THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each?
My chapbook, R, was inspired by and themed around my father, who passed away in 2004. The title especially, is our family’s last initial, which figures prominently in a namesake poem, and in other implications of naming and ownership.
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 had written this small collection of poems about him, his illness, our bittersweet father-daughter relationship, and other memories that surface from our fractured family and growing up under his rule in Pennsylvania.
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?
There is a chronology to the poems of R. It was a small chappie collection, so I wanted to create an intimacy by first beginning with a poem that sets a tone of foreboding around my father, who was an avid huntsman and a police officer ("poem, Jane Doe"), then I followed that with an origin story poem, ("Genesis"), that sort of describes the crudeness and the alpha feel of my father’s persona that overshadowed my early years.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
It’s really important for me, when writing my poetry, to drill down on moments where I see truth and or saw deeply into a scenario, a heart, a person. Many of my poems are affirmations or re-affirmations of my own sense of sacredness and belief about something. It is my truest self saying what I know or have discovered or had grieved over. It's not always public opinion. It is not always what others want to hear. It isn't always comfortable.
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?
This is a poem that looks at what I might do if I were my father’s mortician. In that final viewing, what did I see in him? What could I divine if I were the one applying his burial make up? How will I pose his body, his hands? What do I take away from this intimacy between him and myself? It is a difficult way to memorialize a man I loved.
The Mortician Considers
I might paint you in voodoo
a sugar skull groom
with his lipless grimace
do a smoky eye
á la kohl
apple of yours
was never mine
and your fists kissed
while they rest now
father death wish
in a peaceful fold
but I just might
pose them calloused
at my mother’s throat
your legacy open-faced
a necklace of cremains
decorum in memoriam
charms for my chain
(published in Kettle Blue Review, Spring 2016)
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
To write poetry is when I experience some of my finest moments of self-awareness and self-satisfaction. It's a very deep, meditative, and indulgent space to sit in, and explore, taste, savor, extract, and conjure. It's a space I love living in.
I’ve heard poets say that they’re writing the same story over and over in their poems. Is that true for you?
This isn’t exactly true for me, but I know this to be true in some cases for writers. I would say, I’m very interested in writing about my own family and my bi-culturality and it’s a constant wellspring of new work for me. And while that is a consistent poetry theme, I am also known to write about love, America, my body, illness, sex, nature, and spiders and ghosts too. I try to view everything with my poet’s eye. It’s sort of just how I see and move through the world.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
I love writing about my experience of being a woman, so I am very interested in women’s issues, gender issues, and feminism. I love reading about and engaging in pop culture. I love America – our history, our flaws, our hopefulness, our diversity, our shames. I love psychology and the study of the mind and self. Many of my poems include the examination of all of those things, sometimes simultaneously.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a new manuscript that confronts family secrets and finding long lost family members overseas, in Germany, after decades of having no contact with that side of my family. It is a story of pain and loss, but also a story of hope and love’s ability to transcend time, language and geography!
I also have completed a couple new chapbook manuscripts, so that is an exciting accomplishment as well.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
Books that knocked me out this past year or two would be:
Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen; Gabriel by Ed Hirsch; Crow by Ted Hughes; Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz; In the Surgical Theater by Dana Levin, and I’m a huge fan of emerging poets and have a vast collection of chapbooks by emerging women writers who don’t even have first books out. I love the rawness of the new writer. So much courage there too.
Tammy Robacker graduated from the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program in Creative Writing, Poetry at Pacific Lutheran University (2016). She won the 2015 Keystone Chapbook Prize for her manuscript, R. Her second poetry book, Villain Songs, is forthcoming with ELJ Publications in Fall 2016. She published her first collection of poetry, The Vicissitudes, in 2009 (Pearle Publications) with a generous TAIP grant award. Robacker's poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming in FRiGG, Tinderbox, Menacing Hedge, Chiron Review, VoiceCatcher, Duende, So to Speak, Crab Creek Review, WomenArts, and many more publications. She was born in Germany, raised in Pennsylvania, and currently lives in Oregon with her fiance. Visit the poet: tammyrobacker.com
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.