Olivia Hu interviews past contributor M. Wright on the forthcoming release of his two chapbooks, a boy named jane and Dear Dementia, Atomic Theory, and how and, most importantly, why he writes.
OLIVA HU: Hi M. Wright! Thanks so much for joining us here to chat at L’Éphémère Review. It’s a pleasure to meet and talk with you!
M. WRIGHT: Hi Olivia, thank you for having me!
I heard that you have two chapbooks forthcoming this year. Congratulations! Could you give readers a general description of each chapbook?
I do! Thank you. a boy named jane is my debut chapbook and it comes out on March 11th with Bottlecap Press. It’s a chapbook of narrative (and persona) poetry and, to a certain extent, the reader can follow a narrative plot. At the time I was totally engulfed with the idea of “Atomic Theory,” which basically states that the atoms that make up all of our bodies (and everything, including televisions and tables) have existed for billions of years and will continue to exist long after our deaths. There’s this really lachrymose YouTube video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson explaining the implications of Atomic Theory that you should check out for a good cry. Anyway, I wanted this idea to act as a linchpin for my chapbook. The three “episodes” that divide the chapbook follow “jane” in his understanding of self in relation to the cosmos and his own eventual end.
My second chapbook, Dear Dementia, will come out on April 4th with Ghost City Press and I’m really excited about it. The poems in this chapbook were written over the last several years during father-son trips to visit my grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. I guess these poems became my way of processing aging and entropy, but they were also a way of investigating the subjectivity of art. During those visits, my grandmother would have these moments of radiant lucidity where she would look right at me and speak the most beautiful language and then, moments later, she’d speak these lyrical non-sensicals that felt equally meaningful to me. I wanted the chapbook to reflect that oscillation and also to romanticize the physical space of the caretaker home. In this collection there are constant juxtapositions of the meaningful and the meaningless as an attempt to reflect my own jaded yet hopeful views of things.
Are there any continuous themes that flow through these chapbooks? Why do you think they weave themselves so often into your writing?
These two works were written in close proximity to each other and at the time I was thinking a lot about my body and its trajectory. I think I’ve come to find that atoms are quite sexy. I am not a very spiritual person, but I like the idea that the atoms that make up my body were once the atoms of star-stuff from billions of years ago. And likewise, after I pass my atoms could coalesce into very meaningful or meaningless things and I find that very romantic. You’ll find this theme littered all over both of my chapbooks!
When I write, it’s often from somewhere deeply vulnerable and emotional. What are some inspirations that your poetry blooms from? Do you find that your writing often stems from personal experiences or stories that have moved you?
Writing poetry is sort of my way of bathing in the human condition. I just kind of sit in a pool of thought and do my best not to drown. My writing is inspired by my relationships, experiences, observations, etc. but also largely influenced by other poets (living and dead). For instance—I live a few blocks from John Berryman’s bridge and I walk there sometimes and read his poetry. I feel like his persona character “Henry” could have been a way for Berryman to investigate difficult self-reflection without the blame falling on his own lap as the author. I think this idea of removal heavily influenced the creation of my character “jane” in my chapbook a boy named jane. I liked the idea of deconstructing my thoughts by projecting them onto an inanimate being. It sort of allowed me to be both safe and daring with some of these poems.
Most importantly, why do you write?
I write for pretty much just one reason: with the hope that other humans who think like I do will read my language and feel less alone or weird. In college I read Bob Hicok’s Elegy Owed for the first time and it was like stepping into myself. It felt like a secret cosmic handshake with a stranger. I want to share that handshake with other people.
Any advice for poets who are seeking to publish chapbooks, or are interested in writing one?
My advice for other poets would be to treat their chapbook manuscript like one of Chance The Rapper’s mixtapes. Do not sacrifice what you’re about. Make the chapbook a cohesive whole that is self-referential and daring. Instead of compiling a greatest-hits collection of “singles,” see how your poems can communicate and live together. Explore the relationships (I’m not kidding) that two or three or twenty-five different poems can have together. Then I’d recommend getting to know your publishers and understanding where your manuscript would best fit. Take time reading chapbooks and collections from various publishers to get to know what people are reading and publishing. I think that’s the best advice I can give—be informed and be a part of the literary community before submitting.
Lastly, where can we purchase your chapbooks when they release? I’ll be sure to get a copy of each of them!
a boy named jane just became available for pre-order at products.bottlecap.press/products/jane and it will officially be out on March 11th so you can head over to Bottlecap Press anytime for that one! And Dear Dementia will be available on April 4th and I believe if you follow the link ghostcitypress.tumblr.com/catalog/chapbooks you should be able to find my chapbook and purchase it there. Thank you for asking!
Lovely! Thanks so much for talking M. Wright, what a pleasure to have you here. Bye!
Thanks for having me, Olivia. It was a delight. Cheers!
M. WRIGHT has two forthcoming chapbooks: a boy named jane (Bottlecap Press, 11 Mar 2017) and Dear Dementia (Ghost City Press, 4 Apr 2017). He is the 2016 winner of The Atlantis Award in poetry and his poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming inSquawk Back, Maudlin House, Ghost City Review, L'Éphémère Review, cahoodaloodaling, and Temenos Journal. In March, M. will be one of the twenty-four featured poets in the Saint Paul Almanac's "Impressions" project. You can follow him on Twitter @m__wright.