“Go read writers who make your soul ache, write bad poetry, read more great writers, and write more bad poetry.”
Exuviae (Horse Less Press, 2016)
What’s your chapbook about?
On the surface, it’s prose-sonnets centered around ponies from the 20th and 21st centuries. Beneath that, I think it touches on themes of female objectification, anti-intellectualism, corporate greed, the rise of meta-capitalism, the soullessness of our global internet culture, the hyper-sexualization of seemingly everything, the erosion of that indefinable quality which makes us human; and the profound sense of loss we feel as these things dominate more and more of our daily reality.
If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
My second chapbook, Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters, was picked up by Dancing Girl Press. Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters is definitely a first cousin of Exuviae—it contains mostly dramatic monologues from the perspective of animals that inhabit the dirtier back alleys of human consciousness. An undercurrent of savagery beneath a veneer of civility runs throughout the collection; but it’s also full of humor—even if it’s from the gallows. Both were organized after I cleaved my MFA thesis into two smaller collections.
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?
It was magic—how Exuviae happened. I’d come to Bennington to finish a longer manuscript I’d been working on for maybe six years with no real progress. Things were grim at the end of my first term, and I remember my mentor, Mark Wunderlich, basically clucking his tongue at me in almost every email at that point. One day I was wasting time in a junk shop, going through antique photographs, when I came across an acid eroded picture of two twin boys on a wooden toy horse. Something about the photo spoke to me, and I was able to find about 3 more similar to it—all with children and ponies from the 1950’s. Over the course of the next few weeks I wrote 4 little sonnets, starting with a version of the first poem of the collection, “Hero’s Parade.” I sent my efforts to Mark as part of my final portfolio for the semester, and he immediately suggested that these poems would be a good change of pace for me. That was at the very beginning of 2013.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
The title took a very long time, and I have my friend Chanelle Boucher to thank for it. We were up late one night loosely workshopping the final poem in the manuscript, but mostly discussing the nature of evil; when she mentioned a word she’d learned recently: “Exuviae”, which is the shed exoskeleton of an insect. The word “Exuviae” in Latin means “that which is stripped off the body.” Seeing as the book deals so closely with themes of loss, I knew right away it was the perfect title for the collection.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
I think writers aren’t asked often enough about whether they had fun writing a particular book. I have friends whose books have eaten away years of their lives—my first full-length collection, Gutter, was like this. But there are books that are a day at Disneyland to write. So I’ll ask myself: “Was this book fun to create?” and my answer is Yes! I had the time of my life writing this collection. The strict form and subject actually allowed for so much experimentation outside of those parameters. I was sad when I realized I’d finished it and I would no longer be consistently working on pony-related sonnets.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Spend your time in school learning all the forms, learn to recognize meter without having to consciously listen for it, take the wisdom of your teachers to heart, ask questions about technique, experiment with syntax, debate furiously and often with your fellow students. When you graduate, go read writers who make your soul ache, write bad poetry, read more great writers, and write more bad poetry. Eventually you’ll find some of those bad poems aren’t so bad. You may even find your own voice and your own style emerging from the rubble of your torn-down “creative writing student” self.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?
I feel the collection does follow a very clear arc, but it’s more chronological than anything. The reader can see the proliferation of technology and the mutations of the pony’s role in American culture over the course of the book.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
The final poem, “Broodmare’s Plea” is the odd duck in this collection. For a while I wasn’t even sure if it could remain in the manuscript. I’d basically finished the chapbook, and was preparing it for publication when I wrote this poem. It’s not, nor has it ever been a sonnet. It’s not even in any particular meter for the most part. I’d recently discovered I was pregnant with my son, and we were still in the tenuous phase of gestation when losing a baby is most likely. This was my letter to him, inviting him to the world, asking him to please stay. I realized though, that while this tiny cluster of cells held all of my hope and love, it meant nothing to anyone else. In this way, the poem is necessary as both a beginning and an end to the collection. My hope is that it returns the soul that has been so systematically stripped from these poems.
In her past, Lauren Brazeal has been a homeless gutter-punk, a resident of Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, a maid, a surfer chick, and a custom aquarium designer. Her work has appeared widely online and in print in such journals as Smartish Pace, Barrelhouse, DIAGRAM, Folio, Verse Daily and elsewhere. She has published two chapbooks, Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), and Exuviae (Horse Less Press, 2016) and her first full-length collection, Gutter, is forthcoming from Yes Books.