1. Why did you chose the paragraph formatting that you chose for this chapbook? What does it represent in the poetry?
Actually, the book is a full-length book--not a chapbook. Choosing prose poetry seemed the best approach because I knew ahead of time I wanted to use sentences for the project. The sentences did not lend themselves to the line breaks we find in stanzas well--not in the way conscious choices for line breaks are made when writing free-verse/traditional poems.
The concept came to me after a Ronald Johnson reading group. He appropriated material for his work, so that gave me a "creative license" as they say to do so. The appropriation represents the year I was silenced and going through a lot of pain as a thirteen-fourteen year old. The texts stand in for the time I did not have a voice. On the other hand, there are sentences I wrote--looking back at the year--about what happened.
I knew the sentences should have tension, play with words, etc. to describe my personal story. At the same time, I looked for texts from 1984—texts to reflect what I was reading (comic books, Dungeons & Dragons, Orwell, etc.), as well as what inspires me now (bell hooks, Hejinian). As it was an election year, Ronald Reagan had to work his way in, as he scared me! He truly scared me with his talk about nuclear war, as if he was ready to show those Russians!
Using different texts--the appropriation--along with my sentences to create a collage, I was worried how I could put a stop to my collecting. I figured, 1984 was a leap year, so I would collect 366 sentences. Also, if each sentence was a part of that year, a part of me, then no sentence should be lesser than any other. Based on a poem by Carolyn Forche called "Blue Hour," I realized I could alphabetize the whole thing and that would be that—to mimic what I used to do with my music, comic books, and such.
It took time to locate and read through the texts after I got home. I also included song titles, movies titles, etc. I placed each sentence in an Excel spreadsheet, along with where I found the sentence, if it was my own, etc. in different columns. This allowed me to alphabetize the sentences within moments, but could return back to the original sequence by source (alphabetizing the column of sources).
When I started playing with the idea of stanzas, it truly worked as a book-length piece.
What I love about the collection is that it was fun to write, to collect, to create. The surprise of going from one sentence to another sentence creates its own metaphor—placing two unlike things together to say they can be compared or are the same. Prose Poetry seems to work on that level, from sentence to sentence for enjambment.Another thing I love about the collection is it does what I set out to accomplish--to pull off a memoir as text as representation, borderlining the confessional mode. It's hard for me to read confessional poetry anymore, but the experimental mode seems the best way to convey true emotions without pointing the finger or dropping a ton of lead onto someone's foot.
2. Who did the art in the book, is it someone you know, and why did you choose their work?
I know Elaine Rodriguez through her work (since the mid-Nineties) as a professional Barista and Coffee Roaster, and her work with drawing comic book heroes. It seemed the perfect match--her art with my words--so I approached her and was lucky that she said yes.
3. What inspired you to write this book, and would you consider it a continuation of your first book "Sum of Two Mothers"?
It was totally from TSoTM. There is a couplet I was pondering on:
"my mother comes out in 1983 / Sondra moves in in 1985"
In between those two lines, those two years, was the year I was avoiding: 1984. Poetry can be the source for recovery, so I knew in my ongoing therapeutic practices that I needed to write about that year. The concept followed--I would only use texts form that year, etc.
4. What theme would you give this chapbook, and how did comics play into the writing of it?
The overall theme, and maybe theme in my writing, is that poetry creates the antidote for venoms, poetry serves as the site for social causes and voice, and poetry helps save lives. Comic books helped save my world in 1984, so they needed to be included in the book.
5. How long have you been working on this chapbook, and was it made from any poems left out of the first one?
I worked on it during the summer of 2012. A skeptic asked me, "How long did it take you to write that?" It isn't often a question someone asks first when talking about one's poetry. I'm guessing the assumption is that it was easier to write because of the appropriated sentences? Yes--I even used sentences from existing poems that are now in my chapbook My Graphic Novel. Let me say: it was faster for me to write my own sentences than to pour through books for the "right" sentences that would work. With that said, it took longer to submit the poems, get them published in literary magazines, waiting to hear from contests and other presses, until finally getting the book out three years later. It's funny, because people were saying, "Wow--you have been writing a lot lately." I have, but the published work comes from four to six years ago. It can even be longer for some. It shows--don't give up, even when discouraged.
I've noticed that most of your work (or at least the ones I've read) are free verse, with typically no rhyming. Do you think that there is a reason that you tend to write your poetry this way? Do you think it helps better convey your ideas?
I am still trying to find the Modernist poet who said, "All of the words have been rhymed, so there is no need to do it anymore." Don't get me wrong--I am a big fan of form. There is nothing like using traditional forms to convey ideas based in those forms: a sonnet to someone you love, etc. There was even a time when I was writing in sonnet form without realizing it. However, my favorite ideas of rhyme are the subtle kind--like Eric McHenry does--that one feels the rhyme there, but with enjambment.
I see several reasons why I do not use rhyme. First, if the voice is coming out of a time I did not have a voice. There will be strains out of the place where disorder was. If rhymes are about "order", then they do not fit the context of those poems. Second, speaking out of a marginalized position, either struggling with ADHD/PTSD, having two mothers, etc, rhyming does not fit the context. Now that I think about it, even rhyming is a kind of form. Finally, is rhyming a form of Patriarchy?
Also, you should read my prose poems. *smile*
I've also noticed that your works sometimes tend to focus on the ideas of women's rights, social justices, etc. Why do you feel that these are important to talk about, especially so in poetry?
Adrienne Rich has a wonderful essay turned book: Poetry and Commitment. It is an amazing book! Here is a link to the speech she gave:
Basically, if I choose not to write about the things I see that affect me and the world at large, that also is a political position. I do not want to take the position of being quiet about these issues that continue to oppress others--including non-humans--and the Earth.
Also, many of the poets I've read use poetry as a site for change. They continue to inspire me.
Other than those aforementioned topics, what other themes do you often tend to see come into your writing?
The environment, exposing racist constructions, my children, and Topeka.
What is a piece of advice you would give an aspiring poet? (That's kind of a typical question, I know.)
It's nice to read these kinds of responses, but if you are aspiring to be a poet, you are already on your way!
Finally, what trait(s) do you think is/are necessary for a "good" poet to have?
To read and write poetry weekly.
Thank you for the interview!