A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Eleonora Luongo

photo credit goes to Anthony Alvarez

Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most now and currently?

Eleonora: I’ve always loved to write. My sister and I used to make up plays for our Barbies when we were kids and then perform them for our family. And we’d make tiny satire fashion magazines, complete with ads and headlines for articles.

I kept a journal as a kid and teenager and wrote the usual bad poetry in high school, but I didn’t start getting serious about craft until I was in my 20s. My progression of who influenced me would probably be something like Emily Dickinson -> Edgar Allen Poe -> Emily Bronte -> Mary Shelley -> Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the Beat writers. Then it would take a wide turn into more contemporary poets, too many to name them all here. I absolutely love this poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi:
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/19/hammond-b3-organ-cistern  

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Eleonora: As a child and even into college my goal was to be a visual artist, not a writer, but looking back it’s easy to see I always wanted to write. It wasn’t so much a want as just something I did. I purposefully use the verb “write” here and not the noun because I didn’t call myself a “writer” for a very long time, but I did the action of writing from a young age. There’s something about sitting down to write a phrase or start a poem and trying to work through something, and then it ends up taking a surprising turn somewhere during the process and at the end you think, “Oh, that’s where my mind was trying to go.”

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?

Eleonora: In undergrad, I was originally an architecture major (later switched to computer science) at a very STEM heavy school, but I had two English professors who really encouraged me to keep writing. One I had as a freshman for an intro class and still remember to this day that she wrote “You are a writer!!!” in red ink on a personal essay assignment.

More recently, my professors and colleagues in the MFA program at Rutgers University-Newark deepened the way I approach my own writing and helped me hone my craft in a way that wouldn’t have happened on my own. I’m very lucky to have a group of welcoming and generous colleagues from the program who’ve given me opportunities to read my work with them and engage with as a community both online and in person. I hesitate to name names because inevitably I know I will leave someone out.

I have two very close friends who are not poets but are the most encouraging people in my corner right now. I probably bore them by sending them my work to read whenever I have a new piece published but they are always gracious and excited for me. It’s such a warm feeling and I’m not sure they know how much that inspires me to keep going and how hugely grateful I am for them.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

Eleonora: I grew up in Elizabeth, which is the 4th largest city in New Jersey. We lived in an apartment smack in the middle of the business district, and I went to college in Newark, the largest city in the state, where I still work today. Cities will always feel like home to me. But my family emigrated from a small town in southern Italy and we went back there to visit family in the summers and that had a big influence on me too. It’s this huge shift to come from a place that is mostly concrete and buildings to a small town where you’re surrounded by mountains wherever you look and the buildings have been standing since the Middle Ages. There’s this sense of history, of a connection to place and your past that wasn’t there for me in NJ. For instance, my maternal grandfather and his father built some of the cobblestone streets we walked on, and everyone knows you as the family you come from, which I’m sure can be suffocating if you grow up there, but it also fosters an understanding that you’re part of a long, continuous thread. My paternal grandfather, a carpenter by trade, was the self-proclaimed family historian and loved to tell us stories about the past, as well as recite Neapolitan poems by from memory. I think more than the poetry I learned in school, the poems he recited made me fall in love with the rhythms and music of poetry and brought it down to earth for me, because it showed that poetry didn’t have to be this formal thing for only the most educated in a way that what we learned in school didn’t. It was always meant for everyone.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Eleonora: My MFA thesis, which centers around family and cultural history and was called City of Fire and Water after the nickname of my parents’ hometown, Campagna, was the first time I ever put together a set of poems that felt like a collection and not just random work, so that will always be meaningful to me.

More recently, an as-yet unpublished chapbook called Post-Traumatic Self-Portrait. It was written in the year or so after I gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Anna. I hadn’t been writing much for years before then but working on the project gave me an anchor at a time that I felt particularly unmoored. When someone you love dies, usually there are memories and things about them you can hold onto, but what if that someone was only alive for a moment? Nobody really wants to bring up the topic of a dead baby because they think it’ll make you too sad. But I needed to talk about her to make her real. The book feels like a way to give Anna space to be something more than one moment, and to explore loss and connection and hope and re-piecing ourselves together after something very unexpected and tragic happens.

Q6: What are your favorite activities to relax?

Eleonora: I love to read! I’ll read most any genre, but some of my favorites are gothic horror novels – give me a few hours with a crumbling old castle or mansion and troubled characters and throw in supernatural phenomena and I’m a happy girl. I also like fairy tale retellings and YA fiction – there is so much depth and great stuff happening in YA these days.

When I’m too mentally exhausted to read, I’ll put on a movie or binge a few episodes of whatever my latest favorite series is.

Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing?

Eleonora: Oh! That’s a tough one. I like these lines from my poem “Electron”:

Everything outside is gathering sparks, is more than myself. Inside
the entire world spins in miniature.

It captures a lot of that idea of us as individual beings but also part of a larger collective consciousness that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?

Eleonora: Ah, so many. I could talk about music all day! It really depends on what I’m working on, but if we’re talking about writing inspiration, I tend to gravitate toward dreamy female vocals set over lush, sweeping music. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Zola Jesus, her songs feel like a great opening to exploring so many things: unfulfilled desire, our place in the world, longing and purpose and meaning in life.

Going back to the idea of fairy tales and the forest as this mystical but also wild and a little dangerous place, Aurora is another vocalist I love.

The older song I return to over and over again is Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” There’s a push and pull between a longing for connection and yet not really being able to cross that boundary between people that feels very universal.

But sometimes you just want to feel that driving bass and synth, right? I love the classics, Depeche Mode and the Cure and of course Joy Division, but also Metric and Poppy and newer bands. And some screamo music. And stuff completely outside of those genres too. I’m a sucker for a good minor chord or a bit of dissonance.

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote?

Eleonora: I don’t have any events coming up right now, but I have three poems in the Blood & Bourbon: Catastrophe collection, available on Amazon.

A recently published poem I’m really proud of is Mapping the Imperfect Body, which you can read in Coachella Review.  

My Bio:

Eleonora Luongo was born and raised in Elizabeth, NJ and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University-Newark, where she currently works as Communications Director for the School of Arts & Sciences-Newark. Her poetry has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Black Telephone Magazine, The Coachella Review, and others. She has poems in the following anthologies: No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant & First-Generation American Poetry, Divine Feminist: An Anthology of Poetry & Art by Womxn & Non-Binary Folx, and Hecate: Decay. She is a poetry reader for Okay Donkey literary magazine.

She lives in New Jersey and can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @phigirl.