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 chapbook, what three words immediately come to mind?
Originally the chapbook was entitled after the last poem in the collection: “Footnote to a Footnote.” I hadn’t fully taken advantage of the theme—all the poems in the collection are response poems—until Lithic Press sent me the first galleys and suggested the title be shortened to Footnote. That’s really when the final formatting and the concept of including a footnote on each poem to indicate what originally inspired me to write it. If I were to sum up the theme in a phrase, I’d use exactly that: response poems.
What were you trying to achieve with your chapbook? Tell us about the world you were trying to create? Who lives in it?
Sometimes the collections form themselves. I really have enjoyed writing found poetry and also imitating other poets I admire. It’s a wonderful way to become closer to the work. After teaching a local free community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized that I had written a lot of response poems, so I started pulling them together into a collection. I really wanted to pay homage to some of the poets and artists I feel close to, and I think that’s a world I like to immerse myself into—one where I can be closer to Dickinson, Plath, Ginsberg, Neruda, Lynch, etc.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
Many of these poems were written to either emulate or discover a new poem within the words of existing texts, including film scripts and song lyrics. For example, for the poem “Waiting Around,” which is after Neruda’s “Walking Around,” I began the first draft by rewriting his poem from my own female perspective—several drafts later it’s got a slightly different structure than Neruda’s poem and a different theme, with a strong feminist tilt. One of my favorite found poems is “Strange Verses”—to create it, I used an app to find words of a specific length in the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. My intent was to write the found poem in the form of a snowball (an Oulipo form, in which the lines increase or decrease by one letter from line to line). What happened was as I started making specific word choices, I found that I needed to write more than one poem, and that the order was better if in reverse longer words down to those with a single character, essentially a melting snowball. I literally created this poem in columns in a spreadsheet, rearranged words, ordered them in such a way that they started to form multiple ways to read the poem—across, down, diagonally, etc. You can tell how much I love word play by the amount of time I’m spending describing this. Found poems are extremely fun!
My revision strategy typically involves workshopping with my local poetry group, the Rock Canyon Poets. I co-founded the group with friend and fellow poet Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen in January 2015 and we’ve been going strong ever since. But before workshopping, I’ll usually do my own line edits and play with form immediately after writing the first draft. Sometimes, just getting the first draft out can be exhausting—and I’ll take some time away before performing any revision. I tend to pay attention to word choice, making sure I have the assonance and consonance I want, research etymology and symbolism as needed, and then experiment with different line breaks and stanza breaks. I almost always take all the line breaks out, check it as a prose poem, then re-break the lines and stanzas at different lengths to see what surprises the words may offer me, by way of additional meaning or to send me towards a more formal form—such as a villanelle or a sonnet. I mostly write in free verse, but sometimes a specific form seems to be a good fit.
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?
Ordering is hard. It’s probably the most challenging part of putting poems together into a collection. I’ve had a little practice with the anthologies I’ve published for Rock Canyon Poets—for those I try to find a common thread and/or a way to link the poems. I took a similar approach for Footnote. I tried to connect them in theme or topic. Then during the editing process with Lithic, we moved a few poems around to keep as many two-page poems as possible facing each other, and I ended up replacing a couple of poems with others that seemed to work much better.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
Stunning, unique metaphors are my favorite. I love to see modern objects and concepts turned into metaphors to give additional meaning. For example, I absolutely loved Chen Chen’s chapbook Kissing the Sphinx for its creative and meaningful use of things like Power Rangers, Mr. Rogers, The Reading Rainbow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Q-Tips, and Ultimate Frisbee to name a few. I haven’t quite figured out how to do this within my own work as effectively as Chen has. I’m going to keep working at it. One of the things I really like to do for my own poems to create more unique metaphors is to key in on a specific noun and then do some research to find a new metaphor. For example, in my poem “Bone Music” forthcoming in Contrary, I came across the story of old x-ray films being re-used as the medium for copying censored records in 1950s Russia. I was able to incorporate it into a poem about my son’s recovery from a near-death accident he was in a couple of years ago.
What’s one of the more crucial poems in the chapbook for you? (Or what’s your favorite poem?) Why? How did the poem come to be? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book, or somewhere else in the process?
This is a tough one to answer. So many of the poems in Footnote fit the category of crucial or favorite poems. The first and last poems in the collection are certainly key, but there are a couple that mean a lot to me that perhaps haven’t gotten enough attention. One of those is “In a Room Made of Poetry,” which is a found poem in the spirit of a cento from a book of poems entitled Eyes of a Flounder by Laura Hamblin, who is a dear friend and previous poetry professor. She retired this year and I was thrilled to see that Lithic chose lines from that poem to adorn the cover of Footnote. So many of the poems are personal, but this one is particularly so because of how much I admire Hamblin. She’s really an amazing person. Another important poem to me personally is “From Her to Eternity.” It’s a poem I really, really believed in and spent so much time refining. It’s an amalgam of the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, Rilke’s Duino Elegies, and lyrics from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It’s one of the few previously unpublished poems in the collection. I submitted it soooo many times and received feedback that it was too dense and confusing. Every time I got a rejection I’d re-look at the poem and see if there were changes I could make, but there just weren’t. It was done. Then, to my delight, after so many rejections, when Chen Chen graciously wrote a blurb for Footnote, he specifically called attention to “From Her to Eternity” and seemed to completely understand the significance. Finally, someone else saw what I was after in the poem. It was definitely one of the highlights of bringing Footnote into the world.
Tell us something about the most difficult thing you encountered in this book’s journey. And/or the most wonderful?
I had no idea how much fun and how rewarding it would be to work with a press on the final copy. Danny Rosen and Kyle Harvey were such a joy to work with, so encouraging, and so gracious. It was really an incredible experience. Every email correspondence carried the same excitement as the acceptance email. It was truly something I’ll never forget.
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’d tell them there’s a little something for everyone. And I’d probably ask if they like Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, or Lynch films.
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
Being a poet for me is to add to the ongoing artistic expression and conversation that exists within the human condition—there’s so much to say/comprehend about what it’s like to be human. To me, all art in general is key to our capacity as fellow human beings to experience sympathy and empathy.
I’ve heard poets say they’re writing the same story over and over in their poems. Is that true for you? If not, what obsessions or concerns reoccur in your work?
I ran into this exact issue when writing poems about my son’s accident. I really wanted to create a chapbook-length collection reflecting on that experience, but when all was said and done, there were only a handful of poems that really worked. As I tried to write more, I felt like I was just repeating the same ideas over and over again. There may still be a poem or two there—and I’ve got a couple of concepts I’m playing with, but in many ways I feel like I’ve said what I needed to say.
Do you think poets have a responsibility as artists to respond to what’s happening in the world, and put that message out there? Does your work address social issues?
My poems don’t often directly address social issues, a few have, but indirectly, I do think my poems typically support feminist ideas. Feminism is part of my makeup, and I think all my poems tend to lean that way. Are poets responsible for recording and expressing social issues? Yes, is it their inherent purpose? I’m not sure, but it does seem unavoidable due to the sheer nature of creating art.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
Definitely dictionaries, references such as etymology and encyclopedias, as well as other literature influence and help me research topics. Specifically for Footnote, each poem is inspired by and is a response to other writing in one way or another.
What are you working on now?
I’m realizing the more I work on craft the longer it takes me to generate new poems. I’m far from prolific and I’m beginning to come to terms with the time it takes me to create a finished piece. I’d love to get a full-length book of poems published, but after trying to put together a new collection, I’m realizing I need a lot more poems to choose from. So right now, I’m just working on writing new poems as much as I'm able.
Favorite places and times of day or night to work?
I used to be an evening/night-owl only type writer, but as my schedule tightens, I find I can write anything, anywhere, any time of day. Most of my initial ideas take place in little notes I send to myself or ideas I’ve been mulling around a while, but the writing itself usually happens at my desk at home—music in the background.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I recently finished a new book of poems by Adam Houle entitled Stray, also published by Lithic Press. It’s fantastic. Other than that I have stacks of poetry books I’ve started and I’m aching to find time to get to, including Burn Lake by Carrie Fountain, The Worrier by Nancy Takacs, and Six Girls without Pants by Paisley Rekdal.
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.
Lucinda Williams (song lyrics technically, but I literally have a tattoo planned for these), Dickinson, Ginsberg, Rilke, and Laura Hamblin.
Purchase Footnote. Contact Trish Hopkinson for a signed copy and a free poem critique and/or a donation to a charitable cause.
Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. A Pushcart nominated poet, she is author of three chapbooks and has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Pretty Owl Poetry, and The Penn Review. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow Hopkinson on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.