Awful Interview: Caroline Cabrera

29 Jul

Flood Bloom, Caroline Cabrera’s first collection of poems, came out from H_NGM_N Books early this year, and it stands with scarce company at the top of my favorite books of the year list. These are poems of wondering and wandering, both in mind and body. See my back-and-forth chatter with Caroline below and considering picking up a copy. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

Tyler Gobble: You’ve written a really stellar book, Caroline, this debut of yours, Flood Bloom, out now from H_NGM_N Books. I hope you’re glowing with proudjoy.

Like I told you in our earliest interactions, I read this immediately when it plopped on my doorstep this past January. I attempted to review it, but failed. I meant to have a book talk with a couple pals about this collection, but that fell through. And now, finally, I realized the only thing to do is chatter with you.

And now, as I have many times since that first read, I return to your beautiful poems, the first of which starts, “This is not about being rescued.” These poems again and again hit the GO button on the conveyor belt of life, weird life and real life and magical life, in and out of emotional and active frames. As the poem continues later–“In time, everything about us will change/Let’s not die here like this.”–the reader, half a poem in, gets it, gets what they continue to be infected by poem after poem, this sense of life and rolling with and in it, come good or bad, in clothes-lessness or freshly awakened from dreams.

Long way around, I guess to this: if this isn’t about being saved, what is it about? What were these poems doing for you at the time of putting this collection together?

Caroline Cabrera: Wow, thank you so much. I’m really happy to hear you like the book.

Ok, so not rescued, but realized maybe. When I wrote the book I was 21- 24 years old, learning how to be an adult, how to begin my adult life. I’ve always been a fairly anxious person, mainly because of some perfectionist/control freak tendencies. During that time, in my writing and elsewhere I actively tried to become a calmer, more balanced person. While I lived in Western Mass, I took yoga classes with this fantastic teacher, Kellie Finn. Her class was very physically challenging, and she communicated the most down-to-earth ideals of yoga in a totally authentic way. So many of the things I worked through on the mat translated directly to my writing and to my overall goals of who I wanted to be as a person. Things like: learning grace in transition, accepting the limitations of my physical form, understanding how to sustain something challenging, acknowledging that so many dualities work hand in hand (push and pull, creation and destruction, etc.). Through concentrating on these concepts in my yoga and my writing, I started to bridge a huge gap between my brain and my physicality that I had never fully acknowledged before. I literally started feeling grounded in my body. I know that probably sounds nuts, but I had issues understanding that I am my body; my brain had just always taken precedent for me. But once I began to feel that, I could allow myself to simply move through and react to the world, rather than trying to control my experience of the world. It’s like, when I came to terms with the fact that I am made of carbon and reacting to stimuli and part of a whole huge system that accommodates me and will continue without me, I could finally let go and participate in a world around me that was already happening. The seasons helped me with this too; nothing helps you learn to roll with the punches like a 6-month winter. Nothing reminds you of the limitations of your own will like moose tracks that never lead you to a moose. And also, living in a small town helped me feel like one part in a larger organism. I guess I sort of transitioned from an immature sense of self to a more actualized sense of self-within-community. And this book is largely notes on that transition. Some of those lessons factored into my conscious choices in the book and some of those had just pervaded my psyche and found their way in. That’s probably why I filled it with bodies and weather and such. Of course, it’s much easier to see and point to all this in hindsight.

TG: That’s awesome. I love that idea, that acknowledgement, “it’s much easier to see and point to all this in hindsight.” This whole answer reminds me of the poise the speaker shows in “Tallulah.” There’s a beautiful, down-to-earth (though still spunky) way you discuss yoga in answer 1 and the way the speaker approaches the deer in that poem. You seem very calm and understanding (even in the misunderstanding or inability to understand) of the ‘way things work,’ how pieces of life come in, affect, and go out (often in a cycle).

I find large

patches of high grass flattened where deer lie down in the

night I love deer I want to nuzzle their moist noses and

fall across their gentle backs I can imagine a deer’s soft fur

against my cheek I come out every morning ready to

happen upon a sleeping deer but my mornings are late and

the deer are gone

What’s your relationship with nature? How do things like Massachusetts’s long winter and deer in yard make you feel, both as poet and person, compared to yoga and your yogi’s down-to-earth approach?

Also, what’s your favorite yoga pose?

CC: Nature makes me feel lucky. That lucky feeling is evidence, though, of a pretty ego-centric relationship with nature, in that I feel chosen when a deer ambles into my yard or a fox takes up residency at the end of the fence or the sky is so so clear at my house that I can see tons of stars. I get a lot of joy out of these experiences, but I also feel prideful about them. Like, I just HAD to tell you about the fox. Because I feel like it says something about me. That I am a good yard mate and a vixen can feel comfortable raising her kits near me. It’s the same pride I feel when people’s pets or babies like me; they cannot be dishonest and so when they choose me, it proves that I am good at my core, or something. That’s probably why I am one of those poets guilty of writing maybe too often about animals.

I don’t think I could live in a place without some cool things in the yard. I thought I’d never get over leaving my house in the woods in Massachusetts (and part of me never will!), but I have a really fantastic oak tree in my yard and a bunch of cool tropical plants with crazy Christian names (resurrection fern, angel’s trumpet, devil’s trumpet, etc), so I’ve become pretty happy down here in Florida. On the other hand, weather makes me feel totally humbled. Like I mentioned before, long winters and super hot a/c-less days put a lot in perspective for me. So, yes, I’m fascinated with nature (isn’t everyone?!). And it constitutes a big part of my day to day. As a writer, I don’t make any divisions between my writing and my life. As a much younger writer, I think I did; I think I was afraid of being too mundane or too simple or too transparently myself, so I had rules for what could enter into my poetry. But now, I don’t feel that way, and I have a philosophy of “everything in.” So the things that fascinate me most or occupy most of my brain-space show up often. That’s also, you may have noticed, why there are so many meals in my poems. Wow, I’m not even sure if I’ve answered your question. Ha!

Favorite yoga pose: vashistasana. It makes me feel strong.

TG: No, yes, you did in fact tumble just marvelously down the hill of my question. And that yoga-pose, like a fallen over cross (or for the secular crowd, a T), is a great move, absolutely. I’ve never done much yoga, but without knowing it as such, that’s a move I used to do often during core workouts (well, before this recurring nag of a shoulder injury forced me onto my back–literally and pathetically.)

Anyhow, this “everything in” philosophy seems most evident, to me, in the poems that use caesuras. Like “Tallulah” above. Like now, I’m looking at “Movement.”

The people in town are afraid of bees we are in a hive my

big concern is colony collapse disorder everyone leaves

but it may be time to worry we could all lose together this

is silent spring many would say the real danger is in losing

sight of ourselves already I am guilty of not seeing

There’s no holding back, no suppression of thoughts. Confession of a variety of emotions—concern and guilt, hope and perseverance. A movement through a catalog of images—beginning with the people in town, afraid of bees, being “in a hive” and then the poem ending with us (the townspeople? speaker and reader? all of us?) “lugging each other along.” These space-hinged poems are marvelous for the paced manner in which they breath out their confessions and thoughts, like a stock ticker of internal activity.

What’s your relationship to caesuras? What made them right for these poems?

CC: These poems were a big departure for me. The twelve poems with caesuras (excluding “Banner Elk,” which doesn’t quite fit with them) were the last ones I wrote in this manuscript. I was taking a really fantastic class with Dara Wier on risk and chance, and we spent some time working on poetic constraints. One of the constraints a classmate made up (Emily Hunt, maybe? Brian Foley? One of those two, I can’t remember) was to take all the verbs from a written poem (either yours or someone else’s) and write a new poem around those verbs. So that’s what I did with these caesura poems— using verbs from poems in Lesle Lewis’s lie down too. “Movement” was the first one I wrote, just for fun, just to see. But what happened with that poem was so fruitful a shift for me that I wrote eleven more. And I knew there would be twelve of them. I had previously always thought in longer phrases and full sentences. Somehow, using someone else’s verbs made me think in shorter phrases. And when I began to notice that the phrases often could be read several different ways, I formatted them with the caesuras, to allow for the most possibility. These were also the first poems I ever wrote on a computer, which I’ve done ever since. It allows for a different pace of thought for me, and it makes me delete more boldly. I can be more sure of myself.

Also, Lesle Lewis is the shit.

TG: Lesle Lewis, huh? I’ll have to check her work out.

Who and what else, besides Lewis and nature, were you cloaking yourself with while writing this book (books, music, things, places, etc.)?

CC: Dara Wier, Maggie Nelson, Arda Collins, Beirut, Bon Iver, Feist, old family photos, farms, children’s books, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Puffer’s Pond, Christian Hawkey, black bears, Andrew Bird, long distance relationships, Kristina’s Kafe, Mount Tom, Jack Spicer, my effed-up dreams, Pelham, Massachusetts, Lisa Jarnot, constellations, root vegetables, Mama Igauna’s, lots of nachos, for sure, Paul Simon, John Steinbeck, at home pickling, Dotty Laskey, Matthea Harvey, Srikanth Reddy, Inger Christensen, and most of all my awesome friends and their awesome poems.

It was about 2.5 years, so a lot went on, I guess.

TG: Great list. Piecing through that smiles onto these poems in a new way. A weird little dot-to-dot.

Someone, for a couple to a few reasons, I’m surprised to not see on this list is Heather Christle. From the caesuras we just discussed and how they beep out (like in her book The Trees The Trees) to the influence and appearance of the natural world to the spry humor, there’s a joyfulness in the living—again, no matter what color it’s shaded—that both of you wonderful ladies exude.

I look at a poem like “Big Adventure” right now (which is caesura-free and seemingly kin to Christle’s first book The Difficult Farm).

There were so many giants and tigers

and scary and exciting things before

that I am pretty tired now.

I almost don’t have the heart to tell you

my overalls fell off somewhere back there

and I’ve been running through the swamp

in my underclothes. Nothing turned out

as I had planned it in my Big Adventure Notebook

even though I dragged around a basket of provisions

in a little red wagon.

There’s the animals and the quirky associations and the chirping deeper into the situation. But what I think defines you apart from Christle is how the feet of the poem take both the speaker and the reader forward. Where Christle skips off into the weird little world she’s created, latching onto her main mechanism of surprise—surprise humor, surprise juxtaposition, surprise endings—lyou rotate, take pictures, honored to let the conveyor belt of the poem, of life, take you itself, firm in the confidence of being a part of a goddamn honest moment.

What do you make of all this babble? How do you relate to Heather Christle’s work, as both poet and reader?

CC: Yes! So so many people and things are missing from my list, which I didn’t want to make too terribly long. Heather Christle is great. As a reader, I’m charmed by her; I love to read her world. I think The Trees The Trees is probably my favorite of her collections. I read it while I was editing the first draft of Flood Bloom and I admired the way she achieved ambiguity over and between caesuras. It helped me to go back to my own work and rearrange breaks or remove smaller words (articles, etc.) that may have been too directive of one meaning over another. That book taught me further openness and possibility, which, as I said, is what I like most about that poetic form.

TG: I keep looking at that phrase “too directive of one meaning over another.” It seems that particular Christle influence succeeded in shining a special light on your poems. Your poems remarkably twinkle with a new feeling of meaning making—the world’s color and pulse > the direct meaning.

There’s a series of poems, these “dioramas” such as “Diorama: This Village Is Made Of Dominos” and “Diorama: Full Moon Poem,” that based on the title would seem to direct closer to a particular meaning, but continue to engage meaning on a more elemental level.

from “Diorama Wither Super Computer”

There’s a man in the room with the computer. Behind the

computer is a door to all the other rooms in his house, but he

doesn’t know it’s there. Or he can’t move the computer. He

stretches out next to the computer and studies all its twittering

lights. He hums when the computer hums.

Can you talk about this set of poems—(where they originated from, how they function in terms of meaning making, etc.)?

CC: Yes. The diorama poems are some of the earlier ones I wrote for this book. When I moved to grad school, my husband (then boyfriend), Philip Muller, started making dioramas out of trash and scraps around the house. I would try to throw something away and he’d be like, “no, no, a bathtub would fit perfectly in that nook!” So the first ones I wrote (“Diorama with a Clawfoot Tub” and “Robot Love Diorama”) were after actual pieces Philip made that lived in my house. The process, though, made me remember making dioramas as a kid, and also the life-sized dioramas at history museums. To take one moment and put it in a box is to draw so much from that one scene, to make that moment into a microcosm. And that, I think, has a lot to do with meaning-making, with extracting all the juice from something and also adding some juice that maybe you are putting upon it. When I was working with Dara Wier on my manuscript, we were talking about the dreams in my poems and she asked, “How is the dream really all that different from the diorama?” And obviously she is right. Dreams, like dioramas, are thoughts in boxes with tiny furniture inside.

TG: Now, to jump away from your book for a second, though back to your list: Feist is way rad. I love The Reminder, but for whatever silly normal reason, I didn’t listen to the new(est) album, Metals, until last night. What do you think of this latest effort?

CC: I love Metals. Can I tell you two personal stories about that album?

TG: Yes, of course, absolutely, please do.

CC: In my last few weeks living in Western Mass, Anne Holmes, Gale Thompson, and I went to Boston to see Feist on her tour for Metals. It was a bachelorette party for Anne, who neither Gale nor I would get to see again until her wedding day once we moved from Massachusetts in the ensuing weeks. We ate delicious Mexican food and drank a lot of tequila and Feist was beautiful and Anne skipped down the street calling herself the queen of Boston. That is one of my favorite nights to remember.

Story 2: My husband and I bought three albums on the first day of our honeymoon, which we listened to over and over again for the whole trip: Cat Power’s The Sun, Gary Clark Jr.’s Blak and Blu, and Feist’s Metals.

These two loving and happy associations with that album make the experience of listening to it very bittersweet. The nostalgia—that feeling that you want to remember something every moment for the rest of your life and that it hurts too much to remember because you can never live it again—it seems so appropriate for the lyrical content of that album, especially in “The Bad in Each Other.” I love that I have that association with it. It’s a very special album to me.

TG: Wow. Those definitely are two major captured pieces, contained in that album’s existence. Feel like I just experienced a couple like-moments this weekend, during my last visit with a few really special Ohioans, although oddballishly mine are soundtracked by a Halloween surf album (by the Bruise Brothers) with covers like “Monster Mash” and “Wipe-Out.” That’s to say, I’m back preparing to leave one state for another after a beautiful OHIO weekend visiting the impossible Joshua Kleinberg, the all-important Mike Krutel, and the indescribable Jamie Suvak. Lots of dancing and Dogfish Head brews and poems. All of us at Krutel’s place reading at a computer to Nick Sturm and Jeff Hipsher across the wires to Florida. Great time.

CC: It sounds like the weekend was perfect! I did a manuscript swap with Kelin Loe this weekend and went to a mango festival! It was also great.

TG: A mango festival? That’s Florida-wild. Oh, and I don’t know Kelin Loe. Any work around that I should check out? How’s your new manuscript going?

CC: It is so exciting to think that you still get to meet Kelin. Here is a poem of hers in jubilat, which includes a video of her reading the poem.

The manuscript I sent Kelin was a chapbook I’ve just started sending out. But I actually finally buckled down and put together my first draft of my second full length manuscript and sent it to Anne and Gale this week. I finished writing for it 8 or 9 months ago, but I get so overwhelmed by the ordering/editing/sequencing process that I was putting it off again and again until Anne internet-yelled at me to get my shit together. And I worked on it for five hours straight Friday and got to a first draft I’m really excited about. It was one of those rare ultra-productive days that make me feel like a kid wonder, though I guess we’re too old for that. I don’t know if everyone works like this, but as a poet, I feel like I get to start and finish things so quickly that anything that requires a long haul scares me. Do fiction writers have stronger character? Oh well.

Also, I ate this at the mango festival.

TG: I really like that poem of Kelin’s. Kind of reminds me of Carrie Lorig’s work that I danced with for so long (editing her chapbook NODS. for Magic Helicopter Press). I look forward to finding more of her work.

What’re you reading nowadays?

CC: I just finished reading The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather and Gabe Durham’s Fun Camp— fiction, but it often reads like poetry. I also recently read an excellent novel by Hilary Plum, called, They Dragged Them Through the Streets and I’ve been making my way through all three of Karen Russell’s books this summer. Right now I’m reading/flipping through a book called, The Where the Why and the How. It’s a collection of 75 science-based questions, each answered by a scientist in the appropriate field and illustrated by a visual artist. The book is beautiful and interesting and I’ve begun working on a series of poems that derive themselves from the mixture of scientific exploration and creative/imagined meaning-making and curious interrogation found there. That’s all very new and fresh, so I don’t want to say much more; if I talk about things too early on in the process, I often over-think and ruin them. Oh, and I also recently read Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns). It’s hilarious and can be read in an afternoon or two; I highly recommend it.

TG: Thank you so much for all the recommendations, Caroline. I seem to have lots of goodness to delve into while awaiting your next book.

Seriously, it’s such a relief to finally chat with you about Flood Bloom, most definitely one of my favorite books of the year so far. Thank you so much for your time and your openness. Stay stoked.

Yes! This was fun. You asked such good questions and I have had a wonderful and challenging time thinking about them. I cannot believe some of the things I’ve admitted to you! Thanks so much for thinking of me and for all your time and kind words about the book.

One Response to “Awful Interview: Caroline Cabrera”


  1. Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Kelin Loe in NOÖ Weekly | Vouched Books - September 2, 2013

    […] Cabrera told us all about Kelin and her goodness back in this interview, remember? If we weren’t paying attention yet, now’s the time, […]

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