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2020 Under Pressure

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Under Pressure: Dorsey Craft

Dorsey Craft’s debut collection, Plunder (Bauhan 2020), won the 2019 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Massachusetts Review, Poetry Daily, Southern Indiana Review and elsewhere. She currently lives in Lake City, Florida and serves as Poetry Editor for Southeast Review. Visit her here.

Here, Dorsey Craft discusses the pirate Anne Bonny, the inspiration for Plunder, and how Charleston and the routines that inform her process.

Interview

Gabriella Graceffo: How long did you work on Plunder, from conception to publication?

Dorsey Craft: The oldest poems in Plunder are about five or six years old, but most of the work took place over the past three years. 

GG: Where did you get your title inspiration from? Does the word plunder have several meanings to you?

DC: My friend and I were studying and decided to procrastinate by renaming my manuscript. All of my favorite titles of recent poetry books were one-word titles, so we actually plugged “pirate” into an online thesaurus and got synonyms. I loved the way that “plunder” sounded—and the way that it echoed the “l” and “r” sounds that were so present in the poems already. And Anne certainly does a lot of plundering in the poems—she enjoys material luxury for sure, but her plunder is also very much about a chaotic kind of feminist resistance. In the poem “The Pirate Anne Bonny Goes Through Her Lover’s Pockets,” I wrote “This is your way, to search before learning / what to find” and I think that Anne and the contemporary speaker are both reaching for something uncertain and undefinable. 

GG: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

DC: I thrive with deadlines and pressure. I honestly don’t know if I would ever get anything done without them. I try to psyche myself out and set deadlines for myself, but it’s never quite the same. 

GG: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

DC: Reading is pivotal—I read a lot of literary magazines and new collections of poetry, but also older texts and prose. This summer I am plugging away at the Old Testament and Middlemarch, but I’ve also been reading new collections by Marianne Chan (All Heathens), Traci Brimhall (Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod), Kathryn Nuernberger (Rue), and Justin Philip Reed (The Malevolent Volume). This year has busted up a lot of my usual routines, but having coffee, walking my stubborn dog, and jogging are still always on the schedule. 

GG: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?

DC: I have always aspired to be a journal keeper, but the construct of writing for just myself is too strange. Official journal entries feel like I’m performing “me” for me. But I definitely jot down images and lines that occur to me in my phone or computer all day long—and sometimes in paper notebooks back when we were still going to school in person. 

GG: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

DC: This is actually in the acknowledgements of Plunder, but my favorite advise was from Jillian Weise just after I got accepted into my MFA program. I had gotten in off the waitlist and I was going straight in from undergrad. I said “I’m worried I’m not good enough,” and she said, “You’re just going to have to get over that.” It was excellent advice, and I’m still following it with varying levels of success. 

GG: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

DC: Morning is best for me—my mind is fresher when the day hasn’t started weighing me down yet. Usually inspiration starts with reading, but the poem doesn’t always happen immediately. I will sit down to write, read a whole collection of poetry and feel like nothing is going to come. Then I’ll lie down for bed that same night or go outside to get some sun and write a sonnet in my head. Chatting with my poet friends is also helpful for me when poems are in a germination stage. 

GG: What are some things you learned from creating this debut book? Do you have any advice you could give to writers putting together their first collection of poetry?

DC: Plunder had to change shape several times to find what it was really about. In spring of 2017 it had more poems about family and the American South that were trying to coexist alongside the poems about gender and Anne Bonny. I wanted it to be working because I wanted to be done.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write enough good poems about one theme to make a book, so I kept trying to juggle. One of my classmates in workshop told me it was really two or even three books, and I finally accepted that I was going to have to streamline it and then write more poems. Almost all of my favorite poems in the collection were written after that point. So my advice would be not to be afraid of your subject or to doubt your ability to sustain it over time. 

GG: Plunder braids together personal narratives, stories focusing directly on Anne Bonny, and poems that put the pirate in conversation with famous literary characters. Is there a particular structure you used to make them all connect?

DC: The connections were forged as I exhausted different avenues of the Anne Bonny series. I wrote the first ten or twelve focusing only on Anne in scenarios that were historically plausible, but our knowledge of her life is very narrow and often based more in legend than fact. Even her death is murky—we know she was imprisoned in Charleston, SC and sentenced to hang, but we don’t have a record of her actual hanging. I took this as permission to imagine her in more mythic or contemporary scenes, which helped to really solidify the relationship between Anne and the speaker. Once I could show the speaker and Anne Bonny playing video games or on a road trip, their relationship became much more concrete and the manuscript really came together. 

GG: If you could describe Plunder in three words, what would they be? Why?

DC: One of my words would be “lush.” The Anne Bonny poems really allowed me to get carried away by language, and I love the way that the stacking of euphonic sounds echoes the pirate’s tendency towards accumulation. Another word, certainly, would be “feminist,” since Plunder explores, and hopefully extends and interrogates, canonical feminist texts. The last word has to have something to do with the ocean—maybe “salty,” but “salty” as in it tastes like the sea, not “salty” as in “I’m still salty about that thing you said in 2015.” 

Order Plunder here!

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Under Pressure: Todd Dillard

Ways We Vanish, Todd Dillard

Todd Dillard‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Fairy Tale Review, Booth, The Boiler Journal, Electric Literature, and The Adroit Journal. His debut full-length collection of poetry Ways We Vanish. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter, and works as a writer and editor for a hospital. 

Here, Todd Dillard discusses literary cities, baking bread, tension, and the best writing advice her received from Jericho Brown.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

Todd Dillard: One of the poems in the collection is titled “Ways Things Vanish”, and deals with a son dying and mother calling his name. Ways We Vanish is kind of like an inversion of that—the book is about people, which is why the “we” is there, but also the book deals with my mother’s passing, in some ways it’s like a son calling his mother’s name.

BRP: How much impact did your surroundings have on the imagery and setting of your collection?

TD: My attention to setting is twofold: first, I want to ensure the things happening in the poem–the sensory details–are actualized by the text. The poems in this collection are perhaps less cerebral that the work of other poets, and this is linked to my second answer: I need the physical world described in the poems to be very real, or appear to be very real, because I need the reader to be present and also surprised when something impossible happens. Many of the poems are fabulist or speculative in that way: simple, sensory settings or scenes, into which something alien or impossible descends. Were the poems less focused on scene and setting and the senses, there would be too much confusion, I think, when the weird arrives. It’s kind of like how going outside your comfort zone first requires you to know/identify/describe your comfort zone. 

My background is pretty split between the suburbs of Houston, the country of Texas, and the cities of New York and Philadelphia, which is why the poems are split across rural and urban settings. Ultimately though, what I want to do is establish something familiar for the reader, to invite them in to a safe space before I take them somewhere new. (I hope!) 

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

TD: I tend to avoid deadlines. I’m aware they exist! But it’s sort of like being aware solar powered cars exist. They seem nice and useful, but I take the bus.

This is different than my time management, which is fairly rigid with regards to writing: wake up at 6:15am, read the last thing I wrote, read and edit on the bus/subway from 6:45am to 7:15am, read and edit and write during my lunchbreak (11:45-12:30 or so), read and edit and write on my commute home (4:00-4:45), edit when I can after my kid goes to bed or while I’m at the gym (7:30ish-8:30ish), edit right before bed (11:30), then start all over. Every weekday is like this. I don’t always edit or write during those times, and I try to read instead if that’s the case. I mostly take weekends off; that’s for family.

The result is a lot of bad poems or poems that need a lot of reworking! But there are some good ones too.

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

TD: It’s so interesting you say “art-wise”! Because I’m reading a case study of the Russian neuroscientist A.R. Luria, and it’s not artful at all, and yet it’s artful in many unexpected ways. The study deals with the fractured memory and perception of a veteran who had a bullet lodged in his brain.

I’m also reading Aase Berg’s poetry collection With Deer, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson. It’s weird and interesting and at times horrifying and always several orbits outside of my comfort zone. I maybe get about 70% of what’s going on, so it feels like a verse version of a mirror maze in a creepy fun house. It’s exhilarating!

I’ve also started reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I haven’t read it in over a decade, so I just feel due for a revisit. Also… I try to keep at least one excellent novel or story collection in the rotation of stuff I read at all times. A good novel is a safe harbor to me.

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

TD: Jericho Brown was a PhD student at the University of Houston when I was in undergrad, and I had the very good fortune of being in one of this poetry workshops. (He was brilliant then, he’s brilliant now, truly he’s one of our best!) And it’s funny, I’ve had so many great writing professors and connected with so many great writers in my life, but it’s his advice that’s stuck with me the most: JUST SAY IT. Because so often, I think, poets have this impulse toward the beautiful and pretty, to playing dress up with nouns by wrapping them in metaphors and adjectives and ribbons and lace. But that can interfere with the thingness of the thing. If it’s worth writing about, let it be itself! If it’s worth saying plainly, say it plainly!

BRP: What is your favorite literary city and what makes that community special?  

TD: I think I am going to say Houston here, though it’s a pretty even split between Houston, New York City, and Philadelphia. There’s a lot of nostalgia attached to Houston, since it’s where I grew up—I remember going to Notsuoh’s and Helios (previously The Mausoleum) for slams and open mics as a teenager. Then there’s the community around Gulf Coast and University of Houston, with their reading series, and First Fridays over by the Rothko Chapel. Of course there’s still Brazos Bookstore. And for years I worked in the Alabama Theatre Book Stop, which has sadly closed down and turned into a Trader Joe’s or something. There’s a lot of thriving writing culture and creativity in Houston, especially in the Montrose area, and I was really lucky to be a suburban kid who had access to such amazing art and writing. Favorite eateries and bars: Late Night Pies, House of Pies, Niko Niko’s, Poison Girl, The Ginger Man, Whataburger.

BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

TD: I love making bread! Poetry is bread! It has such a small smattering of ingredients, but with the right craft and the right practice you get this amazing, soul-filling meal. There are at least as many kinds of poems as there are types of bread.

I also used to play clarinet, up through college. Music is a big part of my life—I’m not playing clarinet these days, but I still play guitar almost every day, and I sing to my daughter every day. My love for music appears as more than prosody in my poems. I love the use of register, of resonance and differing patterns of rhythm and speech, sure, but I also love the emotional and imaginative landscapes lyrics explore, and try that in my poems. I mean, have you ever read the lyrics of a Bush song? If that’s not permission to write whatever the hell you want, I don’t know what is.

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate or feel are important to your writing?

TD: I read at least one poem of mine before bed and when I wake up. This is in part to keep myself engaged with my work, but also because the person I am when I write before bed is not necessarily who I am when I wake up. I like to think there’s an ongoing, tripartite collaboration there, between my morning, my day, and my night selves.

Other stuff… it’s hard to say. Do I consider being a dad and raising my kid and being a partner to my wife a ritual? No. But it has the semblance of ritual, there are patterns there, and there’s comfort in patterns and routines, especially as these routines are what permit me to find time to write.

I also shine my boots a lot. This might be weird, but I have two pair of beautiful boots that I try to take care of. Something about plunking down and cleaning boots, stripping them of wax, cleaning, polishing, building those sealant layers back up… it feels ritualistic, holy. There’s a way to do it right, and you have to study and practice until you get it right. My boots literally carry me to all the places I need to go, so this care, this sense of practice feels important to me. There’s a good chance I’m going to go home tonight and give them a once-over just because of this question!

BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

I put notes in my Notes app, transfer them to my Notes software on my PC, rework them there, paste them and email them to my beta readers or paste them into a Google Doc and send my beta readers screenshots, tinker some more based on feedback, save the final versions in my Google Docs file and copy from that file into a Word document when I’m ready to submit or print a packet of poems out to edit by hand. The numerous applications are useful to me, seeing my poem in many variations I find very helpful when editing.

BRP: If you had to describe Ways We Vanish in only three words, which would they be and why?

TD: I’m going to resist the urge to send some sort of image-based lyricism and say: “And then I—” 

One of the tensions of the book, I think, is that it’s a collection in motion, it’s origin story and life story and afterlife story and once upon a time and happily ever after and backyard Ragnarok—and this is in tension specifically with how the book, is, by nature of being a book, contained. It tells a story, yes, but that story stretches into robots on Mars, magic, ghosts, fatherhood, grief, and beyond. It (hopefully!) shows that one thing comes after the next, and even if the sequence of things doesn’t immediately become a story, the trajectory of all things in one’s life becomes its own story. I was a son. And then I was survivor. And then I was a wreck. And then I was haunted. And then I was loved. And then I was a father. “And then I—”

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2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Marlin M. Jenkins

Picture of Marlin M. Jenkins along with cover for Capable Monsters

Capable Monsters, Marlin M. Jenkins

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and currently lives in Minnesota. The author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020) and a graduate of University of Michigan’s MFA program, his work has found homes with Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Waxwing, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. You can find him online here.

Here, Marlin M. Jenkins talks Pokemon, art-crushes, online gaming, and his writing routine.

Interview

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Capable Monsters take to write from conception to publication?

Marlin M. Jenkins: The oldest poems in the chapbook were written in August 2016 at Vermont Studio Center. These poems, in particular the Pokémon series of poems that make up the backbone of the chapbook, became part of my MFA thesis project in early 2017, and then after some time away from the project I re-imagined it as a chapbook. In some ways, the poet I was when I drafted the earliest poems feels really distant, but it felt important to me to take some time after my MFA to process and take some space away before jumping back in.

SHP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

MMJ: Depends! I usually really struggle with being on time for anything, so usually they just add stress! But sometimes if there isn’t a deadline nothing will get done at all. 🤷🏾‍♂️

SHP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

MMJ: Visual artist Maria Krutz (who did the cover art for the chapbook! check out her work on Instagram @meyyomafa); music artists Noname, Anderson.Paak; Sarah Bonito, Shy Baldwin, and Powerline (yes I realize the last two are fictional, I still stand by it!); voice actor Xanthe Huynh; and I very much consider what Brian David Gilbert does with Polygon’s Unraveled series to be art and I love it and love him.

SHP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

MMJ: On a good day, I make a fruit smoothie and play a video game (not necessarily together). Recently, I’ve been playing at least a few rounds of a game online each day, and that bit of interaction with real humans, even if only through the control of digital characters, is a really beautiful thing that I love—as much as I love words, often I feel more inspired by the ways we can communicate entirely without them, and online gaming is one of my favorite modes of that in action. I also like to always be immersed in some type of fictional world, so there are lots of stretches where I’ll watch a couple episodes of a TV show (often an anime) each day.

SHP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

MMJ: To hang out with my poems! And to focus on the work, and play the long-game. (Shout out to Tarfia Faizullah, who’s taught me so much!) These things help me stay attuned to myself and my own voice and they help me keep perspective, making sure the career aspects don’t distract from the art.

SHP: Do you keep a journal? Where does your composition take place?

MMJ: I’m a huge proponent of journals! Though in honesty I’m pretty bad at keeping a dedicated journal. But, I do take notes regularly, whether those are in a designated notebook or on random scraps of paper or on my phone, and I do as much drafting as possible—sometimes even second drafts—by hand. Usually for 2nd or 3rd draft, I’ll type it up, print it out, and then work in pen again. Huge fan of working with paper and hard copy.

SHP: When it comes to writing/editing, would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

MMJ: This is maybe a cop-out answer, but I stand by it: I like to consider myself whatever is needed for the situation! I like my role (and what I call myself) to be porous and adaptable and overlapping and intersecting and all that. That’s where the fun happens, I think.

SHP: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

MMJ: I really believe that inspiration is something that you cultivate; or, at least, if inspiration isn’t cultivated per se, we can ready ourselves for it, creating circumstances for its best chances of success. I write down lots of quotes from things I love—whatever’s interesting, whether or not it feels like it’ll inspire a poem later. I draw a lot of inspiration from video games and TV and music and other writers. When I go to museums, I take a notepad with me and take notes (and pictures if they’ll let me). I go to movie theaters a lot. I’m not always looking to be inspired toward a poem per se, but I’m always looking for things that inspire my imagination and curiosity, and then when I sit down to write there’s lots of material from all these sources and wonderings to work with.

SHP: If given the chance to design a new Pokemon, what would its most important attributes?

MMJ: Resilience, adaptability, and the ability to live both on its own and in groups. It would probably be a dark/ice type. Small, and active at night. It would be able to heal itself and most of its fighting ability would be based on defense and countering.

SHP: If you could describe Capable Monsters in three words, what would they be?

MMJ: Pokémon is lit. (Get it? Like, video games are literature. But also … lol yeah.)

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