“[there are] things that I wrote into poems so that I could remember them in a beautiful way rather than the wreck I was most likely feeling….”
efs & vees (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Something Really Wonderful by Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney (dancing girl press, 2007) is the chapbook that introduced me to chapbooks and their capacity for greatness. I remember seeing them read in NYC and being so inspired. Another chapbook I remember being affected by is from Spork Press, Matthew Dickman’s Wish You Were Here (2013), which I purchased because I love Spork’s aesthetic—I try to buy at least one chapbook from them every year at AWP. Anyway, Dickman’s chap was one that I wanted to dog-ear every single page of, nearly. More recently, I enjoyed a chapbook by J. Bruce Fuller, Flood (Swan Scythe Press, 2013)—it’s set in Louisiana, my new home as of less than a year ago, and where Fuller is from. It explores two different time periods of floods—one of them a 1927 Mississippi River flood & then also 2005’s Katrina. It’s really well thought out and well put together. Fuller’s poetry is personal but invites you in, and after seeing him read one night in Lafayette shortly after I moved to the area, I knew I wanted to read and own the full chap. On my roster of chapbooks to read next are Learning to Love Louisiana by Elizabeth Burk (Yellow Flag Press, 2014), Elegy/Elk River (Floating Bridge Press, 2015) by Michael Schmeltzer, and Curse Words: a manual of 19 steps for aspiring transmographs by Candice Wuehle (dancing girl press, 2014). I also have Two American Scenes by Lydia Davis and Eliot Weinberger (2013), a New Directions Poetry Pamphlet, in that pile as well.
What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
Looking back at what I’ve said, I’m attracted to aesthetic value—Schmeltzer’s chapbook is perfect bound with a beautiful cover, as is Fuller’s, and I’m drawn to the matte covers of the David/ Weinberg pamphlet and Gabbert/ Rooney chap. Also, two of the chaps I mentioned are co-written. I’d love to find someone to challenge and complement my own writing— I’m really into collaboration, and not just between writers. Recently, the English Graduate Student Association (EGSA) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) put together a chapbook, Oculus Vox, of graduate student and faculty writing inspired by the current exhibit at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, our campus’s phenomenal art museum, and I remember being really excited about having the opportunity to be a part of it. It’s something that the EGSA plans to do again this semester, and I’m especially excited about the exhibits this time because my husband was hired to help install the art at the Hilliard. What I’m trying to say is, I am into art and collaboration, combining the work/ ideas/ aesthetics/ creativity of two people, and not necessarily just poet to poet, but poet to any sort of artist. The literary arts journal I run, Gigantic Sequins, put together two gallery shows where we teamed up a writer and an artist and had them put together a project based on the exhibit theme—Impossible Books and Impossible Instructions were the two exhibitions—and being a part of that was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. The Impossible Instructions exhibit resulted in a chapbook of the writers’ work, but I really wish we’d been able to include visuals of the art as well. I hope to do something like that again.
Do your graduate studies and your distance from home affect your writing? If so, how?
Definitely—I find myself wanting to write about this new space I’m a part of, but at the same time hesitant to do so because it’s not “mine” yet. I haven’t been writing any “more” or “less” than I might usually be writing—even though being back in school is definitely time-consuming—but I am trying to start to think about my work more as a body of work than only individual poems. This semester, I’m taking a drama writing workshop, and that, I’m sure, will be a huge influence on the way I approach my own writing, especially considering drama is all about collaboration, and I just raved about collaboration.
What’s your chapbook about?
I did an interview over at Mojo about my book, and when I was talking to the woman who conducted the interview, she made me realize what the chapbook was about—I’m sure I’m not the only poet who does this, but my poetry often feels like my dreams. I have them, and then a few months later I am like—oh that’s what that was about! My poetry often makes sense to me in the way that a poem can form its own logic, but its deeper meaning, what I am really trying to tell myself through the language of poetry, that’s harder for me to see at first. Anyway, efs & vees is about romance and deciding whether or not the paths in life that are typically traveled, like marriage, are paths I want to take, being an artist and all. It starts somewhere confused about relationships, goes through the ups and downs of deciding whether or not the person you’re dating is someone you love or just love being around or fucking, and ends with a poem called “Mortgage that shit,” which is the perfect title for a poem about deciding, okay let’s do this, if you ask me. If you would have asked me this question before I did that interview, though, I would have stammered and stuttered.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
My most recent chapbook, aside from efs & vees, is every song by Patsy Cline (dancing girl press, 2014). I self-published one when I was living in NYC called unstill. Finally, Feral Press published one poem from me as a chapbook with illustrations by Linda Vi Vona, which somehow—despite her never having met me— resemble me, and that one is called this before.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I’d played with three sections in a longer manuscript for a long time and pulled this section out as something to send out as a chapbook. Therefore, the arrangement was decided on by long-term trial and error and lots of reading of the same poems in different orders over and over again. I’d always had the section titled “efs & vees” for some reason, (and maybe now I think that it makes a better section title than a title for an entire chapbook, but I’m not sure what else I would have wanted to call the chap?) The title was inspired by me thinking about the spelling out of letters and how when you pluralize words that have efs in them they’re often replaced by vees—the example that comes to mind is wife and wives. Considering this chapbook ultimately ends with a couple settling down, I suppose that example brings it home.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
For the cover, Margaret Bashaar from Hyacinth Girl Press was super generous with how much input I had. I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like, but failed to find an artist to put it together for me. Margaret gave me plenty of time, but I was applying for graduate school, tutoring, and adjuncting at the time and didn’t make it happen. When I wrote her to admit defeat, she offered to ask the other half of Hyacinth Girl, Sarah Reck, if she’d like to put it together. I agreed and it turned out pretty much exactly how I would have wanted it to. Thanks, Sarah and Margaret!
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
Well, I always like reading about writer’s experiences with the editors they’ve worked with, so I always like to be asked about my experience working with my publisher. Working with Margaret and Hyacinth Girl has been nothing short of awesome. She’s both cool and professional at the same time, puts out a great product, and is enthusiastic about promotion of the work she publishes—and doing that promotion in an interesting way. efs and vees was part of a reveal called Chapbook Thunderdome, where HGP created a March Madness like bracket, pitting finalists up against one another to showcase their forthcoming catalog. It was kind of awesome. Anyone who thinks their work might be a good fit for HGP should seriously consider putting together something chapbook-length and sending it over during its open reading period.
What are you working on now?
Last semester, I had a poetry workshop and I wrote a few prose poems after reading The Birth-mark by Susan Howe—I was really inspired about how she combined serious research with poetic language and published it as lit crit. My poems don’t have nearly as much research in them as hers, but I was definitely inspired by her and have read some of her poetry over winter break. I hope to write some more poems that would fit with the two I wrote for workshop.
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like?
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
I don’t think that I can qualify “most meaningful” no matter how hard I think on it; so many of these are inspired by things that I wrote into poems so that I could remember them in a beautiful way rather than the wreck I was most likely feeling when whatever had happened to inspire it had happened in my brain. But the poem “Four for a Field” is written for the hayfield where the Philadelphia Folk Festival takes place. I’ve been a volunteer for the festival for 20 consecutive years of my life. It’s a really special and important place to me, and I wound up meeting my husband there. I have always had trouble capturing the essence of the festival in words, which has always bugged me since I’m a writer. This poem at least comes the closest to capturing something about it, especially the last lines, which are of great loss and great beauty, and approach how it feels when the weekend is over and the festival is done for another year: “Cross the lines and mow the scorched lawn wide / across the valley farm, turning over the mud until it’s dry.”
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
Definitely “No One’s Revenge Yet,” the penultimate poem. It’s about pirates, and pretty much everything else in the book is about romance: failed, potential, elicit, successful, the mundane within, etc. But “No One’s Revenge Yet” is a poem I wrote for For Every Year, inspired by the year 1716, as every poem on that site is inspired by a year from 1400 to present. It’s one of my favorite poems to read out loud, and I am not sure why it is in this particular collection or why it works, but somehow—it does.
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 last poem I wrote is an untitled poem that starts “your hair between us— / a nightshade. morning is hollow, my / head is light.” It’s about trying to figure something out that’s in actuality really simple, but the more you try to figure it out, the more complex it seems. I think every romance I’ve ever had felt that way to me, and I think its inclusion in the chapbook may help that be apparent.
What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?
I love looking back at poetry I’ve written and realizing that I’ve been working with a certain theme or images that, at the time of my writing, didn’t necessarily occur to me. There’s one poem in efs & vees that somehow (unintentionally!) manages to mention a variety of images that occur throughout the chap—and actually in a lot of the poetry I was writing at the time—all in one poem: the moon, whales, bathrooms, rain, cicadas, the Beach Boys—Patsy Cline even gets a shout in the first line, which harkens back to my most recent chap before this one. Putting together a chapbook, I suppose, neither alleviates nor amplifies these inclinations, but makes me more aware of them.
Kimberly Ann Southwick is the founder and editor-in-chief of the literary arts journal Gigantic Sequins. Her poetry has been published in a variety of online and print journals including The Literary Review, Everyday Genius, Barrelhouse, The Rumpus, and others. Her most recent chapbook is efs and vees (Hyacinth Girl Press, October 2015). She recently moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and is a first-year doctoral student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Author photo by Zach Yontz.
Mortgage that shit
April thunder four days dead.
Listen to droplets on the windows:
fat clear stickers, pouty blobs,
patient hermits. The lightning
reminds us— electric chandelier, neon
candelabra. We’re gonna be normal folks after all.
We’re getting married.
Iron fence and skinny babies, toddler
named something from a song,
a blue popsicle stain in place of lips.
They’ll make fun of his and his sister’s
names. They’ll vote our dog out of heaven.
They’ll sell the house we built
out from under us, power it
via ceiling fan turbine.
rain, eelish in your descent,
drop us off at home, pond-centered,
puddles on fire, display window circus-ready.
We’ll jump, land heels first,
rally our friends, throw on a Beach Boys
record and dance dance dance
until it’s time
___________to flip the damned thing