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Interview: Jaime Warburton

Jaime Warburton's poems “Upon Seeing Photos of my Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury,” " and “I Would Have Called, But You Might Have Me Made As Drunk” appeared in the June issue of The Collagist. She is assistant professor of Writing at Ithaca College. Her work has most recently appeared in The Silenced Press and Storyscape; her chapbook Note They Cannot Live Happily is available from Split Oak Press. It is true that she has previously worn Princess Leia costumes. You can find her at jaimewarburton.weebly.com.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for “Upon Seeing Photos of my Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury,” " and “I Would Have Called, But You Might Have Me Made As Drunk”? What was on your mind while you were writing these poems?

The inspiration for “Upon Seeing Photos of My Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury” was, you know, seeing photos of my ex-lover's cooking-related injury. Prosaic. Usually, in an anti-poet way, I throw the manhole cover back on whatever thoughts try to crawl up from the brain-sewers in such circumstances, but this time I let it stay off. The narrative and characters took on something of their own lives, but are grounded in truth.

The genesis of “I Would Have Called, But You Might Have Me Made As Drunk” was different; I was really quite taken by the discovery of a fossilized snake caught in the process of devouring hatching reptiles. I was obsessed with Pompeii when I was a child, and remain fascinated after having visited the city as an adult, and something about  ash-arrested motion and unselfconscious futility felt very much like a poem, as did this fossil.  It taps into this overwhelming desire we have (or maybe only I do) to tell people we care about about our experiences, to draw them closer to ourselves  by saying, “Look; do you understand?

2. Besides the last line of “Upon Seeing Photos of my Ex-Lover’s Cooking-Related Injury,” both of these poems use couplets, with varying line lengths and no rhyme. How did this structure seem right for these poems?

I seldom use couplets, but must have been in a couplet-y mood! The paired lines, punctuated by one left alone, seemed to mirror the emotion of “Upon Seeing...”, and although there's no rhyme scheme, most of the end words have an aural relationship. I prefer my breaks, when I use them, to tell their own story.

“I Would Have Called...” started life as a prose poem. In its revision process, it became lineated, was edited, was sent back to prose form, edited, and sent back to being lineated, where it stayed. As this poem, too, is a kind of dance in understanding between speaker and spoken to, it ended up demonstrating that paired nature – and the longer lines maintain the prose-y, conversational tone that sparked the original version. The form's structure belies the hope beneath the speaker's dismissive last words.

3. Also, both of these poems rely on dual images stacked on one another for the visual aspect that strengthens the personality of the poem. The first poem uses the image of the lover’s fingers—the cut, the ring, the fingernail—followed by the image of the dance—Carole King, the movement, the lasagna. The second poem focuses first on the startling image of the snake about to eat the reptile being birthed from the egg, then settles in the end with the calmer image of the speaker, head thrown back, staring up at the moon. Can you speak a little about these images, and how you use images in your writing?

I was once asked if image or sensation come first for me, which made me decide that it's much easier to find a sensation in an image than to find the proper image for a sensation. This is probably why more people go to the MoMA than make art themselves. (Now that I've said that, doubtless I'll read a study about the massive numbers of people who make art contrasted with dwindling MoMA membership, but there you have it.) However, the two tend to be paired for me, whether one extended image represents a feeling or a series of images helps us along an unfolding of logical steps.

These poems both focus on sensation and emotion as they live in the body. Anyone who has ever played in an orchestra or sung in a choir will say that you can feel the process of music-making, the peculiar kind of intimacy you can share at your core with people you might not even know that well. Our bodies are often smarter than we give them credit for, and can clue us into the energy between ourselves and our surroundings if only we listen. So these images are about the body in the moments when it tells the brain and heart how they feel instead of the other way around.

In particular, these poems both came out of looking at a photograph, and so are naturally image-driven. Memories can come in flashes as though viewed from the ceiling: these pictures are some that stuck with me.

4. Your chapbook Note That They Cannot Live Happily was released last year by Split Oak Press. How did that partnership come about? Also for those of us readers interested in more of your writing, what can we expect from that chapbook?

Well, I knew this guy who knew this woman who'd read these poems...you know. I  enjoy working with Split Oak because they're located in central NY, meaning I can easily participate in readings, and the editor respects his authors. That collection of poems takes much of its inspiration from fairy tales, plucking the classic tropes and setting them back down in the 21st century: it includes reimaginings of stories and speakers, magical creatures living in the present, dying families reaching out, quests, modern relationships that don't end in marriage (or, sometimes, in relationships at all!). Some of the poems are erasures of pages in Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and those poems function as the fairy tale narrator, a sort of oracle handing down sets of rules or explanations to the reader much as a golden carp or gnarly gnome might have in a Perrault fairy tale. Lots of story with a good dash of weird.

5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I recently completed a collaboration for which I wrote an oratorio's libretto – a retelling of “The Goat-Faced Girl,” mostly from the point of view of the lizard queen Renzolla. I love a cold-blooded character. Right now I'm working on a couple of essays, one based in food and the other in the adolescent trio of smoke, sex, and schnapps, and, of course, more poems with more characters searching for belief in the strange forest of language.

6. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

I love books! One of my favorite things about being an academic is how much reading I can do during the summer – stories and novels, nonfiction and biography, poems and essays. I just finished Judith Thurman's biography of Colette, Secrets of the Flesh, and at the moment, Kate Atkinson's novel Emotionally Weird is open on my desk next to me, and behind me on the floor is Larissa Szporluk's poetry collection Embryos & Idiots. I'm looking forward to reading Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (which, coincidentally, is reviewed in this edition of The Collagist), and I'm also anticipating the release of Paisley Rekdal's Intimate next year – it's described as “a hybrid photo-text memoir that combines poems, nonfiction, and fiction with photography.” Sounds cool, right?

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