THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the anthology's title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up My Cruel Invention, what three words immediately come to mind?
Regarding the book’s title – once I came up with the idea of inventions/inventors as a subject, the title just popped into my head. Cruel Inventions is the title of an album by Sam Phillips, and just the thought of My Cruel Invention seemed so appropriate to me. And I couldn’t find any other poetry anthologies that focused on inventions.
Regarding the cover image – Tricia Reeks, the founder of Meerkat Press, designs her own books and she did such an amazing job of finding potential images for the cover. Once I saw this image, I had a great feeling about it. It had that little bit of futuristic/steampunk that I felt the anthology should have, as well. Tricia totally went with that idea, and this design suits the anthology better than anything I could have imagined.
To sum up the book in three words is difficult. The best I can come up with is “Poetic steampunk historian.” Now I may have to come up with a Halloween costume that matches that description.
What were you trying to achieve with your anthology? Is there a world you were trying to create?
It wasn’t that I was trying to create a world, but to illuminate the one in which we all live. If you look around you, almost everything you see was invented by someone. I love that this anthology includes poems about the invention of the safety pin and the saw gin, poems about some of the outrageous patents that exist, as well as poems about imaginary “killer apps” and futuristic robots.
Can you describe your process for this anthology?
My process for deciding which poems to include in this collection was very straightforward. I selected poems that I thought were good poems, that related to the theme, and that also had something to add to the greater conversation about the theme. No matter how good a poem was, if it didn’t relate to the theme, I had to say no.
How did you order the poems in the anthology? Do you have a specific method for arranging the poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
Ordering the poems was also very important to me. We have a couple of poems about Edison, a couple about Frankenstein, and some that had a similar futuristic robot vibe. I didn’t want readers to think “Oh, here are all the poems about robots,” or “Oh, here are all the poems about crazy patents.” I wanted those poems to speak to each other from a distance, but like echoes in that they are in very specific ways different from each other.
I also wanted to move between humorous poems and devastating poems, because for all of the funny inventions there are in the world, there are also cruel ones, as referenced in the anthology title. As a reader, I appreciate when a collection doesn’t just lump poems of one type of emotion all together.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read. What does it say about the anthology?
By Julie E. Bloemeke
1849: In debt for $15, Walter Hunt was given a piece of wire and told to invent
something to save himself from his creditors. Three hours later he revealed his
“dress pin” or safety pin. He sold his patent for $400. – Necessity’s Child: The
Story of Walter Hunt, America’s Forgotten Inventor
All the hope of a stoop.
Under birds, under a leaf
turning, copper between
the fingers. A drag. The twist
of hand, this thin filament, the words:
save yourself; you owe me.
The pressure of stairs, leading to street.
Unhinging the mind. Warming the wire
between fingers. Bend away, bend back.
The fear we owe. The mounting numbers.
Turn wire, think electric. Think: save.
Spiral back the thoughts of loss
into the pin of the mind, the tunneled
light of open, allow
the hands taking over.
Three hours. Time. Creation. Arc
to past and forward, to a letter,
a diatom, a locking thing, a heart
held in stays. A small world at the end,
a catch at the top. To protect fingers,
self. Dollar signs bent and breathing,
the small ache of empty boxes.
In these turns, a universe, the millions
we will one day hold between teeth, pinning
straps to dresses, notes to mother
on our chests, the treasure, never known,
his palm opened, the tiniest fiber
taken, his focus the failed sewing machine.
The relief of no longer in the red, the turkey
at the table, and outside the rain, now,
silver as pins, lashing the leaves,
the ground, saying, oh turn back, turn
this way. There was, in your design
the smallest sun, and we worried,
instead, about the blood.
I think this poem perfectly embodies what I had in mind when we first put out the call for submissions. The poem takes an invention so small, and illuminates the story of the invention behind it – how, and in whose hands, it came to be. The language of the poem is lovely – I, as a reader, can see the hands moving, manipulating the wire. It’s great to be given the gift of seeing something so simple in a new light.
What are you working on now?
I have a lot of projects going on right now, including a children’s book, but most of the writing and editing I am doing aside from this anthology has been for business clients. I do have a full-length manuscript of my own poetry that I have not yet been submitting because I want to get more of the poems published in journals first. I also have a chapbook that might be close to completion, but I need to wait and see if any more poems emerge that could be appropriate for it. Again, I am trying to get more of those poems into journals before I start sending the chapbook manuscript around to publishers.
Without stopping to think, write a list of five poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least write in permanent marker on your clothing, to take with you at all times.
Margaret Atwood, W.S. Merwin, Dorothy Parker, Mark Strand, Wisława Szymborska
Purchase My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology from Meerkat Press.
Bernadette Geyer is the author of The Scabbard of Her Throat (The Word Works, 2013) and editor of My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology (Meerkat Press, 2015). Her poems have appeared in 2015 Poet’s Market, Birmingham Poetry Review, Fourteen Hills, Oxford American, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. Geyer works as a freelance writer, editor, and translator in Berlin, Germany, where she also leads online professional development workshops for creative writers, freelancers, and small business owners. Visit her online at www.bernadettegeyer.com and geyereditorial.wordpress.com.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.