Poet Sarah Trudgeon offers refreshing perspective on motherhood in new chapbookMore Info
Great Barrington — “You have something in common when you read the same book as somebody,” says local poet Sarah Trudgeon. “It really builds a bridge,” she adds, citing myriad ways in which “the conversation goes differently when there is a common subject.” I caught up with Trudgeon—whose new chapbook, “The Plot Against the Baby,” was released in June by dancing girl press—not only to discuss her new collection of poems, but also to grapple with tough subjects like the oft-perceived difficulty of poetry and the importance of finding a balance for working mothers. Trudgeon, who does not consider herself exempt from the experience of being at times unclear when reading poetry, cut straight to the chase: “I think of poetry less as something to solve than an experience, [and] part of the interpretation is how you feel when you’re reading it,” she said. As for the reader understanding the poet’s intent? “I don’t really think about it very much,” she admits. “It’s such a specious concept anyway. I write something, and I’m not always sure exactly what I mean, and I read the thing years later and it means a different thing to me even that it did to me at the time I wrote it. I don’t think there’s one right answer or one right way to analyze.”
This refreshing perspective makes Trudgeon’s poems immediately appealing. Coupled with the wildly unconventional dialogue that ensues between her poems’ speaker and the composite character of Baby—as the pair navigate drug stores, strip clubs, arcade games and garden patches—the reader is both drawn in and captivated by each encounter before reaching the collection’s ultimate conclusion: perhaps it’s best that the two part ways.
The dancing girl press chapbook series was founded in 2004 to publish and promote the work of emerging women writers and artists. The series seeks to publish work that bridges the gaps between schools and poetic techniques—work that’s fresh, innovative and exciting.
Hannah Van Sickle: What was the inspiration behind this chapbook?
Sarah Trudgeon: I was in a transition moment. I had just gotten married and I was just about to finish grad school, and I was starting to leave behind this other way of being where you are just only beholden to yourself—and it doesn’t really matter what you do—you can be as self destructive as you want. But as soon as you are attached to somebody, you are accountable to them; you love them and your life takes on more meaning somehow. I was reading tons and tons—I was writing my thesis, I wasn’t teaching or taking classes—and so this Baby character just sort of arose as a way to work it all out, to dramatize all of that stuff, to allow for a conversation so it wasn’t just one person in the poems speaking, but two people going back and forth. At least that’s how it felt at the time: I was switching back and forth between this younger version of myself and this older version I was becoming.
HVS: Your poems are largely anecdotal and prone to describing “manic proclivities.” From where do those ideas spring?
ST: No one has asked whether they are true are not—you know, they are true, but not totally factually true. I take facts and make things up here and there to make what I feel is a true statement in the poem, a true representation of an experience. They are much more narrative than a lot of poetry, which is just kind of how I write, partially because I always wanted to be a novelist. I like short things but I also like narrative, I like characters; I think I like poems in which things happen and novels in which things don’t happen. I like long and steady. I’m most interested in style and language, and so all of that transferred into writing poems that were sort of narrative but also really attentive to rhythm and rhyme and poetics.
HVS: Your character Baby is clearly a composite; what are the common denominators among his various iterations?
ST: The baby was kind of a sidekick going along with the speaker wherever she was going. I was also realizing for the first time that I might want to have an actual baby. So Baby is just a kind of maybe a version of myself, a little bit, who I can talk to. By the end of the relationship between the speaker and the Baby in the chapbook, the Baby is trying to say to the speaker, “You should be writing a different kind of poem; you should be writing a more beautiful poem; you should not be behaving like this anymore—it is not a sustainable way of being.” And also it’s a baby, so sometimes there are jokes, I think just for my own pleasure, that he reacts like an actual baby—[for instance] he’s excited when he sees breasts.”
HVS: Ironic timing, your being pregnant upon this book’s release. How has your journey through motherhood influenced your perspective on the relationship you write about?
ST: I had no idea what having a baby would be like—this is just totally imaginary, nothing at all like a real baby. But the title “The Plot Against the Baby” refers to my own kind of plot against myself moving forward into adulthood. The plot fails in the end because, obviously, now I do have a baby and one on the way. Having a baby definitely changes the work I am writing now, and it changes how I read things, and it changes the work that I read, the things that I’m interested in. Motherhood is just really wonderful in that way. You get this whole new world opened up for you. I think it’s important as a parent, at least I keep telling myself this, to have your own thing—your own work, your own passion. It’s one way of being a good parent—to be there for your child and then also to be there for yourself; that will make the kids’ experience of childhood more enriched.
HVS: What does your daily writing practice look like?
ST: I write in the mornings. I wake up, eat breakfast really quickly and go upstairs to the computer to write. Usually I’ll have taken notes from the day before if I’m working on a new thing but, if I am not working on a new thing, I just go back to [the poem I’m working on] and tinker with it. It’s that joke about the poet who spends all morning putting the comma in and then taking it out—it’s not that extreme, but there is a lot of that and a lot that’s really hard about the structure of the poem, the exact right words. That’s the writing process. The orbit is shorter if you’re a poet than if you’re a novelist. Once I have a little collection of poems, I’ll send them to a reader—my husband [novelist Aaron Thier], or another poet friend—just to get some eyes on it and to give feedback. And usually there is more editing after that, or not if I disagree, but it’s a way of gauging how I feel about my work. So those are all of the things that are happening in the morning. Usually when [my son] is napping I try to read because you need input if you are going to be writing anything, otherwise it’s just this solipsistic thought process. Often I’m reading novels.”
HVS: Who are the poets who have inspired you and shaped your work?
ST: The writers that I met in grad school made a huge difference for me. There was a poet, Michael Hoffman, who was my thesis advisor; his work itself, and his writing about poetry, has influenced my poems. Also, the poet James Schuyler is one of my favorites. And two novelists who were [at the University of Florida] who I really liked—Mary Robison and Padgett Powell—[both wrote] highly stylized fiction. Right now, I’ve been reading tons and tons of Bernadette Mayer—she lived in Lenox for a little while—who was known for the poetry of domesticity and this whole idea that writing about your daily life, if your daily life involves children, is an acceptable and totally appropriate subject. That’s been really wonderful. And I do think that, still, people have this prejudice against writers who write about motherhood or children or domesticity—there is this taboo, like it’s not a high enough endeavor. So I like getting involved in seeing what can be made of this.
Sarah Trudgeon is the author of Dreams of Unhappiness, selected and introduced by Don Paterson for the Poetry Society of America 30 and Under Chapbook Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Diode,Horsethief,the London Review of Books, the Nation, the Paris Review, the TLS, and the anthology “Eight Miami Poets.” A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Florida, she serves as managing editor of Sink Review and lives in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where she is the director of education for the Mastheads and teaches poetry in public schools.