How is life divided into inner realms, outer, and sacred corporality? How does this affect the psyche of the individual and how with the manifestation of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram acknowledge and incorporate these principles of self? How is image affecting the linearity of language? Poet, Molly Brodak in this interview exchanges how she, in the transcendent sense, intercepts these complimentary overtones. Consider social media. Brodak replies, “Words appearing on screens and not paper has changed language enormously … Twitter (for example) changes how people write. It is literally changing the wiring of our brains.” And how is this alteration taking place? She shares, “I think space between writers and their ‘audience’ (which for most poets, is other writers) has shrunk … the relationship between writers is more circuitous, reflexive, less top-down.” How we as individuals and especially writers explore these developments portends the future of language and communication.
In Brodak’s chapbook, Essay on Parts of Day, she differentiates, “Events in time are fractals of differences, you could say. The day exists but only insofar as it is made up of smaller ‘days’: i.e. hours, and then this extends to minutes and seconds, etc.” Linearity of time is dissuaded as much as the linearity of language. Continuing, “In ‘Parts of Day’ I was especially thinking about this house.” And “In ‘Pink Trees’ I was thinking about a lot of different spaces I had passed through … simply stirring (“something bad’–cake batter!).” The progression originates and diverts, anatomically impossibly interludes that increase the inspiration of exchange and experience of self and other. Eluding, “The fish comes through, all the fish come through, all the images, feelings, trauma, joy, etc., of experience, but the water is still the water. Good and bad, it all passes.”
1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
I have a strong memory of being 11 or 12 and picking Leaves of Grass off of a library shelf, opening it to a random page, reading a few lines (something about the sea) and suddenly crying a little. I was always attracted to poetry since then. I read a lot of poetry by myself as a teenager and didn’t really talk about it with anyone.
2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?
My first real poetry teacher in college, Edward Haworth Hoeppner, was the most help. He was the first person I’d met who was a real poet and just that alone helped me feel like it was something I could do. Because I mostly read poets from past eras, I just didn’t think poets really existed anymore, like they were unicorns or cobblers or something you couldn’t really be in this world.
3.) How has your own work changed over time and why?
I think it has changed when I have needed it to change. As soon as I start to feel comfortable or confident about what I’m writing, or when I recognize repetitive patterns or ‘moves’ that I’m simply reformulating in each poem, I have to change. I think it’s good to feel uncertain and somewhat uncomfortable even while writing, because it means you are in uncharted land and that is the best place to be.
4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
Yes very much. Really I mostly read nonfiction and I know it does influence my work. I’ve always read a lot from the natural sciences and history, because I think there is always something to learn, and I love learning. Facts or ideas from science and history show up in the form of fascination in my writing. Often I write out of a place of just pure fascination.
5.) What are your plans for the future?
Writing-wise I plan to finish a book of nonfiction I’ve been working on which is a kind of memoir and also finish this other book of poetry I recently started.
6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?
My view on contemporary women’s writing is that it is evolving, probably like all kinds of writing has. I think there’s been a small shift in the consideration of gender, or gendered-subjects (“female” books/topics/motifs) towards gender-neutrality. I think this is a positive move. I think women still feel limited by these proscribed patterns in writing—whether it is the content of the book or its packaging that publishers expect/enforce. Slight movement away from stereotyping starts with people talking about it, pointing out offenders or problems, like VIDA is doing with their counts. I think the talk portends positive growth.
7.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?
I think the only flexible enough label that works is simply “writer.” It implies nothing but the action of writing.
8.) The voice of a project collects around an assembled landscape. The music is hand painted in saturated strokes. In your chapbook Essay on Parts of Day, we read, “A clear bead. / A word I / say / you don’t hear. / A globe of fat / in a pattern: / starch bonds / soften and curl. / A treat. / A dress of salt. / I said aloud / close me.” The image slows to fold each subsequent motion. The movement simultaneously draws the cartilage of the relationship or sinew between bones of communication; the day in love itself. This is juxtaposed to your poem “Good,” where we read, “Have you been punched? Very expertly? / It is true you are sometimes not yourself. / That is how selves work, they hover / over their border.” Here the voice ponders rhetoric in a different emotional stasis. Voice transitions the way form, image, and thought is assembled. We model worlds around the poet. Values shift and transition our readiness to split energetic fields. How as writer would you say this has affected your sense of self?
Voice/emotions/values shifting? I think that is the self. Emotional states and ideas just pass through. It’s very much like a fish swimming through water. The fish comes through, all the fish come through, all the images, feelings, trauma, joy, etc., of experience, but the water is still the water. Good and bad, it all passes. It’s hard to avoid wanting to grab onto one of the ‘fish’, cling to some emotion or event or even person and demand that it affirm you or define your concept of self once and for all. But that doesn’t ever work, and then you get hurt because the fish eventually squirms off or dies. All of it is instructive, and I am extraordinarily grateful for poetry because it is a place where I can go to think about these things, or just make sounds I feel need making.
9.) In the poem, “Eight,” “Creatures / come to be more sensitive / over eons. Weak / signals accumulate, / pressed into / a code I envy. / The code pressed into clay. / Devotion is primitive./ Depth’s ombre, / hills dulling, / a small thousand years.” “Devotion is primitive” and black in codes of thinking; in forms of a hug. In ways this sensitivity allows us to break into creaturing forms of message. But what does this do, this excavation also highlights innumerous presentations of voice and identity. Applying this to the present influx of social media sites, how do you believe each platform elaborates differences in our understanding? Do you think this evolves the linearity of language? How do you perceive this affects logos? How does this affect how we are received by our audience, and furthermore, how do you think this affects how we are received by our peers?
Does Twitter/Facebook/Instagram evolve the linearity of language? Yes, absolutely! Words appearing on screens and not paper has changed language enormously. This is a topic for entire volumes of research and writing, but it suffices to say here that yes, Twitter (for example) changes how people write. It is literally changing the wiring of our brains. Nicholas Carr has written extensively about how Google (for example) has changed our brains and shortened our attention spans. A lot of people have fearful reactions to this. But it is natural. Every animal is evolving towards easier and faster communication, but especially social ones like humans. I think space between writers and their ‘audience’ (which for most poets, is other writers) has shrunk. It’s shrunk because people wanted it to shrink. Because of social media sites the relationship between writers is more circuitous, reflexive, less top-down. This is a trend of our era because of the connectedness of the internet: you also see this movement in the classroom—more younger teachers want the chairs set up in circles or tables to break down the authoritative force of the teacher’s position.
10.) When we tell stories we pack each mechanizing detail into the day. The section “Pink Trees,” in Essay on Parts of Day is as follows: “If there is no one else here / I am not here either. // A thin sour scent / settled on the pillows.// This is my / whole house. // A gold thread. / A new noise. // I haven’t written back / to him. He has forgotten. / His hand in my hair, / absent or violent. // I recall, I was the creature. / Clothes folded and hid. / Yellow-lit filth in the rug.” We saturate the lines into each livid experience so that the break becomes alive. The line has a pulse, the inhalation paves the day. When we search for enumerable variant, what happens to detail? Does the day exist, or do the differences and semblances of each experience also mean that every minutia is in fact a similarity of difference?
Thanks for saying that, and this is a good question. Events in time are fractals of differences, you could say. The day exists but only insofar as it is made up of smaller ‘days’: i.e. hours, and then this extends to minutes and seconds, etc. You can pay attention to the unit you want. I try to force myself out of ‘humanscale’ when it comes to time, and think about not days or months but centuries, eons, geologic time. It’s hard to think of a unit of 1,000,000 years because it is so beyond the human scale. And yet it is also totally ordinary and probably a more useful time unit when considering the history of the Earth (of which we are just an animated feature). Detail is weirdly paradoxical because it reminds me, of course, of the physical world, beauty, or someone in particular, but it also is tethered to nothingness, and it’s good to remember that and try to use it somehow.
11.) How does your life affect your work and vice versa?
I just don’t see a great separation there to compare. For example, writing the poems in the chapbook manuscript sample I sent, I was processing events and information that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise: an old house I was becoming obsessed with, books about geology or old art I was reading. Poems are places of processing and I think of them as ‘thinking’–crucial and inseparable from my life. In “Parts of Day” I was especially thinking about this house. There was an enormous old abandoned house in Augusta where I was living that I would break into, sometimes a few days a week, and just walk around and look at it. Actually it wasn’t abandoned, it was for sale and people were working on it and it would change sometimes. I don’t know how or why I started doing that. And it seems kind of insane to me now that I kept doing that. I think I needed a poem to figure it out. I think I was looking to change everything in my life and I was going to this house as a way to imagine myself in a new, unfamiliar space.
In “Pink Trees” I was thinking about a lot of different spaces I had passed through, having moved very often in my life. The poem starts with an incident, a trigger I guess–simply stirring (“something bad’–cake batter!) and then the poem sort of plunges inward and all of these images start to build out of that. I suppose one wants to always build some meaning out of things/events in one’s life. I don’t think that is my goal in a poem, but instead to maybe just examine them, see them “right” before they are gone. Or maybe, better, after they are gone. I don’t mean lamenting loss. Not praising it either, just seeing things, just beholding them, as they are. I want to learn from things/people I encounter, not manipulate them or force them into an artificial meaning-story.