Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Terrapin Books Interview Series: Christine Stewart-Nunez Interviews Emily Franklin

Here's the second interview in this series. I hope you'll love it as much as I do! This series is all about poets supporting poets.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I know you are a prolific storyteller and an author of many novels. As I read Tell Me How You Got Here, I kept looking for an overarching narrative, but the collection refused me in the most satisfying way. I enjoyed swinging from poem to poem by collecting imagery and emotional impressions. Can you tell us more about what the genre of poetry opens for you that novels may not?

Emily Franklin: I started life as a poet, publishing in high school. In college I worked with great poets (Tom Lux, Kimiko Hahn) and thought for sure I would keep writing poetry while I worked numerous other jobs (cook, construction, teacher) but wound up being pulled into fiction writing. It made sense since I wrote mostly narrative poems. After years in the fiction world, I found lines of poetry coming back to me. For me, writing poetry is about sharing the biggest truth in the smallest form. I felt relief in trimming words and focusing on line breaks, really paring back in order to tell what needed to be told.

Christine: As a child, I maintained collections: knicknacks, earrings, dolls, stickers. Having moved a lot as an adult, I've let go of this tendency--with books a hearty exception. Tell Me How You Got Here appeals to my love of things because so many objects shimmer with meaning. Can you tell us more about your relationship to artifacts?

Emily: I’ve always been fascinated by what people (or crows!) collect. What people keep is also who they are or markers of what happened to them. Having moved a ton growing up, what we keep has special significance to me. I wrote Tell Me How You Got Here considering the amassing we do—and the sloughing off of items either when children grow out of things, or when a house floods (which happened to us), or what remains for people to sort through after someone dies. I like the record keeping of objects, and the freedom that comes from letting some of those objects or what they represent go.

Christine: I'm fascinated with the methods poets use to arrange the poems in their books. How did the order for Tell Me How You Got Here come about?

Emily: First of all, I had help. It’s tough for me to see the best order. That said, I knew "Japan, Autumn" would start the collection and that "Tell Me How You Got Here" would be the final poem. I thought about what I was asking of the reader, what topics I wanted to introduce right off the bat to let them know what the collection is about—memories (not just what we remember but how and who), the acts of gathering and letting go (both of objects and people), and ultimately what we are left with (in this case, a parrot who is loved, who leaves and returns). I think about how I came to be where I am and that’s what I’m asking the reader to examine—how you got here and—the last lines of wishing we knew how long anything or anyone can stay.

Christine: Your work in this collection is unabashedly sensual, and I adore the attention you give to food. Tell us more about your love affair with cooking.

Emily: I do love food. I also really like to know what and how other people eat. The how can tell you a lot. So I’ve always written about food and eating. In one of my life detours, I became a cook on boats and—years later—wrote a cookbook/memoir about cooking with and for my four children.

Christine: I admire how the titular poem, "Tell Me How You Got Here," concludes the book, and how the cover image is of an African Grey Parrot--the subject of that poem. And yet, I found that I wanted to substitute the "you" for the word "grief," since loss threads the book. Will you tell us more about the role grief plays in your writing process? 

Emily: I write a lot about grief, even when I don’t think I’m writing about grief. That’s how grief works, I guess. The way I live is to find and hold daily joys while always knowing part of being alive is figuring out how to live with and carry sorrow.

                                                         Click Cover for Amazon

Sample Poem from Emily's Book:

In Praise

No one praises the nostril.
Overshadowed by tufted nastiness of age,
crusted muck of childhood. Where is the joy
of newborn neck, smell of milky morning,
inevitable scent of your mother’s/father’s/grandfather’s/son’s
lotion/cologne/maple syrup/pomade?
Could you spend a few moments thinking
of those once tiny nostrils—now larger,
that we learned not to stick things in,
haunted by what has gone but that we still want—
that mother and her lotion,
the high school boy who drowned—
bourbon soaked, in the reeds
what was that smell he had?
The betrayal of age is the smell.

Let us praise nostrils for what they are—
time travel, gateways to every meal, place.
This is how you bring back the dead.
I’ll cast no judgment if I find you hunched over
a bottle of vanilla extract or your son’s sweatshirt or
your grandfather’s gardening gloves.
There will be mourning for empty biscuit tins,
trowels still woozy with dirt, each salt-and snow-stained boot
the size of your palm, for even the dishrag’s rank and pong,
box of undone slithering bowties, swaddling blankets
that could not possibly hold the nostril’s gaze.
Afford the olfactory a moment,
give thanks for those gateways, consider
the space carried each day in the center of us.

Emily Franklin's work has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Guernica, The Cincinnati Review, New Ohio Review, Blackbird, and Sixth Finch among other places as well as Long-Listed for the London Sunday Times Short Story Award, featured on National Public Radio, and named notable by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Her debut poetry collection, Tell Me How You Got Here, was published in 2021 by Terrapin Books. Her novel Becoming Isabella, a novel of Isabella Stewart Gardner, is forthcoming from Godine Books.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez, South Dakota’s poet laureate from 2019-2021, is the author and editor of several books, including The Poet & The Architect (Terrapin Books, 2021), South Dakota in Poems: An Anthology (2020), Untrussed (2016) and Bluewords Greening (Terrapin Books, 2016), winner of the 2018 Whirling Prize. Her poetry has been the basis for international, cross-artistic collaborations with colleagues in music, dance, visual art, and architecture. She recently joined the faculty of arts at the University of Manitoba, where she teaches in the women’s and gender studies program. christinestewartnunez.com  

Please visit the Terrapin Bookstore for these and other Terrapin Books.

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