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

The Lightning Room with Arielle Greenberg

 

–Interview by Diana Clarke

 

Arielle Greenberg sees clothing as costume change, a way to perform for the world the identities we inhabit and move between:“ teacher, parent, activist, poet, sex kitten.” In January, PANK ran excerpts from Greenberg’s forthcoming book, Locally Made Panties. Below, she talks people-watching, punk, Buddhism, and George Saunders.

 

 

1. How do you, as a person—not a writer, or not only as a writer—engage with fashion and performance when you go out into the world? That is, how do you decide what, actually, to wear?

Oh, I love this question! The truth is, there’s probably some kind of algebraic formula which I’ve never quite figured out, a combination of factors that determine various parameters, eliminate certain choices, etc. Probably the primary factor is weather: I live in a place with four distinct seasons, and so the first question is always how cold or hot is it going to be. I check the weather on my phone. Is it going to rain or snow?

From there, I can make decisions like “wear those black wool leggings, and find a sweater that looks good with those.” A second factor is what’s on the schedule for the day: sometimes I’m running errands with kids, sometimes I have to look professional, sometimes I’m sitting at my desk all day, sometimes I’m going out on a date later. These things determine if I’m going to wear something that needs to be dry-cleaned (which are generally only broken out for interviews and special occasions) or if I can show a lot of cleavage or what have you. Probably the third factor on the list is how I’m feeling about my body, which is highly influenced by where I am in my cycle. I can almost guarantee that if I’m wearing a form-fitting little dress and heels, I’m about to ovulate, and if I’m in a big comfy sweater and dark stretchy leggings, my period’s about to arrive. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Garrett Crowe

 

–Interview by Diana Clarke

 

Garrett Crowe’s furious, tender story “Teachings” demands that you read like your father is a felon, and like you are a human being, empathetic, fallible, and hungry. At least one of those things is certainly true. The other might be. Below, Crowe speaks on uncertainty, the second person, and being from West Tennessee.

 

1. I loved the tentative atmosphere you create for “Teachings” by using the second person and by beginning the first two paragraphs with possibility: “If your father…,” lending doubt to the narrative that follows, implicating the reader in the experience of having their father sent to prison, making it seem also as though the story could be autobiographical. How did you make that choice?

The point of view was actually discovered sometime after I wrote that first line. Originally, the opening was rhetorical only, thinking I’d somehow transfer to first person. Then it occurred to keep it second because, yeah, I wanted the reader to experience parental felony. I also found second person gave me distance away from the narrative. I could be a bit more technical, long-winded, kind of like a legal document. Continue reading

A Car With No Tires On It: A Conversation with Daniel McCloskey

 

–Interview by Rachel Mennies

 

Rachel Mennies: We’ve talked a lot about you seeing yourself as both a visual artist and a writer—I was curious if you could talk a little bit about a “hybrid novel,” the term you use to describe A Film About Billy?

Daniel McCloskey: I call my book a hybrid novel because it’s a novel that has comics in it. The book has 250 pages and about 80 of those are comics pages, but that term could apply to a broad range of longish narratives that integrate non-traditional elements.

RM: Okay—so that’s one way to distinguish it from, say, a more traditional graphic novel?

DM: Yes. A Film About Billy is more of a true prose book that has chunks of comics in it. It’s a novel about a kid filming a documentary about his dead friend during an international suicide epidemic—so it was important for me to have this character show part of his documentary. [My original] screenplay format wasn’t working, so I decided the text needed comics to give that glimpse. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Josette Akresh-Gonzales

 

 

–Interview by Diana Clarke

 

January author Josette Akresh-Gonzales makes a case for for caring about commas after the apocalypse and remembering even when it would hurt less to forget.

 

1. I was so struck by one line in “The Trumpet Player”: “Mercy for caring deeply about commas/instead of migrant slaves.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what, if anything, poetry can or should do when the world is more visibly messed up than usual. By which I mean, do commas have a use? Why bother caring about punctuation?

Without commas, there would be no small intake of breath between phrases, no pause; it would be all hard stops, choppy and unforgiving, like a drill sergeant yelling at you. Of course, I’m a copyeditor, so I have to care about commas. But, do I have to be a copyeditor? That’s the question I ask myself. If the world were to end (I just read the MaddAddam trilogy, by Margaret Atwood, so this hypothetical situation is fresh in my mind), would survivors who know where to put commas be able to make a living? Or would it be more useful, would it be more valuable in a postapocalyptic society, to be able to grow wheat, to weave fabric, to hunt squirrel. Atwood argues in these novels that storytelling matters tremendously to human beings and to survival. Should poetry address the problems we humans face? I really don’t know how it can’t and still survive as an art form. Those whose work takes big risks with big, troubling narratives—like Jamaal May, Martín Espada, Allen Ginsberg—are so rewarding to read, because they are not selfish: they give a huge gift to us in attempting to take on these topics that matter.

2. The speaker in that poem says, “I have two kids so I’ve forgotten everything.” But whoever she is, she’s writing poetry—which is a kind of memory, not to mention that she’s lying, and that the purpose of the yizkor service is to give people permission to remember, and to mourn family members they’ve lost. What’s the relationship between loving and forgetting? Continue reading

Because of your fatal addiction to art: A Conversation with Chelsea Hodson

 

–by Julie Hart

 

I met Chelsea Hodson last July when she read at The Book Report, a reading series at the HiFi on New York’s Lower East Side. She “reported” on Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth by reading an essay about the boys of her own youth. I bought her chapbook, an essay called Pity the Animal (Future Tense Books, 2014), and read it on the subway home. This line severed me: “I was writing everything down as if I knew what I was seeing.” I almost immediately began my own piece beginning with, “I was writing down my opinions and calling them poetry.” This is the highest form of flattery I know.

Chelsea agreed to come over to my Brooklyn studio and let me interview her. We talked about her recently completed project, Inventory, a Tumblr blog pairing short prose poems with photos of every single thing she owns—all 657 of them. We also discussed her writing practice, Marina Abramovic, her favorite poets, the Tin House summer workshop, and our minimalist aesthetic.

 

Julie: First, I wanted to ask you about Inventory. How did you keep going for 657 days?

C: Well, when I started it, I didn’t think anyone would read it. But I liked the idea of it being on the internet, a public document. Putting it out into the world helped me feel accountable, so the longer it went, the more I realized it had to be completed. When I started it, I thought, “I’ll do it for a while, but I probably won’t do everything.” The longer it went on, the more I realized, “No, I actually do need to finish it.” But I didn’t realize it was going to take nearly two years to do. I thought it would take maybe a year. I don’t know why. I just started making an inventory, and I started in the kitchen. When I decided to do the blog, I began a narrative and just did whichever object I felt would logically come next. Something in the kitchen would remind me of something in a book, so I would get that book and quote that part, so in that way it became somewhat random. I wasn’t doing it by room; I was doing it by instinct, intuition, what I thought would come naturally in the inventory. Conceptually, it would not be good if I didn’t actually do everything. I just felt, what’s the point if I don’t do the whole thing? Continue reading