Tanya Larkin on myth, Emily Dickinson, and being “a latecomer to clarity and plain speaking.”
Tanya Larkin’s poetry alternates between precise meditations and wilder, metamorphic explorations. Larkin’s “Essay on Style” poems demonstrate great focus, canny conceits, and intellectual rigor, but elsewhere her work expands to chart what Dostoevsky’s underground man called a “fever of oscillations,” spiritual agitations that lead to coursing involutions of figuration. Her work is among the best I’ve read in recent years. Her first book, My Scarlet Ways, was the winner of the 2011 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, judged by Denise Duhamel.
I’m reported missing
at the mirror when I think of you,
you suckhole of sincerity, you
glistening knob fallen from
(“The Heavenly Bodies Are Bowls of Fire”)
Gregory Lawless The first poem, “Transport,” in your beautiful debut collection, My Scarlet Ways, moves from wish to vision in what is a fascinating and complex drama of poetic inspiration. The speaker at first wants to be “nature’s one and only / wet nurse,” who “accru[es] voices” of cosmic and terrestrial testimony with her kinetic powers. Later, the speaker follows “wherever / the voices go,” which ultimately causes her to transform into a totemic, “anarchic red snake,” so in love with and “gone into [the] things” of this world that she is marshaled by others, perhaps the voices themselves, who “strap” her to the prow of a ship “for luck” (an image which is repeated in the poem “Prospects”).
This hallucinatory, Ovidian coil of leaps and metamorphoses winds up being something like the autobiography of a heretofore-ignored deity, part visionary confessional, part mythopoetic invocation. Why did you choose this poem, with such a volatile sense of identity and authorship, to begin your collection?
Tanya Larkin It is quite a myth mash—say that 20 times—but with a decidedly female bent, of course. I wrote most of this book while caught in the throes of pretty strong maternal urges, and I can’t help but look at this poem and see myself working out these desires with respect to the larger world and poetry. What do you do with that overwhelming urge if you don’t end up having children? How else can your body be so pleasantly used up?
Gregory Lawless speaks with Nate Pritts about his new collection, Sweet Nothings.
Nate Pritts is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Sweet Nothing, which Publishers Weekly describes as “both baroque and irreverent, banal and romantic, his poems . . . . arrive at a place of vulnerability and sincerity.”
His poetry and prose have been published widely, both online and in print and on barns, at places like Forklift, Ohio, Court Green, Gulf Coast, Boston Review & Rain Taxi where he frequently contributes reviews. He is the founder & principal editor of H_NGM_N, an online journal & small press.
Pritts writes of his own work, “what’s at stake for me is POETRY over the POEM; I am . . . . interested now in developing an askesis of living, a process whereby I can live & feel.” He sees poetry as an essential means of exploring/generating both existential and artistic meaning: “I want to write poetry, I want to write my life.” Consequently, his poetry is full of inquiries, quests, and questions that return cyclically and obsessively in his longer poems, and which complicate the meditative tenor of his shorter works. Recently I interviewed Pritts about his latest book, Sweet Nothing, and his work as editor of H_NGM_N.
This is when I say what it is that I do
& I’m telling it to you.
—From the poem “After Seeing Such Thriving”
Gregory Lawless and Robb Todd on happiness, Cormac McCarthy, and Todd’s new collection, Steal Me for Your Stories.
Robb Todd’s debut collection of short fiction, Steal Me for Your Stories (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2012) offers an alternately gritty and lyrical exploration of contemporary urban adventure and malaise. Each of the fine pieces in the book is driven by voice as much as event. Todd’s narrators never give you the whole story; they don’t tell you their names; and they don’t smother you with exposition. Instead, they offer glimpses of larger traumas, erotic encounters, and romantic collapse. Their fragmentary narratives and crackling, minimalist disclosures might seem, at first, like down-and-out confessionals, but they’re really records of spiritual growth and defeat, scouring for beauty in street litter, and the aftermath of love. Steal Me for Your Stories is a tremendous book.
Gregory Lawless Your debut collection of short stories, Steal Me for Your Stories, features a lot of microfiction. Many of these great pieces seem stolen in that they appear to be ripped from some larger narrative that the reader will never get to see. In one piece I really admire, “Wanted,” the narrator recalls being confronted by a female cop because he looks like a sexual assault suspect. He doesn’t say much about himself aside from briefly comparing and contrasting his appearance with the man captured in the cop’s suspect sketch. Part of what’s fascinating about the story is how little he gives the reader (in terms of back story), how listless his defense is in the face of troubling facts and/or coincidences, and how the touching but tragic confession that closes the piece, “I do not see myself as others do,” reveals that his own place in the narrative is unclear to him as well. He is the victim of facts and details that were too narrowly selected, but his drama intrigues me, in part, because he restricts what he tells us about his circumstances.
Could you tell me about how the short short stories allow you to steal/present different moments than longer pieces? And do you feel more comfortable telling, in the best way, only a fraction of the story instead of the whole story?
Robb Todd With very short pieces, the emotional force heightens from the absence of distraction (information) surrounding the incident. You can zoom in on one idea without the brain clutter that only serves to reduce the moment. The shorter stories gain simply by pushing the rest of the story out of the frame. The effect can be achieved with longer pieces, too, but it is much more difficult to pull off because the demands on the reader become greater.
My favorite stories—long or short—are the ones that leave me feeling like something important just happened, but I’m not totally sure what it was. “Big Two-Hearted River” comes to mind. Beckett. And everything and anything in [Denis Johnson’s] Jesus’ Son.