Poet Meghan Privitello first dropped my jaw while I was reading the gem of an anthology known as Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation. Following my reading of her included piece, I picked up A New Language for Falling out of Love (YesYes Books, 2015). Made up of whirlwind prose poems where every sentence begs to be underlined (and complete with a blurb from Mathias Svalina), I was hooked. I then grabbed Privitello’s conceptual chapbook, Notes on the End of the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) which reads like a post-apocalyptic heartbreak in a haunted asylum of isolation and daydreams. With a third manuscript known as One God at a Time, and a recent return to the prose poetry form, I spoke with Privitello about struggling to write after the election, as well as her first literary publication, her work space, and, yes, suicidal seahorses.
How has 2018 been treating you? What have you been working on?
2018 feels very bleary. All I have in my mind are images of me eating bread, or a highway with steady traffic and my car seeming like it’s standing still amidst the whir. 2018, the year of starch and blur.
My writing life has been quite dead since the election. I was part of a reading on election night, and I’ve had this feeling since then like, Jesus Christ I can’t believe I was just some twerp reading poems as the world was yanking off its mask. I felt pretty cynical about poetry for a while after that. My dear friend/brilliant poet queen Claudia Cortese asked if I wanted to take part in a mini-poetry challenge this summer, and those were the first three new poems I’ve written since then (gulp). And I didn’t despise them! How decadent!
I have lots of ideas and titles and projects floating around, but have felt entirely too…inadequate? depressed?...to execute any of them. In the project queue (what a fucked up word) is a chapbook about Buster Keaton’s eyes, a book about celebrity/Cary Grant/masculinity, a book about the psychology of ice/glaciers. What’s most likely to come next is a book that will walk around in the world of death and ghosts and spirits and the afterlife.
In an interview back in 2016, you said that once A New Language for Falling Out of Love was complete, you no longer felt at ease working within the structure of the prose poem. Is that still the case?
Two of the three poems I wrote this summer are in prose blocks. When I’ve been away from writing for a while, prose poems feel like coming home. They have the smell. After I wrote A New Language I needed a break from the form. A few poems in One God at a Time sputtered out as prose blocks, but I had a specific agenda when writing One God at a Time, and agendas call for line breaks. When I write prose poems, I’m in exploratory mode, and maybe (but not always), I’ll find what I’m writing towards by the end. The process is entirely instinct. When I’m writing in stanzas or line breaks, there’s definitely specific shit I’m trying (always trying) to get done.
In another interview from last year, you discussed your 2016 chapbook in regards to being a 'project book'. Do you see yourself continuing to work in the cohesive state of a project book or was that book an outlier for you?
I definitely see myself writing with very specific ideas/themes, as you can see from the list of projects I mentioned earlier. I have a really hard time just writing poems and waiting to see if they can become a book, which is how A New Language manifested. I need more control than that, or at least the illusion of more control. I also like that project books often require research of some kind. That process is so pleasing and appealing to me. Even if nothing comes of the poems, at least I’ve mined some tiny idea to its core and can carry the weight of those nuggets around with me.
What can you tell us about your manuscript? Is it still titled One God at a Time?
If you are itching to read poems about sexual positions with God, toe sucking, Lifetime movies, suicidal seahorses, devils, angels, and masturbation, then One God at a Time will really melt your butter.
How do you follow up after ending the world?
By criticizing God (see One God at a Time).
Earlier this summer, I tweeted about your book and you replied, "That's my dead bird!" Can you tell me the history/origin behind such a unique cover?
Show and tell! First, I wanted this as the cover (Gregori Maiofis – Adversity makes strange bedfellows):
But, I was looking through a magazine and saw an advertisement for a book that had that as its cover.
Then, I wanted this as the cover (Bidibidobidiboo by Maurizio Cattelan):
Surprise: Cattelan never responded to our request.
**Cue me sending my publisher a million images of jewel encrusted deer heads, tongues being cut out with scissors, a room full of girls hanging suspended from the walls (who wants to analyze me?)**
I eventually came across the work of Polly Morgan, a British taxidermy artist who makes such deliciously dark pieces, and I knew the lil’ dead bird suspended by a balloon in a bell jar was a perfect representation of my aesthetic. She graciously gave us permission to use her piece and Bird became a perfect tragihopeful mascot for my poems.
Outside of your own writing, what have you been reading as of late?
I have too many book piles. Here’s one of the piles:
First the Burning by Catie Rosemurgy
We, the Almighty Fires by Anna Rose Welch
I'm So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On by Khadijah Queen
Please Bury Me In This by Allison Benis White
Simulacra by Airea D. Matthews
Ladies Lazarus by Piper L. Daniels
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin
In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers by Bernice Yeung
Psyche on the Skin: A History of Self-Harm by Sarah Chaney
Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars by Kay Turner
This Incredible Need to Believe by Julia Kristeva
Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman
What's one literary magazine that was formative in your early poetry acceptances, and what's one literary magazine where you hope to one day be published?
The first poetry acceptance I ever got was from NOÖ Journal on New Year’s Day in 2013. I honestly never thought I would ever have any poems published anywhere, and I remember that issue had poems by Morgan Parker and Wendy Xu and Anne Boyer and so many others and I just about exploded into stupid New Year confetti. That acceptance definitely nudged me and motivated me to keep submitting poems and tricked me into thinking maybe I would one day get a second poem published, and phew I still can’t believe I’ve had even two poems published. What a trip!
I think I would like to be published by Granta one day. I don’t even know very much about Granta, but I have some memory (fake memory?) of one of the issue’s covers that looked like a vagina and right now that sounds very appealing.
If you can, provide a photo of your work space. What are some essentials while you write?
I can’t write poems anywhere but in my study. My desk usually has at least three book piles on it, but I was feeling claustrophobic so things are looking extra tidy (can’t work with desk clutter).
My writing essentials depend on the project. When I was writing A New Language for Falling Out of Love I required: whiskey, the hours between 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm, a color-changing Jesus light, and a small selection of songs on repeat (can’t remember the songs anymore, but rest assured they were sad).
Even though Notes on the End of the World was my second publication, it was actually the first manuscript I wrote. The writing process for that one is a bit hazy, but I do remember there were a few songs on repeat: “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin and “Eyes on Fire” by Blue Foundation (don’t judge me).
The poems in One God at a Time also had a specific repeating soundtrack (I find that repeating the same song over and over helps me chisel away at ideas), but required less alcohol (although alcohol is always welcome). I know I listened to The Leftovers soundtrack on a loop, as well as Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor.
For this ongoing author interview series, I'm asking for everyone to present a writing prompt. It can be one that you craft out of thin air, it can be one you created a while ago, or it can be one you adore from an outside source that was passed down to you.
I have a statistics textbook next to me right now, so the prompt will come from there. Write a poem titled “Method of Intuition”. Use the words regression, prediction, zero, random, and violated. Listen to the song “Civilian” by Wye Oak on repeat while you’re writing. Turn out the lights.
Do you have any advice for poets working on their craft?
My advice for poets working on their craft is to please give me advice about working on craft because I have no idea what I’m doing.
Any final thoughts / words of wisdom?
Never abide by the serving size suggestion for cereal, sex work is work, if you lift weights let it be to help carry our inevitable griefs, and love does not conquer all but also let’s not use military language to talk about love.