Love Letter to Biology 250 (Porkbelly Press, 2014)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
Gwendolyn Brooks’ The Near-Johannesburg Boy (1986) and May Swenson’s Dear Elizabeth (2000).
What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
Brooks’ chapbook, almost thirty years old, presented me with another format for circulating my work. And Swenson’s, fifteen years ago, showed me that chapbooks are appropriate venues for all genres of writing. Whereas Brooks concentrates on poetry, Swenson includes three of her letters to Elizabeth Bishop along with five poems.
What’s your chapbook about?
Love Letter to Biology 250 is a chapbook of micro fictions triggered by obscure bits of knowledge gleaned from biology classes. Tiny stories filled with yearning and desire.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
My first is Southern Girl Gone Wrong (Foothills Publishing, 2004). Composed of lined poetry, the chapbook examines the contradictions of family and relationships in the Appalachian South.
Girls & Women (Burning River, 2011) is a collection of prose poems that explores the female body from sexual and social perspectives.
Paper Covers Rock (Indigo Ink Press, 2011), a selection of lined poetry, examines the female experience from adolescent sexuality through middle-aged frailty.
Talking Did Not Come Easily to Diana (Musa Publishing, 2011) is an e-chapbook of micro fiction about Diana McPhear, a poet who is an adjunct teacher at a community college.
Flying South (Kind of Hurricane Press, 2015) is an e-chapbook collection of eleven of my lined poems.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?
The flash “Important Facts Remembered from Biology 250” prompted my other flashes about birds and spiders, moths and jellyfish. When I wrote it, probably five years ago, I was a member of a flash fiction workshop, moderated by Pamelyn Casto. I thought this flash was a bit looser and more associative than my others and wondered what the response would be. I received mixed reviews but submitted it to Camroc Press Review, where it was awarded Editor’s Choice 2012.
Describe your writing practice or process.
I like to write about thirty minutes to an hour when I wake in the morning—that liminal space between sleeping and full consciousness. That time when the earth is “awash with angels,” as Richard Wilbur says.
Some days (usually when I’m not teaching), the hour turns into the morning, and I’ve written and re-written.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
The chapbook title originally was Important Facts Remembered from Biology 250, but my wonderful editors at Porkbelly Press, Nicci Mechler and Lauren Magee, suggested Love Letter to Biology 250. I knew immediately it was more intriguing. I wish that I could say that a pattern exists in my arrangement. The only thing I can say for sure is that I knew where I wanted the chapbook to begin and end, respectively with “A Drone’s Life” and “Preferring a Clean Virgin.”
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Nicci and Lauren were great in listening to my suggestions. I told them I wanted drones and jellyfish and spiders. Porkbelly’s artist, Jonathan Rountree, created the cover based on my request. Nicci and Lauren and Jonathan are a dream team.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
Why a chapbook and not a full-length book?
First, a writer friend once commented that many full-length books of poetry were often good chapbooks stretched too far. You have twenty or so strong poems and the rest are not so strong. That statement struck a chord with me. Plus, the form rose in the sixteenth century, when printed books were priced so the everyday person could afford them, and reached its prime in the eighteenth century. I’ve always liked the idea that the chapbook is more affordable for the common reader.
What are you working on now?
I have a flash novella The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow forthcoming from Pink. Girl. Ink. Press. In the meantime, I’m writing new flashes concerned with war.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Put together a selection of your work somehow connected and search for the fitting publisher.
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What appeals to you about having your work published as a chapbook?
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates?
My chapbook creates a world of longing and desire, fulfillment and sacrifice.
Which piece is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
Possibly “Et Cetera.” While it talks about a strange flamingo incident, the piece probably doesn’t reflect the desire shown in the other pieces.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?
Lydia Davis. Her work is stunning in the way it compresses the truths of existence.
What themes and images “bridge” your work?
Yearning and desire, living and dying are at the heart of much of my writing. Composing a chapbook concentrates these themes as they are confined to a fewer number of pieces.
What would you do differently next time in the writing, editing, publishing, or promotion process?
I am in the promotion process now, trying to learn as much as I can about getting Love Letter to Biology 250 to the widest audience possible.
How do you use computers/digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?
I generally write everything on the computer except for grocery lists.
What was the final piece you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
The final piece I revised is the last flash in the chapbook, “Preferring a Clean Virgin.” With that revision, I knew the manuscript was ready.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?
I write, and sometimes that writing evolves into a collection. Sometimes it doesn’t. A poet at heart, I frequently look for threads to connect the work in my chapbooks.
Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?
My husband, also a writer, reads all my work, even in its raw beginning. As far as extended family, I think they may be afraid I’ll expose secrets.
Chella Courington is a writer and teacher. She’s the author of three flash fiction chapbooks: Love Letter to Biology 250, Girls & Women, and Talking Did Not Come Easily to Diana, along with three chapbooks of poetry: Southern Girl Gone Wrong, Paper Covers Rock, and Flying South. Her stories and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Nano Fiction, The Collagist, and Fourteen Hills. Her novella, The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow, is forthcoming from Pink.Girl.Ink. Press.
Meet me @ Aquarium, he texted. By jellyfish, 7. She would perhaps, most likely, but not before researching jellyfish, for she knew his habits, the way he liked to make it impossible for her to say no wherever they were.
Adults spawned daily if given enough food and for most, spawning was triggered by dim light so the entire population bred every day at dawn or dusk, floating through water, dropping eggs and sperm, tentacles (though she preferred tendrils) never touching. While most men she’d known like to roll against her in the morning, he was a night creature. Fortunately, for him, she was not bound by time.
In a few species, the sperm swam into the female’s mouth to fertilize the eggs. She knew he knew she liked him between her teeth and indulged her in a way most men would not. At sixteen her lips took over in the backseat of a baby blue Trans Am and they quivered for days.
She could never open her mouth without thinking of possibility.