“I love reading the names of cities, looking at the blank spaces, and thinking about what’s there.”
Girl in the Cave (Tree Light Books, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Recently I read – and loved – Tina Parker’s Sibling Rivalry Press chapbook, Mother May I. I also really loved Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Cooper Dillon Books chapbook The Devestation. I’m not sure if Anne Carson’s brilliant book The Albertine Workout counts as a chapbook, but I loved that book. I think it’s technically a pamphlet, but its brevity and focus felt like a chapbook to me.
What’s your chapbook about?
This is a collection of poems that orbit around the local history of the Mammoth Cave National Park area. The poems are primarily narrative-driven, and my poems explore themes of love and loss – I think that sense of one thing ending and something else beginning is always there in my work. This collection explores the landscape and a lot of the experiences and poems grow out of my time growing up in south-central Kentucky. I really enjoyed taking a familiar place and discovering something completely new, and trying to shape a person, or a moment, or an experience on the page.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on revising and submitting my second full length collection of poetry, Southeastern. I’m also working on a collection of poems inspired by David Lehman’s book The Daily Mirror. The Daily Mirror is a book I carried with me everywhere in college. I just loved its casualness; the bright messiness of those poems inspired by the daily act of living a life. This collection I’m working on is like a (somewhat) daily record of my life in poems. This new collection is forcing me to pay more attention to my life and locate the poetry and music in the everyday, which is not always easy! I’ve always been interested in blurring genres and blurring forms. Books like Brave on the Rocks by Sabrina Ward Harrison and Life? Or Theater? by Charlotte Salomon have always entranced and inspired me. I’m always looking for ways of making something like a surround-sound narrative.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
I would advise anyone interested in writing to read as widely as you can. I love to read fiction as much as poetry. I think it’s also important to get in the habit of observing the world around you. Take creative writing classes if you can afford them. I got an MFA from a low-residency program and it worked out really well for me. It’s important to surround yourself with language and books. Reading and critiquing other people’s work is often a great teacher – you see what works and start to think about why you like one style more than others. Thinking about those things and paying attention to what others are doing on the page is a great teacher.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?
I think a key component in writing a chapbook is finding a theme or unifying element that brings all the poems together. You want to make the book cohesive. Chapbooks have helped me locate recurring ideas, landscapes, and images in my poems, and this usually leads to a full-length collection – maybe not immediately, but the germ of the idea is there, and it forces me to think about whether or not it’s something I can/ should expand upon. Chapbooks are usually 25 pages or fewer. Full length collections of poems are typically 48 pages or more, so chapbooks to me feel like steps toward something bigger. They don’t necessarily have to be stepping stones to a longer book, but it’s a good amount of room to try out an idea that could become something larger and more expansive.
What music do you listen to as you work and write?
Generally I can only listen to music that doesn’t distract me or compete with what I’m trying to do. Words tend to get in the way. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed listening to Yann Tiersen, Sigur Ros, and Explosions in the Sky when I’m working on poetry or fiction.
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?
I think Catherine Lacey’s book Nobody is Ever Missing and Kate Zambreno’s stunning book Green Girl made me do this!
We all have to make choices about who we read in our limited free time. Many of us have demanding jobs, a house to keep up, a family to keep happy, a dog to walk. How do you decide which poets (or other writers) you want to read or should read, and how do you begin to understand what your own work might offer to benefit the literary landscape in the context of what else has been done?
This is a great question. I really like Twitter for helping me get a sense of what’s out there and what’s coming out, so I follow a lot of presses and publishers. I also try to read The Atlantic and Harper’s every month. Basically, I’m looking for information about books that I may be interested in. I’m always interested in reading more work by writers I’ve read and really enjoyed (such as Rainbow Rowell, Jess Walter, Rachel Glaser, etc). If a press or other people are excited about a new release, I start to take notice. I’ll go read about the author, I’ll read about the book. I also love going to bookstores with no particular aim in mind but to browse and explore. Of course, bookstores – especially the big chains – tend to focus of stocking their shelves with blockbusters designed to appeal to the most people – and that’s OK. But some smaller presses are publishing fascinating work, and you can find some overlooked gems. Presses like Melville House, Copper Canyon, New Directions, and Tin House Books publish wonderful work.
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?
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
In college I participated in the local theatre (we performed Little Women) and I really liked that element of performing on a stage in front of a captive audience. I was always involved in the band in school, and so I think instinctively I just really love performing and feeling like I’m being put on the spot – I love the adrenaline rush!
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
Besides fiction, I really love reading guidebooks and field guides. Another thing I’m fascinated by is maps and atlases. I especially love anything DeLorme publishes. I could spend hours studying their topographical maps – they are so detailed. I love reading the names of cities, looking at the blank spaces, and thinking about what’s there. I like discovering borders, learning the names of the lakes, the bays, and mountain ranges. For a long time I tried to find some reasoning to this strange fascination. I can’t tell you how many maps, atlases, and laminated prints I have collected over the years of far-flung places. Then one day I read that Marcel Proust used to obsessively study the train tables of Paris, so I let myself off the hook for the maps and atlases.
Tasha Cotter is the author of the poetry collections Some Churches (Gold Wake Press, 2013), That Bird Your Heart (Finishing Line Press, 2013), and Girl in the Cave (Tree Light Books, 2016). Winner of the 2015 Delphi Poetry Series, her work has appeared in journals such as Contrary Magazine, NANO fiction, and Booth. In 2015 she was named runner-up in the Carnegie Center’s Next Great Writer contest. A contributor to Women in Clothes (Blue Rider Press, 2014), The Poets on Growth Anthology (Math Paper Press, 2015), and the 2017 Poet’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), she makes her home in Lexington, Kentucky where she works in higher education.
“Solar” in The Superstition Review