Myronn Hardy has built a collection of alleyways and connected passages between two worlds in his newest collection of poetry, Aurora Americana (Princeton University Press, 2023). With the graceful step of a spy and the determined aim of a hunter, Hardy delivers pieces of his heart in each poem, following his recent return to the United States after living for nine years in Morocco. Dissatisfaction, displacement, and hunger is found in his verse, juxtaposed with poems that carry the colors of the sunrise, water, and hope for our shared humanity. Hardy uses the ghazal form, with roots in seventh-century Arabic poetry, to ask questions about and expose weaknesses in our national identity. The motion and rhythm of this poetic form further entices the reader to join Hardy’s quest to seek the dawn of truth, safety, justice, and resolution for a hurting world.
Hardy has previously produced five collections of poetry, including Radioactive Starlings (Princeton University Press, 2017) and has published poems in the New York Times Magazine, Poetry, the New Republic, and the Baffler. His literary prizes include the PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award.
While Aurora Americana feels like a Hardy collection, it also feels different in its scope and vision, taking place in the early hours of dawn, at the moment of change. “I hope readers feel as if they can fully surrender to the language in Aurora Americana,” Hardy said. “I hope the language is both haunting and pleasurable.”
I reached out to Hardy via email, where we talked about his newest collection with a shared love for the African continent, literature in translation, and the power of poetry to heal.
The Rumpus: You’ve tackled a large scope in Aurora Americana, both physically and emotionally. How was this different from your other collections?
Myronn Hardy: I see Aurora Americana as a dawn book. Most of the poems take place during or close to dawn. I’ve never centered temporality in this way. This is very new for me. Also, of course, there is the metaphor of “dawn” that I hope the poems interrogate. What does it mean to be on the cusp of something? Are we on the verge of evolution or devolution?
Rumpus: When did you live in Morocco? When did you return to the United States?
Hardy: I lived in Morocco from 2009 through 2018.When I was deciding whether to go to Morocco or remain in New York, I had a mentor who specifically said, “You have to go for the experience.” It was an experience, every day. I was learning new things, understanding new things, and asking more, and different questions regarding culture, language, and politics. I returned to the United States at the end of July 2018.
Rumpus: What were the most noticeable changes when you returned?
Hardy: The change I’ve noticed most upon returning to the U.S. is how hostile North American discourse has become. People feel emboldened to publicly say, claim, believe, and do some of the most outrageous things. Such outrageousness is no longer hidden, and there is no shame in being loud with such expression. Unfortunately, our forty-fifth president really propelled this shift. Also, facts are no longer seen as such, and conversations have merely become a way to vent as opposed to a way or an attempt to understand.
Rumpus: The jester plays a significant role as a character in this book, and it made me curious as to why he kept showing up. Who is he?
Hardy: The jester is the often-entertaining force meant to distract the populace from the dread the jester creates and allows its followers to create. The jester subverts truth and emboldens those needing and wishing for destruction. This force or being seems to be very powerful in our country and elsewhere. The jester’s existence in the poems is an attempt to articulate or identify this being and force.
Rumpus: How do people react when you share your experience of living in Morocco?
Hardy: When I’ve shared my experiences regarding my time in North Africa, I’ve usually been met with curiosity. People are interested, fascinated even. I do have friends who can’t imagine why an American would decide to leave North America for another country or continent, specifically for the African continent. There is a belief in this country, that North America is the only place to live. There is also a belief in other countries, and I’m including Morocco, where living in the West is the ultimate aspiration, and I understand this belief.
Rumpus: Your book is filled with the colors and splendor of Morocco, as well as the dark underbelly of our own nation’s history. Was this contrast purposeful? What do you hope the reader will see?
Hardy: Thank you for noticing the palette. Poems for me begin as images, and the language is an attempt to recreate and change them—to make those images more capacious. As a book, the color scheme is certainly an attempt to create connections. For example, red, seen in a particular city or throughout Morocco, is similar to the red one is able to see in Virginia. Blue is there because I’m a person who loves the sea and water. It’s the color I seek and see in all of its variations. It’s present in all of my books.
Rumpus: The book has as many elements of connection as it does elements of loneliness. “The Moth in the Dryer” is one of these hypnotic, troubling places where you focus on helplessness, or is it loneliness?
Hardy: “The Moth in the Dryer” began with me seeing a moth in a dryer that wouldn’t leave despite my several attempts to let it free itself or free it. The questions that fuel the poem are: What does it mean to not know how or where to escape? What does it mean to exist in a space or within a system that is seemingly inescapable? What does it mean to imagine and attempt to create a new existence? The questions themselves speak to a kind of loneliness and perhaps helplessness. The moth can’t escape, yet it can see through the transparent dryer window. It can see the way out, but it’s a way into a new space where it must or needs to also escape. This is what I believe exile, or the feeling of exile, or the feeling of profound distance can be. One leaves home, or all that is familiar, for another home. Yet the place where one escapes also feels distant. The moth is exiled from the outside. The moth is there because it may have wanted to leave or escape that which was familiar, but it’s now in a storm. It has escaped to a storm—to unfamiliarity that has become familiar.
Rumpus: You have sets of poems that refer to the Martinique-born philosopher Frantz Fanon. Why was he such a great focus of inspiration for you?
Hardy: Reading Fanon in college taught me so much about colonialism and decolonialism. He became important to this book because he lived in North Africa. He worked as a psychiatrist in Algeria and became a decolonial theorist. I had a professor who told me how important it is to know what has occurred in a place. I remember several times going to have tea at a café in Tunis, Tunisia, and people I didn’t know would ask, “Do you know that Frantz Fanon used to come to this café?” This happened on three separate occasions. Also, I remember walking around Algiers to explore the city and looking up once to discover I was walking on Frantz Fanon Boulevard. As a poet, I’m constantly trying to make connections and see between and among things. I tried to imagine Fanon’s life in North Africa informed by the life I knew there.
Rumpus: There are many ghazals in this collection, which makes it feel a bit reverential and sacred. I love the form itself, but I wanted to know why you decided to include so many of these?
Hardy: I really like the ghazal form as well. The idea of a poem composed of independent, two-line stanzas is challenging. With this form, the questions or the tasks for the poet are to first make those independent two-line stanzas, and second to make those stanzas have meaning as a cohesive poem. There is repetition and a rhyming pattern in the form as well. I like the challenge of this form and its history beginning in seventh-century Arabic poetry. Even though I’m writing in English, not in Arabic or Persian, I like the adjacency this form gives me as a poet who has lived in an Arabic-speaking country and is writing in and around that space.
Writing poems in traditionally given forms forces the poet to think differently. The poet has to reshape thought, image, rhythm and become even more uncomfortable in making a new thing. The new thing being the new poem.
Rumpus: Tell me about your writing days. How do you normally put together a poem?
Hardy: For me, poems begin as images. I see something I can’t shake. The image remains in my mind. I dream about it. I wait for that particular image to morph, a subtle change in color or a repositioning. When that happens, I know I’m in the process and nearing the page. I then wait for the music: the sound of a leaf sliding on asphalt, a river flowing over jagged rocks, etc. This is usually the sound I’m trying to emulate in the poem. When this is clear, the language arrives in a line, sentence, stanza. The poem is in motion. I wake up before the sun emerges and write as its light covers the page.
I write almost every day. I write poem after poem. After several years, I’ll look at the poems I’ve been writing to see what my obsessions have been, the ideas I’ve been considering. If I see connections, I’ll begin to organize a potential manuscript: keeping some poems, discarding others, and discovering the gaps needing to be addressed.
Rumpus: When did you start writing poetry? Did your parents always encourage you?
Hardy: My parents encouraged me to read. They introduced me to the library. As a child, it became my favorite place. I remember growing up, we had one book of poems on our bookshelf. It was a collection of Robert Frost’s work. I asked my mom if she could explain the difference between poetry and prose. I brought her the Frost collection opened to a random page and a newspaper, the Detroit Free Press. She explained that poetry is concentrated, and prose is less so. “Prose has a lot of water,” she said. That explanation, to my seven-year-old mind, was clear to me. I remember saying to myself, “I want to write this”—this meaning poems.
I attempted to write poetry very early. When I read [my parents] something I’d written to them, they always called it “deep,” which really meant they didn’t know what it was. Their willingness to listen was encouraging.
Rumpus: What can every poet or writer learn about the cross-pollination of cultures?
Hardy: The more a poet or any writer knows about anything can improve and deepen their art. If you’ve studied another history, religion, or language, you can compare these in the work. You’ve encountered different perspectives, origins, and syntaxes. You’re able to see and potentially understand, with more profundity, our collective humanity. That’s what poetry asks its practitioners both to make and show.
Author photograph by Soufiane Zabana