Elizabeth Hazen’s “Thanatosis” selected for Best American Poetry 2013, an interview and debrief
In 2013 “Thanatosis”, a poem from Elizabeth Hazen’s debut collection Chaos Theories, was selected for publication in Best American Poetry. B. Boyd of The Baltimore Fishbowl sat down with Elizabeth to discuss the honor and to chronicle her evolving relationship with science, poetry, and chaos theory.
Read the full interview here
A long excerpt and “Thanatosis” reprinted:
What was your process like, working and reworking this winning poem?
I was reading about the principle of fight or flight when I came across a third defense — tonic immobility. Having long been intrigued by the idea that silence and invisibility are forms of power, I thought about the idea of playing dead. This exploration triggered memories of childhood games of hide and seek. The form of the poem evolved on its own, though I do frequently work within the confines of meter and rhyme, and a strict form seemed fitting for the content.
Who are some of your favorite poets? Do you teach much poetry?
Poets I always go back to are Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath. Lately I have been reading Natasha Tretheway, Jack Gilbert, Tracy K. Smith, and C.K. Williams. I am trying to be better about following the advice I give my students, which is to read, read, read!
I do teach a unit on poetry in my ninth grade classes. Most of my students are brand-new to poetry, so I like to show them a wide range. I love their reactions to poets like Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg. Anne Sexton’s Transformations is also really fun to teach.
What are you working on now?
I continue to be obsessed with chaos theory, so I am working on poems related to that. I also am slowly putting together a collection of essays.
Her winning poem, “Thanatosis,” which we reprinted back in the summertime, was originally published in Southwest Review.
For those who cannot camouflage themselves,
the alternative to fight or flight is tonic
immobility. The victim’s one trick:
to keel over. The cooling skin expels
foul smells, teeth clench, eyes glaze, the heart sustains
a sluggish thump. What’s outside can’t revive
the creature; it feels nothing, though alive,
paralyzed while the predator remains.
Waiting in the closet behind my mother’s
dresses, scent of hyacinth, I transmute—
mouth pressed in the wool of her one good suit—
into a speechless, frozen thing. The others
call me from far away, but I am fixed
right here. As if these shadows have cast doubt
across my way of seeing, I don’t want out,
and like the prey who plays at rigor mortis,
biding her time when the enemy is near,
while I’m inside this darkness I can’t see
the difference between death and immobility,
between what it is to hide and to disappear.