Mary B. Moore

“Observe nature, art and people deeply; see details.”

mary-b-mooreEating the Light (Sable Books, 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?

It’s hard to choose just one poem, especially because poems explore three central and several related focuses of seeing, which is a central topic of this book:  nature, art, and the female body. Thus, the opening poem suggests the way sight eats both nature and art, devours the world:

Colonizing Eyes

The world shows its hand all at once, a spill
of tangerines, mangos, nectarines,
to the table’s wheat- and earth-hued grain,
which ripples the receiving.  Even
the straw-gold cornucopia’s a sign
of plenitude.  We are meant to think:
fruit trees breed for my delight.

Looking I swallow orbs of orange
and peach-blush red, puckered
stem-holes, oblation of rounded line
to rounder things.  Eating I fill out.
The caught light anoints my arms
in swaths:  I’m oiled and muscled,
cut like circus strong men.
There’s no need for stealth, only strength
and health:  The world is ripe for my taking.

Even the birds think ripe thoughts,
round-bodied, embowered like fruit.
Magnified, the paint stroke V’d
symmetrically make feathers
like miniature pines.  Each small bird
is nearly a landscape!  Such orderly
coats of gloss and reverie.

Why did you choose this poem?

I like its sensory description and the way that it makes the picture a meal, a thing to be eaten by eye.  Also, more intellectually, I think it conveys the way Euro-American culture views nature, and in a larger sense, the whole world—as an object “we” are entitled to see and devour.  Essentially, viewing the world and other people as objects of use makes all sight “colonizing.” At the same time, as the title puns, eyes that see this way are also colonized, turned into colonizers, not participants in the world. I also think this poem shows my aesthetic in the book, an attention to the details of the poem’s object, its sensory existence.  It’s sensuous but also knowing.

Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?

Interesting question!  Putting these poems together several years ago revealed a political aspect to them that was less apparent before.  The individual poems portrayed or reacted to seeing or being seen in a way that reflected my sense of colonialism’s impacts and the parallels between it and the objectification of women—that is, the way some men (and women) reduce women to mere objects of sight rather than seeing them as fully-fledged humans. We’ve just seen and heard this manifested in the 2016 election.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook? How did you write the poems?

The chapbook wasn’t written as a book, but collects poems written over a course of years that I gradually saw as related in ways described above.  Nevertheless, for years I’ve found poems and metaphors popping up about seeing as eating.  Since sight is the central sense for Western Culture, all the way back to Plato et al, it’s no surprise that many of our poems explore vision, but the connection between seeing and eating was the surprising and exciting thing.  Over and over, that language, that imagistic connection, occurred.  Note that I use the verb, “occur.”  It reflects my way of composing:  lines, phrases, words “occur.”  Then I expand, play, enrich, mess with them.  Sometimes I seek out those seed phrases or words, make lists and notes.  Only after writing do I see a “theme,” or meaning.  Furthermore, schooled in feminism and other literary theory, I don’t believe meaning is singular, but multiple. Only after the poem exists do I see what it might be saying.  Poetry is a way of discovery for me, not an after-the-fact recording of insight.  Poetry is the insight.

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 is 10 years old;  the newest was  just months old when I compiled the version that Sable published.  Many of these questions assume that the chapbook was “written” all at once.  Instead it was collected.   The intensity and density of some of the poems reflect years of revision and attention to each word, line break, and turn of phrase in many cases.  That doesn’t mean I think the poems are perfect!  It’s just that all my writing involves much revision, even when, on those wonderful rare occasions, a poem emerges almost “right” in one sitting.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

The arrangement emerged more or less as is as soon as I saw the connections between all these existing poems.  Perhaps one catalyst was the publication of both the poem “Eating the Light,” and the poem “Colonizing Eyes.”  Then I wrote the Turner poem later, quite recently, and I added it. I think it helped clarify the whole project, at least for me.  Once I knew that I had a batch of poems about seeing as eating or devouring, I saw that some older poems about the female body that I loved but could never quite see related to other poems were ways of evading that devouring sight. Their depictions of slippages out of physical boundaries and outlines were refusals to be bounded, impinged on by sight. It made sense to divide between natural and human objects of sight then.  Opening with “Colonizing Eyes” helped set up that view of vision as eating without bopping the reader over the head with it.

Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

Interesting, again.  “Turner’s Sun” emerged after I had visited Italy and seen the Roman aqueduct that he had painted for “The Bridge of Towers.” In a kind of Jungian synchronism, an artist friend had actually sent me a postcard of “The Bridge of Towers” months before I went to the Umbria region of Italy, before I even knew Spoleto was his painting’s site!  After the visit to Italy, I did Tupelo Press’s 30/30 project, and as the first prompt, a friend whom I met in Italy sent me a quotation from Richard Cohen’s book, Chasing the Sun, as a prompt for my first day in 30/30.  I bought that book, and it turned out Cohen had written about Turner’s suns.  In the book, I saw a (poor) reproduction of “The Fighting Temeraire,” which I then looked up on the web. These meaningful coincidences energized the Turner poem about the Temeraire, which I then added to Eating the Light, which had already been circulating.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

“Sea View Lodge” was new and took many revisions to reach its current state, and may still take more revision before I’m fully satisfied.  It’s a long and pretty complex poem, and though the grandmother’s are fictional, they import a sense of history and perhaps even colonization that I’m nor sure is actualized yet.  Or maybe it is.  Who knows?

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

See my comments above about “Sea View Lodge.”

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different? How were your ideas about their individual meanings changed?

I always read individual poems aloud as part of composition and read the chapbook out loud several times.  Reading like that helps me hear awkwardness in phrasing, helps me hear and revise the music.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?

My composition and revision strategies are described somewhat above.  In general, I write every day, seeking words, phrases, or images in words that energize me in some way, and then building off of those.  I write off of my own weird word coinages, or I do automatic writing to get interesting or surprising word combinations. Sometimes I just deeply describe a thing or scene, and then build off that. Many such words or phrases or descriptions go nowhere.  When they go somewhere, I allow the poem to form before I worry about its meaning. The sounds of words inspire more words, and I’ve come to think that I have an inner music that I’m manifesting in language.  BUT once I have words, I begin to see images. In contrast, some poems begin with what I see.  “Eating the Light” actually emerged from detailed and silent observation of maple leaves out of my second-story apartment window.  YET in the end, I seek to make meanings through the poems, to discover something for myself but also to speak to someone, so, though poems may begin often in pure play and in sound, or in description, I don’t send them out unless and until they develop meanings.  Right now, I do have a persona who can inspire poems, just saying her name, starting a sentence with her name, can lead somewhere…but not always!

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? 

Sable Books was GREAT to work with.  Their graphic artist actually read the book and then suggested covers, sending me four complete designs to choose from.  I love the cover. Melissa Hassard, the publisher, supports and uplifts you besides getting the book into physical form.

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing? What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I very much like three very recent ones:  David Rigsbee’s The Pilot House, Kim Garcia’s Tales Of the Sisters, and Zeina Hashem’s 3Arabi Song. These are small marvels, full of music and image, the poems coming to their sense of meaning through these elements.  They reflect a taste for poems that communicate, first of all, rather than mirror the chaos or meaninglessness of contemporary life through a jumble of disjunctive images and phrases.  Though the latter styles create some lovely music at times, it seems to me that a mirror held up to meaningless, is well…..

If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

Apostle/Thistle explores the spiritual life of a lapsed Catholic;  it’s hard to place poems like these which are irreverent yet obsessed with reverence, and it has been in circulation for just over a year.

Amanda and the Man Soul explores the character and life of the outrageously vain, sometimes brilliant Amanda, who also is, by the way, a woman who plays to being seen.  Several of the poems have been picked up by Poem/Memoir/Story.  It’s brand new as a chapbook and probably will go through more iterations before someone takes it.

What are you working on now?

Imbalance My Dance is a full-length collection of sonnets which rhyme but have irregular line-lengths, so formally they (perhaps irritatingly) combine elements of formal and free-verse.  They are funny, dark, contemporaneous in image and diction.   It was a semi-finalist last year for the Vassar Miller prize and is in circulation.

Brand-Spanking-New Ms. , title tba, collects poems written mostly in the past year. Its tones and forms are varied, which I like very much––that is variation, as opposed to monotonality.  They link through obsessive images about color, the sun, the landscapes of West Virginia and Italy, and it includes odes to family, other poets, and to Turner.  Though it has some humorous poems about the persona, Amanda, (described below), which link through imagery of color and through motifs such as doubleness to the other poems, it also has elegaic poems about family. Some from Eating the Light will also appear here.

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

Eating the Light creates a lush, sensory world of landscapes and ocean, of art work, and of female figures who merge into or distinguish themselves from their backgrounds.  It’s a painterly world, I think.   The women in the book inhabit it, yet always try to evade being contained.   Ironically, the poems contain their evasion of containment. The reader I think, if the book works, enjoys the sensory imagery and enters the poet’s eye in order to see in a different way and to recognize what his or her way of seeing might do in the world.  Seeing is an act.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

We learn how to speak by imitating the sounds and speech of our family.  Read great poetry of the past, especially of the 20th Century. Write a LOT.  Find one or two older poets who are accepted as “great” by our culture (Rilke, Marianne Moore, Derek Walcot, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, Neruda—TRUE greats) whose work you utterly love, and study how they create image and sound.  See how they use physical bodies and embodied things, not abstract ideas, to communicate meaning.  (My idea of beauty differs from yours, but if you give me detailed visual images of what you think is beautiful, I “get” that beauty without your even using the word “beauty”).  Imitate “your” great poets, initially, and use those imitations to take off in your own direction. (Never try to publish imitations of other poets!)   Observe nature, art and people deeply; see details;  draw things with details, even if you’re not a good artist:  do this to make you see the details, that in a poem, help create meaning.  Don’t try to publish until your poems seem as good to you as some of the published poems you love.  Don’t use rhymes until you’ve grasped image.

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

I love to hear about people’s writing processes.

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Mary B. Moore’s poetry books include Eating the Light selected for Sable Books by Allison Joseph, and two full-length collections, The Book of Snow, published by the Cleveland State UP, and Flicker, winner of the 2016 Dogfish Head Poetry Award judged by Carol Frost, Baron Wormser, and Jan Beatty.  Her poetry has appeared lately in Coal Hill Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Drunken Boat, Cider Press Review, Nimrod, and earlier in Poetry, New Letters, Prairie Schooner.  Work is forthcoming in Georgia Review and Poetry/Memoir/Story. A retired professor, she lives in West Virginia with the philosopher John Vielkind and the cat Seamus Heaney.

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Aozora Brockman

“What is the boundary between human and animal?”

aozoraMemory of a Girl (Backbone Press, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

butchering

Why did you choose this poem?

I chose “Butchering” because it throws the reader into the central question and tension of the chapbook: do we lose our “selves” when we lose our memories? This question swirls around me throughout the autobiographical, narrative book, while I struggle to come to terms with the reality of my Japanese grandmother’s memory loss, and the terrifying possibility of losing my own mind. In describing the killing of a hen, and linking it to our own eventual powerlessness over our bodies and minds, “Butchering” hints at a deeper question, too, that resurfaces in the poems that follow: what is the boundary between human and animal? This question, in particular, digs deep into our understandings of morality and empathy. Often our justification for killing animals is to think of them as closer to “meat” (an object), than to thinking and feeling, human-like living things. And this convenient “forgetting” of the lives animals live before we eat them makes it easier for us to think of certain human beings as lower on the social hierarchy than ourselves. We pride ourselves on our ability to think, to make choices, and philosophize, and historically, the slaughtering and use of certain “races” of people were justified by the argument that they had “inferior” minds and that they resembled animals. Racism, sexism, and classism, I think, are all inextricably linked to the constructed boundary between human and animal, and in Memory of a Girl, I explore these ideas while also telling the story of my grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I was taking an English course called “Medieval Humans and Beasts” while writing these poems, so my obsessions with the animal-human continuum/divide heavily influenced the chapbook. I also had the pleasure of taking many Asian American Studies classes in college, and the knowledge I gained through those courses impacted my identity and my poetry. One of the poems in the chapbook, “An Essay on Tolerance,” for instance, couldn’t have been written without my exposure to Asian American history and activism. And finally, I was reading a lot of feminist poetry through another amazing English class I was taking while writing the manuscript, and devoured the poetry of Audre Lorde, Joy Harjo, and Erica Jong, among others. So a number of academic-themed obsessions influenced the chapbook! My main obsession, however, that gave fuel to the fire was my undying love for my family’s organic vegetable farm, and my nostalgia for my joyful childhood of exploring the streams and woods and dirt with my brothers and cousins, and getting lost in the meditative quiet of the fields. Moving away from home and into the city was heart-wrenching for me, and my longing for the farm grew and grew during my four years at Northwestern University. I was so attached to my childhood that growing out of my girlhood sent a stab of fear into my heart, and in this chapbook, the terror of losing memories is tied specifically to my fear of never being able to return to my childhood joy. That obsession with my girlhood kept me writing and thinking, and eventually took the form of this chapbook.

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 Memory of a Girl is the long poem “Memory,” and it is the first poem in the collection. In order to describe how it came into being, I need to give a little bit of a back story. The manuscript that became this chapbook was written for a Creative Writing honors thesis project during my senior year at Northwestern under the mentorship of Professor Rachel Jamison Webster. I spent the summer before my senior year in Japan, conducting anthropological research on Korean-Japanese bi-ethnics and their identities and politics, but also spent a little over a month living with my mother’s family in Nagoya. My original plan was to focus on the research and interviewing, and spend my off time with my grandmother, who I hadn’t seen in six years. But I hadn’t realized how severe my grandmother’s dementia was. So what ended up happening was that once I arrived at my family’s home, I did all that I could to help look after her: I slept next to her, and cared for her day and night. When she left for daycare in the morning, I’d get a few winks in before writing, reading, and researching. Rachel had encouraged me to “freewrite” every day during the summer, and those freewrites helped me to express the intense emotions that overwhelmed me: confusion, sadness, love, and fear. When I arrived back in America and began my senior year, those writings became the fodder for my manuscript, and the poem “Memory” begins with a scene taken straight from one of my freewrites. Originally, “Memory” was a prose poem, but upon Rachel’s suggestion, I inserted line breaks. I loved how the breaks gave breath and space to a difficult emotional experience. Once I wrote “Memory,” other poems freely came forth, as the long poem set up the narrative and themes for the chapbook.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

Rachel was—and still is!—an incredible mentor to me, and her encouragement and belief in me and my work allowed me to flourish in productivity. I wrote poem after poem, and when I felt that I’d written all of the pieces of the narrative, Rachel and I found ourselves staring at a stack of poems. Since this was my first manuscript of poetry, I was nervous about arranging the poems into a cohesive collection—I was afraid I was going to mess it up. Feeling my anxiety, Rachel suggested an order, and then, when I read through the poems in that way, it suddenly became easier to see how all of the pieces might fit together. The title came to me in a similar way. I knew that I wanted a title that joined together my grandmother and me, and our memories, and originally thought of “Memory of Girl”. Rachel thought “Memory of a Girl” made more sense, and it fits perfectly! My grandmother is living in her girlhood, while I am desperately trying to hold onto mine. We are joined together by our memories, and somehow, we are living—and trying to live—in the same stage of our lives.

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?

Crystal Simone Smith, the managing editor of Backbone Press, was wonderful to work with in bringing this chapbook into the world. I loved that Backbone allowed me to publish my poems “as is,” without much editing, and that I was free to choose my cover art. I felt that I had a lot of say in how my chapbook looked and read. When I was sending my manuscript out, I was afraid that my use of Japanese throughout the poems would deter some presses from publishing the work, but Backbone embraced my cultural and linguistic difference. I will be forever grateful for that! I also adore the natural way in which my beautiful cover art came about. An artist and dear family friend, Matt Erickson, has worked on our family farm for over 15 years, and his partner, the amazing artist Lisa Lofgren, helps out on our farm as well. This summer, Lisa was pregnant with a baby girl, but insisted on helping as much as she could. While harvesting chives together one summer day, I asked her if she’d like to create the cover art for my book. I was overjoyed when she said yes, because I’ve always loved her art pieces, and it was a great honor to know she’d create a piece for my book. I printed out my manuscript and gave it to her, and the poems inspired images. My poem “Roots” struck a chord with Lisa—especially the line, “You are made of the foods your mother ate.” As a mother-to-be, and a garlic-peeler extraordinaire (“Roots” describes a garlic peeling experience), she felt the poem deeply.  The resulting cover art is absolutely breath-taking. Not only that, but Lisa and Matt had the idea of making a broadside with the art and poem, and made 30 one-of-a-kind multi-plate prints at their press! I am so thankful and amazed that we were able to collaborate in this way—the whole process of publishing this chapbook has been a beautiful experience for me.

What are you working on now?

First and foremost, I would like to translate Memory of a Girl into Japanese, and bring it to my mother’s family when I visit in a few months. It may be the case that my grandmother will not be able to read my poems or understand them, but I believe in the power of words, and of emotion, and I feel that in sharing my poetry, something will be communicated. The immediate goal of this translation is to share the poetry with my Japanese family, but I would also love to share the chapbook with a Japanese reading audience, and will keep my eyes out for opportunities for publishing in Japan. My other main writing project is a memoir I am writing with my father, tentatively titled, In Our Hands: Living the Cusps of Change on a Family Farm. The memoir describes life on a small-scale vegetable farm, where most of the work is done by hand, and a father and a daughter’s navigation of their life cusps. We both arrive at a time in our lives when we must decide how to move forward into the future—especially in the face of climate change. We’ve written a first draft, and are sending the manuscript to presses, and querying agents. I’d like to make a lot of progress on this book in the coming year.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

Modern dance! I’ve always loved dancing since I was a child, and I think that it is through movement and music that I am able to express myself best. It is for this reason that I adore improvisational dance. When I am allowed to move just how I’d like to move, I can dance—in front of crowds—for hours. There is something magical and empowering about expressing intimate emotions through your body in front of strangers—it gives me great joy and relief to be so vulnerable, yet powerful, on a stage. But because I live in rural Illinois, it has been difficult to take a dance class or go out dancing in quite a while. I feel that an integral part of my life has been missing lately. The other day, I watched my best friend and ballerina, Rhea Keller, dance in “The Nutcracker,” and her emotion and expression dug so deeply into my heart that I left knowing I needed to dance again. I hope that, some way or another, I’ll find myself back on a stage soon.

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Aozora Brockman was raised on an organic vegetable farm in Central Illinois. She is the recipient of the 2015 Jean Meyer Aloe Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and her poems have appeared in Hermeneutic Chaos, the Cortland ReviewFifth Wednesday, and other journalsShe lives, works, and writes in the haven of her family’s farm.

 

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aozorabrockman.wordpress.com

Justin Brouckaert

“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.”

justinSKIN (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.

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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.

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justinbrouckaert.com

Joyce Chong

“I tend to return to ideas of emotional uncertainty, dissociation, and things that linger like regret or loss.”

joyce

Inventory (Ghost City Press, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem (or excerpt) from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

Excerpt from “the ways in which we are not”.

ii.
self portrait as a series of images
in negative / as phantoms
thrown up on the wall in silhouette.
self
portrait as a painting you saw
in a dream, the lock heavy on your
tongue, the key corroding
in your stomach.

iii.
an approximation of reality,
a set of laces coming undone,
the smell of wine and honey / the
taste of starch dissolving on your tongue
as paper bridges, as ash and cinder
on your breath.

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

These aren’t necessarily all chapbooks, but Monica Ong’s Silent Anatomies, Dalton Day’s To Breathe I’m Too Thin, Emily O’Neill’s Pelican, Franny Choi’s Floating, Brilliant, Gone, Michael Schmeltzer’s Elegy/Elk River. I’m often inspired not by one book alone, but by poems and moments from over the course of a writer’s entire body of work, so it’s hard to pick just one chapbook or writer and feel like I’m covering all my bases. It’s hard to track moments of inspiration, especially as they progress and change along with you. All of these writers and books did something with form, or grief, and language and themes that I’ve gained new perspectives and ideas from.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I wouldn’t call them obsessions, but I tend to return to ideas of emotional uncertainty, dissociation, and things that linger like regret or loss. I’m interested in the ways in which we ascribe value and emotional significance from things that are inanimate, and how we can reverse this process by treating emotional states like objects, bodies like things detached from ourselves. How a sense of self and certainty can sometimes be disconnected or lost to us.

What’s your chapbook about?

Inventory is an accumulation of distinct moments and intents, a sort of hodge-podge of snapshots that accumulated together because they all had the same thread of emotional turbulence, distance, dissociation, and grief.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

Since there are common themes like hauntings and grief and dreams, I arranged the poems in a way so that they almost moved from one into the next. Overall, it sort of begins from the most emotionally visceral pieces and then moves towards a sense of distance and removal, where the focus moves from self and surrounding to objects and lists.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

“the ways in which you are not” was the last poem I wrote for Inventory. It drew on a lot of the themes I’d had floating around throughout the assembly of the project, so it had the sense of pulling everything together. It’s also one of the poems that I feel is a little rough around the edges and less refined compared to everything else.

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?

Ghost City Press has been great to work with. They reached out to me initially with the opportunity to join their Summer Series, and I loved the idea and was so excited to be a part of it. They were very helpful and accommodating throughout the process. I was lucky enough to be able to work with Georgia Bellas on the cover for the chapbook. She provided me with a wealth of options to choose from and was a pleasure to work with. I ultimately went with the cover that I felt suited the theme of the chapbook the most, otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to pick just one.

What are you working on now?

I was fortunate enough to be invited back to write another micro-chapbook for Ghost City Press’ 2017 summer series, so I will be working on that sometime in the near future. I’ve been playing with the idea of writing an instruction manual micro-chapbook, loosely based off of the last poem in Inventory (originally published in Flapperhouse). There is also another project I’d had in mind on grief and architecture, but this is only in its seedling stages. I’m also hoping to revise and submit a full-length chapbook based on some of my earlier work.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

I think I’m a writer because, despite loving the arts so much, I’m not very talented any other way. I oscillate between a love of cinematography, surreal art, choreography, and music on a regular basis, so I would probably be happy doing anything in the arts. I would love to work in film, and help create the beautiful shots and moments that leave us completely transported in a good show or film.

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

Is there a piece of art beyond writing, like a song, painting, or video that had a significant impact on the formation of your chapbook?

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Joyce Chong is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated poet and writer living in Ontario, Canada. She is currently a contributing editor for Wildness Magazine’s weekly feature, The Wilds. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from One Throne Magazine, Noble Gas Qtrly, and Hypertrophic Literary, among others. Her micro-chapbook Inventory is currently available from Ghost City Press. She can be found on twitter @_joycechong.

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joycechong.weebly.com

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Lauren Brazeal

“Go read writers who make your soul ache, write bad poetry, read more great writers, and write more bad poetry.”

exuviae-cover

Exuviae (Horse Less Press, 2016)

What’s your chapbook about?

On the surface, it’s prose-sonnets centered around ponies from the 20th and 21st centuries. Beneath that, I think it touches on themes of female objectification, anti-intellectualism, corporate greed, the rise of meta-capitalism, the soullessness of our global internet culture, the hyper-sexualization of seemingly everything, the erosion of that indefinable quality which makes us human; and the profound sense of loss we feel as these things dominate more and more of our daily reality.

If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

My second chapbook, Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters, was picked up by Dancing Girl Press. Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters is definitely a first cousin of Exuviae—it contains mostly dramatic monologues from the perspective of animals that inhabit the dirtier back alleys of human consciousness. An undercurrent of savagery beneath a veneer of civility runs throughout the collection; but it’s also full of humor—even if it’s from the gallows. Both were organized after I cleaved my MFA thesis into two smaller collections.

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?

It was magic—how Exuviae happened. I’d come to Bennington to finish a longer manuscript I’d been working on for maybe six years with no real progress. Things were grim at the end of my first term, and I remember my mentor, Mark Wunderlich, basically clucking his tongue at me in almost every email at that point.  One day I was wasting time in a junk shop, going through antique photographs, when I came across an acid eroded picture of two twin boys on a wooden toy horse. Something about the photo spoke to me, and I was able to find about 3 more similar to it—all with children and ponies from the 1950’s. Over the course of the next few weeks I wrote 4 little sonnets, starting with a version of the first poem of the collection, “Hero’s Parade.”  I sent my efforts to Mark as part of my final portfolio for the semester, and he immediately suggested that these poems would be a good change of pace for me. That was at the very beginning of 2013.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

The title took a very long time, and I have my friend Chanelle Boucher to thank for it. We were up late one night loosely workshopping the final poem in the manuscript, but mostly discussing the nature of evil; when she mentioned a word she’d learned recently: “Exuviae”, which is the shed exoskeleton of an insect. The word “Exuviae” in Latin means “that which is stripped off the body.” Seeing as the book deals so closely with themes of loss, I knew right away it was the perfect title for the collection.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

I think writers aren’t asked often enough about whether they had fun writing a particular book. I have friends whose books have eaten away years of their lives—my first full-length collection, Gutter, was like this. But there are books that are a day at Disneyland to write. So I’ll ask myself: “Was this book fun to create?” and my answer is Yes! I had the time of my life writing this collection. The strict form and subject actually allowed for so much experimentation outside of those parameters. I was sad when I realized I’d finished it and I would no longer be consistently working on pony-related sonnets.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Spend your time in school learning all the forms, learn to recognize meter without having to consciously listen for it, take the wisdom of your teachers to heart, ask questions about technique, experiment with syntax, debate furiously and often with your fellow students. When you graduate, go read writers who make your soul ache, write bad poetry, read more great writers, and write more bad poetry.  Eventually you’ll find some of those bad poems aren’t so bad. You may even find your own voice and your own style emerging from the rubble of your torn-down “creative writing student” self.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?

I feel the collection does follow a very clear arc, but it’s more chronological than anything. The reader can see the proliferation of technology and the mutations of the pony’s role in American culture over the course of the book.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

The final poem, “Broodmare’s Plea” is the odd duck in this collection. For a while I wasn’t even sure if it could remain in the manuscript. I’d basically finished the chapbook, and was preparing it for publication when I wrote this poem. It’s not, nor has it ever been a sonnet. It’s not even in any particular meter for the most part. I’d recently discovered I was pregnant with my son, and we were still in the tenuous phase of gestation when losing a baby is most likely. This was my letter to him, inviting him to the world, asking him to please stay. I realized though, that while this tiny cluster of cells held all of my hope and love, it meant nothing to anyone else. In this way, the poem is necessary as both a beginning and an end to the collection. My hope is that it returns the soul that has been so systematically stripped from these poems.

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In her past, Lauren Brazeal has been a homeless gutter-punk, a resident of Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, a maid, a surfer chick, and a custom aquarium designer. Her work has appeared widely online and in print in such journals as Smartish Pace, Barrelhouse, DIAGRAM, Folio, Verse Daily and elsewhere. She has published two chapbooks, Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), and Exuviae (Horse Less Press, 2016) and her first full-length collection, Gutter, is forthcoming from Yes Books.

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www.laurenbrazeal.com

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SJ Sindu

“Cultivate a large ego; cultivate humility; write your truth; and whatever you do, be tenacious.”

sindu

I Once Met You But You Were Dead (Split Lip Press, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal piece (or excerpt) from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

What really bothers you is the newness of it all. This should be old news to you, who fancied yourself born into war. You should know the taste of gunpowder as it hits the back of your tongue. Unfamiliar, a challenge to the memories you thought were real. Maybe you made them up after all. Maybe you’re not the war survivor you thought you were.

You were just a kid. Maybe—you were wrong.

Why did you choose this piece (or excerpt)?

Most of the pieces in the chapbook deal with war or violence in some way. Specifically they deal with the aftermath of war and violence, and part of that aftermath is the constant questioning and re-writing of experience by survivors. This excerpt comes from the first piece, “SR-9,” which is about recovering from panic attacks triggered by depictions of war.

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

The Lake Has No Saint by Stacey Waite is the first chapbook I remember loving. I read it on a train ride from the airport just after the AWP conference where I’d bought it. I remember that because I remember getting on the train and then getting off—everything in the middle blurs because I was so entranced by the words. I’d never encountered a chapbook before that focused on gender in quite the way that Waite does, breaking it apart and showing us its seams. I also love Ms. Militancy by Meena Kandasamy, for how it focuses on the South Asian immigrant experience, and Small Creatures / Wide Field by Jamie Mortara, for what it does with the form—it’s a sort of choose your own adventure book where it really interacts with the reader.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I think these reveal my two obsessions when it comes to writing—accurately and beautifully depicting the marginalized experience, and doing weird things with form. In I Once Met You But You Were Dead, I gather together pieces that focus on gender and violence in all its various incarnations, but I also try to play with form and structure to figure out new ways to tell stories.

What’s your chapbook about?

The pieces in the chapbook were all written during my Masters program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They reveal a map of my interiority during that time. I was greatly embattled about my identity. About my gender, about my ethnicity, about my religion, about my experience with war, about wanting to be a writer. All of that comes out in these pieces, and it’s interesting because I’m no longer this writer—writing this chapbook was part of my catharsis, and I’m changed by the writing of it. So the book is about identity, but it’s also about gender, and marginality, and war.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one piece that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The oldest piece is “Playing Princess,” which is also the longest piece. It was the first piece I ever published—it came out in Harpur Palate in 2008, I think. As a story, it’s extremely flawed, but it has great sentimental value for me. Writing this piece was the first time I sensed the kind of writer I was going to be, and for that I value it greatly.

Which piece in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

“Good People” is about a friend of mine—the name in it is changed, obviously. But it’s about a time when I failed to be there for my friend when he needed me most, and it’s my way of trying to reconcile with that guilt. It’s a piece that still holds deep pain for me, and I almost didn’t include it in the chapbook. But I think as a reflection of a certain period in my writer life, this piece is essential.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?

All of the pieces were actually finished for a long time before I ever thought to put them together. I just thought of them as individual pieces, never as a collection, until I took a short story collection workshop with Jennine Capó Crucet during my PhD program. At first I just sort of threw everything I had into a possible collection to workshop, but after the class was over, I realized that these pieces—the ones that are in the chapbook now—are different from my more recent work. These pieces represent the writer I was then—which is a writer I’m not now. So I put them together, and they started to speak to each other in ways I didn’t expect. The chapbook just sort of grew from there.

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?

I’ve loved working with Amanda at Split Lip Press. She is a good editor, and I was able to have a lot of creative control over the chapbook. For the cover, I turned to an artist friend of mine, Samantha Talbert, who makes these wonderful little greeting cards. It was exactly the aesthetic I wanted. We talked about ideas, and she came up with the design after reading the chapbook. She made a physical version of the cover, and my photographer friend Ramsey Mathews shot it. The title font was made by Jayme Cawthern at Split Lip. So it’s a true collaboration, and I love the end result.

What are you working on now?

My first novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, is coming out in June of 2017 from Soho Press. I just turned in my final edits for that. (Link to the novel here: http://sjsindu.com/1kl). And now I’m working on revisions for my second novel, called Blue-Skinned Gods, which is about a young boy who grows up in a cult in India.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Oh wow. That’s a big question. I’ll say what I say to my students: read broadly and deeply; learn to take rejection constructively; cultivate a large ego; cultivate humility; write your truth; and whatever you do, be tenacious.

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SJ Sindu’s debut novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, is forthcoming in 2017 from Soho Press. Her hybrid fiction and nonfiction chapbook, I Once Met You But You Were Dead, was the winner of the Split Lip Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest, and is forthcoming in December 2016. Sindu’s creative writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, The Normal School, The Los Angeles Review of Books, apt, Vinyl Poetry, PRISM International, Fifth Wednesday Journal, rkvry quarterly, and elsewhere.

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http://sjsindu.com

Courtney LeBlanc

“Find your tribe of writers.”

courtneyAll in the Family (Bottlecap 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?

Garden

My father tilled the land,
churned up black soil, a garden
bigger than most backyards.
My mother doled out seeds
and my fair sister and I scampered
down the rows, dropping
peas, corn, cucumbers, hard work,
honesty, beets, potatoes, courtesy,
radishes, obedience, carrots,
zucchini, and dill.
We spent summer afternoons
weeding, we were organic
before that was a thing. The garden
had to feed our family for the year,
had to feed our souls for the year.
Some grew better than others –
dill exploded throughout,
its seeds spreading like dandelions.
The freckles on my sister’s face,
my mother’s shoulders, exploded
in response. Humility stayed buried
in the dirt, refused my mother’s greedy
hands. Zucchini grew unchecked,
gargantuan in size and I struggled
to carry them in my butterfly wings.
Late summer the ground purged
her final offerings and we flitted
down the rows, gathering these gifts,
eating peas straight from the vine
and giggling, drunk on sunshine.
My mother frowned, reprimanded us,
clipped our delicate wings,
hoped to quiet us.
We haven’t stopped screaming since.

Why did you select this poem?

This is the first poem in the chapbook and I feel it both sets the stages and introduces you to the characters who the book focuses on – my mother, my father, and my sister. This poem hints at the intricacies that these relationships hold and hopefully it entices the reader to plunge in.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

My relationships with certain members of my family – my mother, my father, and my younger sister – are very nuanced and ever-changing. I initially wrote a series of poems about my mother and our relationship and considered doing a chapbook of just those poems but I felt it wasn’t enough. I needed to pull in my relationship with my father, and my younger sister to show a fully rounded, accurate picture. The chapbook has three sections – Mother, Father, and Sister – each section features poems that focus on my individual relationship with that person.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

“The Game His Father Played” is by far the oldest poem, I wrote it nearly 12 years ago. It was written at a time when my father was very ill and I was reminiscing on his illness and how vibrant he’d been before he’d gotten sick.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

Once I decided to focus on the three different relationships, and not just on my relationship with my mother, the arrangement and title fell into place.  I realized that by dividing up the poems in each section – Mother, Father, Sister – it allowed the reader to view each relationship as singular and independent of the others but at the same time allowing the reader to find the similarities and threads that run through them and string them together.

Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

“Siamese Sister” – when my sister and I were little we would tell my mother we were Siamese twins and refuse to be separated. We are less than two years apart but we swear we were meant to be born twins. To this day we speak nearly every day even though we live across the country from one another.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

“Mother | Father | Daughter” is probably the misfit. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include it, and I wasn’t sure where to include it. Finally, I realized it was the best poem to end the collection with and once I put it there I loved how it fit and how it wrapped everything up.

What were you listening to when you wrote these poems? Did you have any rituals while writing these poems?

I don’t have a specific writing ritual, rather I just write as much as I can and as often as I can. I’ve even pulled over on the freeway to write down the lines that were circling in my head. (I don’t necessarily suggest this!)

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

“Butterfly Sisters” was the last poem I wrote for this collection though at the time I didn’t know it would round out the chapbook. My sister had recently been diagnosed with the same kidney disease my father had, and I subsequently went to the doctor and learned I do not have the disease…which means I have a high probability of being a match for my sister if she ever needs a kidney. This poems was a culmination of the weeks of worrying she and I shared, and my realization that one day part of me might be in her. My sister and I both have tattoos, though she has full sleeves and so is a bit more colorful than me, so when I refer to us as “butterfly sisters” it’s meant to indicate the bright ink that graces both our bodies.

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?

Bottlecap Press is a really supportive publishing company, and they are great to work with. When I had questions or concerns, they were good with explanations and communication – something I greatly appreciate. My sister, Kirsten, who the poems are written about, is a graphic designer, so I approached her with designing the cover image and she immediately jumped onboard. I told her my idea and she ran with it

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

Bad Girl, Honey by Megan Falley

The Female Gaze is Cool by Alexandra Wuest

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I think the first thing this shows is I like female writers, particularly strong, feminist writers, and that it’s important to surround yourself with poets and poetry that inspires you.

If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

My first chapbook, Siamese Sister, was published in April 2016 and focuses entirely on my relationship with my sister. Some of the poems from Siamese Sister are included in All in the Family.

What are you working on now?

I have a full length poetry manuscript that I’m shopping around to several publishers. I’m also constantly writing and publishing individual poems at a variety of literary journals and websites.

What is your favorite piece you’ve written? Why?

One of my favorite poems I’ve written is titled “Love is a Lesion on Your Brain,” and it’s essentially a love poem to my husband. I’m not a sappy person and I don’t write sappy poetry, but this poem came out when I was dealing with an 8-month long migraine that neurologists weren’t able to diagnose or stop. Then an MRI showed a lesion on my brain, and this poem came tumbling out. It’s not a love poem on the surface, but by the end you realize that’s really what it was about the whole time.

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 used to believe I had to be inspired to write poetry and then I realized that writer’s block is pretty much bullshit. You have to practice writing to make it a habit and to improve. Once I had that view I set about creating a writing practice that worked for me. I write nearly every day and if for some reason I find I’ve gone more than a couple days without writing, I’ll sit down with my journal and my pen and write about what I’m looking at, how the week has been, anything really. Often I find just the act of putting pen to paper gets the creative juices flowing and I can go from there.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Read everything you can get your hands on. Find authors whose styles speak to you and read everything they’ve written. Write daily. Find your tribe of writers – having writers whose styles you like and whose opinions you trust will be key when you start editing your work. And yes, realize that good writing requires editing. Few of us write the perfect poem or paragraph or chapter on the first try – it takes re-reading and tweaking and editing to make it right.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Send your manuscript out everywhere. But also make sure you know what the publisher is looking for or usually publishes. If they’re a press focusing on sci-fi, your historical novel won’t be a good fit. Also realize that that process of writing doesn’t end when you put your pen down. Editing your work and then submitting it takes a lot of work. I spend 8-10 hours a week just sending my work to various publishers, presses, and journals.

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Courtney LeBlanc loves nail polish, wine, and tattoos. She is the author of chapbooks Siamese Sister and All in the Family (forthcoming from Bottlecap Press). Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Connections, Welter, Plum Biscuit, Pudding Magazine, The Legendary, Germ Magazine, District Lines, Slab, Wicked Banshee, The Door is a Jar, and others.

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