The Witness (Kattywompus Press, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
A Girl Could Disappear Like This by Deborah Schwartz
Don Dreams and I Dream by Leah Umansky
Homebodies by Sarah Jane Sloat
Invisible Girls by Erika Lutzner
What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
I often write about motherhood, and the delicate balance between art and the domestic, and I love Sarah Jane Sloat’s chapbook because it addresses, so adroitly, some of the same issues. Erika Lutzner is concerned with how certain circumstances foster violence as well as the invisibility/ vulnerability of children, a subject that I have tried to address in this particular chapbook.
What’s your chapbook about?
This chapbook was written in response to the testimony offered by members of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests and drew on some of my own experiences with the Catholic Church as well. Many of the poems are told from the perspective of “The Witness,” someone who witnessed sexual violence and/or was a victim of it who is in a state of arrested development and whose life, for all intents and purposes, has been halted by what happened.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
On the Street Where We Live won the 2012 Standing Rock Chapbook contest and is poetry largely about the domestic. Many of the poems are persona poems about people who live on one street, Ballard Avenue.
The second chapbook, Tell Me When it Starts to Hurt, furthers the theme of the first chapbook, but with more of an edge.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook?
The Witness poems all spilled out after a boy I knew (I can’t give the details) died years after being abused. This was happening at the same time when all of the other stories were coming out about abuse and I was just compelled to write about it.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Sammy Greenspan (the publisher at Kattywompus) and I were searching for the perfect image for this chapbook when I happened on William Cheselden. In 1733, William Chesleden published Osteographia, a grand folio edition depicting human and animal bones, featuring beautiful copperplate images, including playful skeletons, vignettes, and initials. Cheselden and his engravers, Gerard van der Gucht and Mr. Shinevoet, employed a camera obscura to execute many of the images, and this one just seemed like the perfect picture of The Witness, who is the speaker in many of these poems.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel and a full-length poetry collection.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Submit to Sammy Greenspan at Kattywompus Press. She’s wonderful!
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
I love to hear about the process of creation.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?
No, I just thought I would write one poem in response to this debacle, but once I started, I could not stop. I now have a full collection, which I will shop soon.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
In this instance, all of the testimony I found on the SNAP website, as well as certain documents from the Vatican, helped me tremendously.
Kelly Fordon is the author of three poetry chapbooks and a novel-in-stories, Garden for the Blind, which was published by Wayne State University Press in April 2015.
On my dorm room wall
I had a poster of a tabby cat
and one time–
was I high?
He touched me
you heard that right
it was pretty
better than the other one
maybe he didn’t
but I felt it
in the back room
one time a poster
of a cat
looked down on me
not the other way
still believe in God.
That’s all I have.
Nobody touches me now.