A Q&A with Author Phillip Aijian

PY: I understand you were visiting the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, when you came across the painting “St. Dominic de Guzman and the Albigensians.” Can you talk about the experience you had with this painting which eventually led to your poem “Whose Mouth is Fire”?

PA: I have a habit of writing poems in response to paintings—I’ve written several in response to trips to The Getty Musuem and LACMA, which are both in Los Angeles, California where I live. I love ekphrasis—it’s a great way of getting around writer’s block as someone else has done most of the heavy lifting for you. Whenever I go to a museum, I always take a little notebook and pen so I can write when something catches my eye. There’s really no question of “if” at this point. It’s kind of a discipline I try to practice.

I was in the Prado and I’d been wandering around with my wife and her parents for a few hours and I’d just had enough of El Greco. I was getting impatient with him and needed to see something else. I started walking down a corridor at a pace that you might describe as “not-museum-friendly.” And then there it was–Berruguete’s painting. I was drawn to it because it was much smaller than its neighbors, and the frame was more modest. Then I saw the book in the middle of the canvas, where it seemed to be hovering. I was astonished. For the first several moments I thought to myself “What is that book doing there?” I couldn’t stop looking at it. I don’t remember any other painting I looked at that day. And then, like a gift, the poem kind of just happened to me. I didn’t have to fight very hard for it.


PY: What made you submit your poem “Whose Mouth is Fire” to Poor Yorick

PA: I was drawn to Poor Yorick, initially because of the name. I’m at UC Irvine right now working on a Ph.D. in Shakespeare, happily drowning in questions of his politics and theology. I was poking around the website, and then I found the submissions guideline statement, and I was taken with the tone and care with which it had been written. Usually, when you submit work somewhere, they encourage you to acquaint yourself with the work they’ve published previously so you can get an idea of the kind of material they’re looking for. But when I read the guidelines for Poor Yorick, I knew almost immediately what poems I wanted to submit. I felt such a kinship to your interest in loss and recovery, and the way that those ideas and experiences are attached to physical objects and spaces. “Whose Mouth is Fire” is so motivated with those concerns; I had to send it.



Interview by:
Melissa Gordon
Poor Yorick Editor-in-Chief