Pearl Aviary: An Interview with Rebecca Valley

Rebecca Valley Author PhotoREBECCA 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,

This morning

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.

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S71 Contributor Interviews: Ruth Williams

IMG_3459What is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

I am drawn to writing and reading poetry in part because it allows me to look intensely at the world around me and to consider with conscious attention my relation to it. This attention isn’t something our daily life cultivates, so poetry becomes a meaningful way of slowing down, looking closely. Poetry is also a genre that maintains a wonderful duality: it can be intensely personal, derived so completely from the interiors of my own mind, and yet, when I put a poem out in the world, it takes on meaning for others in ways I can’t predict.

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Encyclopédie Quixotica: An Interview with Allison Campbell

Allison Campbell_Website PhotoALLISON CAMPBELL lives in New Orleans. She earned her PhD in Literature, Creative Writing from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers where she served as associate editor of the Mississippi Review. Her poems have appeared in such places as Copper NickelThe Cincinnati Review, SwitchbackWitness, Rattle, Court Green, and Harpur Palate. She has guest blogged for The Best American Poetry website and regularly reviews for Rain Taxi. Her collaborations with illustrator Alf Dahlman have appeared in TammyDrunken BoatStory, and Palooka.

Jon Riccio: “People don’t often talk about the best thing that never happened to them.” So begins Encyclopédie of the Common & Encompassing’s first entry, ACCIDENT. What inspired you to write a collection whose prose poems consist of definitions for everything from EVENTUALIST, HUMANISTICISM, and SINKING to such locations as UNHAPPYVILLE and NOW YORK?

Allison Campbell: A short answer to the question of inspiration is Tomas Tranströmer. More specifically, his poem “Brief Pause in the Organ Recital” is what started the collection. The last two stanzas of the poem describe the encyclopedia set of his childhood, the “yard of bookshelf,” then quickly turn from the material to the immaterial, “But each one of us has his own encyclopedia written, it grows out of / each soul, / it’s written from birth on, the hundreds of thousands of pages stand / pressed against each other / and yet with air between them! Like the quivering leaves in a forest. The / book of contradictions.”

These lines helped me realize everyone had, and was allowed to have, their own encyclopedia, and that I was included in this “everyone.” My voice was valid. Moreover, these books held contradiction. I could change my mind, perspective, and feeling, however many times I wanted or needed to, and this, too, was acceptable. So Tranströmer’s poem not only gave me the idea to write an encyclopedia, it also inspired its style. The way definitions in the collection constantly shift and the logic circles around a subject, rather than pointing directly at it, stems from this permission Tranströmer’s lines granted; to both define and actively revise definition.

I should mention that these realizations, though they did come suddenly and fruitfully, did not come quickly. I went on a Jesuit mission trip in Mexico’s southern-most state, Chiapas, and to lighten my backpack before leaving I’d torn a small section of poems from Tranströmer’s collected—some ten pages from The Wild Market Square. So during the week-long trip, out in this village in the countryside, I was reading only these handful of pages over and over again. When I returned to San Cristóbal de las Casas, I sat in the covered patio of a café during a strong downpour and read the excerpted pages for the umpteenth time. I don’t know on which reading I experienced this supreme permission granting, but I did write the first entry in that café. It was the entry on rain. That’s what I knew about that day.
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SR71 Contributor Interviews: Joseph Zaccardi

JoeZaccardi1What is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

My journey to the prose poem took many years to develop. When I was in the seventh grade I wrote a 200-word essay on poetry using alliteration throughout the piece. My teacher, Sister Mary Francesca, impressed with my effort, said to me that I should try to write poetry, she said, “And Joseph, in a poem you don’t have to punctuate”; she knew I had a fear of punctuation. So I began there, and for a few years wrote a few poems, and because of the freedom of not having to use commas, periods, and that monstrous semi-colon, I sort of self-taught myself how to line break. Later in my twenties I embraced punctuation, found that it really was a valuable tool. It was in 2012, when I started work on a poem about the lynchings of African-Americans that I found that an unpunctuated approach gave me more freedom. Here are the first few words from that poem titled “Little,” which is the name of a soldier, Private William Little, who had just returned from serving in WW1 and was beaten up and murdered for wearing his uniform, the only clothes he owned:

“If he had the sense he was born with but he did if he’d taken off his doughboy

uniform that a hostile band of whites demanded but he didn’t …”

I quickly saw that with that freedom came a need to find the right transitions so that the reader wouldn’t get frustrated and give up. As you can feel in my poem in the Sonora Review, “What’s Wrong with That Boy,” there’s a tension that, I think, wouldn’t work as well in a more structured form. So I now think of my style as a prose poem in a poem-box, something both contained and free to bounce off the walls

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SR71 Contributor Interviews: Jordan Scott

unnamedWhat is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

I came into fiction from a place of being a poet first and foremost, which has really informed the way I construct my short stories. There’s something pleasurable about accessing modes that feel more rooted in poetry—such as a sort of incantatory lyric—and braiding them through a story on a sentence level. The short story as a form also gives me ample space to layer different ideas into my writing.

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