New Recruits Episode 13: Devorah Joseph Reads Christine McNair

Welcome back to New Recruits! For more information about this series, check out the description in Episode 1.

Devorah Joseph and I have been friends from the moment we were forced into a canoe with another girl who was very angry about the whole situation (and I mean, rightly so, nobody should be forced to canoe if they don’t want to). This incident was part of a team building field trip at the beginning of high school. The other girl started yelling at us because we weren’t paddling well enough and Devorah and I looked at each other and thought, we’re going to be friends forever. We were basically characters in an Alice Munro story. At this point, we’ve shared so many secrets that downgrading to anything less than BFFs would be a liability.

I gave Devorah Christine McNair’s poem “The State We’re In” because it’s a good poem; but after re-reading it with Devorah in mind, I was struck by how well it echoes our friendship. In the poem, secrets and stories end up “stitched into lawn care” and swallowed by house sounds. I like the idea of secrets tied to place, the fixed locality of stories. Some of ours are in lawns too.

So here’s Devorah reading “The State We’re In” from Christine McNair’s debut collection, ConflictMcNair’s second book, Charm, is forthcoming from BookThug in June 2017.



What was your first impression of the poem?

There are negative things that need to go.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“of falling away maps go”


It sounds very artistic and flows nice, and rhymes, and it talks about getting rid of rules and following strict directions.. I think.

What does this poem make you think of?

It makes me think of being adventurous and not following rules.

Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?


Would you like to understand them?


Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I don’t really read poems, and have never encountered one like this before.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

What inspired you to write this poem? If you had to describe the take away point of the poem in one sentence, what would that be?*

* “For me, every poem has a texture of sound which is at least as important to me as the ‘argument.’ This is not to minimize ‘statement.’ But it does annoy me when students, prompted by the approach of their teacher, ask, ‘What is the poet trying to say?’ It implies that the poet is some sort of verbal cripple who can’t quite ‘say’ what he ‘means’ and has to resort to a lot of round-the-mulberry-bush, thereby putting the student to a great deal of trouble extracting his ‘meaning,’ like a prize out of a box of Cracker Jacks.”

—Margaret Atwood in a 1978 interview in the New York Times

I get this question a lot from students and from poetry newbs and always refer back to this Atwood quote. Babe, if she could say it in one sentence, the poem would be one sentence long. So I’m going to throw it back at you. What is the “take away point” of the poem for you?

umm… to throw away the key and take an adventure.

Devorah Joseph is in the second year of her MSW at the University of Toronto. She is 24 and she loves dogs.

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