Rachael Katz

KatzAny Berry You Like (iO Books, 2014)

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

There is a little beautifully illustrated book by Matthew Salesses called Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) that I read a lot. It’s “fiction” but really it’s its own thing, bittersweet headspin.

May-Lan Tan also wrote a little fiction chapbook called Girly (FutureTense) that is so precise and pucker-sour in that good way, and she handed it to me like it was nothing in a bar after I went to hear her read, and man, she is such a good reader too.

Leonard Schwartz’s The Library of Seven Readings is a conceptual marvel. I go there when I’m tripping over my own cord. Ugly Duckling’s chapbook catalogue is one of those rare diverse collections in which each chapbook is always as riotous and remarkable as the next.

I will read and reread Lisa Robertson’s heady panoramic Cinema of the Present over and over again because I cannot stop, and because every time there is a new glint at the bottom of something I thought I’d already gotten to the bottom of.

No, Dear/Small Anchor put out Emily Skillings’s Linneaus: The 26 Sexual Practices of Plants and David Feinstein’s Woods Porn within what seemed like minutes of each other, and both impart a kinky kind of empathy that I can really get into.

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

I like books that make their own genres. I like books with trapdoors. I like a formal treasure hunt. I like books that think they’re sculptures or sculpture parks or the maps of sculpture parks or the page of links to the various maps of sculpture parks. The book itself doesn’t have to do something flashy, it’s just that a good piece of art can do all kinds of things, and I’m into the horizontal moves.

What’s your chapbook about?

What is any chapbook about? Sex, probably. And growing up. And growing up without having a lot of sex. Then probably growing up while having unpleasant sex. Then, finally, being grown up and having good sex. That’s not entirely true. I just said that to sound really wise. The chapbook is mostly about trying to resist compartmentalizing and commodifying my experiences and the people I meet into oblivion. I hope it’s demonstrative of that and not the opposite. Sometimes you read a book that flips that script and it’s icky, but I guess that can be fun too. I’m still interested in sincerity and fragmentation.

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?

I think Dakota Fanning came first. I remember I was writing a lot of grudge poems/ love letters to hot girls I went to middle school with. This is years after the fact. I wrote this poem during my second year of grad school. It was the first poem I had written since my actual teenage grudge poems/ love letters, and it felt right to drop right in where I’d left off.

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

Every prompt I love is based on placing constraints on the writing. Anything, really. Formulaic or formalist or fantastical, I crave constraints—I need them to get anything done. Dottie Lasky actually wrote a beautiful polemic against this kind of project-based thing that is much more graceful than anything here, but I want to come out in defense of the project. For me, the project is the beating heart of the work. Even more than I want to make the poem, I want to make the rules of the poem. I think it’s because this restraint doesn’t come to me naturally. It even scares me a little. I make a project to safely explore the limitless space that’s flinging me apart all the time.

In revision, I like working with “mundanities” like they’re a poetic unit of measure. Looking back at a poem that’s creating too much drama, I can be like, calm down poem. Take these three “mundanity” capsules and just coast. Hard to go a whole day without making a pharmaceutical analogy, isn’t it? My poems are self-medicating.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?

The title was an item on a grocery list given to me by my girlfriend, a benevolent grocery list. She writes the grocery lists that write the poems.

The arranging was weird for me because these poems were born so far apart from each other. In time and space, but especially in levels of maturity. Not maturity of craft or anything: I mean within the world of the poem—the maturity of the speaker. There are a few of the middle school grudge/ love letter poems in there shuffled in with some where the speaker is doing this macro reflection afterschool special thing. These impulses come from very different places, and so I wanted to alternate between them. I like making a chapbook that’s balanced in this way. I want to explore whether or not it’s possible to evolve and devolve simultaneously so the gross balance is always zero? Gross. Gross.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The design was all Wendy Xu, who I would have trusted with just about anything, aesthetic or otherwise. If instead of “send iO a chapbook,” she had said “I am going to be picking out your clothes every day from now on,” I would have been like, thank god—when can we start?

What are you working on now?

I wrote a one-act play that opened in Buffalo last November, and I’m working on a three-act play right now. I’m self-publishing a limited-run chapbook this spring. Right now I’m making things out of absolute garbage, refuse, ignored real and imaginary objects. Most of what I’m doing goes namelessly on. The next drumset I make will be a flowerbed.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Get a dayjob doing something that feels like it’s rotting whatever part of you may have at one time been a soul, and then one day by chance find a scrambled email from the CEO of a war criminal corporation to your boss that can become a poem because it has to become a poem because it is such a phenomenal representation of the opposite of poetry, and then continue to make things that undermine carelessness and ambivalence in the world, even if it’s just whatever, a birthday card for a baby.

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

What might appear on a playlist accompanying your chapbook?

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

I think the chapbook creates a world that anyone could live in uncomfortably, as I do.

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

The first and last poems in the chapbook both feel a bit like outsiders to me. The first because it’s doing something so outlandish and loud that not many of the other poems are bold enough to try. The last poem just freaks me out because it’s reckless and too close to me. I never read it in front of people. I never read it.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I read a lot of instruction manuals, pamphlets, board game instructions, receipts, and these other disposable things when I’m writing. I like this kind of writing. This dissonance: so obligatory and so ignored. I also like reading things that aren’t typically read as texts: sheet music, diagrams, maps. Especially maps. Have I mentioned maps?


Rachael Katz works as an artist-in-residence at the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. She is a teaching artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. Her work has appeared in jubilat and 90s Meg Ryan.


Gravel Toss

The new fever is the old one
doorbell; anterooms, quick
hallways, those gentlemen.
How do I get heaven breakfasts
and not to wear that red dress but
to turn the house lights on, to star
the star. I will become famous
only because I float and I fling it
in there. I will play the matador
with the paper towel roll, be the
diving bell drain stopper. If I
am on the bottom, I swim dark
centimeters of improvised space.
Pinking with blues to cut, penniless
as a pea trellis powerline I toothache
down the duvet. I’ve won a watermelon
eating contest called what we are about
takes a long time. I sit in the tub and shoot
martians looks like water chestnuts.

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