Thanks to Seth Landman for tagging me in this poetry self-interview thing which has been taken the interwebs by storm — for next week I’m tagging Amick Boone, Chrissy Anderson-Zavala, Molly Prentiss and Roxane Beth Johnson.
What is the working title of the chapbook?
8th Grade Hippie Chic
Where did the idea come from for the chapbook?
I started writing it in 2008 when I was sitting in a coffee shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco where I would sometimes go to write. This particular coffee shop wasn’t very hip and always played the kind of music that most inspires me to write, which is pop music from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond. Music that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to put on, but the kind that would always be on the radio in my mom’s car, and that I know intimately and probably know all the words to; that brings up all kinds of feelings and memories and associations instantaneously. This Avril Lavigne song called “I’m with You” that I totally love came on, and I remembered my friend telling me that he thought it was about God. And that turned into the first line of the chapbook (which I think of as one long poem): “I was more interested than anything else in the pop song that you used to say was about God.” And I continued writing from there, sometimes taking cues from the songs that came on in the café. I think that in writing that first draft I was thinking about some overall ideas, and that in revising the chapbook I’ve worked to bring in those ideas even more. These ideas are related to fashion and music and cultural appropriation and privilege, and also to God and girlhood and friendship and jealousy and love.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry—it’s a long poem in very narrative prose blocks without line breaks, so it could also sort of be considered cross-genre.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The poem in the chapbook takes place mostly in the mid to late 90s, and I think that the characters—which are all sort of amalgamations of real people from my life—are basically the female speaker, another teen girl and a teen boy. So I keep coming back to the idea of 90s-era Drew Barrymore playing someone, just ’cause she kind of embodied the 90s hippie chick aesthetic for me—she was always wearing daisies in her hair and dark red lipstick and stuff. And then I want the boy to be played by 90s Chris O’Donnell, since I can’t really think of any other young male actors from that time period who don’t have a total “bad boy” vibe, and the boy in my poem is more of a nice boy. So I guess the movie rendition of my chapbook is just the movie Mad Love. The speaker, i.e., me, could be played by my celebrity doppelganger, Jennifer Love Hewitt, or maybe Alanis Morissette, who people always told me I looked like in 8th grade. Except, wait, I want to be played by 90s Drew Barrymore too!
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
I spent the rest of my life getting over 8th grade.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Probably an hour or two. I think I wrote the first draft pretty quickly, and then I brought other stuff into that original piece and revised it all a lot over the past four years.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I wrote it right around the time I was finishing my MFA, and I had recently taken a creative nonfiction class with the wonderful Toni Mirosevich at SF State, and was finding myself writing a lot more narratively than I had in my thesis, which later became my first book. I had also recently read some work by Ariana Reines—I think it was a section from Mercury—and felt really inspired by how kind of unapologetically aggressive her poems felt, and also by something she said about how a piece of writing shouldn’t have to be consistent in form; this added to the feeling of more freedom regarding the form of my writing. But the aggressiveness of her work made me interested in writing a poem that had the potential to upset someone—not that I think my chapbook necessarily does that. I think that my earlier work was coming from the same places in terms of feelings, but it felt more veiled; I was interested in writing something in a voice that felt more direct. Lastly, since I had just finished my first manuscript, I was thinking about how much I wanted and still want to write more poems that have an overt consciousness around race and class privilege, as well as gender—which I think all of my poems explore. I don’t know how successful I was at doing this, but I wanted to write something that sort of placed the teenage experiences I was writing about within a social context, like, these were middle-class white girls living in suburban Connecticut listening to Bob Marley and relating his lyrics to their lives, middle-class white girls wearing “Indian feathers” in their hair on a school trip to Boston Harbor, and equating traditional Native American clothing with a “hippie-inspired” fashion statement, and equating all the anti-war hippie culture of the 70s with just a fashion statement too. Not that I think any of these things are necessarily evil or morally wrong. I think it’s really complicated, but I think it’s important to think about through the context of privilege, which is something I tried to do with this piece.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I was incredibly lucky to have the amazing, talented writer/illustrator Forsyth Harmon draw the cover for my chapbook, along with an assortment of interior illustrations inspired by the poem and a 90s hippie-chic aesthetic. These illustrations just might include a Manic Panic container.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m double-lucky to be published by the very awesome Immaculate Disciples Press! 8th Grade Hippie Chic will be available through their website in early April.