“turn the inevitable rejection that writers face into a tool for improving your writing….”
Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015)
What’s your chapbook about?
There’s that Hemingway quote about breaking—that “the world breaks all of us, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.” But we don’t as often quote the next line which is “those that will not break it kills,” and I believe that pretty hard. And then I wrote a bunch of poems, and in writing them realized that everything I wrote was about that. So I started the chap with a poem called “Manifesto of What Breaks” which says, among other things, “To get a hundred million parts, / you must ransom one whole,” and that’s what the chapbook is about. And I hope it explores the idea that breaking—whether cars or chores or ideas or gym doors or forests or aquariums—isn’t always the same as broken.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
The first, Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever, came out in November of 2015 with Dancing Girl Press. The second came out in 2016 from Shechem Press—A Story of America Goes Walking—a collaborative chapbook with visual artist Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton. We served as Peace Corps volunteers near each other in Guizhou, China, and we wanted to write something that was informed by the way that living in southern China informed the way we understand America and being Americans. So we read Thoreau’s “Walking” essay, and then we used poems and pictures to get into a rollicking argument with it. At least that’s the order it happened in for me—but sometimes I go backwards, so I won’t speak for Beka.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever?
The title came when I realized that I needed “Manifesto of What Breaks” to serve as an umbrella poem to hold the themes together
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The tireless and brilliant Kristy Bowen of Dancing Girl Press sent me an image that she’d scrapped from a different project that she thought went well with the poems in the chap, and I loved it. I made a few small suggestions (probably mostly about fonts because I can’t ever seem to shut up about fonts), and she tweaked some things, and here we are. Did I mention that I love it? It reminds me of my grandmother, who was fashionable and often looked at deer.
What are you working on now?
Two main projects—one is an expansion of that Shechem Press chapbook into a full-length collection of poetry. The other is a secret because I’m embarrassingly superstitious about it, so to distract you from that, I’ll say that I’m also planning to eventually write a series of poems in which a middle-school version of me is Batman.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Read, read, read, read, read. Think about the book or story or poem that you’ve loved most and try to write something that makes you feel that good. Then revise it and share it with people that you trust and revise it again. Keep doing all that until someone agrees to publish it or until you publish it yourself or until you decide to bury it in the back yard. Then do it again, but this time do a better job. Repeat until dead.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?
Read, read, read, read, read. Then write, write, write, write, write. Become as comfortable as you can with the idea that rejection of your work isn’t a rejection of your worth or talent so that you can turn the inevitable rejection that writers face into a tool for improving your writing, or at least for improving your resolve to keep writing. Make friends with writers, support their work with abandon, and then celebrate your rejections and successes together.
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
Which television show, movie, or comic book feels most like a piece of literature to you and why?
What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?
The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit. I’m actually reading it right now—very, very slowly. The essay that runs along the bottom of the book about moths drinking the tears of sleeping birds makes me want to be a moth and a bird but also to keep being me forever so I can keep dying blissfully from this book.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
Woodworking. For the sawing and carving and sanding and the smell and the magic of grain rising to stain and also for the power tools.
How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?
Dropped: Anxiety. Picked up: Remembering to let joy ride on its own melting, to paraphrase Frost.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
All. Plus podcasts and TV and movies and walks in mundane places and international flights, plus sometimes books about writing poetry.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
I hope that somewhere, somehow, Nikola Tesla is reading my chapbook.
Saara Myrene Raappana is the author of the chapbooks A Story of America Goes Walking (a collaboration with artist Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton, Shechem Press, 2016) and Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in such publications as Blackbird, Linebreak, [PANK], The Gettysburg Review, and Vinyl Poetry and Prose. She was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern China, is a founding editor of Cellpoems, and works for Motionpoems.
Advice for Icarus
Air walking depends on harmonic weight, so
start at the platform: open-wing position,
feet pivoted inward like skis afraid to run
the mountain. Step with tire-swing momentum.
If there’s wind, drop your umbrella.
Planning somersaults above the Ganaraska?
First, rehearse them on dry land. If you see
an arrow angling, straighten the apple
on your head. If you wear a blindfold,
make it red. If leg irons gnaw your hamstrings,
retrieve the key from your cheek’s meaty hollow.
To rest, braid one ankle bone-tight to the wire;
ease back in standing posture; lie still. Lie loud:
holler out to the crowd that the man hitched
to your neck is sparrow-light, no sweat. Then,
believe it. Clouds appear to waft, but they’re
always, always gently plummeting. When
the audience roars, cast raw salmon down
its mob-throat. When the Niagara Gorge calls,
chant this until its voice drowns: All rivers
were clouds once. All clouds ache to be rivers.