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?
Those in the military or related to those in the military are quite familiar with “permanent change of station,” but civilians might not be. It is the phrase used for orders to a new duty station. I wrote these poems after we received our last PCS: right before the move, while in hotel rooms across the country, and after we arrived at our new station.
The cover art is like a kindred spirit to me. The upper image is Little Girl in a Blue Armchair by Mary Stevenson Cassatt. In this painting, I see my own daughter and dog (the muses of my collection). The lower image is of a machine gun atop a Humvee (photo by U.S. Marine Cpl. David Ricketts). While it seems to contrast with the upper image, it is part of the reality of a military family.
What were you trying to achieve with your chapbook/book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
When we made this last move, my daughter was two. Already confused by that crazy time of toddlerhood, this move that took her away from the home, scenery, activities, and faces she knew to a place completely foreign to her was quite traumatic. I struggled to help her cope with the changes as I was also in new place with no friends or family, and my husband’s job often continued to take him away. Even my little dog (a Norwich Terrier) had trouble coping, and he became our self-appointed sentry. The poems became a way to identify with self and place, to make sense of chaos and change, and a way in which to bridge the seemingly contrasting worlds of civilian and military.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection?
Some of the poems are cento-like in that I borrow words and phrases from classic children’s books and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. During this time of change, our constant was the nightly bedtime story ritual, after which I would read from The Art of War (my survival manual of personal battles), then spend some quiet time writing. In my poems, the language from my recent readings would merge with my own words. With each poem, I felt stronger and better able to help my daughter.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
I love to be surprised when I read a poem. That surprise might come from the word choice, juxtaposition of images or phrases, new perspective, structure, etc.
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?
“Such is the Art of Warfare” lives in the middle of the book. I feel like it best shows that strength that can come from vulnerability/fragility. It’s first home was in Shantih Journal volume 2, issue 1.
Such Is the Art of Warfare
Sometimes her mother would worry
about her, that she would be lonesome
all by herself, with a dog for a brother
in this out of the way place
where we are only acquainted
with neighbors, and only some.
This is the art of studying circumstances.
She pitched up camp
between sofa and coffee table
under pillows and cushions
she said, I like it better here.
She liked to smell the flowers
hand-picked from air
hold their invisible petals
against her face, breathe
the scent of once upon a time.
This is the art of studying moods.
And so her mother knew
she was not lonesome:
she was like a mountain
like a fire, like a thunderbolt.
Her mother whispered,
let your plans be impenetrable.
This is the art of self-preservation.
*some words borrowed from The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (“Once upon a time,” “liked to sit quietly and smell the flowers,” “he would sit in the shade all day and smell the flowers,” “Sometimes his mother…would worry about him,” “She was afraid he would be lonesome all by himself,” “’I like it better here’”) and from “Maneuvering” The Art of War by Sun Tzu (“pitching his camp,” “out of the way,” “we are acquainted,” “our neighbors,” “be like fire,” “like a mountain,” “let your plans be dark and as impenetrable as night,” “fall like a thunderbolt”)
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
For me, being a poet is about communicating with those who came before me, with the world currently around me, and whatever the future will become.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
Definitely! This book is a great example of that with its borrowed phrases from classic children’s stories and The Art of War. Poems not in this collection have been inspired by nursery rhymes, military manuals, Marine Corps speeches, constitutional laws, and such. I love pulling from my library (and from my husband’s and daughter’s libraries).
What are you working on now?
I have a collection that’s been hanging out in submission queues for a little over 10 months now. Those poems are inspired by and in conversation with poets who write/wrote in times of conflict. I have a couple collections in the works. One is nature poetry and the other is inspired by forces in physics.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
Every Atom by Erin Coughlin Hallowell is a fantastic new book. I also had the pleasure of reviewing a galley copy of Dirt and Honey by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (amazing!), which launches May 18.
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.
Ciaran Carson, Emily Dickinson, Wilawa Szymborska, Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Bishop
Purchase Permanent Change of Station (Middle West Press, 2018).
Lisa Stice is a poet/mother/military spouse, the author of two poetry collections Permanent Change of Station (Middle West Press, 2018) and Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016), and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project, as an associate poetry editor with 1932 Quarterly, and as a contributor for The Military Spouse Book Review. She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) and an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog. Visit her online at lisastice.wordpress.com.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.