THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the chapbook’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up your chapbook, what three words immediately come to mind?
I came across the word “Visitant” sort of by accident. There is a quote in the chapbook containing that word on the first page by Emily Bronte, which I came across that was very appropriate, so that just immediately clicked with me. Michael Sikkema from Shirt Pocket Press designed the cover after I sent him some sparse, loose ideas (I am also a big believer of putting art into the world and then letting it take on new shapes and sizes,) and when I saw his image the first time, I got chills. For Visitant, I think an idea that best fits what it means to me is: sometimes we cannot let go of certain things/people (real or imaginary) no matter what.
With Jeanne, editor Alexandrea Naughton presented that image to me and I loved how it had a modern flair to it--and secretly I had the same haircut as that particular Joan of Arc at the time so I felt a sort of kismet happen. With Jeanne I wanted a modern spin on some of Joan’s story--like there isn’t really a lot of “God” in this chap--when anything spiritual is mentioned, it is referred to as light. And I also sort of wanted an angry Joan, who was pissed that she was murdered and wanted revenge, and she is sort of stuck in a time loop as well. (There are some allusions to time travel.) In the end, she is just a girl trying to get shit done and it’s really hard and lonely.
What were you trying to achieve with your chapbook? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
I felt with both chapbooks, I was definitely aiming to create new worlds that still made sense. I wanted a creepy, unsafe world for Visitant--the poems focus on twin sisters (at times I felt ambiguous toward the idea that the ghost sister was dead or not), and I guess to some extent, Jeanne contains that creepiness as well--there are bugs that she controls, narcissistic saints, abusive parents and exposure to the elements (within walls and outside walls.) But Jeanne also cries and wants friends.
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your 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?
Both of these chapbooks have a story feel to them, so even if I wrote the poems in a varying sequence, the story lines became very clear as I went along and then I was able to put them into an order that made sense to me.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
I think one of the best things I love to discover are the surprises. Like when I read words or sentences that shouldn’t go together, but the poet has such a particular point of view, that I am like “well of course” that is exactly what it’s like!
Can you share excerpts from your books? And tell us why you chose these poems for us to read – did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your chapbook’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
Here is the first poem in Visitant. It’s kind of sparse but sets the tone of the chapbook.
under the bassinet
I knew her as Maddie.
Eyes the color of desert.
My twin bird was a hidden electric eel.
I’d see parts of her
along room corners.
Nails embedded in
hair intertwined with humidifier cords,
practiced our own psychotic alphabet.
plastic rainbow horn
We were the instruments.
One night we let the bears in.
Slaughtered whoever said we couldn’t play.
Here is a poem from Jeanne (this poem is more toward the end of the book) It’s funny, looking through the poems of both of these chapbooks, I also like the fighters that emerge--all of the girls in these poems fight and want things, no matter what people tell them they cannot have.
Field and Stream:
She was remembering that she was remembering…
Stallions writhed in the
Manes tangled up amongst
legs and soap opera sighs
Sunken curvatures, broken
backs backed into themselves
Joan pulls an arrow
out of her own neck
eats grub infested porridge
covers her face in mud
Hundreds of years later
The overly footnoted painting
Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII
revered by thousands
Hangs in the Louvre
Glows in red and silver
Give her long hair
Put her in a dress
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
I love looking at photographs actually, I have a lot of art books and I love taking a part photos and thinking about them and finding things that shouldn’t belong together but do and then I try to bring surprises like that into my brain to write about. My latest love is my Greetings from Detroit, a book by Nick Cave--from an exhibit in Michigan that I got to see over the summer.
What are you working on now?
I am working on some weird circus poems that I really enjoy.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I have a huge haul of books to get through at the moment. I love chapbooks to no end. So I recently picked up a stack from Porkbelly Press as well as Little Red Leaves, and I also plan on supporting my recent publishers, Shirt Pocket Press and Be About it, and buying some items from their catalog.
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
One question is: how much do you submit your work before you put it away for a bit or forever?
I wrote Visitant over a year ago, I submitted it to a few place, then worked on revising for a while off and on. But I was always content with what it was at its core. Same with Jeanne. I think it is important to remember, if you really believe in your work, it will find the right home. Don’t give up.
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and currently lives in the DC area with her family. She is the author of six chapbooks. The most recent ones are forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, Crisis Chronicles Press and Shirt Pocket Press. Her first full length poetry collection is forthcoming from Lucky Bastard Press. Recent work can be seen / is forthcoming at Pretty Owl Poetry, Yes, Poetry, Gargoyle Magazine, Jet Fuel Review, Glittermob,The Norfolk Review, Moss Trill, Pith, So to Speak, Apple Valley Review, Otis Nebula, Freezeray and Hobart. For more, visit: http://jennifermacbainstephens.wordpress.com/.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.