Tiktaalik, Adieu (Finishing Line Press, 2014)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
One of the first chapbooks I bought was The Scottish Café by Susana H. Case. It explores mind and imagination through a group of mathematicians who met prior to World War II at a café in Lvov, Poland. Case’s incorporation of place along with an academic subject in her poems captured my attention.
What might this chapbook suggest about you and your writing?
I’m drawn to poetry that includes a wide range of
topics—history, medicine, science, art—combined with bits of personal narrative and insight. My earliest poems were short lyrics, and my current interest lies in longer research-based poetry and documentary poetics. The challenge is to incorporate facts into a poem without the finished piece sounding like an encyclopedia.
What are your chapbooks about?
Theories of Rain explores grief, parenthood and the impermanence of things. This chapbook was an exercise for me in how to incorporate personal experience with the language of science, mathematics, history, and art. I discovered that I can write about some topics and individuals in history—Michelangelo, J.M.W. Turner, Darwin, and Vermeer—and not others. The key is whether or not I have a strong emotional connection to a particular event or person in the past. I’ve yet to write a successful poem about Copernicus, for example.
Tiktaalik, Adieu has some of the same themes as Theories of Rain—loss, the passage of time—though the poems focus more on science and extinction. Darwin is a recurring figure. Every few months as I was writing, a new Darwin poem would emerge. Several of these poems appear in this collection: “Something About Darwin,” “On Reading About the Illness and Death of Darwin’s Daughter Annie,” and “I Hate Darwin.” Darwin has a dual role in the chapbook for the personal family losses that he suffered as well as the scientific theory of evolution he proposed.
What’s the oldest piece in your Tiktaalik, Adieu? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
“Begin” explores journey, story, imagination and the necessity of leaving people/ places/ objects behind. I am fascinated with the Oregon Trail, and I was able to go and stand in the wagon tracks of the trail near Fort Laramie in Wyoming. This experience is reflected in the poem: “You can never be sure / what you will need, and so the Oregon Trail is littered— / trunks, clothes, pianos, chairs, silverware— / anything to lighten the load / before crossing the mountains.” The poems in this chapbook keep returning to the idea of things left behind, and it is interesting to consider how we as individuals carry or don’t carry our losses with us.
Describe your writing practice or process. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
My process is to let a poem remain in a state of development for as long as possible before I make any revisions, so that I can get a sense of what the poem contains and how it relates to other poems I may be writing at the same time. I tend to write very controlled poems, so I’ve always been encouraged by mentors to become wilder and not let my logic-brain take over, and it takes time for me to get to the wildness.
How did you decide on the arrangements and titles of your chapbooks?
The title Theories of Rain was taken from a line in “The Classification of Impermanence,” one of the poems in the chapbook about Luke Howard, the amateur British meteorologist who developed the classification system for clouds.
Tiktaalik, Adieu was a tougher title to pick. I wanted the title to reference a fossil or an extinct creature to reflect the science focus of the chapbook. One of my mentors suggested Tiktaalik, Adieu after reading the poem “Platypus: Hoax,” in which Tiktaalik appears. The extinct Tiktaalik was the first creature to move from sea to land, our ancestor fish.
The poems in both chapbooks are arranged by how well they complement each other, with art poems interspersed with science poems and more personal lyric poems.
What are you working on now?
I’m at the beginning of the next writing project, so I’m doing a lot of research and experimenting with language to see what poems emerge. Prose interests me—lyric essays, prose poems and cross-genre work in flash nonfiction—since these may overlap with my current research focus. I have a full-length poetry collection coming out from Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2016, so I’m gearing up for that as well.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Writing chapbooks is a great opportunity to learn how your poems work together as a collection. Not every chapbook will have an arc or theme, but poems can still speak to each other. A chapbook is also a good introduction to publishing and book marketing.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
I’ll read just about anything as long as it’s nonfiction, primarily science, natural history and biography. Reference books and maps are a rich source of words and images, too, and I like the personal voice of diaries, journals and letters. Many of my poems are a response to my reading.
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?
For the second chapbook, Tiktaalik, Adieu, I’m working to get copies to scientists and others who might enjoy the poems based on a common connection to the content. So far, a paleontologist has read the chapbook and sent good feedback! There is a misconception that science is clinical and devoid of emotion. Scientists have a tremendous passion for their field, and they are very excited when artists create science-based work. Friends and relatives who do not normally read poetry have also read the chapbooks because they know me. Whether this introduction to science poems can translate into a new reader of poetry in general, I’m not certain. I don’t know that a new reader to chapbooks would necessarily distinguish between shorter and longer length collections, but the smaller size of chapbooks is less daunting to me as a reader and a writer.
Lynn Pedersen’s poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including New England Review, Ecotone, Southern Poetry Review, Borderlands, and Other Countries: Poets Rewiring History. She is the author of two chapbooks, Tiktaalik, Adieu (Finishing Line Press, New Women’s Voices Series) and Theories of Rain (Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Choice Chapbook Series). Carnegie Mellon University Press is publishing her collection The Nomenclature of Small Things in 2016 as part of the Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series. She is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her website is www.lynnpedersen.wordpress.com.