December 27, 2014
Tell us about Fortress. Describe its architecture.
Fortress is my newest book, which was just released by Sundress Publications. It’s a book-length engagement with Elaine Scarry’s classic work, The Body in Pain. Fortress begins with an erasure/excavation/rewriting of the first chapter, in which I erase pain from the book. What’s left? The small blue thread, the fragile arc, and faint music.
The collection also contains several prose sequences, which engage with the work Romantic poets who experimented with opium. These “painkiller poems” depict a landscape filled with dead poppies, and consider what it would look like if seen through the eyes of a female speaker. Underneath all of the dead flowers and burned meadows, though, Fortress is really a love poem.
There are also housefires, red lilies, and a spooky house. I hope you’ll check it out!
How did you become interested in engaging with Scarry’s work? And why The Body in Pain?
I was in terrible, terrible pain. It was like a knife to the heart as my one and only beloved kissed my childhood friend in the corridor. Needless to say he stopped sending me letters.
Why love poems? I thought you were a feminist.
Feminist scholars have feelings too.
I find the forms and rhetorical modes associated with the love lyric to be fascinating. There are, however, problems with the tradition we’ve inherited. First, women often are spoken about, but rarely get to speak for themselves. Petrarch’s Laura is one especially well known example of this. Additionally, writers often find themselves adhering to (and constrained by) the very forms we’re talking about. Yet we struggle to say something if we don’t have language for it, if we don’t have a form. As a result, writers return again and again to couplets, sonnets, etc.
I see my poems as a corrective gesture, an intervention. An effort to place the forms associated with love poems in dialogue with contemporary experimental writing. This is my small attempt to expand what is possible within the rich tradition of the love lyric.
You have many books. What makes Fortress unique, different from your other projects?
It’s similar in the sense that there are dead flowers everywhere, yes. But you’ll also find poems that engage literary texts I’ve never engaged before. Most of my writing looks to the contemporary literary landscape for inspiration. I’m a huge fan of Anne Champion, Joanna Ruocco (who I believe is actually a goddess), Jenny Boully, Jen Bervin, and the one and only Kristy Bowen. I never really engage Romantic poetry because I don’t feel like I’m an expert. I’m delighted that I’ve faced my fears, and written some poems about melancholy, opium use in the nineteenth century, and fields of dead poppies.
When will you ever stop pretending to be poet, and just own up to the fact that you’re writing prose?
Good question. I’m actually hard at work on a collection of lyric essays called Dark Windows Will Come Early: Essays & Engagements. The whole book is a series of creative engagements with other writers, including Thalia Field, Hanna Andrews, and a few of Ophelia’s magnificent lines from Hamlet.
Who are you reading now?
I loved, loved, loved Shane McCrae’s Forgiveness Forgiveness. Lisa Olstein is brilliant genius, and her most recent book is one of the best poetry collections I’ve read in years. And if you haven’t already, you should definitely check out Rochelle Hurt’s The Rusted City. It’s both beautiful and disconcerting, lyrical and heartbreaking.
What is a noctuary?
A record of what passes in the night. It’s also the name of my small press, Noctuary Press, which focuses on hybrid genre writing by women. We strive keep a record of, and bring visibility to, women’s writing that takes place across and beyond genre categories. We just released Lisa Marie Basile’s debut collection, Apocryphal, and are gearing up for the publication of Carrie Olivia Adams’ Operating Theatre and Emma Bolden’s second collection. It’s going to be an exciting couple of months.
We? Do you run the press with other people?
No. It’s my press. I’m using the royal “we.”
What are you currently working on? What can readers look forward to?
I’m glad you asked. I’m currently working on a collaboration with visual artist, photographer, and costumer Max Avi Kaplan. It’s a text/image project that reimagines Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, recasting the narrative from Lo’s perspective. We’re in the final stages of the manuscript, so I hope you’ll keep your eyes out for it!
Westerns or horror flicks?
Bring it on, Dracula. Bring it on.
Sonnets or quatrains?
Brad Pitt or George Clooney?