Haints, Horrors, and Hilarity: JD Wilkes on The Vine That Ate the South

 

INTERVIEW BY MANDY SHUNNARAH

Vine-That-AteIf you grew up in the rural South, you’ve probably heard tales of big cats, vampires, the Bell Witch, flesh-eating kudzu, and other terrors that go bump in the night. You may have even encountered some yourself, though probably not all in a single outing. Unfortunately for the protagonist of The Vine That Ate the South––and fortunately for us––he did.

Author JD Wilkes spared hardly a Southern folk demon in his debut novel, The Vine That Ate the South. It’s a Homeric tale of going into The Deadening, a patch of haunted woods in western Kentucky, in hopes of coming out not only alive, but with an adventure tale so heroic as to woo his One True Love away from his sworn enemy.

The ultimate destination of our unnamed hero is The Kudzu House, where legend has it an elderly couple was eaten alive by carnivorous kudzu and their skeletons can still be seen strung up by the hungry vine, like two burned out bulbs on a strand of morbid Christmas lights.

When the myriad of Southern haints and frightful creatures are encountered alongside the more corporeal menaces, like trigger-happy hunters and murderous Masons, you’re not entirely certain what’s real and what’s not––and that’s where the magic happens. Rather than a moonlight-and-magnolias glorification of the South, Wilkes shows just how fearsome it can be––literally and figuratively.

The Vine That Ate the South is not only suspenseful, but also uproariously funny. Whether he’s recounting a run-in with a lisping, overly eager pastor or remembering the day his girlfriend-stealing nemesis found his family’s “shit knife,” our protagonist is like that hilarious uncle who always tells the best stories, genuinely unaware of his natural talent for comedy.

The style and tone of the novel, as well as its deft storytelling, mirrors the music of the band The Legendary Shack Shakers, of which Wilkes is the frontman. With the band’s punk, blues, and rockabilly tunes, lyrics rife with apocalyptic Biblical references and Wilkes’ onstage persona as a Southern gothic preacher, The Vine That Ate the South is like a Legendary Shack Shakers show contained between two French flaps.

I talked to Wilkes about his writing process, his influences and his varied artistic talents.

Shunnarah: I so enjoyed The Vine That Ate the South. The story kept me turning pages well after I probably should’ve gone to bed. The novel reads like a bard finally wrote down the South’s oral mythic history. Were you conscious of that bard-like quality as you were writing? How do you think the oral tradition plays into Southern culture?

Wilkes: I wanted the book to read in a “high prose,” florid manner that mirrored the lushness of the Kudzu. The words needed to overwhelm you at times. But I also tried to cut it back and clear room––much like the characters do with their machetes––by allowing plain speech in spots. That way you hopefully get a nice balance of old-school verbosity and simple Southern humor and wisdom.

Shunnarah: I know The Vine That Ate the South wouldn’t be considered a humor book, but there were parts where I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. I’m curious to hear more about your thoughts on how humor factors into Southern culture and storytelling.

Wilkes: I think humor is or should be a part of Southern writing. Flannery O’Connor was satirical and humorous, of course. John Faulkner is a bigger influence on me than his brother William.

Irvin S. Cobb, from Paducah, Kentucky, is too. To write about a place with such an intense history, one must occasionally pop air into it. Levity is what keeps novels like mine from descending into depressing historical fiction or even horror.

Shunnarah: It seems like going exploring in the woods and seeing at least one big cat or mythical creature is a Southern rite of passage. I say that having explored some creepy shacks and seen a big cat or two myself. I’m curious to know if your own explorations and otherworldly encounters fueled some of the scenes in The Vine That Ate the South.

Wilkes: Yes, I also enjoy walking around in abandoned places in the woods, ha! Careful we don’t get shot!

One place nearby is an actual ghost town in the woods along Clarks River. It’s called Carter Mill (it’s talked about in the novel) and there’s nothing like letting your imagination run wild through all those old dilapidated timbers and tar paper. You can even make up your own stories about what happened there… mix it in with the truth a little. Let the storytelling take on a life of its own. It’s something I did as a kid and still do.

Shunnarah: I noticed that the unnamed protagonist calls his companion in adventure, Carver, “crazy” on several occasions. Though Carver is his best friend, he’s self-aware enough to know Carver has a few screws loose. As someone who calls the South home––but who has left, traveled the world, and come back––are there times when you feel like an outsider like the protagonist, too?

Wilkes: I think I’m secretly jealous of people like Carver, a simple redneck who can handle himself in any situation. He’s not that nuanced and he’s the absolute opposite of an intellectual. But it’s his ability to blend into the wild that makes the main character wonder if he’s just crazy… Carver even seems to be an extension of the terrible forest itself. But I see the character as less crazy and more visceral, even feral. A man in complete union with nature at its deadliest.

Shunnarah: Your first book, Barn Dances and Jamborees Across Kentucky, was a work of nonfiction published by History Press. Did you always know you wanted to write a novel at some point or was there something about writing Barn Dances and Jamborees that inspired you in that direction?

Wilkes: I never dreamed of really writing a novel. It was really all just a lark.

While on tour with my band in Norway, I cracked a laptop open for a light source while riding through a long tunnel in the mountains. I was homesick so I figured, “Hell… Why not start waxing poetic about Kentucky?” Those Arctic Circle surroundings might’ve inspired my slightly-Tolkienesque approach, though. It really looks like Middle Earth up there!

So I reckon I just started thinking about the lore of the South, as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon stuff that Tolkien studied. Thinking about how we have stories, too.

Shunnarah: In addition to writing the novel, you drew all the illustrations. And on top of that you’re an accomplished musician, both as a solo artist and as a member of multiple bands, most famously The Legendary Shack Shakers, and a filmmaker. How does your love of one inspire and influence the others?

Wilkes: All my pursuits are aimed at telling the same kind of story: epic southern mythology. So there’s always this overarching theme despite the varied media I dabble in. Each medium is just a different discipline that I have learned “good enough” to get the stories across to the public. The hope is that each and every creation will combine to form my own little universe, one that people will enjoy visiting from time to time.

Shunnarah: What’s next for you? I’m interested in any creative projects you’re working on, though I’m especially curious to know if there are more books in the works.

Wilkes: There’s a solo record in the works with some of the Squirrel Nut Zippers guesting. There will be another mural project or two––I just did a large painting for the historic Coke Plant in Paducah. And I’m always writing tunes for The Legendary Shack Shakers. New album comes out in April!

Despite the workload, I’m still vaguely entertaining Carver’s next move, way in the back of my brain. Wonder what he’ll do next …

__

Mandy Shunnarah is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio, though Birmingham, Alabama, will always have her heart. Her creative nonfiction essays and book reviews have appeared in The Missing Slate, Entropy Magazine, Deep South Magazine, and The New Southerner Magazine, where she won Honorable Mention in their 2016 contest. You can read more of her work at her website, OffTheBeatenShelf.com.

[INTERVIEW] HAUNTINGS, HUMOR, POETRY, AND DOGS – AN INTERVIEW WITH KIMMY WALTERS

INTERVIEW BY MANDY SHUNNARAH

killerWhether she’s writing about the endless curiosity of the body, the challenges that accompany being a feminist who isn’t afraid to defend her autonomy, the humor of living in a semi-rural area, or the wisdom of dogs, Kimmy Walters will delight you.

Walters is young—26, to be precise—so Millennials especially will recognize themselves in Killer’s pages. Walters’ debut poetry volume, Uptalk, was published in 2015, also by Bottlecap Press. At this rate, poetry connoisseurs will have much to look forward to.

Walters’ is the kind of poetry you can’t help but want to read, even when you’re falling asleep with the bedside lamp on. It’s the kind of poetry you read aloud to your friends because you just can’t keep it to yourself. The kind of poetry you want to read at stoplights even though it would pain you to be caught in the midst of a poem when the light changes.

While some modern poets default to snark, Walters is confident enough in her poetry to let each piece speak for itself rather than forcing the reader toward a quick, easy, often moralistic conclusion. Killer asks the reader only to observe and acknowledge—what readers glean beyond that is entirely their own.

Though the entire volume is captivating, the standout poems are “Good Morning, I Am Not Going to Commit Suicide Today,” “Does Your Soulmate Speak English,” “Marrying a Husband,” “Poem About How Little Affection I Had for Him,” “Giving Blood,” “The Water Was Filled With Swans,” “People Person” and, of course, the namesake, “Killer.”

I talked to Walters about her writing process and how her life experiences have informed her work.

Shunnarah: One of the things I most enjoyed about Killer is that while your poems are flush with meaning, they’re also extremely enjoyable on the surface level. Was the accessibility of your work always important to you? Did you ever have a memorable moment of throwing your hands in the air in frustration while reading a poem and think, “What does it all mean?” and vow not to make anyone do that?

Walters: Thank you! I’m not sure I ever consciously decided I wanted my writing to be accessible–I just didn’t have any interest in writing anything super opaque. I don’t get frustrated with needlessly complex writing so much as I get disinterested. I start looking around like “What else is going on?” I’m not going to spend a lot of time with a page that’s not really trying to communicate with me, and neither are most people.

Shunnarah: In the poem “Killer,” for which the collection is named, you speculate there may have been a killer who previously lived in your residence. Have you learned more about the house’s history since writing that poem?

Walters: I just looked up the house that poem was based on in Google Street View and there is a single black folding chair on the porch. Seems ominous…

It’s possible a killer lived there. That whole town was haunted as hell. One time my roommate and I slept downstairs in sleeping bags so we could try to get an overnight audio recording of the upstairs ghost. It was inconclusive.

Shunnarah: A number of the poems in Killer have a dark, subtle humor that is rendered sublimely in the text. I also noticed the recurring theme of dogs, creatures who manage to be simultaneously sage and goofy. Tell me more about your sense of humor and how it has developed in your poetry.

Walters: I’ve been depressed for a large portion of my life, and I dealt with it by constantly telling myself jokes. For a long time I thought that’s what everyone’s interior monologue was like. My sense of humor comes from years and years of trying to distract myself from being sad.

Shunnarah: You studied linguistics in college—deviating from the more common path of studying English literature or creative writing. Tell me more about how the study of linguistics gave you insight into language and influenced your poetry.

Walters: I didn’t have a lot of direction when I entered college, but the adults around me warned me against pursuing an English degree because they thought I wouldn’t be able to get a job. (I later found that it’s not easier to get a job with a linguistics degree, and a lot of people don’t know what linguistics is.)

It’s kind of an accident that I ended up with this degree, but it was a good course of study for me. I’ve always been interested in what language is capable of, its history, and how it changes. Studying linguistics definitely encouraged me to be more playful with language. The first thing you get taught in an introductory linguistics class is that you need to stop being such an asshole about language, which was true for me and probably all of my classmates.

Shunnarah: You’ve talked extensively about your use of social media as a poetic medium—namely making poetry out of the tweets from the now defunct horse enthusiast bot account, @horse_ebooks—so here’s the obligatory social media question. Many fans of your poetry found you via Twitter and Tumblr. Do you think blogging and social media, particularly Twitter because it requires brevity, have helped guide people to modern poetry?

Walters: When I was a tween, the thing to do at my school was to keep a blog, so I’ve been writing online for about 13 years. Connecting with people online is easier and makes me less anxious than trying to meet people other ways, and the way I’ve connected with people is by sharing writing or art.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of practice creating things that I want people to see. I took to Twitter quickly because I’m usually brief anyway. Twitter’s character limit is a constraint on writing the same way that the rules of haiku are. I mean, like anyone, I’ve tweeted “who up?” but hella old poems essentially boil down to “who up?” too. It’s one of the Big Questions.

The internet is a buffet and I am going hog wild on it. It’s so easy to sample things—I read articles online about subjects I’d never think to actually buy a book about. That may be where some of the interest in poetry is coming from. Someone who’d never browse the poetry section of a bookstore might have a poem come across their feed on Twitter or Facebook and find that they like it. Then they’ll come across a tidbit about food science or body language and like that too. We take in so much information; some of it’s gonna be poetry.

Shunnarah: Killer is your second collection of poetry, the first being Uptalk, which was also published by Bottlecap Press. In what ways have you evolved as a poet from Uptalk to Killer?

Walters: I think I was more focused while writing Killer, and generally had a better idea of what I was doing. I felt more confident writing, because I knew that people had responded positively to my work, and made quicker, less self-conscious decisions. The style is similar, but tighter, I feel.

Shunnarah: What are you working on now?

Walters: I’m figuring that out! I’ve just been writing poems and waiting for some theme to hijack my life so I can write another book.

Mandy Shunnarah is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio, though Birmingham, Alabama, will always have her heart. Her creative nonfiction essays and book reviews have appeared in The Missing Slate, Entropy Magazine, Deep South Magazine, and The New Southerner Magazine, where she won Honorable Mention in their 2016 contest. You can read more of her work at her website, OffTheBeatenShelf.com.

[INTERVIEW] Chloe Caldwell on I’ll Tell You In Person

Publisher: Coffee House Press in collaboration with Emily Books
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Number of pages: 184
Price: $16.95

 

REVIEW AND INTERVIEW BY MANDY SHUNNARAH

With stories about growing up and fearing growing old, friendships and friend foibles, the intimacies of obsession and the intricacies of depression, I’ll Tell You In Person is an essay collection as vulnerable as it is blunt. Chloe Caldwell’s sharp wit and keen powers of observation are in full force in her newest book.

Caldwell takes readers on an odyssey through turbulent formative years of heroin, binge eating, Craigslist dating, the loss of a close friend, coming out, living in Europe, best friends, ex-friends, relationship blunders, encounters with celebrities, and all the experiences of youth that make us who we are. I inhaled Caldwell’s essays with unusual quickness—losing track of time, forgetting the presence of people around me, being fully present and absorbed in a way that only the words of a gifted essayist can produce.

I’ll Tell You In Person chronicles young adulthood with aplomb. Though it can feel as if the reader is meant to recall her own adolescent calamities and stack them up for comparison, this collection isn’t some righteous manifesto. There is no moral to the story because, as seasoned writers know, stories don’t need morals.

***

I talked to Chloe about her book and the challenges of writing personal essays. (This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Mandy Shunnarah: I have to start off by congratulating you because I read I’ll Tell You In Person faster than any book in recent memory. One of the elements I most adored about the book is that you’re deeply self-deprecating without being overly critical or judgmental of yourself, and without apologizing. I got the sense that writing about your past heroin addiction, binge eating, masturbation, job woes, and nearly over-drafting your bank account to impress a millionaire celebrity was cathartic. Tell me more about your writing process and the emotional pilgrimage of writing this book.

Chloe Caldwell: Thank you! I’m touched you felt that way. The essays all came to be in different ways and times. “Yodels” I wrote back in 2013 for The Rumpus. “Soul Killer” I sent to Salon that same year because I had no money and $150 was a lot for me. Same with “The Laziest Coming Out Story.” So half of the book was already written without being considered a book. I began putting the essays together and then added five new ones over the course of 2014-2016.

I don’t know if it gives me any sort of relief or catharsis at all. The tough thing about this book was I was super broke during the process of putting it together, and submitting it to publishers. It’s stressful to work on a book without money, because to have time, you need money. It was difficult for me to sit and work on essays when I knew I should be working at my dad’s music store for money or catering or finding more teaching jobs.

MS: With I’ll Tell You In Person being your second collection of essays, how did you find yourself evolving as you explored more facets of what it means to grow up?

CC: It’s hard to talk about this stuff, it’s so ephemeral. I’ve always been smart in spite of my stupid choices and have been hyper-aware enough to know I could only make ridiculous decisions before I got older. And now I am older. It’s a creepily acute feeling I have at thirty, both like a child and a grown woman. My life is unconventional in the sense that I documented my wilder years. It’s not that I did anything more interesting than anyone else, it’s just that I have it out there in the form of a book. I feel myself evolving in many ways—I’ve always been into growth and therapy, etc., but I like to keep some of my evolving private.

MS: You share very openly in your work, though it sounds like people are always wanting more. What’s that like? How do you separate yourself from your work and maintain a personal life as a personal essay writer?

CC: I share openly in my work and in my life as well, mostly. But my essays are by no means my life story. There’s a ton I haven’t written about. The essays are just what I thought would be entertaining or enjoyable for a reader, what I had ideas for. People are definitely always wanting more and it’s a slippery slope. Luckily, I have an awesome therapist who used to work in publishing in NYC and knows a lot about the writer lifestyle, reads my books, and is familiar with the “scene” and the authors and books I mention. She’s helped me create clear boundaries around a lot of this stuff.

As Maggie Nelson says, “I don’t worry about people who ‘think they know me’ because, not to sound flip, they just literally don’t.” I’m paraphrasing, but I feel the same way. I have a private life just like everyone. I just write about certain “slices of life” if you will excuse that horrendous expression. “Prime Meats,” for example, is about something I did ten years ago. So I don’t feel super close to a lot of the essays in the collection.

MS: You seem at peace with your younger self, and I get the feeling that’s something a lot of people wish they could do. How did you get to that point? Was it a difficult place to reach when, as a writer of personal essays, you’re inevitably reaching into the past?

CC: Well, I don’t think I thought of it as a point to get to or a place to reach, which helps. I guess it’s just part of my make up, and comes naturally to me, which is why I ended up being a personal nonfiction writer—a lifestyle most certainly not for everyone. I did some weird shit in my youth, but who doesn’t? Plus, it got me to where I am: healthy, with books published, a job I love. My life is filled with the classes I teach, so I’m constantly reading personal essays of other people’s mistakes, so to me, it’s the new normal.

MS: The title harkens an intimacy that’s present on every page. Considering how I inhaled the book it almost feels strange that you’re not actually my real life best friend telling me these stories in person. Are these essays stories you did tell people in person before writing them down?

CC: No, they weren’t. I was just texting that phrase to my friends/family all the time about small things, like what I felt about a movie I’d just seen or whatever. I felt limited on text message and email and many of my close girl friends live in cities across the country from me, so I liked saving up anecdotes until I saw them in person and we could chat over glasses of wine. I liked the conversational tone of it for a book title, so it stuck. None of the essays aside from “Hungry Ghost” are exactly riveting stories or anecdotes. That’s why I say in the opener that I don’t necessarily have “good stories.” I’m more the kind of writer who tries to make narrative out of nothing.

 

 

Mandy Shunnarah is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio, though she calls Birmingham, Alabama, home. She writes personal essays, book news, and historical fiction. Her writing has been published in The Missing Slate and Deep South Magazine. You can find more of her work at her website, offthebeatenshelf.com.

“I had to write about what I was seeing”: a Conversation with Jeff Condran

–Interview by Jason R. Poole

 

Jeff Condran and I first met in his Intro to Fiction course at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. We’ve kept in touch over the years, during which Jeff has co-founded Braddock Avenue Books, published a story collection, A Fingerprint Repeated, and also his debut novel, Prague Summer. Jeff now teaches Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

 
Jason R. Poole: Both your short story collection and your novel share focal points in the post-9/11 intersection of Arab and American cultures. What drew you to this subject matter?

Jeff Condran: In the fall of 2001, I was teaching at La Roche College in suburban Pittsburgh. The college offered a scholarship program called Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) by which students were brought from “conflict and post-conflict nations” to study in the United States. And so my classes were filled with 18-25 year old Arabs from all over the Middle East—Palestine, Jordan, Saudia Arabia, Yemen.

It was a life-changing experience to walk into class on that Tuesday in September and discover a group of what had been generally untroubled expatriate college students who were excited about being in America and see them utterly transformed. Now people saw them as the enemy or, if not, at least the sudden spokespeople for all of Arab and Islamic culture. It was a horrible position for them to find themselves in. The FBI came on to campus and interviewed many of my students, asking them questions like, “Is Osama bin Laden your uncle?” and, later, arresting and detaining those they perceived as having violated various aspects of the Patriot Act.

I felt I had to write about what I was seeing.

 

JRP: Prague Summer has its origin in one of the stories from your collection. What made you decide to explore the story at greater length? What was that process like? Continue reading

The Lightning Room: Blog People

[PANK] Interviews Editor Diana Clarke is a facilitator of the unexpected. She is a brilliant asker. Her approach both to writing and to conversations with other writers is vivid and curious, articulate and pointed. The fiery result of this approach comes across not only in her interviews, but also in her other work – including her film reviews, her writing about urban space and culture and her work translating Yiddish women poets. The stories she tells – and the ones she draws out of her subjects so deftly – are deeply dimensional.

Below, Clarke talks Lolita, lightning, pleats, vulnerability and Yiddish.

 

–Interview by Temim Fruchter

 

1. Many of us are scattered across the country and only know one another, and our writers, from the internet. Where do you blog from?

Mostly I blog from coffee shops. I find I can do the work much better–much truer, with more presence and intention–away from my home. My favorite cafe in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I’m living these days, has huge windows and great people-watching. I love sitting in the ambient communal energy, able to be still because of all the motion around me.

2. Okay, maybe this is a cheating question, but here goes: What is your dream question, the question you’d want any interviewer worth their salt to ask YOU? Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Tyrese Coleman

Tyrese Coleman’s compact, powerful story “How to Sit,” from the March/April issue, contains three generations of women, explosive in their anger and love. Below, Tyrese talks pride, beauty, and the stories we carry in our bodies, our bodies carry into the world.

 

–interview by Diana Clarke

 

1. The narrative voice in “How to Sit” is so raw, furious and vulnerable, in particular where you describe how the grandmother’s “toenails are close to my leg. They are daggers. And if they were attached to her fingers, and if she were forty-seven and not sixty-seven, she would use them to scratch my face for pitying her.” How did you write into that place of anger and imminent violence?

I was mad, spitting mad, about a situation that I could not control when I wrote this. And in trying to understand who and what I was mad about, I considered the idea of being so frustrated that physical violence, down right fighting, is the only possible release in some cases.

But, what brings a person to that level? I personally feel it’s the failure to meet your own expectations. A woman like the grandmother in “How to Sit” is not a person used to being suffered. She was a star! And the worst thing that could happen to a woman so fiercely independent, to the extent of debilitating selfishness, is to be caged or told there is anything at all she cannot do. Pride causes that. Pride and having certain expectations out of life. And when the realization happens that, despite the visceral desire to change the situation, you are trapped and now, indeed, you are someone to be pitied, well, there is nothing left to do with your arms and legs and nails, but to scratch and fight, to show whoever it is that thinks they know you better than you know yourself, enough so that they have the audacity to pity you, that you are still someone to be reckoned with. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Jenny Xie

 

–interview by Diana Clarke

 

Is it too much to say that Jenny Xie’s story “Wendy Beside Herself,” Wendy finds herself even as she loses her own arm? Of course it is. Wendy doesn’t find herself—none of us ever do. But, in Jenny’s words, “our remembrance of loss is an acceptance of that fissure; it becomes a part of our architecture.” The search, the gaps, is all there is.

Arm_cut

1. The opening line of “Wendy Beside Herself” does such interesting things with time. By writing “Three years after Wendy Tsai loses her right arm…” you situate the reader in a present informed by loss. Before we know anything about Wendy, we know what she is missing—and even though the loss happened three years ago, the news of it is delivered in the present tense. How do losses shift and change with age? How do we integrate them into our sense of self?

There’s an element of traumatic loss that always remains incomprehensible. I think it’s our tendency to return to a moment of loss in an attempt to understand it, but it’s an intellectual and emotional orbiting that never really brings us closure. As we change and age, our remembrance of loss is an acceptance of that fissure; it becomes a part of our architecture.

2. Just looking at your story, I was struck by the form, the em-dashed dialogue tags rather than more standard quotation marks. That formatting made each piece of speech visually startling, an upset to the urgent, visual descriptions in the rest of the piece. What inspired you to shape dialogue in that way? Continue reading

The Lightning Room: Blog People

When Temim Fruchter began writing her monthly column Between the Bones for the [PANK] blog, she described “[m]y blunt grown-up pancake feet, with their no arches, my feet with their chipped red polish, my feet like a golem’s – ungraceful stones, impostors in shoes.” This former drummer for the Jewish feminist punk band The Shondes maintains historical immediacy and bodily consciousness in this edition of our series of interviews with the blog people, who keep the [PANK] internet chugging and full of poetry.

 
Interview by Diana Clarke
 

1. Many of us are scattered across the country and only know one another, and our writers, from the internet. Where do you blog from? 
 
I blog from a house on the edge of a forest in Washington, DC.

2. In what ways is a blog person like a bog person?  Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Amy Blakemore

 

–Interview by Diana Clarke

 

In Amy Blakemore’s story “Exit Strategies,” a woman whose body is a paper bag begs outside a diner. Below, Blakemore names and claims desire, hunger, and the way trauma seeps past the edges of its occurrence and into our bodies, our lives.

 

1. You make such interesting use of juxtaposition: “Crispy bacon. She’s been on a diet since she was fourteen. It took me years to pop the question.” What do hunger, forbidden food, marriage, and fear have to do with one another?

This is a story, among others things, about suppressed appetites. I think it takes bravery to accept and fulfill our hungers. It requires us to accept that we are not always in control: that we are not always rational creatures. I wanted to write about two characters who, like most of us, had not accepted this—a girl who thought she could undo years of deprivation, a boy who thought he could help her without allowing his own desires to influence the texture of that “help.” Writing this story, at points, felt like a game of Whac-a-Mole: when a character pushed something down, a new and unexpected face appeared. Food became love, love became fear. When our desires are held down, for long enough, they start to shift and change—think of bones under pressure, and how they splinter. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Allison LaSorda

–Interview by Diana Clarke

Allison LaSorda’s poem “Playdate,” from the March issue, gets intimate with the iamb and an unnamed partner. It’s pretty hot.

1. “Playdate” is so dense and chewy, it feels like it must have taken ages to get just right, yet in its compactness the poem feels naturally a whole. How did you go about tweaking the thing into place? How long did it take?

I started with the first line, “you’ve got me where you want me,” which initially felt kind of flat and familiar, and wanted to pull it apart for meaning. The poem grew more in the direction of a creepy nursery rhyme as each line came out. I left about a month before doing any edits, just letting it sink in and feel comfortable for me, but really, the poem is very close to what I initially wrote down. I wanted to work quickly and go more by sound and playfulness rather than overthinking, which I usually tend towards. Continue reading