Writer Round-Up: A Collective Interview Wherein Writers We Like Discuss Topics Related to the Craft
H_NGM_N Press Authors : Jennifer H. Fortin, Russell Dillon, Nick Sturm, & Caroline Cabrera
Interview by Cynthia Reeser
For Prick of the Spindle, Vol. 7.2, June 2013
In this issue, the publisher spotlight is on H_NGM_N Press. Some of their authors answer a handful of questions.
Please say a word about your publication with H_NGM_N. What inspired it? What drives it?
Jennifer H. Fortin: Not to lean overmuch on fate here, but in a less grave, less gigantic way: kind of all my experience up to the point I started writing the book brought it about.
Honestly, I can’t say who or what was driving the first draft of the book—and I don’t think I’d want to know—but it sure was an instructive ride for this passenger. Morning hours between 3 and 5 were when I wrote the bulk of this text. It was definitely a time of day I wasn’t used to being conscious (and surely I wasn’t yet totally conscious these writing sessions). As a friend recently observed, those are the hours when things come for you. The ghosts for a guilty or longing or uneasy talk—giving good answers to weird questions is a rocky responsibility; the monsters to eat your soul (which I imagined as a very thin, very translucent shadow of your own body, residing inside your body); the intruder, whose fantasy unravels then—sweet unreal intruder which is actually only a thought, a mouse, a color. Or, worse, and because it really is that easy, the men who simply step through your window.
Russell Dillon: Actually the book will be coming out from Forklift Books. H_NGM_N and Forklift, Ohio have a long relationship of working together, but Forklift Books is its own entity. Matt and Eric choose, design, and publish the books. H_NGM_N deals with the distribution and other business-related aspects of the books, like getting reviews, etc. These guys have found a model that works for them with regard to getting the books out, but they’re definitely two separate entities, both of which are very dear to me. The most important thing for me in this whole process has been my relationship with these groups and their own poems, as well as their editorial choices. It hadn’t really struck me much at the time, but in the first few days of grad school, Liam Rector gave his opening remarks to the new students and in his advice simply stated, “Find those with whom you have rapport, and proceed.” While it first touched me as obvious and simplistic, over the years it’s become very clear that finding the community of peers, readers, and friends that will care about poems/poetry in a similar way is quite difficult. The aesthetics of Forklift, H_NGM_N, and their pals Typecast are marrow-deep, and driven by something nearing moral integrity, no matter how Dionysian the spirit from which it springs. I’ve been very fortunate and honored to have begun this relationship with these guys years ago, and, through our ongoing dialogue, to have arrived at working on Eternal Patrol together. Everything most likely started with a letter (some might argue a beer, then a letter) and a tremendous respect for the eyes and hands that it would bring to my work.
The crucial driving factor in this publication is that these guys have been very supportive of the work, and I want to contribute in any way I can to all they have done and will continue to do. I’m very comfortable from the collections they’ve done in the past that everything is going to look and feel beautiful, and I’m very honored to be in the company of their previous authors.
Caroline Cabrera: I wrote Flood Bloom while in grad school. From 2008-2012, I lived alone with my cat, in various apartments in the forested areas in Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley. Living in a cottage in the woods forced me to become increasingly aware of my natural surroundings, and those landscapes provided more than just a backdrop for many of these poems. And the memory of different surroundings—from my sub-tropic upbringing in South Florida—found their way in, as well. But even more importantly, my living situation caused me to grow simultaneously dependent on and saddened by my state of seclusion, and as a result, I started to think of myself in relation to my closeness to/distance from the other beings (human and animal) that I encountered throughout the routines of my days. These poems come through a speaker (spoiler: it’s me!) with a rich interior life struggling between the pleasures of solitude and the dull heartbreak of isolation. In other words, the ethereal charm of living in the woods outside a picturesque New England town where Emily Dickinson lived and was buried had a pretty big effect on me during some formative writing years.
Nick Sturm: Friendship, betrayal, lemonade, the Great Lakes, “When The Sun Tries to Go On,” my cat, my history of sitting on porches, Jim Beam Rye, the Cascade Mountains, watermelon, driving a golf cart on the skate park when I was 17, a drawing on a kitchen table in Chicago, Amtrak, Square Records, Allen Ginsberg’s archives, language’s wound, Highway 1, the Pousette-Dart in the Cleveland Museum of Art, deer, synchronicity, broken umbrellas, The Big Big Mess Reading Series, the Skyway Bridge, Eat’n Park, Herzog, flowerpots being thrown through windows, hills, blood, Butterfinger cappuccinos from I-75 rest stop vending machines in Michigan, Dr. Dog, Magnolia Electric Co., an airplane door in an apartment in Bushwick, Gmail, drug-addled sunrises, bok choy from the Chinese grocery in Tallahassee, pheasant’s eye, coffee with Higgs, the one magnolia tree in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Old Canes, a pizza box seven years ago, PennSound, 52 Corson, 1318 Ormewood, Thomas Wolfe, vacuum cleaners being carried through the snow, avocados, backside tailslides, a horse I saw in the water in Montana, my inability to describe my experience of art as anything other than sexual, my own stupidity, grass, hair, parking garages, whoever bought me Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Mary Poppins, and Dr. Doolittle on VHS for Easter when I was a kid, trying to feel like a human, dancing, suffering, the dark room in high school, how the world eats me, the Barthelme story where he says “butter” 97 times in a row, mouths, tenderness, margaritas, Katy Perry, mistakes.
Where do you see yourself currently as an author, and where are you headed creatively?
JHF: I’m reading a lot, and varied books. Not only books, actually, but I’m reading, writing, speaking, and generally dabbling in medical matters—interviews, news stories, blog posts—frequently these days, as my job in public relations/communications at a leading medical center requires such. So wellness and illness, empathy, and people and their loved ones are very present for me…research and reputation and mergers and studies. Care. Information lost, left on a thumb drive in the pants whisked off to the laundry, and the possible ramifications here.
Certainly that will all seep into my writing—it already has.
I’m feeling a bit restless as an author these days. I think I’m headed more and more toward prose, toward essay. That kind of very clear discovery, with big beautiful facets like glaciers you reach after being driven for miles by a silent guide in a super truck. This I mean instead of, or as separate from, a poem’s discovery, which is subtle; patternlessness that grows up into a pattern, like the crack of a television screen, or that of a cell phone.
Some of these glaciers may be able to fit into a television—one of those near-antique, really boxy ones that weigh more than I do—maybe I’ll take a stab at figuring that one out, compacting the one type of discovery into the other.
RD: Geez, this is tough. The process of working on the book as its own object has been difficult for me, and came in the midst of a huge transition (moving back to New York after nearly a decade in San Francisco). There’s a very different type of attention required in the two places, which I think I’d forgotten, and writing has proven to be difficult for me here. Previously, I was working primarily with the poem on a poem-level, without a honed eye on the sense of a collection, necessarily. I could say that things are distilling a bit into more of a focused machine, but that may be the result of months of editing rather than creating as much new work, or the changing concept of space and time, linguistic sprawl and languor, or the pacing of a piece (with its sense of immediacy, as to when it must arrive at its purpose/reason). The whole process may be changing for me. There’s a lot less ease in the way I get lost in New York as opposed to San Francisco; less wandering, less stroll. In some ways, I think this may be good. It is harder to change your process when you are still fully alive in the memory of your process. I am often wary of humor in poems, and not because I don’t think it can work wonderfully (see Kenneth Koch), but because I think often the poem can easily take a back seat to the jokes. I’ve been encouraged by some peers to let more humor/ease come through in the poems, but I have difficulty giving up that level of control. Wherever I may be headed creatively, I’m keeping that in mind.
CC: I honestly identify as a fairly young, green writer. And so I’m not interested in giving a lot of further thought to labeling where I am or where I’m going. Currently I want to focus on the day-to-day activity of reading and writing, and making sure I keep myself excited and productive. I often feel if I give a lot of thought to what I want a poem or a series of poems to do, I ruin it. And so I try to avoid overthinking my poems. And in the same way, I guess, currently, I’m focused on keeping writing and continuing to identify myself only as an active writer. I can say, though, that I feel like my work is getting a little sassier.
NS: I don’t know. I am abandoned to happiness to have my first book on H_NGM_N, to have the honor of working with Nate Pritts, who is such a champion of poetry and a poetics I really respond to. He’s really pulled me up over the past year. Other than that, more poems, work that looks and feels more like aimlessness, teaching, being a student, drinking coffee with people I love. Mostly I am far away from those people now, and the new poems are Rothkoing that, in a long way. It has to do with cause and effect, how that relationship doesn’t really work. I think I am trying to cover distances. How We Light starts this movement, but what’s next pulls more ways at once. I’ve been reading Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and proofs of Noelle Kocot’s and Mary Ruefle’s new books from Wave. I just finished Lisa Jarnot’s biography of Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus, which is excellent and had me on the phone to friends. I am doing this thing where every night I type out a poem I love on the typewriter, cover it with different things, send it away. Last night was Mark Strand’s “The Idea,” which should just be my answer (on this point, thanks Justin Boening).
Is there something you see a lot of in contemporary writing (either in the field in general or in the writing itself) that you would change if you could?
JHF: Generally, I’d like to slow everything down. Too many ninja-quick moves capture too many things, package them, and put them out there into the world. I’m not saying I wish word processors were never made, or anything as radical as that—I just very much wonder if people would value the world more were we to handle everything slower, more carefully. Just because we can bang out so many poems or chapters a month, doesn’t mean we should. A terribly unimaginative chill settles in when we’re not resourceful.
RD: I have to admit to having very strong, and purposely private, thoughts about many aspects of contemporary poetry. I am adamant that poets and poetry exist in a tiny world all too divided (which can be partially understandable, considering there is an inherent ego that drives each individual to write and seek publication). There are many small and, as I see it too often, competing (if not warring) camps within a world I envision as having been created from an initial love—a sense of unity. Poetry is constantly at risk of being lost to cynicism or scrapping for crumbs of attention. I say this with the understanding that poetry has brought me to some of the most wonderfully thoughtful, caring, insightful people I have found on this planet. But the sacredness of this tiny swath and thread is something I hold very dear. I will say what pleases me very much about contemporary writing is an opportunity to attend a well-prepared and thoughtful reading by a poet. There is a different level of entry to a work that is illuminated through the author’s care (and performance, be it raucous or somber) at that moment. I share the same sentiment about criticism, but I may just be overly soft and won over by a well-demonstrated care or attention to the work. I’m also very pleased to see successful poets remaining open to those walking the same path, however far behind them. We’re all pretty lucky to even be considering any of this.
CC: Perhaps because I am a young writer, I’m still pretty head over heels for poetry. I do a lot of things in my day, and can find serious complaints with most of them—my day job, driving in South Florida, etc. But with poetry, I’m a bit more forgiving, because it is so much more fulfilling to me. I think of poetry as something that—when it’s really good—can supersede all that other shit. And as a whole, poetry and the community I’ve found there don’t disappoint. Are there types of poems that bug me? Yes. Are there things people do at readings that bug me? Sure. But overall, I’m still infatuated enough to mostly overlook them.
NS: Have you read Carrie Lorig’s nods from Magic Helicopter Press? Wendy Xu’s You Are Not Dead from Cleveland State University Poetry Center? Caroline Cabrera’s Flood Bloom from H_NGM_N? Dana Ward’s The Crisis of Infinite Worlds from Futurepoem? Paul Killebrew’s Ethical Consciousness from Canarium? These books are the opposite of any answer to this question.
We Lack in Equipment & Control is Jennifer H. Fortin’s second book. Lowbrow Press published her first, Mined Muzzle Velocity, in 2011. Fortin is the author of four chapbooks from Dancing Girl Press, the Dusie Kollektiv, Poor Claudia, and Greying Ghost Press. With three other poets, she founded and edits LEVELER. Fortin is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bulgaria 2004-2006). She now works in Public Relations/Communications at the University of Rochester Medical Center. For more information, visit www.jenniferhfortin.com.
Russell Dillon was born in New York in the mid-seventies and just hasn’t been able to get over it. After attending a number of schools, he received degrees from Emerson and Bennington Colleges, and later ended up in San Francisco for a decade, where he began co-editing the journal Big Bell. Now, living back in New York, there is pizza everywhere. Poems have appeared, or are forthcoming in Lumberyard, H_ngm_n, Forklift, Ohio, 5 am, Parthenon West, and Bright Pink Mosquito, among others. A chapbook, Secret Damage, was released from Forklift, Ink in 2009, and his first full collection, Eternal Patrol, will be released from Forklift Books in the summer of 2013.
Caroline Cabrera is the author of Flood Bloom (H_NGM_N BKS) and the chapbook, Dear Sensitive Beard (Dancing Girl Press). Her poems have most recently appeared in Bateau, Conduit, Inter|rupture, and H_NGM_N. She is chapbook editor of Slope Editions. She currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Nick Sturm is the author of How We Light, forthcoming from H_NGM_N Books, as well as a number of chapbooks including, with Wendy Xu, I Was Not Even Born (Coconut) and, with Carrie Lorig, Nancy and The Dutch (NAP). Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Typo, jubilat, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. He is from Akron, Ohio and lives in Tallahassee, Florida.