What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
I have read so many good chapbooks lately: William Wright’s Xylem and Heartwood (as always, Will’s use of language is masterful), Emma Bolden’s Geography V, Rita Sims Quillen’s Something Solid to Anchor To, Christopher Martin’s A Conference of Birds, and I could go on; but without question, the chapbook that has been most influential to me as a poet and a woman is Charlotte Pence’s Weaves A Clear Night. Weaves a Clear Night is a poem in 17 sections and has been characterized as an Appalachian retelling of the mythical Penelope. I read Charlotte’s book practically every day while I was working on the poems in Other, and still read it at least once a month.
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?
I’m not sure about the oldest piece in the book, probably “Wedding Vows” (a VERY early poem), but the poem that dictated the turn my writing would take for a while, the turn that ultimately led to this chapbook, is “Wife to Wife.” I wrote “Wife to Wife” in response to an assignment in a grad school creative writing seminar. The assignment was to write a “letter poem” to someone who would be easily recognizable by others in the class. I chose the Biblical Lot’s wife. After several revisions the poem lost its original letter form, but it prompted me to think about other Biblical women whose stories are told primarily by men, what it might be like to experiment with giving voice to these (and other) traditionally silenced women.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
Other is just as its title suggests; it is, primarily, a collection of poems that explore (at least in the writing of them) all the ways in which people (primarily women in these poems, though I have written poems that explore otherness from a male perspective) can be other than what is expected of them, other than mainstream, other than how we traditionally see them–and the list of “other thans” could go on and on, right?
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I was very involved in creating and selecting the cover image. Inspired by various images I have seen online, I worked with my friend and talented photographer, Joyce Carpenter Nations, and my niece, Sunni Dearmin (the cover model) to come up with this particular cover image. Joyce and Sunni ran with, so to speak, some ideas I had, and their photo shoot yielded the photograph that became Other’s cover–with which I could not be more pleased.
What are you working on now?
I am currently revising a full-length manuscript, tentatively titled, Instead of You. And, of course, I am working on new poems, though as often as not right now, the work happens in my head rather than on the page.
What is your writing practice or process?
This is the question I want to ask fellow poets and writers all the time, but I realize how difficult it is to answer (or maybe that’s only true for me). I would like to say that I adhere to a strict writing schedule, writing for an hour each day or something similarly regimented, but I definitely do not. Lately, I have written less than I should, less than I would like to, but as I suggested earlier, a lot of the work happens in my head. I can live with an idea or image for weeks before I ever put the first word on the page (or into the notes feature of my iPhone, as the case may be). When I do finally sit down to commit the ideas and images to the page, I generally don’t stop writing until I have a finished first draft.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
Again, this is a question I would like to ask other poets. I’ll address prompts first. Though I have had some success with particular prompts, I am generally not a fan of very specific prompts. However, limiting myself to a particular form or structure often takes my poems in directions they may not have otherwise gone (something that is likely true for most poets). Now, revision! I think I am just a lazy poet, because revision is so difficult for me. I expend so much emotional energy while drafting poems, and once that initial burst of feeling has passed (when the draft is complete), I find it so difficult to go back and make changes. I will add that most of my revision happens as I write. I revise line-by- line, then revise stanzas before I move on, making sure I have exactly the words and images that the poem calls for.
Have you ever written a fan letter to a writer?
No, I have not. But I am fortunate to be part of a community of writers whose work I admire, which basically means I get to gush over them in person!
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful backstory to you? What’s the backstory?
Most of these poems do not have a backstory in terms of their being associated with a particular memory or event in my life, because these poems are almost exclusively persona poems (even the ones without a famous voice). In terms of the writing of these poems, “Leah’s Aubade” is significant to me. I wrote it on Day 1 of NaPoWriMo several years ago. It is a poem that Louise Gluck might call “the gift,” one that came to me in its entirety in just a few hours. I think I changed one word in revision. A gift, indeed.
How do you feel about long poems versus shorter poems? Could a chapbook be a good medium for a long poem?
Personally, I write short poems—sometimes very short (I call them chunky poems). However, I think the chapbook form is the perfect medium for a long poem, as Pence’s Weaves a Clear Night clearly demonstrates.
Catherine Pritchard Childress lives in the shadow of Roan Mountain in East Tennessee, where she teaches writing and literature at East Tennessee State University and Northeast State Community College. Her poems has appeared in North American Review, Louisiana Literature, Connecticut Review, The Cape Rock, Appalachian Heritage, Still: The Journal, and drafthorse, among other journals, and have been anthologized in The Southern Poetry Anthologies, Volumes VI and VII: Tennessee and North Carolina.
“…there were also women looking on from a distance,
among whom was Mary Magdalene.”
Your chosen men returned
to their homes, their nets,
their doubts. Could not watch you
force final, shallow breaths
into your lungs, bearing down
on the same feet I wet with tears,
wiped clean with my hair,
muscle and flesh tearing away
as you cried out to your Father.
I wiped your mother’s tears,
listened to you offer
forgiveness to the thieves
beside you, waited to hear you
call my name, prayed you could see
me there, not forsaking you,
not betraying you, not leaving
you, but longing for you
to finally acknowledge me.
You beheld her and your beloved
John before you died, but I was left
to follow your cold body,
stand silent while a stranger held you
in his arms, sheathed you in silk
and perfume, laid you in a dark tomb.
Still I waited, believing you would come
for me, not leave me, three days
later, crying again at your feet.