“The only thing worse than cancer is the desire to write.”
Sickly (above/ground press, 2015)
What’s your chapbook about?
Sickly concerns the emotionally-sterile language we use to talk about sickness and health.
If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
BRCA: Birth of a Patient was published by above/ground press earlier in 2015. The chapbook is a counterpoint to Sickly, taking a different approach to the same material. BRCA is composed solely of language taken from medical records. The book is a work of confessional poetry written by an industry. In an almost ultra-literal sense, this book was written by a body—a body lived, diagnosed, and treated by the medical establishment. The body in BRCA is a body entirely discoursed. In Sickly, we see this same body begin to assert agency within that discourse, but never emerge as completely outside of it.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I don’t have a standard writing practice or process. When I have an idea, I follow it through. If it doesn’t work, I try something new. Doing public readings of works in progress or having my work read by students is a great asset to my revision process, as it allows me to see and feel how the writing is resonating. I often do my best revision work after sharing my work with others.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
This chapbook emerged from a full-length manuscript with a working title of “Sik.” When I first began work, I was focusing on medical errors and glitches in medical records that were often humorous. The idea for this chapbook originated when, reading through hundreds of pages of medical records, I came across the phrase “umor present”—of course a mistyping of “tumor present.” I was struck by the extreme gravitas (and medical importance) of this phrase with its accidental homonym: “humor present.” A word that looms so large in the cultural imaginary was reduced, through accident, to a marker of perspective—of the small cells and shifts and starts and letters that make up the biological systems that we assign so much emotional and cultural meaning.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
I would like to be asked more frequently about how both chapbooks—BRCA: Birth of a Patient and Sickly—disrupt existing non-medical discourses surrounding breast cancer. Although individually quite different, the cultures of “think positive,” “pink warrior,” or even “fuck cancer” all reduce the disease to a slogan of self-affirmation. The cancer blog has become a genre unto its own right. But why write a cancer blog that has already been written? If writing is cathartic, what kind of catharsis do nurses and doctors experience by taking meticulous notes on everything they hear throughout any given day? What might be gained from reclaiming the book that has already been written about one’s highly individualized case, already reduced to a series of relations to standardized bodies, standardized tests, and standardized drugs?
What are you working on now?
A book manuscript that builds upon the work in Sickly, an edited critical volume on ’pataphysics, and several new creative projects.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
The only thing worse than cancer is the desire to write.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?
Have gratitude for those willing to have honest and thoughtful conversations about your work. You never know where or when opportunities will arise, so talk with anyone who is interested in your work.
What music do you listen to as you work and write?
I often listen to acoustic indie rock.
If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?
I suppose my current projects do focus on one year: 2009. But I’m interested in how one year (one day, one diagnosis, one misread scan, one conversation) can structure and stretch over a lifetime.
Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I would choose to be a multimedia artist.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?
No. This chapbook emerged from a manuscript that I have been working on for several years.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
“Kisses.” I’m interested in exploring the language of metaphor and euphemism in the context of the clinical. “Kisses” offers the reader a counterpoint for the other material in the chapbook.
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?
“Consent.” The chapbook did not feel complete without “Consent.” I think the sustained and increasingly frequent occurrence of the refrain “consent” formally mimics the feeling of relentlessness that accompanies many of the poems in Sickly and BRCA. This poem queries the moment at which cancer becomes monotonous, and the ethics of feeling ambivalent toward another’s diagnosis.
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?
“Body of work,” “corpus,” “body of a text:” these phrases are commonplace, but I constantly find myself returning to the theme of more literal relationships between the body and text—not only how language structures our bodies, but also how our bodies structure language.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
Scholarly writing in literary theory, contemporary art, medicine, architecture, and science.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?
Craig Dworkin’s. Vanessa Place’s. Michelle Taransky’s. Jason Zuzga’s.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
I would love my chapbook to reach wide and diverse audiences.
What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
Big ideas and encouraging friends.
Katie L. Price‘s writing—critical, creative, and other—has appeared in such venues as Fence, the Journal of Medical Humanities, Canadian Literature, and Jacket2, and with such presses as No Press, above/ground press, and Manchester UP. She currently works at Swarthmore College, serves as Interviews Editor for Jacket2, and co-directs the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium. Follow her on Twitter @ktlprice