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?
The first three words that come to mind are twin, myth, split, but also blood and heartbeat. The poems reveal the motivations of a narrator who has always lived in a pair, and what emotions surface when that other half is removed. There were other titles, but Monozygotic | Codependent is the one that happened when I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders and was honest with myself. It’s the title that I felt encompassed the collection’s raison d'etre.
I worked with the publishers on the cover very closely. The cover image is by Tom Gorman. I love the haunting qualities of the two eggs and the nest, the darkness that surrounds the nest, as well as the mystery of what is in the darkness—if one egg were to fall, where would it land? I wanted an image that was stark yet simple.
What were you trying to achieve with your chapbook? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
The world I wanted to create is a magical, magnified world—yet one where appearances are certainly deceptive.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
My writing practice always involves clearing out the cobwebs—both literally and figuratively. I have to have a clean place around me. If my writing space is cluttered my thoughts are cluttered. Revision means I agonize, sometimes for hours, over how to precisely say exactly what I want, and how to connect the subconscious to concise imagery that will make sense to the reader. I am not that person who can walk away from a poem; I don’t want space from the emotion. Revisions for me also include examining events/emotion to determine what it is I am supposed to learn from it to include in the lines. Because I tend to be very in-my-head most of the time, I ask for feedback on my poems so I know how they are perceived—that tells me what needs work.
The amount of time it took for me to understand what themes kept repeating in this collection was lengthy. I took a workshop, "Snow's Inaccurate Dictations Retell the Story," in fall 2014 with Maureen Alsop. I like what Maureen says about recurrent images. She says these replicate symbols that bustle at the edges of your poems create your personal arcana. I discovered my replicate images were eggs, feathers, locks of hair, locks of doors, moons, empty bowls, and birds, for example. With the exception of birds, these are closed off images, but within those images there are pairings—things that don’t work well alone. I learned that the poems were representations of what it means to live in a pair, to not know how to live alone, and that when the other half suddenly goes missing, what happens during that split. Once I understood that I was able to write faster and with purpose.
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 knew I needed a narrative arc for the poems. I needed readers to understand the familial myths, to see the progression of why one clings as the “submissive” twin. We so easily accept the roles that are given to us in life. This is not the focus of the book though. The focus is the psychological effect when the split happens. The book moves from the twin-twin relationship to how the twin left behind tries to live in a pair no matter the cost, anything from relationships with men, offspring, as well as the intermittent focus on self.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
Those simple reflective lines in poetry that cause me to pause and re-read. I love those haunted poems, the poems that bend language, poems that conjure up our deepest secrets. I like poems that surprise.
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?
“The Hanging Field” is probably the closest poem to the book’s heart in terms of resolve. Essentially, we don’t always get resolve, though we do experience a metamorphosis, a learned way of coping. It is one of the last poems I wrote for the book, though it is found in the center of the collection.
The Hanging Field
Though we never stopped, we stared
from the backseat of our car--
our flat-bottom boat—at the body darting
from the end of a rope. I remember the road,
its lines, yellow and broken, the crowd
and a cloud shaped like a hare.
Now the field comes back into view:
I’ve dreamt a horse into the field, or the horse
in my dream came to save me—not
some knight—but the horse,
and I climbed onto his back to keep from
suffocating. But it was more than that--
I was trying to suffocate myself & this crazy
beautiful horse came running into the field
and his wild body kept me from hanging.
In the sky the scent of tobacco paraded,
and the magpies flew their black kites.
If you had to convince someone walking by you in the park to read your book right then and there, what would you say?
I am so passive, essentially I would resort to some form of bribery. Hopefully in the end they would find a connection, and would be glad they read it.
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
Poetry is a way for me to avoid therapy costs. The inimitable Jennifer Givhan told me to write where it hurts. It is the best advice I have ever received. I think that’s the dichotomy that pivots between pleasure and pain for poets. It’s the need to exorcise those ghosts, but the anxiety I feel sometimes when I sit down to write is overbearing. But poetry also keeps me from feeling isolated—even though I am isolated most of the time in the process. I don’t feel lonely inside of poetry. As for what scares me? Maybe the secrets I confess. Though the older I get, the less I care about keeping secrets.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
I received some great advice in regards to getting rid of anxiety before writing, which was to start by building a lexicon, and then build the poem; I may use an etymology dictionary or a science book, or a news article I found interesting to build the lexicon. Sometimes I use math equations/proofs for inspiration, as well.
What are you working on now?
I am working to promote Monozygotic | Codependent. Other than that, I am writing poems without any intent on big projects, etc., for now. Because I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself, I feel it is important to get back to writing for cathartic purposes. I will figure out the next book/project when the time comes.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
One book that I have read recently that I have fallen in love with is American Gramophone by Carey McHugh. The poems in American Gramophone are overheard conversations and monologues in the dark where horses drag their shadows and 'the living are left to fend off whatever is wild.' I find myself inferring my personal arcana to the peculiar landscape of fox possessions, winter, crows, sickness of violins, collar bone, clavicle and spine. The lexicon in this book is absolutely gorgeous. I am very inspired by the entire collection.
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.
1. Anna Ahkmatova
2. Brigit Pegeen Kelly
3. Ellen Bryant Voigt
4. Jennifer Givhan
5. Emily Skaja
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
I wish I possessed the superpower of invisibility. I want to know the secrets of others.
Purchase Monozygotic | Codependent.
Stephanie Bryant Anderson is author of Monozygotic | Codependent (The Blue Hour Press, 2015). Raised in Clarksville, TN, she attends Austin Peay State University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in English and Psychology. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Vinyl Poetry, burntdistrict, Hermenuetic Chaos, The Blueshift Journal, Tinderbox and others. Find her online at