Friday, September 3, 2021

TtD supplement #196 : seven questions for Paige Carabello

Paige Carabello is a writer who currently lives in Denver, Co. Previously her life was in Los Angeles, CA, where she worked as a professional singer/songwriter, voice/acting teacher, and in the music industry. Besides being a lyricist, she has written scripts for musical theatre and theatre.  She is currently working on her first poetry manuscript. She loves poetics and diving into scholarly concepts. Her poems “Site” and “Weeds Worn” appear in the thirtieth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Site” and “Weeds Worn.”

A: I had been involved in the final stages of my manuscript when Covid hit… literally. Hit me. It was March and we knew little to nothing about Covid, except that it killed “or just lasted two weeks”.  One of the things I have found very grounding during this time of isolation has been taking classes that require my full attention; that have deadlines and expectations. In a recent class with the poet Elizabeth Robinson we   were investigating the lyric poem’s ability to deepen an experience. It was the week of the Great American Nightmare (the election) and this timely assignment allowed me to pay attention specifically to ‘focus’ and intensity— how can the writer hone in, capture that core glimpse of real time experience? One of my foremost intentions with my poetry is to offer the reader an opportunity to really step inside another’s reality, to inhabit the voice. Paring away extraneous stimuli, what do you see?

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other writing you’ve been doing lately?

A: The poems I am writing now are different from my manuscript. I’ve been writing a lot of experimental pieces, and just finished studying with Gregory Pardlo, which was extremely liberating! However, I am still working on my writing projects and just finished a chapbook. I’m struggling with the age old dilemma: so much to write, not enough time. (pause for heavy dramatic sigh). I am cleaning up my manuscript of persona poems—which sounds very mature and  disciplined? But I struggle with staying with one project. I pick up a poetry book and even though I’m only a few pages in, suddenly I MUST stop to write! I get triggered easily, so I find it difficult to finish reading anything unless it is assigned.

I love taking classes: there is a pressure to produce built right in and an opportunity to focus on concepts. Learning excites me, and class allows me to glean insight from poet-teachers who usually teach to their own strengths or feared weaknesses, so I benefit from their eye. I thrive on exposure to new ideas, new writers, new and different interpretations.

Most of my writing is people-centered. I admire good writing about place and natural environments, but to me, humans are the ultimate mystery and magnet. Inevitably, I find my writing is mining the layers of humanity—so writing my green leaf descriptive piece morphs to bug commentary which leads me to infestations... and suddenly I’m in a violent crowd at a clearance sale!

Q: You say you’re working on a manuscript of persona poems: what originally prompted the manuscript and how are these poems presenting themselves? From where do these personas emerge?

A: My concept for this manuscript was fleshed out before I submitted some of my work for an intensive year long poetry manuscript course (at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop) billed as having “all the details you don’t learn in an MFA program”.  At the time the course was led by Elizabeth Robinson, and she understood what I was shooting for—a book of female persona and identity poems. I know, I know—been done to death and I about fell asleep just writing the description. But as with anything worth much? I think, hopefully, the proof will be in the pieces.

I engage with them as acting monologues—as real glimpses into an other’s reality, with the “other “being some representations of female human existence. Hopefully, recognizable to all humans, regardless of sexual or gender identity— just like good theatre.  Some of my “characters” are pathetic, frustrating, stupid, humorous, lost…they are messy.

Where do my characters come from? Amalgams of concepts, personalities. Imagination. Experience. Curiosity. Passion. Living.

Q: Do you have any models for the kinds of work you’ve been attempting? What writers or works are in the back of your head as you work?

A: No, I don’t. I have an understanding of what I need each piece to say or cover, but beyond that? It’s a risk, a leap in the dark. The closest art form would be my experience as an actor, the nearest representational or visual form would be Cindy Sherman.

Q: What is it about Sherman’s work that appeals? And how does that present itself in your writing?

A: I actually created my concept a year prior to seeing Sherman’s work. However, the draw for me is in the opportunity to see differently through inhabiting. Often, when I read persona poetry or poetry “about” someone, there is a distance afforded the reader. The poet has written a “voice”, and this becomes an “other”... sometimes you've got 3 or 4 voices in with you, plus your own narration. In contrast, when I read a play (script), I automatically climb into the characters. They are immediately present, and they become real right now. It is this unique experience I am trying to capture. There are characters and characteristics of human behavior that I am interested in allowing the reader to inhabit more closely.

So, I was introduced to Cindy Sherman by Elizabeth Robinson. In Sherman’s work you can observe from a distance, simply register: here is a a photo of a beautiful woman. An Ugly woman. A Disgusting woman. Or you can ask ‘ who is she, what does she see, what does she say about how we have been socialized?’  What is revealed about the woman in the photograph? And what does my reaction reveal? What makes one woman ugly? Significant questions, all—but. “The Woman” is still being held at arm’s length, within a frame. Observed. Most viewers would agree that knowing about the individual women, or even the women’s back story, would effect our perception or judgement of her. I would like to go in further: what happens to our perceptions when we become the woman?

Q: How was it working with Elizabeth Robinson? Where there any shifts that her workshop prompted in your work, or was it more of a fine-tuning?

A: Elizabeth is a natural instructor and very open to new ideas and challenging boundaries. I often find it tricky, taking class from poets—just because one can publish doesn’t automatically mean one can teach. Elizabeth is an amazing teacher. And yes, she was very instructive in the technicalities of manuscript creation—composition, variation, selection, proximity—and criticism.  However, I think the most vital thing she gave me is her encouragement. I discount most pats on the head, just don’t trust them. Because I know Elizabeth has a discerning eye, and because I had taken several of her “academic” classes, I knew she was highly intelligent and had a deep sense of curiosity. I trust her.

If I had to single out the most helpful experience I had building this manuscript it would be the discoveries I made during my first public reading of the material. Up until that moment, I wasn’t certain my idea had any lift. It was exciting to experience a positive response.

In general, I find reading my work out loud to an audience is immensely helpful. When I read I am able to hear and feel and see what needs to change. Poetry is such a fluid art, and I think reading aloud allows me to experience more fully all the passages in the piece that I didn’t take. It helps me make better choices.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I’m so grateful for the phrasing of your question, rob! Whenever someone asks “who is your favorite poet” I break out in mental hives—I visualize a top hat full of hundreds of little white paper strips and my hand plunging in, snuffling around, trying to pull out THE one name! So, my consistent go to’s  are C.D. Wright, Lucille Clifton, and forever Emily Dickinson. I recently took classes by Layli Long Soldier and heard readings by Hanif Abdurraquib; both very musical writers. I’ve recently rediscovered Marilyn Nelson and Natalie Diaz, and I’m currently reading Kevin Young’s anthology, African American Poetry, and Natalie Trethaway’s work. Because I just finished a class on her life and work, I’m still caught up in Lorine Niedecker's writing— she is simply masterful. My pandemic favorite for a lift was Khadijah Queen’s I’m So Fine; but my favorite immersive experience was Thomas A. Clark’s Farm By The Shore. There are many more, of course. So many poets, so little time….

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