How Absence (MIEL Books, 2015)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
I love chapbooks, as they typically focus our reading gaze on a tight/ thematically-focused suite of poems. In some ways, I enjoy them more than full-length poetry collections, especially as I’m a bit of a minimalist. Among some recent favorites, in no particular order, and missing so many others that are important to me: Lucy (Jean Valentine, Sarabande Books); A Piece of Information About His Invisibility (Laressa Dickey, MIEL Books); any and all of Brian Teare’s gorgeous chapbook series from Albion Books, including Peace by Gilian Conoley; Misty Harper’s Guarding the Violins (Academy of American Poets series); anything and everything from Essay Press’ online series, including Jennifer Kwon Dobbs’s Notes From A Missing Person; the Etherdome series published by Elizabeth Robinson and the late Colleen Lookingbill.
What’s your chapbook about?
The poems in How Absence are largely concerned with birth and arrival. They were written in the first years of my son’s life. Among the book’s themes are the intense experiences of physical intimacy that accompany motherhood, coupled with the inherent experience of distance/absence that is conception via artificial insemination, as well as a C-Section delivery. Time is also important. I recently read Sarah Manguso’s book, Ongoingness, and realized that she captured perfectly these aspects of altered time post-motherhood that I was experiencing, though her writing style is direct/reflective and my poems work primarily through image and sound.
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 in this mix is “Measuring” which I wrote in the summer of 2011, when I was in the intense throes of early motherhood (my son was born in May 2010). I recall that my partner and I were staying at a friend’s cabin on the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota, and we each took “baby” shifts while the other took the canoe out on a gorgeous, completely private lake. I wrote a lot of poems that summer, and this is the only one that has lasted/ carried forward.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I’m an iterative writer, and drafts bleed over into each other without a whole lot of clarity. This is just to say: writing a poem is always a new experiment, always open-ended. I never quite know when a poem is done, and sometimes it’s only when they’re published that I can put them down. I would likely have continued revising these poems past the point of publication; and indeed, many are now totally different in their current forms within a longer manuscript. I truly feel there is no “right” way to write a poem, just endless variations on a theme.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I approached the ordering/ arrangement somewhat organically; typically, I print out a series of poems and spread them out on the floor to think through first lines/last lines, narrative threads, or tonal shifts from start to finish. The title was harder to come to. My working name for the chapbook was “Dear Cronus,” taking the name of the last poem. But I kept reading that title and thinking, “ugly.” Eireann Lorsung, the very generous and brilliant publisher/ editor of MIEL Books, did some brainstorming along with me, and How Absence was her suggestion. It was perfect.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Eireann does pretty much everything for her books; she’s publisher, editor and designer. She created the gorgeous cover, and I was super happy with it. So it was a lucky experience in that I couldn’t have wished for anything else.
What are you working on now?
The poems in this chapbook are part of a longer manuscript titled Sweet Velocity, which marries poems about my son’s birth with poems written in the wake of my father’s death, which occurred almost a year later. I’m largely finished with this project, but still tweaking individual poems, undertaking some final edits.
What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?
Viability, by Sarah Vap, just two nights ago. She’s an amazing writer, and I love all of her books. Several of the poems in How Absence were influenced by her book, Faulkner’s Rosary.
Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?
I’ve got five, and then I have to really start thinking, or choosing from particular books!
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I’d choose it all! Maybe painting, if I had any skill with visual mediums, because I think my poems function a little like abstract art. They are interested primarily in form(s) and feeling. Music, because it’s the heart of everything in our world, including poetry. Also Dance, because I spend way too much time in my head.
How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?
I believe the old habit that I’m finally dropped is caring quite so much about a current draft. After 15 years of serious dedication to craft, I’m a lot more willing to throw out what doesn’t work and keep moving forward. I used to attach more value to each poem, as if it somehow stood in for my worth. I’m more ruthless now, but also more open to sharing my work with others and adapting as needed. For some of us, it’s a long journey toward thinking primarily in terms of craft, and leaving behind questions of value and worth, or of accuracy and emotional integrity. Poems feel like mirrors of an inner being, and that can be painful to share with the world. But I’m getting better at it!
Rachel Moritz is the author of Borrowed Wave (Kore Press, 2015) and five chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Aufgabe, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Iowa Review, 26, TYPO, Verse Daily, and Volt. Among her awards are three fellowships from the Minnesota State Arts Board, a Jerome Foundation Fellowship, and a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Rachel lives with her partner and son in Minneapolis, where she teaches creative writing in the community, publishes a chaplet series from WinteRed Press, and reviews for ScoutPoetry.com.