REBECCA VALLEY is a poet and editor from Saint Albans, Vermont. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Drizzle Review, a book review site with a focus on under-represented authors and books in translation, and serves as associate poetry editor at Fairy Tale Review. She currently lives in Northampton, MA, where she is an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her first chapbook, The Bird Eaters (dancing girl press), was released in August 2017. Find her online at www.rebeccavalley.com.
JR: The Bird Eaters is a going away present of sorts, its publication shortly before you moved cross-country for your MFA. Likewise, we open with the giving of a gift,
the cat left a body on the porch.
It was a yellow songbird,
the size and shape of a fist. (“We Ate the Birds”)
How does the theme of exchange influence your collection?
RV: It definitely feels like a going-away present, though I didn’t think of it that way until you mentioned it, Jon — I spent my last few years in Washington working on these poems, and when I received the chapbooks in the mail at my new apartment in Massachusetts it was a bit like opening up a short-lived time capsule.
There are definitely a number of conversational and physical exchanges between myself and my cat in these poems, but on a less material level, I was thinking a lot about failed exchanges while I was writing this chapbook. “This Hunger” is a series of these kinds of failed exchanges, in my mind — the narrator coughs up a gift for her partner that he doesn’t appreciate, the partner responds in languages that the narrator can’t understand. I think there’s an extraordinary amount of pain in these moments, when the people we are closest to are incapable of understanding our intentions, or our needs, or our language, even.
I relied quite a bit on animal imagery, or distinctions between species to make that clear, I think — because what encapsulates a failed exchange more than a dead bird on the porch, a disgusted owner, and a proud cat? I find that when I’m trying to express an inability to be heard or understood, I often turn my narrators into animals. I suppose that’s an exchange too — of one body for another, hopefully better-fitting one.