Breaking Bread with Poet Lena Breda

Lena Breda is majoring in History with a minor in Italian.

What is your favorite type of bread?

As an avid bread enthusiast (I have sourdough starter currently growing in my fridge), I’m going to say sourdough is the best type of bread. I bake my own bread for sandwiches, meal-accompaniments, and *gasp* avocado toast. I’m hoping bread will be the focus of my senior thesis; it’s just a remarkably simple yet exact science that has largely remained the same for hundreds of years. Baking bread is one of the easiest ways to feel connected to history while in the comfort of your own kitchen. Also carbs are great.

When did you start writing poems?

I began writing poetry after a particularly gritty editing session with my sister when I was around 11 or 12. She turned to me and said, “Lena, you should write poetry because they don’t care about grammar in poetry.” Although I shrugged off her recommendation initially, I later realized she was onto something.

Were there any particular poems that you think have heavily inspired your writing or that you simply enjoyed and got you to write?

I just listened to a recording to Mary Oliver’s “I Go Down to the Shore” which was stunning. Despite his questionable politics, I love the work of Robert Bly. Li-Young Lee is incredible. Although it is a bit controversial, I also love Billy Collins’ work.


“On Being Asked to Close Read”

But these shivering leaves—!
In this quivering air, how they squirm in their confusion!:
bees on the hive of limbs of the hive of trees of the hive
and comb and comb and
Honey and comb

I have found beauty in the impish smile of a simile
The brutish stomp of daft diction.
But I am not Adam.
and I would not name the shambles
of words curling at my warm feet.

How could I see the forest for
These trees—
Each branch over fills me with the beauty of disarray.
Why would I obscure the obscure?
And only once I don these speckled frames
And see what harsh order surrounds our days,
do I crave the once velvet down of the world,
Its cheeks grazed with the peach fuzz of ambiguity and blur

The amorphous sleeping cat in light:
How each wandering hair
in yawning morning heat
forms a gentle glow around her humming mound,
Seems to bleed into the delicious wholeness of the world
Erasure of each crisp edge into a melting gradient in the sun that
I could swallow with a spoon and honey.

Without borders, I am you and you am I and what separates us cannot by a
line break or pause.

And the words on the page
Twist and tango on the Galette
and gin and jumbled and joy.
And I must tell Renoir to button his fly
cut the music
And remind them the beat and the steps?

“A Cautious Love Poem”

I have been thinking of the uncertain delicacy of a poached egg
Dropping into black and swirling water
Watching its treacherous dance in sputtering ripples
The moment of hesitation
as you carry it
from the bubbling pot
A second birth,
surface white and soft as the
feathers of a dove.

And I have been thinking of the delicate shell of your skull
Your face resting in the cradle of my chest,
and of the divine simplicity
of counting your vertebrae,
My fingers climbing their ragged trail like rungs of a ladder.

I do not know if we will fall—
water heaving below—
If we will emerge unbroken.
If I will crack in the heat.

Oh, what a wonder!
How we wait our whole lives to dangle perilously over the pot—
To be cracked upon the rim of life and fall!

You give a slight snort—
Nuzzle dearer into my hasty collage of bones.

Buongiorno, tesora you whisper.
Breakfast time.
The scratch of your beard upon my cheek.

I’ll start the water.


Some questions about poems:
What was the inspiration behind “A Cautious Love Poem”? It seems to show aspects of both destruction/breaking and new beginnings, so wondering where all that came from.

So, I’m definitely not one of those people who manically reads their own writing. However, I would say that this is one of the few poems that I actually do read quasi-regularly. This poem was written during a past relationship. All in all, it was an unhealthy relationship and abusive in some aspects, and (unfortunately like most unhealthy relationships) I was completely devastated when it was over. During the relationship, I felt afraid of “plunging in”, of allowing myself to be consumed by love and emotion and “letting the more loving one be me” (if I can quote Auden in the least appropriate manner). When the relationship was over, I was heartbroken but, like everything, I moved on. When I begin a new relationship and I start to feel the dreaded twins of attachment and fear approach, I often read this poem to convince myself to start the water even if we might crack, to plunge forward into dark water even though it may end badly. While it is strange to read this poem about hesitation in love from a past relationship, knowing that I did plunge in and did crack in many aspects, it still encourages me to continue to start the water. We’re all just waiting to dangle over the boiling pot of water, to seize risk and love audaciously.

I find line 6 of “On Being Asked to Close Read” really interesting! What about similes do you think give them this “impish smile?”

Thank you! So I think that this touches on your first comment, but I think in this poem I was trying to explore what we lose through intensive analysis. In this section, I tried to channel how I personally find value in some ‘formal’ tools of literary analysis. For example, a simile allows the beauty of ambiguity and explicitness to shine through simultaneously in an almost coquettish manner. However, other forms detract from the experience of the viewer and the work itself.