An Interview with Traci Brimhall
By Georgianna Smith
Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins(W.W. Norton, 2012), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery(Southern Illinois University Press, 2010), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Her poem "Peace Be With Us" appeared in Pleiades issue 33.2 and can be found here.
A lot of your poetry has a darker tone; “Aubade with a Broken Neck” with image of the dead moth and the wallpaper’s moldy roses is one great example. Is there anything in particular that draws you to darker images and themes when writing?
I think it comes from feeling compelled to look hard at what scares me. Most of my poetry comes from fear. I guess I've always believed that if you try and escape it, you'll just end up chasing the thing you're trying to run from, so why not strangle it, or snuggle it, or bury it in your backyard (but only metaphorically, of course).
Coming of age and the relationship between mothers and daughters are frequent issues dealt with in your writing, like in “What They Found in the Diving Bell” when the speaker sees her mother’s ghost. Has this topic always held interest for you, or is it a more recent obsession in your writing?
I suppose it has something to do with the question above--chasing what you're trying to escape, whether that's death or family or memory or all three at once. I make an effort to challenge myself and change my approach in poems, but I think my obsessions stay the same. Maybe they get contacts and try a different hemline, but underneath I'm still chasing the same thing I never want to catch.
What does it take for you to feel that a poem is really complete?
I'm not sure I believe in completion. I try and take every poem as far as my abilities and intuition allow, but once they've arrived at poetic maturity, I have to kick them out of my house and hope they can make their way in the world.
Has poetry always been your ideal medium of writing or do you ever dabble in another form?
When I started writing, I thought I was a fiction writer, and for a variety of reasons I changed my focus. I wrote poetry for so long that it got somewhat difficult to use paragraphs again, though I've recently been working on non-fiction. Working outside my comfort zone is terrifying, but that's what is so amazing about it. A different genre feels transgressive and wonderfully unknown. I think there's power in that fear when I sit down to write, and that's part of why I write in the first place--to feel afraid and powerful at the same time.
As a writer myself, I’m curious as to how you handle it when a poem isn’t coming together for you?
Oh, I butcher those poor little darlings and keep a big graveyard on my computer, and sometimes when I want to write but the words aren't coming, I go to that graveyard and play Dr. Frankenstein--dig up the dead and hope for a little bit of lucky lightning.
For those of us who are just getting started, there is a constant struggle on whether or not a poem is really ready to be published. Have you ever revisited a poem you had published early on in your career and wish that you could rewrite it?
All the time! And I look at many things I've published--both in journals and in books--and wish I can take them back. But isn't that life, too? You always think of the right smart ass retort to someone three hours later or you lose someone and regret all the things you didn't tell them and some of the things you did. But so what if the poem wasn't perfect? So what if it found a home in the world too soon or not at all? Give it all the imperfect love you've got, and that will be enough. It has to be. It's the only choice we have.
Read her poem"Peace Be With Us" here.