Aaron Burch is the author of How to Take Yourself Apart, How to Make Yourself Anew
TW: The design of ” seems almost part of the storytelling, can you tell me about the look of the book and its relationship to the content?
AB: The design and look of the book is totally Pank’s awesomeness, though i am obviously very, very happy with it. I love books that are well-designed (and that match the look to the feel of the text inside) and it is one of my favorite aspects of doing Hobart, working on cover designs and playing a little with interior layout. From the get-go, the Pank editors (Roxane Gay and Matt Seigel) had the idea of using images from an old medical and anatomy texts, what with the “language’s close attention to bodies, anatomy. Precision. Dissection. Diagraming. Exposing.” (Matt’s words)
We went through a handful of different images and configurations until we were all happy with it, and the collaboration and dialogue, I think, really helped pushed it to where it ended up.
TW: How did this manner of storytelling occur to you?
AB: I think, initially, I was purposefully trying to write something for elimae. I don’t really think of myself as much of a “language” writer, but I wanted to see what I could do with limited word count — how could I still get those childhood memories and reminiscing that I so often seem to fall into, into more clinical-sounding prose and without the length to give much context or really tell a full story. I wrote one or two and they seemed to come pretty easy and be really fun; then ACM was working on a bestiary issue and I had no ideas so i spent a few days reading online medieval bestiaries and remembered the ease and fun I’d had with the couple of “How To” shorts I’d written, so that’s when the last third of the book happened.
TW: Many of these “How To’s” deal with physical alterations that, when taken literally, seem quite painful; yet there is often a sentiment that things will work out, or this is all for the best. Could you talk about growth and change and how they function in the context of your book? The results?
AB: Well. As I kind of hinted at above, I think a tip toward sentiment is my default when writing. And part of what became interesting to me while writing these shorts was how to balance the literal pain of dissection, pain, etc. with both a happy look back the past and also an optimistic look ahead.
Funny side story that kind of but maybe not really relates to your question: I just recently went back and reread the very first story I ever had published (on eyeshot), and couldn’t believe when I found the line, “showing them how he could take himself apart and put him back together.”
I don’t know. I think one of the interesting things of having been writing stories for a good handful of years now is looking back at stuff and seeing what recurs and finding those fascinations that you weren’t really aware of. I guess I could say something like I believe, often, you have to be taken apart, by yourself or something else, and then be put back together to really grow/change/etc., and so I guess that was kind of what the book became about, though that’s the answer I put together just now for this interview; I’ve certainly never thought of it that prescriptively before, nor was it an intention when working the book.
TW: What books should “How To Take Yourself Apart…” be sitting amongst in the bookstore?
AB: Well, it’s a chapbook, so if it is in a bookstore at all, that’s a win, I think. On a “staff rec” shelf would be rad. I like the idea of people thinking it might be a self-help book or something and picking it up. I also kind of like the idea of it being among poetry books, mostly just because I in no way think of myself as a poet, and so I find that possibility amusing. I’m happy with it being among any books, really. Wherever people will pick it up, hopefully.