“I was reading at night, right before bed, and wrote Meteorites on my phone in what felt like a deeply interior space.”
Meteorites (DoubleCross Press, 2018)
What’s your chapbook about?
I wrote these poems the summer after graduating from my MFA program, after having written my first book, Luxury, Blue Lace about, in part, the recursive nature of gender formation. So by extension the book is really interested in negotiating the extremely idiosyncratic, private self with various “publics” (relationships with particular individuals and broader norms). And although I’m in love with that book, it is in some ways very different from the first book I’d imagined I’d write. That summer, then, I reread my favorite prose poems. I assumed I would be creatively exhausted, but this casual reading was generative. I was reading at night, right before bed, and wrote Meteorites on my phone in what felt like a deeply interior space—I think of the prose poem this way, as an opportunity to formally borrow from inchoate interiority, maybe, and to ask a reader to come to the poem. In a poem by Lynn Emanuel, she writes: “In poetry you just give the instructions to the reader and say, ‘reader, you go on from here.'” This approach constellated together a lot of the anxieties and questions I had that ran parallel to LBL but didn’t make it in, too. (Because of this, for a while I wasn’t sure if these were poems or literally just a record of a way of thinking, a cleansing of LBL.)
So the chap is about various kinds of dread, the field from which “spontaneous violence” ignites (although really what’s spontaneous is the trigger, the flash-point for what’s already been building): the different currencies of gender markers, a depressive episode, ecological disaster or impending disaster. The hardest thing was editing the poems—because they came out of such a specific recording process, I had real trouble even re-ordering the sections. I was worried that if I entered the language, my editing impulse would eliminate some of the more “mundane” events, which I wanted to keep in.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
Eventually, when I decided to send to DoubleCross, I had probably twice as many meteorites as would fit in a chapbook. I sorted them into two sections and sent the one that had more of a set-up about gender. (The other section …I’m still unsure about if it needs the first section as a driving force.) The title came out of one of the books I was reading—Elizabeth Willis’ Meteoric Flowers—which is also a set of prose poems. But hers are funnier, and perhaps more optimistic, than mine. Thinking about what was “meteoric” led me to research the difference between a meteoroid, a meteor, and a meteorite: the former is the rock in space, the meteor the streak of light we can see in the atmosphere, and the meteorite the rock that hits the earth. That kind of resilience, to survive the fire of the atmosphere—as well as the trauma of that—made sense with the associative process of the poems, I thought. It’s also a bit ominous—if the meteorite does make it through to the planet’s surface, then it potentially changes the entire landscape.
Could you share with us a poem from your chapbook? Perhaps one that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?
If I focus on the window, the trees move me south. Birch, acacia, willow, oak, these are not their names. One question is about how much can be willed into the world, whether this is a form of activism or a deadly distraction. Similarly, an electronic bird gathers data about rainforest animals far from my own, as the study population slowly diminishes. That is, I recently imagined living for 900 years. So much cruelty. When even ten years ago I could barely imagine crossing twenty. Autocorrect: bare image. I create in my mind each next square, but it is so much effort. The glass darkens with it. Dog using his tail as a brush erasing the path. That’s wonderland, that’s right now. I wished to become a starfish collecting human hair softly in the ocean, beautiful in my slow accumulation of toxins. Take them in, take them in, they lull me irregularly to sleep.
Why did you choose this poem?
This is the first poem in the chapbook—your question invited me to think about why I felt it was a good entry point, even though the questions around gender which are central to this work are a little more buried here. But I think this poem sets up some of the organizing questions at work in the chap: about the effects of will and attention; about a depressive fugue state; about the relationship between humans, knowledge, and environmental ruin. Also, the opening sentence does a lot of the associative/collapsing work a bit more generously, perhaps, than some of the other juxtapositions in the sequence. (That is, the window’s surface holding the view of what lies beyond it, extending little by little in stranger associations.)
What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
MC, Jeff, and Anna—team XX—are incredible. I was already a fan of their previous designs, so I was really happy to offer input but mostly ride with what they came up with. MC & I had lunch, and she asked me two questions—1) if it felt important to me that the book be bound (to which I said no) and 2) whether I was beholden to the order I’d offered (to which I said the order feels worthy but not necessary). Then she came back with what was very close to the final design for the cards, including the little circle which moves across the bottom of the pages instead of page numbers. They finalized the cover sticker, the packaging, and decided to print the whole thing in letterpress, which was above and beyond anything I’d imagined—I’m so grateful to them, because it’s so beautiful!
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced you?
Simone White’s Unrest, Portia Elan’s Ghazals for the Body. Dawn Lundy Martin & Brian Teare’s chapbooks taught me how to think about the size of the question a chapbook can ask, versus a book. Stephanie Cawley’s debut chap, A Wilderness, coming next year from Gazing Grain Press! I love that chapbooks usually have a small circulation, so one’s private orbit of admiration might look very different from another’s.
What might these chapbooks suggest about your writing?
That I read work which is, if possible, more opaque than even my own? (Especially when driven by an emotional/ethical drive!) That I really love the prose poem.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
Maybe “Why the prose poem?” I have a lot to say about that form, but the short version is that I find it paradoxically intimate and aloof—you have to really commit to it to understand the rhythms and patterns of the language, because it’s easy to skim, to zip through. It asks you to put your poetry hat on, and take the artifice of the page seriously, but then it asks you to ignore particular aspects (like the inevitable line break at the margin).
If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
Chronology is really hard for me! So I have Meteorites, as well as a digital collection of performance pieces coming out early next year called The Anima, and then my debut full-length book coming out in March. But the chapbook—the first published thing—was written and accepted after the other pieces had been written and circulating for a minute. The works collected in The Anima emerged sideways from Luxury, Blue Lace—at one point it was all one book. Now only one performance piece remains in LBL (as a hybrid “suite for voices”/prose poem sequence).
If that sounds confusing, it was for me too. But I think of them as a kind of trio (if not a chronological trilogy). And since the meteorites I’ve written very little new work—when I’m editing and setting up readings, etc., this feels like engagement with my own work, too, which draws from the same energy tank as writing (i.e. how does my work fit with the venue? what am I learning about my work while imagining it in this particular interaction?).
How do you contend with saturation? The day’s news, the flagged articles, the flagged books, the poetry tweets, the data the data the data. What’s your strategy to navigate your way home?
I…don’t have a good method, I don’t think. In part because I don’t really try to tune it out—I’m more worried being surprised by a piece of news at an inopportune time and panicking in public. But I’m also generally skeptical of a lot of social/media, and don’t follow a lot of celebrities, social media personalities, or people I haven’t met—I like to be able to anchor the posts and digital presences I encounter in an individual relationship (even if it’s just a reading I went to and casual conversation). My twin brother is a good processor of political events, so I talk to him. And I teach new teachers, I teach writing, I teach gender studies—my various kinds of students are grounding. They’re working hard to make it through, and that’s encouraging. I love my friends. The phone call is increasingly important to me.
S. Brook Corfman is the author of Luxury, Blue Lace, selected by Richard Siken for the Autumn House Rising Writer Prize; Meteorites, a letterpress chapbook from DoubleCross Pressl and The Anima, a digital collection of closet dramas forthcoming from Gauss PDF.