“I think this is one of those poems that many poets have where there’s a turning point in their writing. A shift towards something bigger and more mature.”
the body as passage (Open Palm Print, 2019)
Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?
I grew up on a small farm in the rural landscape of western Michigan. There were cattle, chickens, and so on. There was that wonderfully awkward introduction to death and sex that one can find on any farm. We had a lot of rabbits. But mostly we grew asparagus. It was a conservative and religious world. I was quiet and liked to read. I wrote my first few poems in second grade. It felt good. I liked what could be done with words when they were freed from the constraint of a single moment—when there wasn’t someone standing there staring at me while my tongue tripped over the oral recitation of the English vernacular. I’ve been writing on and off since then. But it wasn’t until the end of high school that I began to take it seriously.
How do you decorate your writing space?
There is very little intentional decoration. I try to clean the clutter off my desk about once a week. I write the first draft for most of my poems in a paper notebook with a pen. This can happen anywhere. I try to sit outside if the weather is tolerable.
Of course, currently my writing space is basically my living space: a studio apartment on a hilltop in the woods that overlooks the city of Binghamton. The rest of the building is vacant. I keep many plants inside, and I live with a beagle (Dill).
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?
Looking for the goat lost
over that hill. And finding
Learning the music
of a spent cartridge.
And perfecting it.
There is no burial
for the body
without looking at the body.
We have abandoned the field
anyway, unwilling to dig.
There is only this brief pause of noon.
Shadowless. The smell of rust lifting
off the orchard floor.
Wind-knocked peaches feeding
the ancient grass bordering
every entryway, hungry.
A static hand upon your neck.
The miraculous erasure of home.
Catching your breath. Good
Why did you choose this poem?
I’d like to believe that this poem incorporates my rural, conservative background while attempting to make a political statement. I suppose in that way it seems honest. And I think this is one of those poems that many poets have where there’s a turning point in their writing. A shift towards something bigger and more mature. This poem was selected for inclusion in the Best New Poets of 2017 by Natalie Diaz. That was and is an honor I’m still trying to earn.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced you?
Usually when I’m asked about my favorite (favorite poet, author, musician, etc.) my response is to simply refer to what I am currently reading (of quality) or recently read, listened to, etc. I’ve recently read Tiana Clark’s Equilibrium, and I am currently reading Shelley Wong’s Rare Birds. I’d recommend both, they’re great! They each, in their own distinct manner, compel the reader to slow down and return, to listen.
What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?
“Obsessions” is a curious word. Is it negative? Is it good? Is it dangerous? There is the obsession to write, even when I’m not writing, perhaps especially when I’m not writing, which is more or less the larger portion of my time. It’s hard to admit, perhaps because its buried beneath a thin veneer of persona, but I may be obsessed with proving myself. But aren’t most of us? Proving myself to whom or what, I’m not entirely sure.
Beyond that I wanted to engage in my past. The landscape of childhood. I wanted, tried, to write poems that were more honest. I don’t want to be the hero in my poetry. I hope I avoided that. And I’ve lost some serious love: an obsession in my personal life that surely seeped into my writing life.
What’s your chapbook about?
Beyond those obsessions, the book is about a kind of midwestern silence. It’s difficult to explain what this silence is, but it haunts many of us.
The poet Joe Weil wrote a blurb for my work. I love what he has to say, and it may further explain the aboutness of the book. If it’s okay, I’d like to refer to it:
“Tomas Transtromer wrote in one of his poems of the buildings coming closer together all around two sleeping lovers. All things in that landscape became watchful, had a being beyond sentience. In these wonderful poems by Nathan Lipps, a being beyond sentience is the rule. Everything has a hovering presence– not a haunting, but a watchfulness. A poet owes the world deep attention and accuracy. Lipps comes through on both counts, and as a not inconsiderable bonus, these poems are beautiful in their subtlety of sound and their spacial appeal. A wonderful first book.”
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
The opening poem, “Before Death”, is the most meaningful to me. I was at low point in life. Alone, depressed. Though the poem may capture that experience—aloneness & depression—I find it overall to be uplifting. For me it’s a poem that says yes. Yes to what comes before death, which is, of course, life.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
“The Body” I suppose is a misfit. It’s sparse, lacks nearly any pretense of a narrative, and asks the reader to try harder. Maybe. Ha. I’m probably too close to all these poems: it’s hard to know the misfit. I have a few poems that lack a narrative, but they still have an element of substance and structure, they can make sense because they basically become imagist poems. However, this one lacks even the clarity of logically related images.
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?
I believe the last poem I wrote for this book was “We are the Same and then Gone”. It’s an extremely loose interpretation of Baudelaire’s poem “Semper eadem”. I tried to strip the poem down to its basic statements, and then contemporize their implications. I think this is that last-written poem in the classic realization that it’s a departure from where you were as a writer. It’s not an indication of where I’m going, but simply the sign-post that lets you know your journey is about to shift.
Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it?
I need to finish the first draft in a hurry, which doesn’t always happen. After that it’s just a matter of time and distance: time put in to returning to the draft, again and again, and slowly reshaping it. During the revision process I’ll return to a poem many times, but each time only briefly. Usually.
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?
The editorial experience has been great. Open Palm Print has been very kind and good to me. The overall layout of the chapbook was a mutual collaboration. For the cover design I asked a friend to design something that he believed fit the poetry.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a full collection of poetry that focuses upon the rural landscape, the Midwest and all of its nuances: the patriarchy, human exceptionalism, the assumed inheritance of tradition, religion, other ideologies, the dislocation of sexuality.
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?
That’s tough. I try to limit the various portals or channels that bring me information. On twitter I try to follow intelligent people who have conviction, well-thought-out opinions, are trustworthy, and who know how to use/cite their sources. I like people who believe in the existence of facts. I try to avoid the bubble. At the same time, if I want to participate in any positive cultural progress I need to know what’s going on. Also, for my part, I don’t provide a great deal of content to any social platform. At least not at the moment. Maybe it’s cowardice, but tweeting, or posting otherwise, feels very much like striking up a conversation in a room full of beautiful strangers. Except you’re talking to the backs of their heads. In the moments that I do speak up I’m usually glad, but it takes some time for me to work up the nerve. Of course, everything changes when the strangers become less strange, which I suppose is the good purpose of it all.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Read good contemporary writers. Understand what people are writing today. Why they are writing it. What they are trying to accomplish. And then look to your own writing. Ask of your own work those questions. I would refer you back to Tiana Clark (she just came out with a new book: I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood) and Shelley Wong (Rare Birds), or Solmaz Sharif (Look), Ada Limon (The Carrying), and Adam Clay (Stranger), for example.
Nathan Lipps lives in Binghamton, New York, where is he is currently a PhD candidate and teaches creative writing. His work has been published in the Best New Poets of 2017, BOAAT, Colorado Review, Third Coast, Typo, and elsewhere.