Sunday, January 3, 2021

Elee Kraljii Gardiner: Instead of a Phone Call : an interview with Dara-Lyn Shrager



Thwarted by Covid, a visit between two poets took place in the e-ether. Vancouver poet Elee Kraljii Gardiner converses with US poet and editor Dara-Lyn Shrager about what’s changing and what’s not.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner: Dara, thank you for spending time here with me. You’re in New Jersey. How is Covid affecting your writing life? What was it like before the pandemic versus now? Are you able to read? Not all of us can right now!

Dara-Lyn Shrager: Thank you, Elee. I’m delighted to be here with you! So...I misread the last piece of your first question as “Are you able to read (as in a newspaper or a book) and the answer to that question is “no”. I cannot read and I cannot read. As for Covid and my writing life, I don’t think I’ve noticed much of a change. 

EKG: Ha! Ok, well, here’s an unfair question then: you read a wide assortment of work in your capacity as co founder and co editor of the excellent online poetry journal Radar ( What kind of poems, which authors, or whose writing is grabbing you right now? 

DLS: I’ve recently been noticing how some poets are using space in their poems. I hesitate to call it “blank” space because I am seeing the spaces as full rather than empty. There can be such a powerful quality to what we don’t choose to type, or what we type then delete, that space begins to speak as loud or louder than words. This is what I’m watching for and wanting.

EKG: Your beautiful first book, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, came out in 2018 and you have been publishing your own and other’s work, curating, programming, serving as Princeton Library’s Poet in Residence, doing manuscript consults, running the Coniston Prize—many different efforts. I imagine all of this has affected your writing in deep ways. Do these off-the-page activities inform your new poems?

DLS: Wow, thank you for acknowledging my efforts! My off-page activities inform my new poems so fully that I don’t even think of them as off-page. They are pre-page and/or page-parallel activities. Every moment of every waking moment feels like potential material for a poem, —except when someone says, “you should write about this”. That shuts me down every time. If it’s my idea to write something into a poem, it feels authentic. If it’s someone else’s idea, it feels false to me.

EKG: You’re in the midst of writing your second collection. Is the process surprising you in any way, or does it feel familiar?

DLS: There are some poems in the new manuscript that strike me as continuations of poems from the first book and others that seem completely new to me. I worry about repeating myself and am desperate to create new poems. I’m sharing a draft of a newbie here. Yikes! I have no clear idea how close or how far this one is from completion but it takes me into uncharted waters because it’s a long poem (in 5 parts) and I tend to write shorter poems.

Queen of Ply-Mar


Before I was Queen, I was a girl, broad-shouldered and Bulldog-low
to the ground, a 12-and-under Breaststroke and Butterflier, hair dripping
rings on the hot cement between the big pool and the snack bar where bees

stuck to the throats of ketchup dispensers. My mother, on a beach blanket
with her friends. Come sit, but the ground beneath her was fists full of weeds.



Before each meet, we stretched our limbs by the picnic tables and licked Jell-O
powder from the palms of our hands. At the starting block, I kneeled to splash
my chest and two swipes over my bathing cap. I swam because of my mother.

The summer of my ninth year, a possum died in a hedge by the diving board.
It shook a while then fell to one side. 



What I didn’t know would hurt me. One July afternoon, I held a French fry high
in the air while a Greenhead landed on my index finger. I wanted somebody to look
at me. Wasn’t I some kind of sorcerer with my iridescent God-ring? Other flies

bumped against the snack bar screens, and some dropped dead by the condiment stand.
A blood blister rose where my horsefly’s mandibles pierced the skin. After practice,

I laid on the concrete without a towel. First on my belly, then on my back. Later,
on the car ride home, I crossed the center armrest with my own stinging pinchers.

My brother twisted my arm into circles of burns



In 1973, I was crowned Queen of Ply Mar and wore a flowered bathing suit
on which the elastic failed. I couldn’t hike a leg up the tile or sit criss-cross.
Pale crescents rose high on the backs of my thighs. I dragged a towel so soaked

it slapped my calves with every stride. At home, I began to tick while reading
Encyclopedia Brittanica on my pink pile rug. Little grunts where my quiet breath

had always been. Nothing I could name but shameful. I read about Ghana, geese
(African, fighting, Flemish, Shetland, Turkish, Yan), and also the simple letter “g”,
which can sometimes be silent.



For every queen, there was a king. Mine had cherry lollipop lips. I circled him
like flies, followed him like bees, trying to shape myself into Queen. But shush
for now. Coach Wayne tied sun-stiff towels around our necks like capes. He hoisted

us onto the lifeguard stand where the king and I held hands. I got orange sherbert
in a Dixie cup and a Fudgie-Wudgie for the King. After dark, we rung chlorine

from our hair and pedaled home.

EKG: Two themes twist into your work, no matter where the poem ends up: water and dead animals. We’ve spoken about a shared preoccupation with the incidental animal bodies that appear at precise moments. Can you speak of the balance, in this poem and elsewhere?

DLS: I’d be lying if I said I understand the link between animals (both dead and alive) and other themes in my work. Some years ago, in the process of making a conscious decision to look more closely at everything in the world around me, I started noticing, well . . . everything. This included, but was not limited to, roadkill. The startling and then haunting nature of dead things stuck with me. It still does. I rarely come upon a dead creature and don’t end up writing it/him/her/them into a poem. I consider that impulse some sort of acknowledgment of the wonder I feel in the world. It may be strange or offensive to some but it feels like a sincere gesture to me.

EKG: Please keep sending me photos of what you find. Thank you for the visit. I miss you!


Dara-Lyn Shrager lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and is the co-founder and editor of Radar Poetry. Her full-length poetry collection, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, was published by Barrow Street Books in 2018. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and a BA from Smith College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals, including Crab Creek Review, Southern Humanities Review, Barn Owl Review, and Nashville Review. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine. Learn more at: and at

Elee Kraljii Gardiner
is the author of the poetry books Trauma Head and serpentine loop, and the anthologies Against Death: 35 Essays on Living and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Originally from Boston, Elee lives on the traditional and unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Peoples where she works at Vancouver Manuscript Intensive.




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