What was the impulse that created the poem featured here at The Nervous Breakdown?

A lot of things really. I think much art is multiply inspired.  The poem itself came from a number of related inspirations—a painting, a piece of a novel, a meditation.  When I was at graduate school at Hollins, writing like a fiend, immersed in workshop, I also decided to take a painting class.  While I’ve always enjoyed mixing visual and literary medias, I  was assigned to paint an artistic retake of a famous painting and thought nothing of writing about it at the time.  Having loved Degas, I scoured his art: What image would I recreate?

I found a painting of a woman in preparation for a bath that I stared at for a long time.  As I regarded it, it began to bother me.  No comfort there.  Stark image.  No water in the bath.

Now, every woman I know, granted this is a biased sampling, gets into a bath craving both comfort and an excess of pleasure–or if not these, relief.  Think of a woman with a glass of wine and a cigarette reclining in her bath—with shut door and an ecstatic expression.  A woman unwound.  Degas’s woman was robbed of that of pleasure, and his portrait of the bath I viewed made it seem, beautiful as she was, that her bath became a duty.  So I painted water in the tub, made the tonal quality cool rather than warm, many blues and purples, and placed imaginary violets on the ledge above her.  It was like recreating history:  You will have an amazing bath now, girl, I told her.  I will give it to you.   But the poem hadn’t come yet.  That would take another decade.

Years later, because the painting still hangs in my house, I was writing with my annual MySpace July Poem A Day marathon, staring at my own painting one day and thinking of duty, of obligation, of the wish to escape—also thinking about a recent novel I’d read with a beautiful passage about a woman in her bath—and I wanted those violets in my own space something fierce then.  Wanted them both for me and for every woman I’d ever known.  Thus, the poem was born.

Interesting.  But are you aware there is a lot of sex in your work?

You serious?  I was trying to hide the sex.  What?  Sex?  Where?  (Interviewee grins self-depreciatingly and fiddles with some object on her coffee table.)

Yes, actually, I am.    Sex, or intimacy (broken or expanded), is a theme I work with a lot. But, for me, the sex in my work is almost always a departure point for a philosophical discussion engaged about people, proximity, love, interconnectedness, loss—the entire and enormous mixed bag of everyday living.  It’s also natural, and the one thing that almost everyone has in common because everybody wants it—and sex moves people.  A sudden failure to be touched moves people.  How can a writer explore the human experience and write without it?

Relatedly, you recently had an experience with being censored by iPhone when they required a journal where you published work to remove your story from the journal web site before approving an iPhone application for distributing content.  Did you care to speak to that, to being censored by Apple?

I found the whole thing quite bizarre.  The story in question had an element of the sexual, but it was a literary piece.  In other venues, I had published work far more aggressive, with more profanity, and had no problem.  The story censored was admittedly one of my “cleanest” published stories.  So my primary question was:  What had I done that was so risqué? Speak about sex intelligently or in such a way that the tone was not pornographic yet exceeded the fear factor that smut tabloid stories would cause?  Raise a moral quandary?  Accost some large and moneyed bastion?

With all that’s out there in the world, on the web, even on large sites like MSN and Yahoo, my small, literary short story posted at an online literary venue— a flash piece about a teenage boy trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to masturbate—was determined by a big corporation to be “edgy” enough as to require removal?  Absolutely ridiculous!  Astounding.  And flattering.  Anything that is censored has an implied power.  Don’t you agree?

So maybe I was happy about the censorship, actually.  Nearly all my favorite writers have been censored at one time or another, so, in an odd way, ludicrous as that censorship was, I felt that, in that moment, I had joined (or been inducted into) a very old and honorable fold of public intellectuals.

Regarding the poetry, you also work in form.  How would you like to be considered as a poet?  How do you decide which form to use as you write or how to shape the next piece?

I think this goes back to the whole—I write whatever interests me in the moment idea, and then, for texture, sometimes throw in the kitchen sink.  I like form.  I like free-verse.  I like nothing more than a challenge.  An example would be that I recently decided to write a crown of sonnets, just because it was a challenge.  I had been doing pantoums, sestinas, villanelles, single sonnets, ghazals, terzanelles, and any number of other forms.  But I wasn’t content with just writing a crown.  Like Emeril, I like to kick it up a notch.  So I then researched the form and decided I would do not just a simple (laugh track welcome here) crown, which is seven interconnected sonnets, but I would instead do an heroic crown—which is fifteen interconnected sonnets, in iambic pentameter no less, interlinked, where the fifteenth sonnet is entirely comprised of the first lines of the previous fourteen.  Why?  Because I can.  Because I love challenge.  Or maybe because I, like everyone might, want to be heroic.  You can pass me my super-hero outfit now.

About identity as a writer, or as a poet, I’ve thought a lot about this question, perhaps because I do work in so many other genres, and I think my ideal identity as a poet would be where people feel compelled to binge-read my poems and then go to the bookstore one day only to discover I am actually a prolific fiction writer too. And I write screenplays.  And plays for theatre. Nothing thrills me more than finding an amazing writer and later discovering all of his/her facets.  I’d like people to say: “No way!  She did that, too?  I knew her as a [whatever they read] writer!”

As for choices within poetry modalities, again, my poetic sampling is as voracious as what I do with my fiction.  One day a blues sonnet, the next an heroic crown, the next a form inspired by math—like a Fibonacci sequence.  With my fiction, it often surprises people that I do traditional literary work, literary modern work, magical realism, experimental work, and even Sci-Fi upon occasion.  I like to keep it interesting.  I won’t be tied down.  I live at the mercy of varied and demanding muses.

As Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine, anything you hate in poetry—or strive to avoid selecting or reading?

I have pretty open tastes with reading.  Of course I don’t love trite rhyming poems with cliché turns, especially those that could be considered “cutesy,” and I particularly abhor bad meter when it is not deliberate.  I don’t tend to love poems that avoid capitalization and punctuation—but that’s a personal preference.

Otherwise, I love much of the work that I read and regret only that I can pick so little of it for inclusion.

You have a book of stories coming out from Aqueous Books in late 2010 or early 2011.  Want to speak to that?

Yes!  My book coming out soon through Aqueous Books, headed up by Cynthia Reeser, is a collection of magical realism stories I’ve been affectionately calling my love letter to women, entitled SUSPENDED HEART.  Like the poem here at TNB, it examines women’s lives in both their mundane details and their aspects of romantic love.  This book is actually my favorite, currently, of my short fiction manuscripts—of which I have eight.  I’m excited to say it will also do something I’ve always wanted to do with my writing, which is contribute ten percent of my author’s proceeds to a charity I believe in; this manuscript will be used for battered women and children. I’d like to do that with all of my manuscripts.  A different charity for each.

Which poets do you love?

Neruda.  Plath. Sexton.  Ginsberg.  Clifton.  Atwood.  Shakespeare.  On and on and on.  I love anyone who touches the pulse of life. I am polyamorous that way, an infatuated reader, and I find new interests every day.

How can one read more of your work?

Pop by my website at www.heatherfowlerwrites.com –- or friend my MySpace page and write with me through a thread or annual marathon.  My creative blog invites you.  I invite you.  Are you scared of sex, drugs, rock and roll, widely divergent topics, sadness, loss, dizzying heights, amnesia, electricity?  No?  Good.  Join me.

Maybe you’ll be my next favorite poet or fiction writer.  Who knows?  I welcome that possibility—and especially you—to my page/s.

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HEATHER FOWLER received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University in May of 1997.   She has taught composition, literature, and writing-related courses at UCSD, California State University at Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College.  

Her poetry has recently appeared at riverbabble(June 2010); The Nervous Breakdown(May 2010); The San Diego Poetry Annual (April 2010); poeticdiversity (December 2009);The Medulla Review (Fall 2009); INTHEFRAY (February 2007), Empowerment4Women.com (November 2007), and been selected for a joint first place in the 2007 Faringdon Online Poetry Competition (October 2007) , as well as published in various venues including: the Map of Austin Poetry, The Coast Highway Review, the Driftwood Highway 1999 Anthology, Joe's Journal, Best of the Beach 1998, The Publication, and the Cityworks Literary Anthology, Volume 6. She is Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine.  

Her fiction has recently appeared at the following journals and anthologies: Necessary Fiction (January 18, 2011); JMWW (Winter 2011); Wrong Tree Review (January 2011);The Northville Review (December 2010); Ducts (Issue 26, Winter 2011); Prick of the Spindle (Issue 4.3, Fall 2010); Up the Staircase (Spring 2010); Dark Sky Magazine (Featuring Mel Bosworth reading her micro-fiction on video, May 2010); Necessary Fiction (April 2010); Portland Review (Issue 56, Volume 3, Winter/Spring 2010); Back in 5 Minutes ~ an expression of depression (print, volume 1. Little Episodes, London. February 2010, UK.) ; the stark electric space…an international anthology of indie writers (print, Graffiti Kolkata, India. Winter 2010); The Big Toe Review (Winter 2010); BlazeVOX (2k9, Fall 2009); Emprise Review (Volume 11, November 2009); Surreal South 09( print, Press 53, November 2009); DOGZPLOT (Fall 2009); decomP (August 2009); JMWW (print anth. Spring 2010, web Summer 2009); Etchings (7, ilura press, July 2009); PANK Magazine(4.6, June 2009); Night Train (Issue 9.1, Spring 2009); The Abacot Journal (Spring 2009);Underground Voices (November 2008); A Cappella Zoo (Print: October 2008, Volume I, Online Reprint June 2009). KeyHole (August 2008); Trespass (August/September 2008, UK); SubLit (August 2008); Coming Together: With Pride (Phaze, 2008, e-book and print);Word Riot (May 2008);  Storyglossia #28 (May 2008); Cityworks 2008 (May 2008);DOGZPLOT FLASH FICTION (2008, online and print); Temenos (Fall 2007)Mississippi Review online (October 2007); See You Next Tuesday (2006);and  Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry (Winter 2006)the muse apprentice guild (October 2002), artisan, a journal of craft (September 2002), Literary PotPourri (May 2002), Exquisite Corpse (Summer 2001), The Barcelona Review (May, 2001), Quercus Review (May, 2001), Penumbra (May 2001), B & A New Fiction (Jan. 2001), Barbaric Yawp (Dec. 2000), Zoetrope All-Story Extra (June 2001October and December 1999). She worked as a Guest Editor for Zoetrope All-Story Extra in March and April of 2000. Her story "Slut" won third prize at the 2000 California Writer's Conference in Monterey.

2 responses to “Heather Fowler: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Erika Rae says:

    Great interview, Heather. The image of this woman in the bath has stuck with me since I read this a couple of days ago. Congrats on your forthcoming book, too!

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