Blue Mesa Review undergraduate reader Benjamin W. Fowler speaks with poet Rebecca Aronson about her poetry collection Anchor published by Orison Books on October 6th, 2022. The interview was conducted just before the release of Anchor.
Rebecca Aronson is the author of three books of poetry: Anchor; Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom, winner of the 2016 Orison Books poetry prize and winner of the 2019 Margaret Randall Book Award from the Albuquerque Museum Foundation; and Creature, Creature, winner of the Main-Traveled Roads Poetry Prize. She has been a recipient of a Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, the Loft’s Speakeasy Poetry Prize, and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to Sewanee. She is co-founder and host of Bad Mouth, a series of words and music. She lives in Albuquerque with her husband, teenage son, and a very demanding cat, and she teaches writing at Central New Mexico Community College.
When did you know when you wanted to be a poet?
I always was writing as a kid. As a young teenager, I took classes at The Loft in Minneapolis, a community writing center. I majored in English in college. We had a neighbor who was a well known poet, so I always knew that poetry was a possible thing that people do. It wasn’t until after I finished my Bachelor’s degree and worked for a few years, that someone told me to apply for an MFA program. I didn’t know what that was. I was never someone who was career driven and knew what they want to do with their lives right away. My path was more meandering.
Tell us about your latest book, Anchor. Does it cover themes you haven’t touched on in the past?
Anchor was started when my father was starting to fall a lot, before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. All his adult life he was active and a runner. All of a sudden he started not to be able to stand up and we didn’t know why. He was in Minnesota. I was here in Albuquerque and I’d get calls from my sister and my mom that he was in the hospital. His falling got me started thinking about gravity. I read some extremely light physics to try to understand the force that pulls us to the ground. I spent a lot of time traveling to Minnesota, hanging out in hospital rooms, and at their apartment, trying to help my parents. I began writing letters to gravity as if gravity were a capricious god. The core of the book is ten poems titled “Dear Gravity,” which make up the spine of the book.
So Anchor concerns an adult daughter concerned for her father. You’re also a parent. How has parenthood influenced your writing?
In a few ways. Not just about writing. It’s given me a sense of urgency about my life in general, and a stronger sense of awareness of danger. Observing my son and parenting him has made my poetry more peopled. My first book Creature, Creature has animals, and there were some people, but not as many as in Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom and Anchor, which are much more peopled.
I know that in the poem “Make No Little Plans” from Ghost Child you want to be adventurous and ride the Ferris wheel with your son.
For my son to be brave, I had to model that bravery, even though we were both afraid of heights. Parenting is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone again and again. Parenthood has also pushed me towards thinking about subject matter differently than I would have thought about it before, like what the future holds. I didn’t think much about my own mortality before I had a child. Once I had him, my mortality mattered because I knew I had to be there for him. I wanted to keep him safe and I worried about the tenuousness of my own existence and what it would mean to not be there for him.
Do your poems ever have more than one point of view?
Many of the narrators are persona versions of me, but none of them are exactly me, but I don’t think the point of view switches around much within individual poems.
In “Road Runner” from Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom, do you step outside of human perspective? I like this poem because you ponder the Road Runner’s life and then you posit the idea that it created itself, that all creation comes from the same source.
I do sometimes watch animals intently and imagine their intelligence, their way of seeing.
What other roles does nature play in your poetry?
I’m attentive to the environment, and concerned for it, and I tend to be attuned to whatever my environment is. I spend an inordinate amount of time staring out my window and walking around my yard. Place is important to me. You can tell from my poems what is growing in my yard and where I’ve been hiking.
Are metaphor and figurative language more common in poetry than in other genres? How do you define those craft features?
All genres use these craft features. I think of metaphor as a comparison or analogy that is surprising, but at the same time familiar. A good metaphor is when the reader sees that two things have an unexpected thread in common. If the connection isn’t there, the metaphor can fall flat.
When you write do you pay special attention to words with multiple meanings?
I’m delighted when I write a poem in which specific words have layers of meanings, but I don’t particularly try to choose words with multiple meanings, unless I’m writing sestinas, for example.
What is your favorite craft feature and why?
There isn’t one craft feature that I favor, but I’m a sound driven poet. I’m interested in sound echoes, slant rhymes, internal rhymes, patterns formed by the repetition of sounds. I like that a lot.
What is your default universal setting that anyone can access? Along those same lines is there a universal voice in your poetry or is it you talking to the page and the reader?
I never want the reader to feel like there is a private language going on that they can’t access. There is a purpose to poetry that is working through thoughts that are private, but this approach doesn’t serve the reader. I am trying to pull the reader in always with imagery and language that does not exclude them. I think I’ve gotten better at this over time. But I’m not thinking about audience when I write. I’m thinking about imagery, language, and idea. During revision, I think of how a reference could communicate to another human. I have extraordinary first readers (friends who are great at analyzing and responding to writing) who are willing to read even my shabbiest rough drafts. I’m not always sure when a poem draft is accessible to someone else, but my readers help me know if I am succeeding at translating the world in my head to the outside world.
What struggles do many fledgling poets have? Is poetry an innate or universal art form?
Many people are driven to write poems, songs, or journal entries. It is innate in that way. There are craft features and poetic skills that can be taught, but not everyone has the pull. If you have the pull or the interest, you can be taught.