Featured Photo Credit: Chris Beckman
To celebrate the release of Montreux Rotholtz’s debut collection, Unmark (Burnside Review Books, 2017), she and fellow poet Kallie Falandays (whose first book, Dovetail Down the House, was published by Burnside Review Books in 2016) discuss their influences, obsessions, and process.
KF: Hello, guess what? I love your collection. It’s perfect. Can I say that? You have a killer opening. Was that always the first poem?
MR: Thank you! I am lucky to be read so closely and thoughtfully. I appreciate your attention. “Bay of Butter” wasn’t always the first poem—at some point in the revision process it just became obvious that this was the right poem to start with. I think it sets the tone. This one and “Supine,” the last poem, feel like the right bookends—porous in some ways and impenetrable in other ways. These two poems were always the beginning or ending of some section, throughout every iteration of this manuscript, but it was only when I started seriously putting things together for this release that they fell into place. A lot of my poems contain a greeting of some kind or an introduction and I wanted to be careful not to start that way. I am wary of collections that begin at the beginning.
KF: That seems like a solid way to live—being wary of collections that begin at the beginning. What’s the joy in that? Where’s the life in it? I don’t know—I think of some work (The Glass Essays) for example, that begins at the end, and I think that’s a sort of beginning anyway. I love the idea of things just becoming obvious when we’re working on collections. I also like to think about the difference between just writing poems and thinking about them seriously. Does that always mean thinking about them within a collection? Does your writing process change when you’re editing a collection vs. writing a single poem?
MR: That question is in my brain a lot lately. I’m writing what I guess must be my second book—very obviously a collection, a thing with warp and weft clearly present. But that was not at all my experience writing this book. This one didn’t come together so much as pile up—and it didn’t feel planned at all right up to the end of the line. The poems came of their own volition, over time, and I thought none of them had much to do with each other, but in the book they do cling. I worried that each poem was too distinct, that even the series poems didn’t have enough to hold themselves together, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the poems mean something when arranged.
But this new book—it is concretely there already. I’m still writing the individual poems, but I feel the book under my fingertips the whole time. I know where each poem fits. Which part of the song it carries. It’s an odd experience.
KF: Your work circles around ritual. What is it that draws us to ritual?
MR: I think every person is in need of comfort and agency, and ritual provides both—or makes us think it is providing both. Ritual is also designed to impose meaning and order on chaos, even if that meaning and order are entirely incorrect, even if they’re only there for us, even if the ritual is just a wild flail at the darkness.
To my mind, there are two kinds of ritual: the kind that involves actual magic, prayer, religious invocation, spellcasting; and the kind that involves rhythms, patterns, activities, the daily and mundane. The breaking of either causes mayhem. One can be the other, too. Saying prayers is a ritual, and so is walking the dog. Walking the dog can be a kind of praying. And praying can be a kind of walking the dog. If you stop walking your dog, your dog will be distressed, you’ll get less exercise, you’ll get less fresh air. If a devout person stops saying prayers, they might be affected in ways they see, feel, and experience just as deeply and fiercely. There are real-world consequences.
KF: I wonder what the difference is between actual magic and rhythm, pattern, and the daily and mundane. I think it lies in intention, perhaps? When children repeat themselves, it’s a ritual, but it is the same ritual as a magic one? I think it can seem that way sometimes. Do you pray?
MR: I think there’s not much of a difference. There’s definitely magic being enacted when children repeat a song or play the same game again and again—but I think it’s in the brain, it’s practice in the neurons, cells, every muscle and fiber until the game is real. Intention is certainly the difference, but isn’t in the growing brain’s intention to perform this spell—to perfect the animal? Biology is intention, I think.
I don’t pray. But I do believe that praying has value. I read poems instead.
KF: Your poems are like a wax seal. Your imagery is creamy and then sharp. What gives it that creaminess? That sharpness?
MR: What a kind analogy. I’m really obsessed with wax, and the things it’s used for. It’s an odd material. It seals, encloses, captures, limits, hides, marks, molds, melts, stiffens. In times of emergency people have eaten it as a temporary food substitute. It’s used to signify authenticity. To create negative space within which we make a positive out of another material. In some regards, I hope that my poems can do those things as well, though I’m not sure how well they digest.
To answer your question—I think of images as the poem’s senses. A professor once told me this: an image is the very strongest and most powerful thing you can put in your poem. An image is something that you perceive with your senses, and that will be handed to the reader, and the reader will perceive it with their senses, and then look—you’ve physically done something to your reader. That is a powerful tool. How can I mimetically induce something in the reader? How can I move their body, touch their hand, breathe in their ear, conjure a smell, distract their eye? I always think of the poem like a body I want my reader to try on.
KF: Your poems certainly do those things, and it seems to me that’s a lot about what Unmark is about. Also I agree about the idea of handing images to the reader. It’s wild to think that our brains actually change and respond to what we read. Of course it’s true, but I loved this Atlantic article about just that. What were some fiction or poetry collections that have had the most impact on your waking life (can we call it that?)
MR: There are a lot. I’ll list a few books that helped me understand how reading can change the reader. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Resurrection Update by Jim Galvin. The Light the Dead See by Frank Stanford. Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. Everything Emily Dickinson and Theodore Roethke have ever written. Everything Louise Glück and Heather McHugh have ever written. Too many young contemporary poets’ books to count (but particularly those of Safiya Sinclair, Karyna McGlynn, Kaveh Akbar, Layli Long Soldier). And, hilariously, not a book at all—lots of my favorite poems came out of a course collection that one of my undergraduate professors put together—they were all photocopied and pasted together crazily in an order that made sense only to her, and they spanned a huge swath of time but had one thing in common—they were cored with image and depended on its power.
KF: “The present time is in fact / an honest glancing piece of equipment” seems more than true. What the fuck?
MR: I’m so proud that line felt true to you. Of all the lines in all the poems that I’ve ever loved, that’s the one I love the most. It’s a darling I couldn’t kill. In my mind, that line explains what this book is hoping to “do” in the world. And also what I think poetry is and how I think it works.
KF: Can I call it perfect? It’s a perfect line and a damn good goal. I love the stories inside of stories. What’s the story inside of the turning of the pages that occurs starting with “The Shelter”?
MR: I’ve changed the story a lot since I started writing those poems. It’s the end of the world, perhaps obviously—and we’re traveling through what remains of what we have built. Considering what it is to survive, to be a survivor, to be a woman surviving. And the story is sort of a reverse Adam and Eve—the last two rather than the first, walking toward the unmaking of the world. Moving through the colonies and fortresses humans build for ourselves, even at the end, the remains of war and nuclear power and empire—being both the last remaining colonizers and at the mercy of the earth as it undoes every human act of mastery.
KF: “Walking toward the unmaking of the world.” Wow. The last remaining are always at mercy perhaps, but I like that when we read the work, we have to turn the work. The poems shift (and shift within us), which is a really beautiful thing to do to your readers. A beautiful thing to give them.
MR: Those poems feel burdensome to me—particularly when it comes to line breaks. When I started publishing them, and even in this book, every layout designer I’ve worked with thought they were prose poems and would re-break the lines to fit the page. The lines are a full page-width, but they are lines, and they are conveying breath and speed and tone. Burnside makes smaller books that are easily carried in the hand, which meant that the lines weren’t able to fit on the page as intended. We found a solution, though, and I really love it—the physicality of it. If the reader wants to engage with the poem, they have to turn the book like a wheel. Poems are always trying to do something to the reader, and here we were able to do something before these poems even started.
It makes me feel high-maintenance to bother a designer about something like this. But I’ve tried adjusting to match preformatted page layouts and the poems lose something, so I’m stuck. I’ve learned it’s important to be assertive about your own work and what it needs. No one will do that for you.
KF: Can we talk about line breaks please? Holy shit:
I prayed for her, though
she was an animal
MR: I love line breaks. I don’t really like the ones that play a trick on the reader, but I do like the ones that offer several options. Which path do you see first? Is it the one you want to follow? When I read the poems aloud I sometimes intentionally read around or through the line breaks because they don’t feel right in my head at that moment, even though I go back and forth on every one, and I put most poems into five, ten, fifteen different forms before they are “right.” I’m never trying to lead the reader into a misunderstanding, but then again, what you misunderstand is always your own burden.
KF: What spawned “Untitled?”
MR: A very, very real murder. It happened just a few hundred feet away from my classroom. A lot of the details are “true”—if that word means anything in this context. I was young when it happened, just discovering the danger that a body is almost always in, and I wrote the poem nearly ten years later. It was difficult to write about that moment without over-dramatizing or sentimentalizing or reducing the experience to my limited perception of it. Perhaps I’ve failed in that.
As a witness, and as a young person, the most important part of that experience was the reaction of the other girls in my classes. Some of us fell into patterns of terror. Some girls performed the gender stereotype that seemed expected of us, so fiercely, and with such great excitement—screaming at the drop of a hat, escorting each other to class, whispering that the murderer was among us. And some of us were even bolder after it happened, brave to the point of foolishness. We defied death, mocked it, sure that danger was our birthright. We always walked alone, even into the woods where the body was found, even after dark. I think we believed the damage that could be done to us was a mark of womanhood.
I was also working with the idea of “untitling” something, just as “unmarking” something could mean to remove a mark or to undo the seeing of the thing or maybe something else. Perhaps, in that context, “untitled” could mean that the title had been removed or simply never made—and for what reason? Why would you want to untitle, to unmark, to unmake, to keep something from ever having been perceived?
KF: Nooooo. I was hoping it was some imagined event, but again life is stranger than what we imagine. You said something very interesting right now: “I think we believed the damage that could be done to us was a mark of womanhood.” What’s the point of the body if it cannot be ravaged and saved? If it can’t be taken away?
MR: I don’t know what the point of the body is—and what the point is for whom—but its vulnerability is part and parcel. I do worry that everyone’s always leaning toward this hyper-Victorian ideal of the feminine body: women are special, precious—so painfully fragile. And that this ideal might be conflated with the feminine body’s “purpose.” This has always been the patriarchal way of telling us we are responsible for our own doom. What was she wearing? Oh, she was walking alone at night?
And I think this renewed conversation about preciousness and fragility is the backlash to the current political movement in some ways but it’s also the back that has always been lashed whenever we dare to ask why. I think of a certain political figure’s statement that he “cherish[es] women”—but of course that particular person has been accused by many women of sexual assault. Cherishing and assaulting have always been sisters.
But I’ve moved away from your question. I think the point of the body, of every body regardless of sex or gender, is to be a chance. An opportunity for grace. For not fucking it up this time around.
KF: Your poems end the way I think all poems should end. What do you think of resolutions?
MR: Often the ending of the poem is the only thing I like about it for a long time. I also sometimes worry that endings hit too hard, or make too much of themselves. I worry that less experienced readers of poetry will think the poem “means” whatever the ending is, that the poem is tidy and tied up with a bow, that the conclusion being drawn is the right one, that they can stop considering now and move on. I hope that the endings of my poems will act as a refresh button, sending the reader back into the loop. But sometimes they don’t.
Frequently the thing I admire most about someone else’s poem is the ending—usually the delicacy or immediacy of it, how it refuses to come down too hard, or how it diverges from the expectation. I think of poems like Jim Galvin’s “Apollinaire’s Cane”—a thing that deliberately conceals itself until the moment it ends, the moment it reveals the speaker’s real self. That poem ends abruptly and fiercely, and yet it is delicate because it doesn’t entirely mean the thing it means—and it is open to misunderstanding. I heard Galvin read that poem in two separate instances. The first time, he said the last line bitterly, muttered it, snapped it—like talking to someone in the street who’s brushed too close for comfort: “Don’t touch me.” Completely out of context, sharp, a slap. The second time, he said, “Don’t touch me“—introducing a stress on the final word that equates the speaker with the objects in the poem, tidying it up a little. Both times the effect is jarring and powerful. I like endings that hang in the air, that haunt, that force the reader to re-engage. What does the ending want to do to me, to my physical being or my emotional one? If I cut this ending, would the poem work? How many endings are in this ending?
KF: “Hunger Paint” is my favorite poem in the whole collection. What’s yours?
MR: “Supine” and “Mimic” are two that I feel strongly about. They both presuppose an entire story, a mythology that feels very concrete and real to me. I also quite like “Homeland” and “Frost Fair” for the same reason and because it’s a particular pleasure to read them out loud. But I don’t feel the same about any of these poems as I once did. It’s so odd the way poems age. I love them all so passionately at the outset, then we are companions, and finally we merely share a room.
KF: I often think about that—the way my relationship to my work has changed now that we “merely share a room.” I suppose it’s important to create work we can live with in a very real way. Ones we can move about when we can’t sleep. Ones we give away. Ones we hide.
MR: I’m curious about how other people’s work ages. Do your poems retain any of their power for you after a while, or do you judge their lasting quality based on how others respond to them?
KF: How others respond to my work is always interesting, but there are some poems of mine that stick with me regardless of how other people respond to them. I think that’s the thing about it. Poetry can whisper to all of us in very different ways. I recite some of these poems to myself while I sleep, but I was working on my collection for so long. Seven years almost. It was a burden in many ways, so now it’s a bit of a relief.
I loved working with Dan [Kaplan] and the team at Burnside. What was your experience with editing this collection?
MR: My experience with Burnside was great. You’d published a chapbook before you put this book out with Burnside, right, so this wasn’t your first experience with finalizing a collection? But for me, this was really my first time through this process. I was also incredibly jaded about my work after years of being a finalist, a runner-up, or a not-even-close manuscript. I felt really bad for Dan, because our first real conversation was basically me saying, “I hate these poems, let’s burn them, they’re all terrible.”
But someone else’s eyes on your work can help you suddenly reimagine it, and can reinvigorate your approach. I started to care about the book again, because Dan cared, because Mary [Szybist, who selected it] had cared, because someone gave a damn other than me. I had spent so long striving to make something that crackled, and I’d never felt like I succeeded, but with some gentle prodding from Dan and some enormously frustrating conversations (for him, I’m sure), I started to figure out how to do what I was doing and do it better. We remade the book, which had been in a very logical and stoic kind of arrangement, and we forced it to speak for itself.
KF: I had published work before, but never with Burnside and it never went through the sort of expansion and shift that we experienced here. My work was sort of interesting because everyone sort of said the voice is here but what else is here? and it was true. I missed some craft bits. I missed the idea of the thing. The whole manuscript hinged on this sound, sort of, like something you hear far away in the night. And the rest of the work was about carving out the throat.
MR: What was your experience working on this book with the Burnside editors?
KF: They were amazing. My book wasn’t entirely ready when I submitted it, but they found something in it that they liked. They thought it was worth it to work through these poems with me, so the editing process was pretty heavy. Dan and I worked together to reorder the collection. I completely restructured it. I removed about 16 or 20 poems and added in 9 or 10 new ones. The original collection I submitted was around 90 pages or something. It was intense. And it became this small but tight collection that was perfect for me.
MR: It was so successful. I can’t wait to talk about your work more closely. How do you feel about the “you” in your poems? Is it a different person in each poem? The same person in every poem? I feel like everyone always wants to know if a direct address like this is toward the reader, or toward the poet’s love, or toward the poet’s self. Or the poem? What does direct address mean to you?
KF: The whole book is actually a conversation. The full poems are spoken by a woman and the whited out responses are from a man—her imagined lover. Her real lover. The direct address is everything. It started the book and it carried the whole book.
MR: I suppose the most obvious observation one could make about the poems in your collection is that they have no titles. However, when published individually in journals, these poems and their sisters do have titles—so can you tell me a little bit about your relation to titling in this book? Or in general? Is every poem part of the same poem? What are titles, in your mind, and what are their limits?
KF: The titles were confusing for me to keep track of. They were things like, THE STORY OF THE BIRD AND THE HOUSE AND THE TOO-SMALL GIRL, THE STORY IN WHICH THE IMAGINARY LOVER BECOMES A SMALL HOUSE. There is something glimmering about them, but they were always sort of placeholders for the poems. I knew these were functioning as a conversation, so titling them didn’t quite make sense for me. That’s where the limit lies. When they’re functional, I can see it. But we don’t title our conversations, so it didn’t seem to make sense to title the collection.
MR: How do sentiment and authenticity and sincerity help you write your poems, and how do you avoid, play with, activate, or use these ideas? How do you feel about sentiment?
KF: I never think sentiment should be the only thing, and there are a lot of authors who vehemently avoid sentimentality, but I fall somewhere in the middle. It’s like walking into a room to find everyone crying without context. What’s the story? What the hell happened? Where are my friends? I would want to know these things, as you might. I think sentimentality can fuel something within us but we need the rest of it—the context, the cushions, the chairs, the ceiling to make it something real. I do have moments where I’m just in the room crying, of course, or I am the room crying, or whatever. And sometimes I write those, but I know those are not to be shared because it’s for me alone.
MR: I’m always so interested in how other poets approach sentiment and also how they approach their poems that are too sentimental, whether they have a system or a mechanism or just a good sense about which poems are the whole room and which aren’t. How do you decide? Do you have any trusted readers who help with that decision? A mechanism you use to help you?
KF: Sentimentality can be too sweet, and in life, as in poetry, it can cloud what’s actually happening. I think it’s important to have a bit of distance that allows you to step back from it once in a while. I usually can tell when I’m being too sentimental, but I also have some trusted readers (hi, Luis!) who call me out on my bullshit. I think that’s important. I also try to have my computer read poems back to me. That helps me identify any lines that are outrageously sentimental. What do you do?
MR: I have sort of an internal barometer, I think. My trusted readers are pretty busy nowadays—but the best way to do it, for me, is to read the poems out loud to myself. If I imagine it’s someone else’s work—how would I feel about it? Would I think it was too sentimental? Lately I’ve been writing these very personal poems and I haven’t really “finished” them yet because I’m not sure that they use sentimentality in a useful or productive way. I love the idea of your computer reading them to you. There’s something so haunting about a computer reading love poems, or elegies—a machine longing for a body.
When I’m reading your poems, I often think about what is absent, what has been erased, or not said, or said very quietly. How do you decide what not to say, what to obscure, what to disappear? How do you approach this task?
KF: These poems were originally blacked out. What if you dreamt of a man that became real? What if he started to hate you for possessing him? What would that sound like? How would it feel? There’s great absence in these poems, and I think there’s something magical about what we don’t say, what we can’t say, and what we can never say.
MR: I’m so interested in how redaction became transparency. I love the way the erasure poems interact with the page, force you to rethink. One of the issues with blacking out poems for an erasure is that the reader doesn’t have the text of the original poem there to look at (unless they turn the page, of course), but you avoid that by using the different font colors—I like this but it’s definitely a different feel from blacking out the text. How did you come to this decision?
KF: This was actually a decision Burnside suggested. I think for a number of reasons (including printing costs), blacking out the text just didn’t make sense. I think there’s a way to make the source text clear, but when I wrote the collection, I was actually thinking of blacking out on transparency paper (sort of how maps in old history books have multi-layered topographical features on different sections) so I originally imagined the blackouts working as sort of an additive instead of a taking away. Readers could imagine the space. Ultimately, I love what we decided to do because it speaks to experience of loss versus destruction (which is what I was originally picturing). How can we hold on to an experience after it’s gone? How can we hold on to each other? How do we create boundaries with people we love? I think the lighter font and whiteouts better interact with these ideas.
MR: Transparency paper! I can envision that exactly—I can see how it might have been an issue with the formatting Burnside uses for printing, but I still love that idea. Are you considering doing anything else with that strategy, making anything else that employs it? What’s your current engagement with erasure/redaction in your most recent work?
KF: The whole idea of Dovetail came out of the notion of erasure or of blacking something out, of revising the past, that sort of thing. My current work is about grief and loss, though these poems are more heavily imagistic and less about erasure, I think. I would be happy if something sort of trickled out of me that involved the transparencies again because it was such a precious idea to me at the time. (Hint hint, muses. Come at me!)
MR: I love the way you use punctuation. It feels graceful and sort of accidental in an extremely intentional way. Can you tell me a little about how you work with punctuation in your poems?
KF: Punctuation is funny and gentle and painful. In this collection, the em dash was very important in terms of its function (it both splits and holds phrases together), its form (it allows us to hold on until the end), and its placement (it’s jarring when we don’t expect it). This work was simultaneously about building and tearing apart and there’s no better way to share that than through punctuation.
MR: One of my particular quirks is that I read poetry out loud. It kind of takes me forever to a read a poetry book for this reason, I’ll be honest. I’m so interested in the way you use erasure and font styling to modify the text of your poems. Can you tell me how these effects interact with sound? How do you read these aloud, when you read them for an audience?
KF: I like to imagine someone reading my poems out loud and I’m so happy you did that. How did you read the erasures? I read them back to back with the source poem. “I / want you / open / an ocean bleeding / the rain.” I leave out the other parts.
MR: I read them back to back, and I read just the darker text the second time around and added some pauses. I had an impulse to whisper the white text, though—I wondered if you’d considered that. I also wonder how you thought about how sound would interact in these poems—whether you’d planned to read them out loud when you were writing them or if that was something you had to deal with later.
KF: The whited out text does sort of function like a whisper. I imagined two people reading the work, actually. One would be the whiter text and one would speak the darker text. I haven’t been able to do that yet, but I’m prepared.
MR: I keep coming back to the idea of eating, of swallowing or consuming or ravaging—something “coming to eat you” or something “eat[ing] your thighs” or that very sudden moment that springs on you: “everyone gets eaten alive / or eats, alive, their kin, // their twin.” This way the poems keep coming back to eating and consumption is erotic, asphyxiating, frightening, childlike (conjuring the monster under the bed in that last quoted poem), playful, nightmarish. We’re asked to be cannibals, to be the consumed, to watch. To what extent did you intentionally engage with this repetition during the writing process, plan it, bring it into the world? And what power do you think this ravenous-ness has?
KF: The idea wasn’t as much intentional as it was an obsession. I was sort of swallowing ideas for such a long time, as we all do sometimes. They were rolling around within me and it became very clear to me that when we eat things, we make them smaller on the outside but they grow and break and dissolve within us. It’s sort of what happens in the collection. The ravenous can damage us or it can move us. It can power us to be more brilliant or it can destroy us because we are hungry. We can tear apart the fridge or we can create something that fills us.
MR: I know exactly what you mean when you say “swallowing ideas.” That’s such an odd experience, when you’ve got them but you can’t spit them out. How do you trigger the creative process? I feel like there’s been a lot of frank discussion of writer’s block in the world lately, which I appreciate, and a lot of people sharing what helps them work past it—what do you do to help yourself work? Do you have any go-to activities?
KF: Is crying an activity? I try to write when I need to write and not write when I don’t have to. I once taught a class on clearing writer’s block and it was basically a giant Wikipedia scroll-through discussion. I always think it’s about getting out of ourselves. What are people reading? What are your friends looking at? What if we started watercoloring? What about that weird book at your mom’s house that you’ve never picked up? What if you messed with it? I try to watch movies, even shitty ones. I try to make lists of things I have to do. I do those things. Maybe after I write a poem. I work a lot from dreams so I try to write those down. That always brings something out in me, and I think it’s valuable way to explore ourselves. Or you can start with a word like “balloon” and write that word when you feel stuck. Automatic writing, stuff like that. You might never use what you write, but it’s good to have helpful tips.
MR: I’m so attracted to this idea of writing from dreams—especially because I think it’s one of those things we’ve been told not to do. I’m always trying to do the things I’ve been told not to do by other, more established writers. What’s something poetry-related you’ve been told not to do that you do anyway?
KF: So many things: writing about dreams is also one I’ve heard and immediately rejected. Who even made that rule up? I imagine it came from a lot of mediocre poems about dreams, but it seems like dreams would be the thing to write about. Where else do we get those kinds of images? That type of movement? The most powerful juxtapositions? A dream is a poem.
I also hate when people tell me to do things, so even if I didn’t want to do it, I start wanting to do it once I hear they think I shouldn’t; writing without coordinating conjunctions; layering too many images on each other. I don’t know. Do they know? I try never to tell someone what they can and can’t do with language, especially their own.
MR: The idea of telling another writer how to be a writer is so strange. That being said—sometimes direction is useful. What good advice have you gotten that you do choose to follow? What’s the best practical and helpful advice you’ve ever received on a poem or for writing in general?
KF: I love Sylvia Plath’s idea to cut the head off a poem. I always try to look at the first stanza and I ask myself if it’s a barrier, a bridge, or a burden. Am I using it as a way in? Do I even need that way in? I also once heard that so many poems end with someone saying something. I try to see if it happens in my work, though I don’t live and die by it.
MR: Great advice. Writing is exhausting and exhilarating and sometimes soul-crushing. What breaks do you give yourself? What kinds of popular culture do you engage with? How do you rest your eyes?
KF: I try to do crafts. Jewelry making, crochet, weaving, coloring, walking around (is that a craft?). I try to read books about other things. Right now, I’m trying to learn Portuguese so that’s a way to “rest” while still engaging with language in a new way. I try to exercise, to sit with myself, and to cook. I like to do slow movements. Throw ceramics on the wheel. Try to meditate and then give up. What do you like to do?
MR: I also like to walk around. I like cheerful television and movies. Being with my dog. One of the things I avoid is reading about other people’s poetry successes. I’m so happy for everyone, always, but I find it is impossible to take it easy if you’re busy comparing yourself. So when I’m in my rest phase I deliberately don’t seek out information about how I’m not currently measuring up. Do you ever feel like that? How do you deal with that feeling of not being good enough, or of not quite getting as many accolades as someone else does? Are there other things you deliberately avoid when you’re trying to give yourself a break?
KF: I agree that you should never read about other people’s poetry successes when you’re sad. That’s why Facebook is a trap. That’s why our own minds can be a trap. I agree, and I think it’s super important. When I feel that way, I try to remove words like good and bad from my work vocabulary. It doesn’t serve me and it doesn’t make sense. I also avoid doing too much when I can’t handle it. I have a desire to push myself too hard, and so I try to give myself actual mind breaks when I need them. But I’ll say it again: I think it’s important not to try to “measure up.”
So what’s the story now? What are you moving toward in your work, in your writing, in your day-to-day goals?
MR: Working on that new collection, at the moment. And I’m submitting as much as I can. I took a break from sending out work for a while because of this book, but now I’m trying to get more poems into the world. I’m also working on promoting Unmark, doing a mini tour of sorts, and trying to get better about meeting new people and asking to be seen. I’m forcing myself to be social. In terms of my work, I think the poems are getting longer, more personal. I’m revealing myself, in multiple ways. What about you?
KF: I’m also writing and submitting and reading. Trying to submit when I can. I also am still doing some readings for Dovetail Down the House, though I just moved to Portugal, so I’ve been studying Portuguese and trying to settle in, so I’ve been mixing my focus between life and writing. My work has been shifting into longer poems as well, though many are still voice driven, so I like to think of them as me, just changing.
Kallie Falandays is the author of Dovetail Down the House (Burnside Review, 2016). You can read her work in PANK, Day One, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She’s living in Portugal, where she runs Tell Tell Poetry (www.telltellpoetry.com).
Montreux Rotholtz is the author of Unmark (Burnside Review Press, 2017), which was selected by Mary Szybist as the winner of the 2015 Burnside Review Press Book Award. Her poems appear in Boston Review, Prelude, jubilat, Lana Turner, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle.