KMD: Reluctant Mistress is a formally diverse collection. Lyric fragments appear alongside couplets, tercets, and quatrains. Do you see your work as paying homage to established literary forms, subverting them, or both?
AC: For the most part, I’m paying homage. I’d like to blaze my own trail too, but I have tried to understand the history and tradition of poetry and appropriate it. This comes with obstacles, as the tradition has not always been welcoming to women, but there are so many women writing now who I deeply admire that are both honoring the tradition and subverting it.
When I first began writing poetry, my form and line breaks were all willy-nilly. Graduate school helped me learn to craft more consciously and choose forms that embody the meaning of what I’m trying to say. I like to experiment formally, and I try to flex my muscles with it and do different things. I hope to do this more in the future. Whenever I encounter writers consciously subverting form in new ways, I’m usually astounded and in awe.
KMD: What is your relationship to the love lyric?
AC: I read an interview with Matthew Dickman in which he theorized that poets only write from two emotional places: ecstatic love or debilitating grief. My relationship to the love lyric is that I feel that I’m constantly reading love lyrics and writing love lyrics from both of those places simultaneously.
KMD: Twenty-first century romance. Discuss.
AC: Sexually liberated. Fragmented. Chaotic. Ecstatic. Complicated. Primal.
From a female standpoint, I think we have come a long way in the feminist movement, gaining sexual liberties and the freedom to re-evaluate and expand what we consider the societal norm. However, rape culture, slut shaming, and inequalities in gay rights show us that there’s still work to be done in terms of this, as there’s a loud group of people that would still like to put women back into conventional stereotypes. This creates young women that are a bit bipolar about their relationships and sexuality. We need to allow women the same freedom with their bodies that we allot men.
That being said, this freedom does come with complications. It’s certainly better than not having it, but it can be chaotic and complicated, resulting in fragmented and confusing feelings of love towards people. “Romance,” in its traditional definition, is nearly extinct or very rare, at least from my experience. In its best light, twenty-first century romance is a beautiful abstract mosaic of people and personalities that help a person define and shape their sense of self. In its worst light, it’s a colorful mess.
My belief in the decline of romance does not mean that I don’t believe in love, however. I believe in love wholeheartedly. Love in the 21st century still exists—frequently, ubiquitously, and passionately.
KMD: What poets inspire you and how does their influence manifest in your own work?
AC: My number one touchstone is Sylvia Plath. When I first read her Ariel poems, the writing process opened up for me: it bloomed and it scorched. Plath revealed to me that a poet can write about anything: your rage, your tenderness, your desires. This was very liberating for me. I could never hope to be Plath; she’s a master of form, image, and metaphor in ways that constantly astound me. But she makes me very conscious of these things in my own work.
In addition to Plath, there have been so many others. I couldn’t even begin to list them all. As a reader, I feel like a sponge constantly absorbing all of the wonderful things poets are doing and have done, and I try to squeeze droplets of those things into my own work. As for contemporary poets, I adore Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, Mark Doty, Sandra Cisneros, Terrance Hayes, Sandra Beasley, Traci Brimhall, and Mary Stone Dockery. They influence me simply by writing honest poems that I can feel in my gut.
KMD: Tell me about your writing process for Reluctant Mistress. How did the manuscript begin? How did the project, its parameters, and its aesthetic, change as you wrote?
AC: My MFA thesis was titled Reluctant Mistress, which came from my fascination with women in Greek mythology, namely Cassandra and Daphne, who both shunned Apollo, the sun god. I felt an affinity for these stories in my own ambivalence towards love.
However, my collection changed from my MFA thesis very much. At one point, I realized I had two separate themes in the book: sexuality and grief. I separated the books and began to write two collections based on those themes. I wanted Reluctant Mistress to be a cohesive collection. I put the collection through tireless revision, which only stopped once it got accepted. (And, as my editor can probably attest, did not fully stop there). At one point, I simply had to let it go.
KMD: What advice do you have for writers working on their first book? For writers publishing their first book?
AC: My best advice to writers working on their first collections is to read, read, read, and read more. Love the heck out of poetry. Write like there is a monkey on your back terrorizing you to do so. Buy books, buy LOTS of books, spend a good portion of your paycheck supporting small presses and independent bookstores. Your work won’t exist if people don’t do this. You aren’t writing in a vacuum; you’re a part of a vibrant community, and you should give as much as you can to this community. Love it and it will love you back.
I hear writers all the time talking about “networking.” This word makes me cringe. It forces poetry into an insincere capitalist and competitive culture in which it doesn’t belong. You should, instead, read other’s work with care and consideration, develop genuine friendships and relationships amongst other writers, love them and their work with all your heart. That’s the best networking tip there is: you’ll be surprised at the beautiful ways they rally for your work once it’s published.
I attended the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference last summer, and someone asked Robert Hass what his advice was to poets working on a first collection. He said simply: “Don’t ever stop. You’ll have a body of work someday that you believe in.” I agree with this: don’t let anything deter you, and don’t do it for the book—do it to find your truths, do it for the art.
KMD: What projects are you working on now? What can readers look forward to?
AC: My second manuscript, Small Wreckage, is nearly complete. It focuses primarily on grief, loss, and abuse—both abuses that are done to us and abuses that we do to ourselves. There’s also a section of persona poems in that collection in which I speak in the voices of iconic women: Annie Oakley, Judy Garland, Anne Frank, Harriet Jacobs, Marilyn Monroe, and Sylvia Plath. Those were particularly fun to write.
I’m planning on working on a collaborative chapbook with a dear, talented friend of mine, Sarah Sweeney, while we travel to Puerto Rico. If our shared obsessions prevail, this collection should be sexy and passionate.
I’m also working on applying for grants for a peace delegation to Palestine to write a collection. I have received one grant so far, so this project seems to be coming to fruition. I hope to use this time to pull my poetry out of myself and write political poetry of witness. This area of the world has always spoken to me, and I hope to attain a deeper empathy and understanding by visiting.
KMD: What are you reading now?
AC: I’m a voracious reader: I read a collection every couple of days. I’m currently reading 1996 by Sarah Peters, and it’s both dark and beautiful. A couple of books I recently finished and loved are: Theories of Falling by Sandra Beasley, Small Porcelain Head by Alison Benis White, Mayakovsky’s Revolver by Matthew Dickman, and Vow by Rebecca Hazelton. I’m also eagerly awaiting the amazing collaborative collection, X Marks the Dress: A Registry by Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess, which every feminist woman should read!
About the author:
Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, The Pinch, Pank Magazine, The Comstock Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Cider Press Review, The Aurorean, and elsewhere. She was a recipient of the Academy of American Poet’s Prize, a Pushcart Prize nominee, a St. Botolph Emerging Writer’s Grant nominee, and a Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop participant. She holds degrees in Behavioral Psychology and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and received her MFA in Poetry from Emerson College. She currently teaches writing and literature at Emerson College, Wheelock College, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston. Visit her online at http://anne-champion.com.
About the interviewer:
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirteen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and (with Carol Guess) X Marks the Dress: A Registry (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo