Stu Gill Interviews Rebecca Morgan Frank
Rebecca Morgan Frank is the author of two collections of poetry, The Spokes of Venus (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2016) and Little Murders Everywhere (Salmon 2012), shortlisted for the 2013 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her third collection, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon in 2017-18. Her poems have appeared in such places as Ploughshares, New England Review, Harvard Review, The Missouri Review online, Guernica, 32 Poems, and Washington Square, and have been reprinted in Best New Poets 2008, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily. She is the recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for her next manuscript-in-progress. The co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online magazine Memorious, Frank will be the Jacob Ziskind Visiting Poet in Residence at Brandeis University in Fall 2016.
How does The Spokes of Venus differ from your first book Little Murders Everywhere? Is there anything your reader needs to know going into your second book?
Little Murders Everywhere feels to me like a much more personal book. Like many first books, it started out as an MFA thesis, one centered around grief and love, and it shed most of those original poems over the decade that followed. It also has a lot of dead animals in it! The Spokes of Venus is a book of the living, a book centered around acts of creation. And perhaps most importantly, it is not autobiographical– this is a book of play, a book of conversation, a book of exploration of different voices and vantages.
Do you have a favorite poem in the collection?
The title poem is one of my favorites because I feel a kinship with Lowell: sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking at, but we want to believe in what we see.
The content in the poems deals in other kinds of art, especially visual art. What sparked your interest in writing about the other kinds of art that come up in your book?
For six years I taught a course called Artists Writing in MassArt’s low-residency MFA program in visual arts at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. My students were mostly working artists, and we read published writings by artists, workshopped students’ writing about their work and process, and talked about everything from making to influence to the impact of their own lives on their work. I became interested in the ways artists’ and writers’ approaches to making, and to articulating our approaches to making, overlapped and differed. I also wondered what it would be like to adopt the perspectives of different kinds of artists: how might I see or recreate the world? And even simply “seeing” the world at all through my poems was somewhat new for me– my poems tend to be born of sound and idea, not image. This book changed that a little for me. Over time, thanks to my collaborations with composers, and my early years as a dancer, this book expanded into other arts.
There are even mentions of collaboration in your acknowledgements. How did collaboration/inspiration manifest itself in the creation of these poems?
I do collaborate with composers quite a bit, through my own work and through the Art Song Contest I run for the magazine I edit, Memorious, and this has had an influence on how I write.
For example, my poem “Soggetto Cavato” emerged indirectly from collaboration. In the summer of 2013, composer Aaron Stepp and I were joint fellows at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA), where we were making a digital poetry/music piece that was made up entirely of my voice, although most listeners wouldn’t know that the electronic sounds they hear are actually bits of my voice, broken down and rebuilt into the piece. Aaron told me about the soggetto cavato, a sort of musical cryptogram in which names are built into compositions, and I was so fascinated with the concept that I wrote this poem.
I suppose poets are often magpies of sorts, we steal little glittering threads of ideas from others and make our own creations of them. The collaboration behind some of these poems was simply the act of conversation, the joy of listening to someone else talk about what they do.
Did you have another poem or collection in mind when you started on The Spokes of Venus?
I didn’t originally think of the early poems of The Spokes of Venus as a particular project or book, but as I was writing over the last five years, I began to see that I was writing two kinds of poems, ones that seemed to belong together in this book, and ones that now make up what will be my next collection, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country. The poems differentiated themselves not only by subject, but also by the voices and formal approaches that emerged from those subjects.
There are a number of your poems in couplets in this book. What do you like about that form, and what drew you to their use?
As a reader, I tend to love couplets: they invite me in to a poem. Couplets allow a spaciousness that lets me see what I’m writing more clearly, and they also have a particular way of guiding and marking the pacing of a poem.
Obviously the whole book is not in couplets. So what went into your process of deciding the form for the rest of the poems?
The voice of each poem shapes the form: I write by ear, hearing the lines and breaks as I go.
Rebecca Morgan Frank’s work can be found online at https://rebeccamorganfrank.com/
– Stu Gill