“Perhaps one girl can be dozens inside the same frame, and not this voice– but hundreds– issue from a single name.”
Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
So many favorites, so many inspirations…… Laura Theobald’s The Best Thing Ever (Boost House) gave me permission to play with text in surprising ways and to mine my surroundings more thoroughly. Sonya Vatomsky’s My Heart, In Aspic (Porkbelly Press), a beautiful and bloody mess, a reclaimed territory, a haunting voice that encourages me to push deeper, harder, nearer.
Zach Savich’s The Man Who Lost His Head (Omnidawn) taught me a new way of using repetitions in narrative poetic forms. I covet his skill. David Shumate’s In Search of Mariachis (Epiphany Editions) demonstrates how prose poetry can be a highly-disciplined, elegant form. A master. And shelley feller’s Tangled Bank & Daily Bugaboo Jubilee, published by the innovative, edge-pushing letter [r] press, plays so gleefully with words and language– a soundscaped reclamation of certain nouns, an inspiring frolick, a skirt hiding sharpened knives. I love it. And Rose Metal Press’ A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness which includes four chapbooks– Laughter, Applause. Laughter, Music, Applause by Kathy Fish, Wanting by Amy L. Clark, Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix by Elizabeth Ellen, and The Sky Is a Well by Claudia Smith– is my absolute favorite flash fiction read right now.
What does such a diverse taste in chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
That I’m a foil to Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms? I’m joking. Seriously, Pessoa remains a pivot and an inspiration. But I want his multiplicities minus his division of self. Perhaps one girl can be dozens inside the same frame, and not this voice– but hundreds– issue from a single name.
Is there a theme for your chapbook? If so, what?
Loosely, my chapbook is about socialization, the things we are trained to feel and the forms our feelings take despite efforts to contain them. The poems reappraise the vessels and vases of everyday life.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest poem is “If Caring Is A Form of Choreography”, originally titled “Windfall”. It was inspired by watching my son interact with new friends– observing the gender-rigid socialization of young boys, and how the weapons of masculinity are handed down.
In American culture, gender socialization begins early, urged on by the desire to establish common ground among peers. To “make friends.” Girls are given make-up and Barbie dreams while boys are given machines and guns. It struck me that so many voices are marginalized by this “natural” welcome into the world of weapons. Though we like to pretend we are a nation of nonconformists, I think watching our children tells a different story. Herd mentalities cover everything from fashion and fitness (think about the latest trending diet/exercise craze) to sports.
The lines for which we stand give you a gun. Then dare you to use it.
Honestly, it’s such a privileged position– this ability to treat guns as toys and recreation. A privilege we assert against difference, whether individual (i.e. wearing a hoodie) or collective (i.e. Colombia, Iraq, Japan, the list is endless). I’m holding out hands and hope against what it becomes.
Is there anything you left out or changed at the last minute in your chapbook? If so, why?
Originally, the dedication aspired to less tragedy. My mother died suddenly in Amsterdam where she went to see my cousin’s art exhibit last summer. It was– and is– impossible to accept. She was a champion downhill skier, a world traveler, a constantly-moving force of life. The embolism that killed her left no clues, no answers. Grief is a horrible companion that does not (or hasn’t) diminished with time. I have found myself begging for a ghost– a presence in which she might haunt me and remain near. For those reeling from the mania and constant anxiety which follows a loved one’s death, I recommend Kathryn Starbuck’s elegiac Griefmania, a poetry collection which serves as a guide and a polestar in these insomniac barters with Charon.
“Your Open Borders, A Fissure” was written while listening to Billy Bragg’s cover of Woodie Guthrie’s “All You Fascists” on repeat. I intended to inscribe the poem “for all you fascists” and then worried that it might be too offensive for those who lacked a reference point. When I was writing these poems, Donald Trump had not announced his candidacy for the Oval Office. Given what I know now, “for all you fascists” seems appropriate.
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?
In retrospect, I wish I’d done a better job of applying discourse ethics to the language in this chapbook– but there are so many things we would change looking back, and all these things are like fairy tales we repudiate without acknowledging the extent to which those fairy tales formed us. The stories and words which got us here– this place, this time, this moment, these words– are as remarkable in their own right as the self-righteousness we serve up against them. It’s sort of like ex-es whom we may use for a poem later without honoring how poetry itself would not exist without those dark spaces we left behind.
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Anchor & Plume is a small press that maintains a very personal, warm relationship with its authors. Amanda Mays, the publisher, mentored me through many a moment– and helped me understand the various practices of chapbook-making.
When I told Amanda I had an artist in mind for cover and design, she encouraged me to run with my impulse. If it didn’t pan out, the press had a few illustrators waiting in the wings. The first person I thought about was Christina Collins, writer, co-editor of Lockjaw, and artist extraordinaire. Her illustrations for an issue of Lockjaw caught my eye and kept it. I threw myself at her digital feet and begged her to invent a cover. And so she did. And I loved it at first sight. There’s no way to describe the gratitude you feel towards certain individuals. Christina is a flint that makes fire wherever she strikes. It’s an honor to have her hand in this.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a two poetry chapbooks– asifonly and vindicatio— and a fiction collection anchored around a story titled “Hubcap, Frog, and Luna Moth” (published in the current edition of Parcel). There is also a novel on the back burner that I am avoiding because final draft edits are harrowing. I’m not in the right frame of mind for a hearty dismemberment. But maybe this summer….
What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?
Write first and worry about publishing later. For me, at least, publication and submission is a time-consuming and difficult process with its own procedures and distractions. There are so many temptations to disembowel your own work– and so many fascinating things your peers will be doing– that it’s hard to give the words sustained focus. Fall in love with writing– the act and the outcome– so completely that you can bear the logistical and mind-numbing challenges of submission.
What gets you to the page?
William H. Gass. Archives. Human cruelty. The blood on my hands. The blood people pretend not to notice.
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
How have you been socialized to define the Other/s? Why? By whom? How does your writing explore this subliminal cultural encoding?
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the love-ghost of Tom Waits and Hannah Arendt. She won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award and currently lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and four small mammals.
first love: forte til finale
These things grew in Tuscaloosa.
You played Scriabin into
the realm of aching tendons;
Bach through dizzy high school
corridors and concert halls
where I knew my place in
the audience, first clap.
The mystery of how you
movements. Eight chords
with no breath between
forte forte the hardest
parts saved for only me
to see. Ours— later.
Furtive, unspeakable later.
Appease a ghost by giving
what it asks. An ear. An eye.
A place. The unlineated face.
Give him sidewalk space, a
melody outside lines. These
bars. Their spines. Dynamite.