In a new feature on the ASFA-CW “News + Notes” blog, the editorial staff of Cadence, our award-winning school literary magazine, will conduct interviews of various writerly luminaries — including (but not necessarily limited to) all our visiting writers. In preparation for this Friday evening’s Ron Casey Reading at ASFA, the staff (a.k.a., the ASFA-CW seniors) has been reading the latest poetry collections penned by our visitors — Lauren Goodwin Slaughter and Mark Neely — who both graciously responded in-depth to a few of our questions about their fine work.
First up: our interview with Lauren. She is the recipient of a 2012 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Her poetry has appeared in venues such as Blackbird, Blue Mesa Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hunger Mountain, Kenyon Review Online, and Verse Daily, among others. She is co-fiction editor at DIAGRAM and an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Originally from Philadelphia, she now lives in Birmingham with her husband and two young children.
Her first collection of poetry, A Lesson in Smallness, was released in 2015 by the National Poetry Review Press. “Though titled A Lesson in Smallness,” writes poet Erin Belieu, “Slaughter’s language is large, attentive, loving, and dynamic, even while acknowledging that our connections to others — in this case, as wife, mother, daughter — sometimes require a steep mortgage on a woman’s most intimate and individual desires.”
Here’s the interview (Cadence staff questions in bold):
Most of the poems in A Lesson in Smallness are formatted in couplets. Was that intentional? If so what is the importance of them? (A related question: Are couplets your go-to form for poetry in general, or did you choose couplets for aesthetic purposes in this particular collection?)
Great question. Couplets are definitely my “go-to form.” I can’t remember when I started writing in couplets, but it feels like always. For some reason, this form helps me “see” the poem. Also, I tend to write in free verse with heavily enjambed lines and that seems to work with couplets. Gives form to my formlessness (to paraphrase A.R. Ammons).
“Osmosis” is definitely one of our favorite poems in the collection. What kind of relationship were you imagining for these two people? Romantic, platonic, familial? We think it works either way, but we’re curious as to what you had in mind.
Thanks so much! I must say, that particular poem has a tender place for me. I agree that the poem could work with characters in different kinds of relationships, but the truth is the poem is straight-up about my husband. I’m like, I had a dream last night that I was eaten by a giant toilet. He’s like, I had a dream where I went to a diner and ate endless plates of eggs. Curses.
Which poet would you say most inspires you?
Short answer: Elizabeth Bishop.
Longer answer I feel compelled to offer: Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Rainer Maria Rilke were the ones who first reeled me in, I think. My students know about my ritual of surrounding myself with open books when I write, flipped to the poems speaking to me most at the moment. Claudia Emerson, Wislawa Szymborska, A.R. Ammons, C.D. Wright, Mary Jo Bang, Lorine Niedecker, Anne Carson, Erin Belieu, James Wright, Carol Frost, Lucie Brock-Broido, Dan Beachy-Quick, and Bruce Smith, are the most oft-invited recently. But it’s always changing.
When you were writing these poems, did you go into it planning to group them into A Lesson in Smallness? Did you change the form of the poems to be uniform throughout the book?
Many of these poems were written without much care or concern for how they might fit within a book manuscript. In the end, I think that was probably good for the poems. It did, however, make assembling the book a bit more challenging. I ending up leaving out some poems I really like because they didn’t work within the context of the others. Maybe they’ll make their way into the next book!
Do you go into a poem with a clear idea in mind for it, or do you start with a line that feels right and just go with it?
It really depends. Often, it will be more of an image than a particular line. It’s an image I need to figure out, to see through. Sometimes, though, I’ll tackle a poem on a particular subject, often because I think I need it to make certain connections within the book. Those poems are always more difficult for me.
What influenced your decision to incorporate so many pop-culture references in your work?
Another great question. I think like many people, I’m compelled by pop-culture but in a self-conscious slightly tongue-in-cheek way. I’m interested in the ways elements of pop-culture become part of our everyday, our shared landscape. Sometimes that is horrifying, sometimes funny. Sometimes it’s wonderful. (#somanykittyvideos #whykardashianswhy #thesearemyfirsthashtags #imkindaold)
The Cadence staff consists of co-editors Lucy Jones and Madeline Pratt and grade-level editors Olivia Bowles, Mary Alice Hughes, Annabeth Mellon, Aeryn Morrison-Alexander, Lydia Oliver, Challen Palmer, and Carly Pappas. The Ron Casey Reading Series was established at ASFA by a generous gift from the family and friends of Mr. Casey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and editorial page editor at the Birmingham News. Mr. Casey dedicated his life to using the written word to educate others and inspire a more humane, more critically aware society. All Casey readings are free and open to the public.