included in Effigies II alongside four other chapbooks: Outlaw Neon by Ungelbah Davila, Dark Swimming by Kristi Leonora, A Song of Ascents and Descents by Lara Mann, and In Tongues by Kateri Menominee
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
I admire all the chapbooks included in Effigies I and Effigies II. Some of the chapbooks I’ve really enjoyed recently include Where Bullet Breaks by Casandra Lopez, Boxing the Compass by Holly Hughes and The Girl Who Goes Alone by Elizabeth Austin.
What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
One thing that I notice is that most of the chapbooks I read are from local writers. I live near Seattle. I also tend to like a chapbook that challenges me emotionally. I’m drawn to the tension that a shorter form can sustain.
What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook is about Shawnee history and the ramifications of the removal of the Shawnee Nation from our traditional homelands. It is also about the authority and autonomy of stories passed from one generation to the next.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest poem is “Basement Storage at the Museum of the American Indian Arts.” I wrote it as a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in the late nineties. “Five Songs for Lazarus Shale” helped to solidify the way I wanted to write about history. I think the title poem also helped me gather and organize the chapbook.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
It has been wonderful to meet and collaborate with the other writers in Effigies II. I have done a few interviews and hope to participate in readings. I’d like to do more to promote and publicize this chapbook.
What are you working on now?
I have a book of poems called Tributaries that will be published by the University of Arizona Press this April. I’ve been working on a long series of poems about the mapping of the American West and the Period of Indian Removal. The narrative elements of these poems trace two lives from birth through adulthood. Each movement consists of a triptych with a parallel set of poems examining each character at a different stage of life and a connecting lyrical poem. American history of surveying, geography, and cartography underpins the organization of these poems and provides an overarching theme. I think that I may end up trying to organize all of these poems into a chapbook.
What is your writing practice or process?
I generally start with a lot of research. Sometimes some random fact or turn of phrase will inspire me. For example, about three years ago, I was reading a history of the American States and one historian hypothesized that the use of the crescent on a state flag was related to the traditional heraldry of younger brothers. That got me started on one of the narrative tangents of these new poems I am working on. From research, I tend to move into visual idea mapping and then drafting. Then it takes me a long time to write and revise.
What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?
I tend to see the fragility and importance of story as a theme that bridges many of the poems in this chapbook. I also notice some images that echo, including mythological figures like Raven and Panther alongside bodies of water, human systems, and artifacts of place. The chapbook format amplifies these connections.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?
I did not set out with the intention of writing a chapbook or a manuscript. I generally compose poem by poem, but I do find that I loop into three to five year creative obsessions that can unify and connect some of the poems I write.
Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?
My family has been very supportive, and they have read my chapbook.
Do you have experience with winning over new readers to poetry with either your own or others’ poems? If so, what’s that been like? Do you think a new poetry reader would have a different reaction to the chapbook format than an established reader?
I teach seventh and eighth grade, so winning over new readers to poetry is one of my main objectives! I think chapbooks are suited to both new and seasoned readers for different reasons. For a newer reader, they might provide a more approachable length and thematic connection to help bridge some of the ambiguity and cognitive leaps that poetry demands, and for a more experienced reader, they could provide an uniquely artisanal reading experience that may be more local, iconoclastic, and eccentric than a full length manuscript.
Laura Da’ is a poet and public school teacher. A lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Da’ studied creative writing at the University of Washington and The Institute of American Indian Arts. Da’ is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Her first chapbook, The Tecumseh Motel, was published Effigies II. The University of Arizona Press will publish her first full-length manuscript, Tributaries, in 2015. Da’ lives near Seattle with her husband and son.
A Mighty Pulverizing Machine
To each orphaned child—so long as you remain close enough to walk to your living kin you will dance, feast, feel community in food. This cannot stand. Eighty acres allotted.
To each head of household—so long as you remember your tribal words for village you will recollect that the grasses still grow and the rivers still flow. So long as you teach your children these words they will remember as well. This we cannot allow. One-hundred and sixty acres allotted.
To each elder unable to till or hunt—so long as your old and injurious habits sing out over the drum or flicker near the fire you cripple our reward. We seek to hasten your end. Eighty acres allotted.
To each widowed wife—so long as you can make your mark, your land may be leased. A blessing on your mark when you sign it and walk closer to your favored white sister. Eighty acres allotted.
To each full blood—so long as you have an open hand, we shall fill it with a broken ploughshare. One-hundred and sixty acres allotted.
To each half blood, each quarter strain—so long as you yearn for the broken ploughshare, you will be provided a spade honed to razor in its place. When every acre of your allotment has been leased or sold, you will turn it on yourself. From that date begins our real and permanent progress.