“I found myself obsessed with the strange figurative unsheathing that happens when you lose the presence of a person you’ve become so accustomed to—a presence so familiar you might have begun mistaking it for your own.”
SKIN (Corgi Snorkel Press, 2016)
Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your chapbook? Perhaps a poem that introduces the work of the chapbook, or one that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?
I’m Here For A Good Time, Not A Long Time
The cicadas outside my window dare me to define the terms of this relationship. Bravado like that will get a guy salty, but of course I have to try. I tell them this: that all my sexual fantasies are of the two of us fully clothed, flipping through pictures of ourselves naked & saying Gotdamn we used to tear that shit up. I tell them these days I keep my hands on things like never before. I slip out of my skin midstride, leaving rubbery pods in streets and sidewalks. People call me out on it. They hold me up to my face & ask me if I realize what I’ve done. I say, Hello, have you met my other demons? There are these cicadas. There is this hide I thought I swallowed, my heart & groin cinched with wire. There is this husk you left at the foot of my bed that is beginning to seem indecent. I sit in the corner booth at family restaurants licking napkins into pulp, shaping a something to fill the hollow you carved with your chin between my shoulders. It is only a hollow, I say to the husk. I am drunk. I have been drunk for a long time now. I rub grooves into my sides until the friction makes a song.
Why did you choose this poem?
I like to think of this poem as setting an emotional tone for the rest of the chapbook. There’s one poem that precedes it, but this is the first that really introduces readers to the authorial voice: broken, colloquial, wistful, ashamed, reckless, unapologetic, confessional and confused.
What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?
When I wrote most of these poems, I was obsessed with the many different ways to think about skin, especially as it pertains to romantic relationships. Of course there’s the actual literal skin of a person, the physical touch you miss when a relationship ends, but I also found myself obsessed with the strange figurative unsheathing that happens when you lose the presence of a person you’ve become so accustomed to–a presence so familiar you might have begun mistaking it for your own. It’s a feeling of nakedness and fear; an almost (but not quite) physical layer of you has been ripped away, and you have to learn to navigate the world with a new, unguarded skin or membrane (or something) that isn’t quite tough enough to take it. This chapbook is a result of my obsession with exploring this feeling, this concept, through surrealism and a sad, slangy voice that’s almost (but not quite) my own.
What’s your chapbook about?
Skin & bone, sex, cicadas, basketball, bravado, interior design, pancakes, arson, ghosts, oil tycoons, chimneys, rafts, sledding hills and little white dogs.
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 SKIN is indeed the catalyst of the chapbook. It attempts to serve as an origin story for the rest of the collection: here is how the narrator was born, or reborn, or forced into something other than what he was; here is how he feels his skin stripped away; here is the bloody, painful reason for his dancing and weeping and whining and playing cosmic basketball in the pages to come.
What I remember about writing it? Sadness. A shaky hand and a black moleskin notebook. A sneaking suspicion that I was becoming a caricature of myself.
What were you listening to when you wrote these poems? Did you have any rituals while writing these poems?
Though the language of rap music rarely makes it into the chapbook, I like to think of Drake as providing the soundtrack to the collection. Tonally, I think, the poems are reflective of his work and the persona he’s cultivated: earnestly heartsick, both repentant and unrepentant, cocksure and defiant, hopelessly ambitious. What my publishers called “lovesick wanderlust” and “over-the-top bravado.” His voice, and the mood of his music, seeped deep into my work, coloring the way my narrator copes with heartbreak and undergoes (or denies) self-discovery.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
Some of these poems were written in one straight shot, a matter of minutes. Some came one line at a time, over the course of weeks. Some of these poems are recovering stories. Some of these poems were written drunk; some sober. Some of these poems were typed slowly and carefully while my brain caught up to my fingers. Some were scribbled hastily on the back of class notes, my fingers catching up to my brain.
My revision strategy for all prose poems is to rewrite them, beginning to end, until every sentence feels immovable and surprising.
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
By the time this chapbook was picked up by Corgi Snorkel Press, it was ready. Sal Pane and Theresa Beckhusen printed it as it was submitted, and for that, I’m grateful. I’m also grateful for Theresa Beckhusen’s fantastic artwork. We didn’t really collaborate on the cover image; she just designed a cover that spoke perfectly to the heart of the poems.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
I think the first chapbook I ever saw was Judith Kerman’s Mothering & Dream of Rain, which I snuck away to read, a poem or two per day, when I was working for Judith at Mayapple Press. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, that internship was as influential to my creative life as anything that’s happened since.
On the fiction side, Aaron Teel’s Shampoo Horns from Rose Metal Press is probably the best chapbook I’ve ever read. It went a long way in teaching me how to link short fiction and how to create simple, evocative, heart-wrenching scenes in any genre.
What are you working on now?
A novel about marathoners. A collection of love stories. A chapbook of place poems that don’t have much to do with place.
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’ve always been a fairly disciplined writer, but I’ve definitely become more patient. I have more control over my once-insatiable desire to publish everything ASAP. I force myself to work more slowly through first drafts, and to write two or three more drafts of poems than I might have a few years ago.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook? What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
Zachary Schomburg and Mathias Svalina are two incredible surrealist poets whose work was always on my mind as I composed these poems.
Justin Brouckaert’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Passages North, Catapult, DIAGRAM, Smokelong Quarterly, NANO Fiction and Bat City Review, and he’s the author of the chapbook SKIN (Corgi Snorkel Press, 2016). He lives and writes in Columbia, SC.