Her poems “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE,” “RED,” “SUM” and “CELADON” appear in the thirty-ninth issue of Touch the Donkey.
Q: Tell me about the poems “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE,” “RED,” “SUM” and “CELADON.”
A: I wrote “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE” following sound mainly, but it cohered into a poem about feeling isolated from the past and unable to decipher the future. “CELADON” feels similar, a speaker glassed in and immobilized, watching other objects transform. “RED” I think is about shame. “SUM” is drawn from a number of different unfinished poems, and I think the edges show in it. “WRACKS CONCLUSIVE” and “CELADON” are more or less the same as they were when I first wrote them, while I’ve tried to write “RED” and “SUM” a number of ways.
Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?
A: Removing line breaks allowed me freedom from the emphases that short lines impose. I could rely on rhythm to create structure and not worry about structures outside of rhythm that would require its rearrangement. I think these poems are similar to my other poems in that they are all quite short. I admire long poems and hope to get there one day, but I haven’t figured out how to sustain anything for longer than a page. When I edit, I tend to add little and remove lots.
These poems are from a period of time last year when I felt unable to write anything but prose poems, something I hadn’t tried previously. Now, once again, I can’t get away from line breaks. Prose poems are harder to escape from because they are coiled and serpentine, but the escape feels more crucial; in my prose poems I always feel like I’m probing for a way out, while my more recent poems don’t feel so concerned with that process. Maybe line breaks are gimmicks because they lead the reader so specifically, but maybe I need gimmicks or at least want them. Maybe line breaks help a poem imitate speech, and maybe I like to give that guidance. Or prose poems started to feel shuttered, and fumbling for exits started to get tiring.
Q: Do you really see such a stark difference between the prose poem and utilizing the line break? What first brought you to the prose poem?
A: I think Elizabeth Willis’s collection Meteoric Flowers led me to prose poems. I’ve seen and written them before, but that book was a turning point for me. I was inspired by the jumps in her poems, the logic she engineers, and the stateliness of the form. By stateliness I guess I mean they felt so put-together and whole. I’ve only been writing poems with enjambment lately; that’s just how they’ve come.
Q: How do poems usually begin for you? Are your poems self-contained pieces that might eventually cluster into groups, or are you deliberately attempting something more interconnected?
A: Pretty often, I construct my poems from bits cut from my other poems. If I like a line but it doesn’t work where it is, I’ll remove it and try to write a poem around it. I take a lot of notes in a lot of TextEdit documents, so I’ll go back through years of those, trying to find bits I can repurpose.
I usually don’t set out with the intention of writing a group of poems. I was writing the prose poems for a little while before it became clear to me that something about the form led to something in the voice that linked them into a series. They feel like landscapes compared to other poems of mine that feel more like gesture drawings; maybe it’s just the form tricking my eye, but they feel like they have more of a backdrop.
Q: With a handful of poems published in journals over the past while, how do you feel your work has evolved? What do you see your work heading towards?
A: My output has flagged in the past year. Sometimes I’ll go two or three months without writing a poem. That habit, which I fight with varying levels of success, makes it difficult to track my writing’s evolution because I feel like I’m always starting from scratch. I’ve just come out of a long quiet phase, and my writing recently has mirrored my older work in some ways; I’m still cutting any word that I suspect of weakness. I think my poems are still recognizably mine. But I’ve noticed that my rhythm has become almost robotic and my tone almost sullen, thanks to an emphasis on weaker syllables/sounds. At first I was put off because I felt like I’d lost dexterity, but now I’m trying to stick with this impulse and see where it brings me. I don’t know where I’m going with my writing, but I’d like to have the stamina to write longer pieces or even a book-length poem. Doing so still feels out of reach, though. I often return to old notes and diary entries when I write, trying to recycle material that hasn’t worked for me before. So while I’m sure my writing is evolving, the path I’m taking feels circular.
Q: You mention Elizabeth Willis’ Meteoric Flowers. Are there any other poets or collections you’ve read recently that have sparked your attention?
A: I’ve recently been returning this book that a student loaned me in the spring called We Lack in Equipment & Control by Jennifer H. Fortin. It’s fixed on the month of February and meets this cold temporal gridlock with steely vulnerability and dark humor. I’ve been very slowly reading Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson. I think a lot of it goes right through me in terms of meaning, so I’m reading it more for the experience.
Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
A: Cedar Sigo is a writer I’ll always return to; I think particularly Stranger in Town and Selected Writings. I like reading Bunny Rogers’ tumblr. Susan Howe’s Debths and now That This. And reading my friends always makes me want to write.