Emily Mohn-Slate

“See who is speaking to you, who is giving you permission to try something totally new.”

Feed

FEED (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019)

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?

So Easy

A woman forgot her baby in the park. People found it
murmuring in the bushes, called it Fairy.
I want to keep sleeping when his yell slices twilight —
not feed the baby, whose appetite is unfeeling, total.
The baby grunts, spits — I want to be alone,
but it would be good for me to go out with the baby.
If I keep walking, he keeps sleeping.
A woman at the park’s edge holds honey petals
to her nose, breathes them the way I breathe
the baby’s furry head. A woman left her baby in the car,
rushed to work — her baby overheated & died.
I forget things so often now. I never forget my glasses.
It would be so easy to forget the baby.
Old bikes lie on porches, washed in yellow light,
exhausted. I hover two fingers above
his chest, search for breath. I love to hear
the baby’s slight gasp when I turn on a light —
I study his open mouth, flick the light on
& off & on until I can’t. I forgot my keys,
my jacket. A woman drove off with her baby on the roof
of her car. Did I fasten the buckle around
the baby’s soft waist? I didn’t want to come out today,
but it is good to smell the oily pizza boxes at Pino’s,
to dodge the garbage truck lumbering
down Hastings Street, men hanging on by a tiny crescent.
They found her baby at 45th and Cholla
on the highway line, alive, not even crying.
I had a hat once that I loved, red and blue wool.
I lost & found it in a Shaw’s parking lot, mashed down,
brown with exhaust. I washed it by hand,
hung it up to dry. The baby licks the stroller harness,
wets the rip-proof vinyl to a deeper red.

—published originally in The Adroit Journal, Issue 13

Why did you choose this poem?

“So Easy” is the first poem in my chapbook. It introduces the reader to the world of the chapbook. A world in which mothers are barely holding on, trying their best to keep going while sleep-deprived and depressed, making mistakes large and small. A world in which danger is ever-present. In which a new mother is struggling intensely yet finding beauty in a small moment like “the baby’s slight gasp when I turn on a light.”

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced you?

Here are just a few of my favorites:

Stacey Waite, the lake has no saint (Tupelo Press)

Jennifer Givhan, Lifeline (Glass Poetry Press)

Nancy Reddy, Acadiana (Black Lawrence Press)

Chen Chen, Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press)

Joy Katz, White: An Abstract (Bonfire Books)

Jennifer Jackson Berry, Bloodfish (Seven Kitchens Press)

Daniel Shapiro, Heavy Metal Fairy Tales (Throwback Books)

Tiana Clark, Equilibrium (Bull City Press)

What’s your chapbook about?

FEED is about the experience of early motherhood. A time that is full of fear, anxiety, and exhaustion as well as beauty, joy, and tenderness. The speaker of each poem is trying to find something to hold onto, someone to speak to, out of this intense experience in which she often feels invisible, afraid, and at sea. The chapbook tracks the speaker fighting to move toward the light, often failing, sometimes reaching it, tenuously.

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?

“So Easy” was the poem that sparked the chapbook. I was up in the middle of the night feeding my son, reading the news on my phone when I came across a story about a woman who left her baby on the roof of her car. I couldn’t stop thinking about the mother and the baby. I fell into an internet wormhole in which I learned of another woman who had left her baby in the park, and another woman who left her baby in the car by accident because she didn’t usually do morning drop-offs on a particular day, and her baby died. I had recurring nightmares in which I did these same things. I was trying my best to take good care of my son, but I was also struggling intensely. I felt the nightmare realities of these women as my own. The poem came in fragments over the next few days, most of it written on my phone while pushing my son in a stroller to get him to nap.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?

The title was obvious once I pulled my poems together—the poem, “Feed,” was just staring me in the face—the dark heart of the chapbook. This poem gets at the struggle to continue to write as a new mother, how impossible it feels to wrest any kind of space to feed your own creative impulses and your child’s ever-present needs.

The arrangement of the chapbook came more slowly. I played with a few different orders and sent it to my close readers for their thoughts, which was immensely helpful. I had a few different versions ready to submit for chapbook contests of various lengths and the version that Seven Kitchens Press accepted was the shortest version, and also my favorite.

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?

My experience with Ron Mohring at Seven Kitchens Press has been outstanding. Ron works very hard to design each chapbook—he chose the layout, fonts, etc. He sews each copy by hand with beautiful thread. I found the cover image and Ron was on board with it right away. The artist, Daviea Davis, is the mother of a former student of mine, and her work often explores the female body. This mosaic, “Meeting the Aunts,” reflects the book’s mixture of tenderness and ferocity so well.

What are you working on now?

I’m working now on my second poetry collection and hoping that my first full-length collection will find its home soon. My new collection delves into technology and social media, attention, kindness, and parenthood.

I’m also working on two prose projects: the first is a book of essays on motherhood, the body and aging. The other is a book about The Madwomen in the Attic, a community of women’s writing workshops based at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, PA that I’ve been part of for almost ten years. This book asks the questions: How does writing change people’s lives? How does it create change in the world?

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 have a fraught relationship with social media and the internet (is there anyone who doesn’t?), especially the feeling that as an emerging writer, I must be “visible” online in order to prove that my work exists and matters. I look to writers I know who are good at staying grounded in the writing itself, and manage to be part of various literary communities without promoting themselves all the time or giving the majority of their time to social media. I’ve deleted my social media accounts many times, but have always come back on because of the real relationships I’ve made there with other poets, writers, and editors whose work I admire. But to stay on and survive, I have all kinds of little strategies that help me, including not having notifications on my phone, hiding my phone while I’m writing, and setting limits for how long I read the news or scroll on social media.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

I always tell my students what Jan Beatty told me, “Don’t give up. Just keep writing no matter what.” It seems simple, but I’ve found that it is very hard not to let my writing time be consumed by other tasks, other people’s needs, or to let the negative voices in my own head crowd out my belief in my voice and my work.

I also tell them what Major Jackson challenged us to think about at Bennington: “Who is in your poetic family tree? How have they shaped your work and vision?” You can’t figure out what your work is doing unless you know where you’ve come from, and you can’t know where you’ve come from, or who you’re in conversation with, unless you’ve been reading widely—actual books and chapbooks, not only the newest poems being shared on Twitter (although it’s good to also do that, if you can). You need to read poetry books and chapbooks and see who is speaking to you, who is giving you permission to try something totally new. You need to read outside your wheelhouse, someone whose work scares you, to see what is possible for you.

*

Emily Mohn-Slate is the author of FEED, winner of the Keystone Chapbook Prize (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019). Her poems and essays can be found in New Ohio Review, Poet Lore, The Adroit Journal, Indiana Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her full-length manuscript has been named a finalist for the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize offered by Kent State University Press, and the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize offered by University of Pittsburgh Press. She teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and Chatham University, is a member of the Madwomen in the Attic Writing Workshops, and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

emilymohnslate.com

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