THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up your book, what three words immediately come to mind?
I can’t remember how I came up with the title, A Roomful of Machines, because the book first came out in 2010 and I wrote the individual poems, as well as shaped the manuscript, in the two to three years prior to 2010. So, I really can’t remember, but it’s safe to say the title has managed to encapsulate the thrust of the collection—an investigation into the lives of inanimate objects, as well as abstractions and body parts independent of their parent body. Regarding the cover image I found on Can Stock—when I first saw Victor Zastolskiy’s stunning visual of a living room with vintage furnishings plus a burning television set straight out of the 1950s or 1960s, it jumped right off the screen at me. Here’s a tortured little television set that’s fuming mad. And that’s the entire book right there in that image. It proposes, in uncertain terms, how these inanimate objects, these common implements of our day-to-day existence, are reflections of our anxieties, inadequacies, aspirations, and wonderfully chaotic lives. Three words to describe the book? Bitter, playful, candid.
What were you trying to achieve with your book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
A Roomful of Machines is my pliable little tool for chronicling my obsessive-compulsive relationship with the material world. It relies mostly on the accounts of personas channeling their frustrations, myopic views, hopes. I repurposed mundane objects, took advantage of the functional ordinariness of human body parts like an ear, an eye, etc.—I afforded them a certain degree of eloquence even as they ramble on pointlessly sometimes.
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?
I don’t print out my writing. I haven’t done that for a very long time and when I was doing that some time ago, it wasn’t for editing purposes, let alone ordering the individual pieces into a book-length manuscript. Once upon a time when email submissions weren’t possible, I printed out and mailed my poems and stories to magazines. A Roomful of Machines has several series poems; I simply grouped those together, an ordering habit that was actually flawed. It was only after reading Diane Lockward that I discovered a more effective technique of ordering poems in a collection—not grouping all the “like” poems together but instead scattering them throughout the collection, effectively stretching the continuity of the motifs present in those poems.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read--did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your book’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
I’d love to share an excerpt from the book! This is the first poem, preparing the reader for the ensuing chattiness, which should have been, in normal circumstances, just another period of inertness from dumb-faced objects. This long poem, “Songs of Dead Objects Content in Their Husks,” foreshadows the rampant anthropomorphizing in the succeeding poems.
Songs of Dead Objects Content in Their Husks
In preparation for death, I ask
for your bodies to be parallel
with the earth. I harden
while you surrender.
I am the primeval mouth, the forsaken
hemisphere. I swallow and let every
thing gravitate to my lowest point,
compensate for my badly formed orb.
Prodigal leaves scrunched in place,
I count while you bend backwards,
recite while you stammer,
remind you of what you try to forget.
Mine—the texture of silence. Glass ravens
tinkle on the display shelves. Burdened by
heavy wings, they do not tumble down.
I still wait for that perfect moment, their fall.
I yield to the gloss of rain, the scent
of thumbprint on metal, the pulse
of sudden grip, the recklessness
of panicked flight, the will to escape.
Scoop me—I can be your eye, your pearl
of bleached sun. I encroach beyond
your line of sight to a quadrant
where aesthetics is rude and redundant.
Wield me weightless away from the fire.
Ink dirties me even as it makes me last.
Your hand crumples me to a profligate
ball, rustles me to submission.
Swirl with me down the drain. I am
the disciple of scum, the vestigial jar of sludge
dredged from the skin of a renegade.
Slurp my miracles with distaste.
An early version of “Songs of Dead Objects Content in Their Husks” appears in a 2009 issue of Southword. I am hoping the above revision sounds better than the original.
What are you working on now?
I am six poems into a poetry manuscript called The System of Enchantment, my exploration of the nature of reality and the essence of humanity. The manuscript's fifth poem, “The Maze,” recently found a home in The Freeman. My goal for The System of Enchantment is to seek out and ultimately find satisfying (at least for me) answers to those inquiries. I am also working on, regularly adding a couple hundred words at a time, three other book-length manuscripts—two linked story collections and my first novel.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
Vicki Hearne’s Tricks of the Light: New and Selected Poems. I am reading and will continuously reread this book. I found the poetry equivalent of a spirit animal in Hearne’s poems.
Purchase A Roomful of Machines from ELJ Publications.
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012), Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012), and A Roomful of Machines (ELJ Publications, 2015), as well as three forthcoming books—the short story collection Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016) and poetry collections Lifeboat and Black Arcadia, both of which will come out from university presses in the Philippines.Her poems and short stories have appeared in Confrontation Magazine, Contrary Magazine, New Welsh Review, and elsewhere. She lives in southern Philippines and serves as poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, a literary journal published by Epigram Books in Singapore. Visit her online at http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com.