National Poetry Month Interview with Alexis Pope

11 Apr

Alexis PopeOpen up one of the world’s favorite online lit mags (ILK, iO, NAP, Sixth Finch, PANK, etc. etc. etc.) and there’s a good good chance you’ll see Alexis Pope in the TOC. Each poem seems to get better, creating its own (both) magical and shockingly real world as it stomps along. Also, she’s co-host of the Big Big Mess Reading series in Akron, Ohio, easily one of the coolest series I’ve ever been to/heard about. Most importantly, in all things poetry, Alexis Pope is kind, personable, and with-it. See below for proof, an interview where she reveals much about her writing life and her forthcoming chapbook Girl Erases Girl (Dancing Girl Press, 2013).

1. Hi, Alexis. Here’s a start to say, GOOD JOB. You’ve been popping up on the web and web-like places what seems like daily. I remember one day a couple weeks ago three mags released issues with ALEXIS POPE under Poetry. WOW, I thought when I saw that. WOW, I thought when I read these poems. Alexis Pope at iO. Alexis Pope at ILK. Alexis Pope at red lightbulbs.

Your poems toss me into the ruckus, the world the poem inhabits (or creates), no apologies and no chit-chat. I love that. I love to flail inside poems, and your poems not only allow that, but they demand it. Like your poems at iO. We don’t get much detail about “this terrible job.” We don’t get anything behind why the speaker’s body “is feeling very fragile.” We are captives of statements like “Far away from the center of town/there is a lamb who knows the difference,” left to our own puzzling and reactions.

I think this is your magic. I’m reminded of a mime I saw as a teenager, a baffling bright spot on an overcrowded boardwalk; the pieces might be minimal, a little unfamiliar, but when you add up the makeup and the outfit, the gestures and the gawking eyes, you suddenly realize how right this person is, how you too have been trapped in a box this whole time.

I guess my curiosity is that, is this: How do you see descriptions and details, context and revelation, driving your poems and their ultimate effectiveness? Are you trying to pull people inside the box with you, or make them stand out there and gawk?

Wow right back. Thank you for asking me to think about these poems some more. It’s such a personal process, how we write and what we want to say. Is it something we know before or after or at all? I think flail is a great word for what I’m doing. So is that wonderful & strange mime.

The iO poems are both driving towards the same idea. For me, they’re about feeling lost and questioning everything ordinary. Everything the speaker/reader is used to, the everyday. I definitely want the reader to be totally engulfed in the world of the poem, each poem. I want the speaker to be the reader and the reader to be the speaker. I want the poem to be everyone’s poem. Each poem is its own tiny atmosphere. When I write I’m so dizzy, hazy, and after I’m finished it’s all clouds for a while. So if you feel trapped in that box, perfect. Welcome.

The descriptions and images all lead up to the ultimate meaning. I want them to create the weather of the poem. “Careful I Am Like Honey” is so paced and delicate feeling for me. We are the lambs in it, the sadness and exhaustion of disappearing into something you never expected. I think the “terrible job” is everything we do and feel and try. It’s being alive and interacting with people and always fucking up somehow. You’ve called my poems “meditative” before. That was so interesting and enlightening for me to hear. Since then, I’ve pretty much embraced that concept. So that’s what they are: meditations on whatever. Either way, get in (t)here with me. Maybe I’ve answered you, probably not.

2. The pieces that “all lead up to the ultimate meaning” is a cool way to think of your poems. So often, my brain seems trained (or maybe stupidly bent) toward linking stuff as I go, a desire to “stay with” the speaker. But sometimes, it’s exhilarating and goshdarn refreshing to just be with the speaker, lost (a bit) in the chatter. Thank you for that reminder.

What writers (and other artists or whatever) have had the biggest influence on your writing style in these poems?

Last Fall I read Matthew Zapruder’s Come on All You Ghosts and that was a freaking experience. He was taking the ordinary and holding it up so close to my face. Like one of those Magic Eye 3D prints, it comes to life and you find these ideas you never expected. Where those poems begin and where they end, it’s so honest. Always compelling, always TRUE. How we deal with being alive, being children, being parents. I was also reading a lot of Frank O’Hara, Meditations In An Emergency; Lunch Poems; Poems from the Tibor De Nagy Editions, 1952-1966, a collection of three of his chapbooks (“after all the terrible things I do how amazing it is / to find forgiveness and love, not even forgiveness / since what is done is done and forgiveness isn’t love / and love is love nothing can ever go wrong”).  Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents was big for me as well. I think these poets are all doing something I hope to accomplish: dissecting the mundane, the real life moments, and bringing the reader in so they can reexamine their own ideas about living.

3. You’re coming from a rather stellar, though underappreciated, corner of the writing world, in Akron, Ohio. The NEOMFA has helped ignite some creative writing fires on several campuses up in that area. The reading series you run with Mike Krutel, The Big Big Mess, attracts all kinds of stellar small press people. And now, you’ve decided to jump into another writing ring at whatever MFA is so lucky to have you in the fall. So, obviously right, community is a big deal to your writing life. I was hoping you could chatter a bit about that, about how community affects and inspires your writing. I get the sense we’re similar in this way, how community is crucial to our continuing growth as writers.

Yes! We are so similar in this way. Community is the most important, the most necessary. It’s easy, as writers, to feel alone in what we do. The more we can surround ourselves with people doing the same crazy thing, the more we can start to express ourselves openly and in exciting ways. And maybe not even that, just the effortless action of being around each other and involved with each other stimulates that creative blood boil. It makes me want to do so much more, and write so much more, and read, read, read.

Akron is this small little place, so when Nick Sturm placed The Big Big Mess in this dark (and sometimes steamy) dive bar basement something magical happened. Akron became a home to this creative life. When he passed the series down to Mike and me, I think I said he dropped off this little baby on our doorstep(s). It’s true, I feel like a parent to this series. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of Akron for showing up for it. I’m so thankful to every writer that reads for us and keeps this thing breathing.

Without sharing our words, there’s no growth. How can we write without communication, community? I know it’s possible, but who wants that? Not me. I love everyone I’ve met through poems. I feel like reading poems is the one true way to really know someone. At least, for me. It’s so wonderful to write something and send it off to the inbox of a friend. I want that back. I love that.

4. “How can we write without communication, community?” I love that. That’s one of the things I love about the online/small press writing scene, with all its blogs and online mags and email exchanges and social media chatter and conferences and reading series and book tours: it’s knocking down that idea of writers being solitary, awkward figures. Certainly, there’s a time to be alone and contemplate and imagine and write. Certainly, there’s some not-as-social folks (and that’s cool!) out there. But most importantly, I think writing is getting thrown into a more public sphere, not only as an end-product, but also as a process, as a lifestyle, as a community (HUGE community). I think of Matt Bell and Kyle Minor and Cathy Day and others who share via social media a lot of their daily triumphs and struggles as writers and teachers of writing. I think of Steve Roggenbuck and Bloof Books and others who get on the road and visit other areas of the literary country.

Still, there’s still this thing called time, and it’s certainly easy to get wrapped up in tumblrs and readings and online journals and emails and travels. Then the day, the week, the month, the year is over and the poems are still lodged in the skull. How do you both indulge/learn from this community and also know/find the time to let the poems flow? When you say you write and read everyday, do you have a schedule?

Honestly, when I’m talking about community I’m speaking about the people in my town (or through events in different cities). The writers I’ve met in real life. Sitting around a table with friends and writing off a prompt we’ve created, reading our work aloud, simply being in the presence of other writers even if we’re not talking about it. That’s what I find inspiring. Social media is cool because of the ability to “meet” new people and discover work you may not have found otherwise. The truth is, I am actually a pretty solitary person, but I can get extremely down on myself and my work, so being around other writers and artists of all kinds, or people who enjoy listening/reading, really helps kick up my energy. It makes me feel like other people get my crazy, because they have this bug as well.

As far as having a true writing schedule? Not really. I work an 8-5 job and the hours before and after work are spent with my daughter. Being a mother has totally changed the way I work. In fact, my writing has become the thing that defines me outside of the home. So, if I have an extra hour in the day I write. I look back on all the free time I had before and feel like what was I doing? It’s also true that I’ve never been more productive because of this. Mary Biddinger has talked about this before as well (http://wewhoareabouttodie.com/2011/09/22/we-who-are-about-to-breed-mary-biddinger/). The idea that now writing becomes this secret thing we do. It’s the part of the day when I can be selfish with my time. And when I’m at work, I read. If I’m having an unproductive writing week, I’ll read a novel or a collection of stories/poems. My life is already scheduled, so poetry is the place I go when the house is quiet and I can sit with my thoughts.

5. If you had to pick one published poem to show someone, THIS IS WHAT I DO, which one would it be and why?

Oh, man. Intense question. One poem? I feel like what I do is constantly evolving. Whether I’m working on a series or just writing as I go, it all depends on the season. Season meaning a particular feeling or vein I’m tapping while I’m writing. Sometimes a group of poems feels very similar to me and then that vein collapses and I’m on to the next. I would probably show someone poems by a different writer. Like, “This is what I do. Not as well, but I’m trying.”

6. You have a chapbook, Girl Erases Girl, slated for release sometime this year from Dancing Girl Press. What can you tell us about this chapbook? What can we expect?

Girl Erases Girl should come out in June. I’m so excited about it because Dancing Girl Press (Kristy Bowen) produces such gorgeous work. The poems are a strange little group I wrote about two years ago. Very manic. The speaker in these poems is so unfamiliar to me now, but that’s what makes it interesting. We’re always changing in our writing. And I think the speaker wants change. The frustration is overflowing, but there’s also this deep excitement for life I find inside the poems.

7. I really do enjoy these poems from Girl Erases Girl. They have a charming youthfulness to them, frustrated yet hopeful, bursting to tell their side. The stand-out difference (and perhaps growth) from those poems to the stuff you’ve been publishing lately is the attitude behind them, the intent. These poems yearn to convey an emotion, to tell how they feel; they employ narrative and metaphor more in a way to prove some feeling. As we discussed earlier, the new poems aim to be the moment or the feeling; they’re less about the speaker, the person behind the poem, and more about the poem and the mood themselves being the speaker. With the new poems, it’s like Girl has moved away, experienced some new place(s) and thing(s), and now is writing home, the letters smelling like the new place, somehow carrying back the new sounds.  That’s how I see it at least.

I know it’s a bit of a weirdo thing to ask, but is that how you see it? What do you feel is the biggest change you’ve made in intention and execution?

The interesting thing about Girl is it was a different project even at the time I was working on the poems. Everything before had a certain style or aim that was vastly different (I was mainly writing flash fiction & prose poetry). Girl was this urgent project that enabled me to move from prose into the poetry that came after. Post-Girl poems were comforting to me because I wasn’t trying to force any feeling onto the reader. I want(ed) to feel everything, too. The Girl speaker had something to prove, she wanted to convey a change she desired. Those poems were so necessary for me to write. After I finished that series I was able to relax and really write in a way that felt good and natural to me. Also, spending more time editing and revising has changed my style drastically. I spend more time with my poems now.

As with everyone, what I’m writing today is already different than what’s popping up in journals right now. It took me a while to be okay with the change and allowing people to see it. But everything changes, especially poetry. For me, poetry is a deeply personal endeavor. So, of course the energy of the poems will vary with the day, my age, the weather, the music I’m listening to. I no longer see the need to coerce the reader into a feeling.

The speaker is constantly driving all my poems though. The voice is always vital. More than anything, I write with a different intention and attitude, which I hope translates. It all goes back to wanting to bring people into the poems rather than just talk at them. Maybe right now I feel as though poetry is more song than simply words existing on the page. I want my poems to punch the reader but, you know, dance with them a little while doing so.

8. Do you have any National Poetry Month plans (i.e. a poem a day project, reading hopes, etc.)? Every “celebrated” NPM before?

I actually celebrated last April with a poem-a-day. I also did this with three friends in November, which ended up starting my “No Good” series. So, I will definitely try it again.

I think my reading project will involve writing a review (or two?). It’s something I haven’t done yet, but I think it’s really important. If I expect people to read my work it’s only right to do the same and respond. This just goes back to the whole idea of community.

Honestly, my everyday usually involves poetry. I read at least one poem every day. So National Poetry Month is just an excuse to write and read even more.

Check out Alexis’s blog for more links to her writing goodness and be sure to grab a copy of Girl Erases Girl when it drops into this weird planet.

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5 Responses to “National Poetry Month Interview with Alexis Pope”

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