I listen to your fishing
story and wonder,
does anyone cook
the catch anymore?
I saw you pat one’s
side, glide it back
into the stream;
you were bound to be
called to the current.
I imagine rainbows
or maybe a brook
trout you sought
but then thought
insignificant. How long
did it hang on
your hand, gleaming?
You flipped it
to the shallows
with a plop
I hear miles and
years on. I know
the fish has leapt
on its back, thinks
itself a river
Sandra Marchetti speaks with us about influence, her poetry, and process.
Holly Mason: How (in what ways) did Elizabeth Bishop influence your poem “Imagination,” and were there ways that you consciously pushed against or beyond Bishop’s influence in this poem?
Sandra Marchetti: When I’ve read this poem at events or workshops, most folks think of it as a take on Bishop’s “The Fish.” And, of course, Bishop is well known for her fishing imagery, being from Nova Scotia, etc. My favorite poem of hers is “At the Fishhouses,” which provides the epigraph for my full-length collection, Confluence. All of this to say, the driving force behind “Imagination” is Bishop’s “The Riverman,” a poem that is less well-known. It is rough-hewn, very narrative, and based in Brazilian myth. Bishop lets her hair down in this piece.
I wanted to nod to “The Riverman’s” mystery, but “Imagination” probably takes more formally from a poem like “The Moose.” This poem also has two, perhaps larger, influences as well. I watched a man fishing the Gihon River in the early evening when at Vermont Studio Center last summer, and noticed him throwing back a particularly small but beautiful fish. Around the same time, I watched a video of a man gently placing a fish back into the lake after his daughter caught it—her first catch. These two images influenced the poem as much as Bishop, I’d say.
HM: What was your writing process like for this poem and/or in general?
SM: This poem occurred sort of organically, which is rare of course! I’m sure Bishop’s rhythms in my head didn’t hurt. However, I will share two parts of the writing process I used with this poem, and use always.
After I shape a working draft, I usually “walk the poem.” I take it for a walk, and time my steps to it. As a metrical poet, this really helps me.
I still can confuse myself when I scan a poem with pen and paper silently, so reading a poem aloud is another method I use. I am not a musician, but I often feel like one. I will read the poem aloud, memorize it, and walk it. All of these physical and verbal acts help me to learn when stresses are off, and when they are clean. I oftentimes don’t understand all of the sonic rhythms of the poems and how they work until the poem is nearly finished, since so much of this knowledge is bodily.
HM: Would you say that Bishop is one of your poetic influences (or inspirations) beyond just influencing this poem?
SM: Yes! See above. Bishop’s control of form, her use of rhyme, and her willingness to experiment and be, I might say, “other to her own voice” are really attractive to me. Other favorite poems from her that I have not yet mentioned in this post include “The Armadillo” and “Poem.” My forthcoming hybrid chapbook, Sight Lines (Speaking of Marvels Press 2016), is based on her Questions of Travel, a book of poetry that was originally bifurcated by prose.
HM: Who are some of your other writing influences?
SM: I have a stable of influences that I return to. Not too sexy, but they are the folks that have made my writing what it is. The list includes: Octavio Paz, Li-Young Lee, Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds, Carl Phillips, Apollinaire, and, of course, Bishop. See my book recommendations below for folks you should read and maybe haven’t heard of!
HM: I read in your essay in The Turnip Truck(s) that you are writing a series of poems born out of influence, loosely titled, you say, “Menageries.” Can you tell us a little about those poems/ that collection, the idea and inspiration there?
SM: The inspiration was to find a way to further the project that began with Confluence. I wasn’t done with those ideas completely, it turns out. I wanted to write poems that were even more transparently influenced than those in my first book, which really was an homage to other poets—as many first books are. I wanted to use my favorite poems as prompts. I’m not usually very good at working with prompts, but oftentimes reading a poem sparks the idea for a new poem in me.
So in that simple way, I have used my ancestors in poetry to keep writing about my obsessions (the environment among them), now in different ways.
HM: I’m curious. What do you do when you’re not writing? Are you teaching? Editing? Otherwise? Does your line(s) of other work influence your writing?
SM: I am a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at Aurora University, and I also work (in the summers mainly) as a freelance writing and editing consultant. Over the years, I’ve adjuncted in English departments, tutored at writing centers, and done test prep. This past year was my first as a full-time lecturer, and my first year working mainly outside of an English Department. Interdisciplinary Studies is great, in that I get to do so much I might not be able to inside a traditional composition or literature classroom. We get to talk about visual art, dance, music, film, and of course poetry and novels, all through the lens of investigating our humanity. One trait that makes us human is our empathy. Another is our ability to tell stories. These ideas are what my courses are based on.
Teaching in this realm can also be frustrating. I have to be crafty about how I bring my “wheelhouse”—writing and reading poetry—into the classroom. Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water at department meetings. I have moments of “I’m a creative and I want to act like it!” but I am so grateful for this opportunity. Of course, the manuscript consulting I do (mostly for chapbooks and full-length poetry collections in progress) feeds my poetry side and keeps me sane over the summers.
HM: Does living near Chicago influence your poetry?
SM: As far as living near Chicago goes, I love it. There’s really nowhere else I want to be. I am a Midwesterner—it’s so evident in my poems. I am working on another project right now as well, other than “Menageries,” that’s about being a diehard, third generation Chicago Cubs baseball fan. So, being able to attend multiple games at Wrigley Field each summer has really jumpstarted that collection. I don’t know if I’d be writing it, or writing it as vociferously, if I lived elsewhere.
HM: Finally, what book recommendations do you have for our readers!?
SM: If you aren’t reading these contemporary poets, I’d check them out: Kristina Marie Darling, Ansel Elkins, Jason Koo, Erin Elizabeth Smith, and Nancy Kuhl—just off the top of my head.
Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications (2015). She is also the author of four chapbooks of poetry and lyric essays, including Sight Lines (Speaking of Marvels Press, 2016), Heart Radicals (ELJ Publications, 2016), A Detail in the Landscape (Eating Dog Press, 2014), and The Canopy (MWC Press, 2012). Sandra’s poetry appears widely in Subtropics, Ecotone, Green Mountains Review, Word Riot, Blackbird, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. Her essays can be found at The Rumpus, Words Without Borders, Mid-American Review, Whiskey Island, and other venues. Sandra holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from George Mason University, and currently is a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at Aurora University outside of her hometown of Chicago.
Featured Image: “Black and White, Water, Summer, Lake, Pier” from Pexels