, BOMB, The Poetry Project, and elsewhere. She teaches in XE: Experimental Humanities and Social Engagement Master’s program at NYU. She was born in the Bronx.
Our conversation happened in Google docs, over the course of several weeks. It has been edited for flow and clarity.
BRINK: Where are you? In which city? In which room? What is happening around you?
LMM: I’m writing to you from my studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is Monday. I am thinking about the class I am teaching tomorrow afternoon, “Form Gulping After Formlessness,” [The title/phrase is from a Wallace Stevens poem, "The Auroras of Autumn"] because we’re discussing recent works by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge alongside Simone White. This morning I was working on a commission and reading the work of Clarice Lispector, in translation. I’ve been thinking about the way these writers approach the line, the sentence. Each of their styles is so distinct. I love Simone White’s or, on being the other woman. Reading it, I thought about the influence of writers like Alice Notley, Eileen Myles, and Bernadette Mayer... Simone’s work is so layered. To be able to integrate that many influences and more into the poem, and still somehow sound like yourself is impressive. I feel I have much to learn in that regard. Earlier today, I was revisiting a page from Ann Quinn’s novel Three. I love difficulty. I love beauty as well. But at the moment I am feeling overwhelmed by my awareness of other women’s voices and I am having a hard time hearing my own. I sit in the studio today feeling as though I am an understudy in my own life.
BRINK: I’m curious about the nature of your overwhelm, specifically the implications of your word “understudy” which hints at a relationship between writing and performance, or is it the nature of the experimental?
Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Berman’s Persona (1966)
LMM: There’s a photograph of the actress Liv Ullmann on my desk. It’s actually a film still from Bergman’s Persona (1966). I bought the picture on Ebay for an irrational sum of money, but maybe less irrational if I think about what the image and the moment in the film signifies to me about silence, the break. In the film, Ullmann plays an actress who suffers from a sudden crisis of speechlessness. It’s not really the place of the film to reveal what the cause of this condition is. The still on my desk is from the scene where the doctor says to the silent woman something like: Stay in this part, in the silence, until you are done with it. In the film, the actress experiences a break, and some new aspect of her persona comes to the fore.
To do the kind of writing I am interested in doing, this requires me to both get into character, and break from the character I live everyday. I have not figured out how to enter into the space of writing without also disintegrating in the process. I feel changed by everything I think, everything I say when I sit down to write, even this. It’s like a phase shift, this process of coming into awareness, and the phenomenon of being summoned into presence. I look at this photo of Liv Ullmann on my desk, and I think of her character as inhabiting the penumbra. Some element of her gaze is turned inward as the rest of her lies in shadow. It is a difficult place to inhabit, but this is where I go to write. I sense in the seminar I am teaching that the students would like to learn to write from this space, but I hardly know how I myself arrived there. So when I say I feel like an understudy, I am admitting that I am struggling to lay claim to the processes of my own mind, to use Simone White’s words.
BRINK: And what kind of creation is possible from within the penumbral plane? Not a form of production or creation as we might be tempted to think of it but, as a shadow, a kind of exhibition of what is, a manifestation?
LMM: Your question is reminding me of something the writer Bhanu Kapil wrote to me recently: “What is the zero of your work?” I did not understand what she meant, but I’m thinking of it now in relation to the countdown on a clock. 3, 2, 1, 00.01… 00:00. The zero is the moment when something flips, as in the fiction coincides with the Real, and the writing or narration hijacks the narrative and becomes the event, the happening. In my writing, the zero is the eclipse: a moment of convergence, alignment, brightness, shadow. But this preoccupation renders me in my own parables as both the magician and the rabbit. And yet I cannot explain the trick any more than I can narrate the thoughts of a rabbit.
Archives of Pearson Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia Foundation via Picryl.com || Copyright: public domain
BRINK: I love the metaphor of the eclipse, how the event can seem magical to the earthbound but also, as you say, totally real, totally inevitable. Do you have the sense that what you write is likewise inevitable?
LMM: There is an element of divine timing and chance always at play in the work I make because while I love fate and tragedy, I also love randomness, possibility, luck, and happenstance. Right now, I’m working on a commission about Feliciano Centurión, a visual artist from Paraguay. There’s a poetics to his practice that is very beautiful. In one of his textile works made not long before he died, he embroidered the phrase Soy el flujo del tiempo que no se detiene, which roughly translates to: “I am the flow of time that does not stop." As I write this new text inspired by Centurión, I am meditating on this idea, and seeing where it takes me.
LARA MIMOSA MONTES is the author of THRESHOLES (Coffee House Press, 2020) and The Somnambulist (Horse Less Press, 2016). Her writing has appeared in Academy of American Poets, BOMB, The Poetry Project, and elsewhere. She teaches in XE: Experimental Humanities and Social Engagement Master’s program at NYU. She was born in the Bronx. To learn more visit: laramimosa.info
Photo credit: Venn Daniel