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"The 'D' is Silent": An Interview with Maureen Seaton

Maureen Seaton’s new and selected, Fibonacci Batman, is out from Carnegie Mellon University Press. She is the author of fifteen poetry collections, both solo and collaborative, and a memoir, Sex Talks to Girls (University of Wisconsin Press). Her awards include the Iowa Prize, Lambda Literary Award, NEA fellowship, and the Pushcart. Capricea book of collected, uncollected, and new collaborations with Denise Duhamel, is due out in 2015 from Sibling Rivalry Press. Seaton teaches poetry at the University of Miami, Florida.

Her poems, "13 Auras for a Migraine" and "When I Was an Unfinished Novel," apppeared in Issue Sixty-One of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks with interviewer T.m. Lawson about stylizations of her poetry, whether or not visual aesthetics of both pieces went into consideration for submission, and inadvertent sexual innuendo in enjambment.

How did the structure for “13 Auras for a Migraine” come about? It is very unusual, but not so unfamiliar that it is jarring. Were there any particular influences for the styling?

This poem was a troublemaker. It took me years and the poem a couple dozen costume changes before it found its shape. Finally, the Talking Heads reminded me of migraines one day when I was rewatching Stop Making Sense, and David Byrne entered the piece, accidentally supplying an extra line. Then I read someplace that if you’re standing on the equator at noon your shadow falls in opposite directions, supplying the penultimate. The poem gave up and was done. Oh, and since I’ve often experienced the jigjaggy aura of a migraine, it seemed appropriate to jigjag the lines.

Your term “styling” interests me. I wonder if you thought of it because migraines remind you of hair. Basically, this poem did style itself. Unlike the other poem, “When I Was an Unfinished Novel,” which had to do what I told it to do because it’s a terza rima with a rhyme scheme and a syllabic structure (all loose, of course, but prescribed just the same).

Many poets and writers will submit their cache of work as cohesive, whether in theme or styling, to better package or market themselves to a journal/press/agent. The structural/visual difference between “13 Auras for a Migraine” and “When I Was an Unfinished Novel” is striking. The former is experimental, absolutely postmodern, while the other is a more traditional tercet. I find myself going back and forth between these two styles, and wondering, what prompted you to pair them together for The Collagist?

For better or worse, I don’t think there’s much about my work that is cohesive, as you say, except that I write mostly about myself and the world in some way or other. As far as style is concerned, I’m all over the place. Prose poems, terza rima, sonnets, both rhymed and unrhymed, scanned and unscanned, collages, lyric essays, collaborations, Fibonacci sequences. Serious, funny. When I sent these two poems to The Collagist, I simply chose what I considered my strongest available pieces.

The beauty of poetry is that it is at once subjective and objective; there is so much that anyone could argue over what means what. Your choice of isolating “the D” in particular is almost a wink at the slang term for male genitalia, as if the reader was also a friend of yours. Is this your aim for your poetry—not just building the layers of meaning, but infusing your own personality and humor with your art?

I hope the reader is a friend more times than not, but I think it’s hysterical that you think I used “the D” as a slang term for penis (I just looked it up). I’m actually much too literal to wink at my reader most of the time. In this case, “the D” simply made a nice iamb. So I guess the poem did the winking.

And I actually don’t consciously build layers of meaning in my poems. But I do love humor and/or surprise in just about everything.

What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

Justin Chin’s Selected Works (a posthumous collection) came out this year from Manic D Press (Uh oh! Another D!). Anyway, it’s a beautiful tribute to one of my favorite poets by his publisher and friend, Jennifer Joseph. Plus, it’s got short essays by some of Chin’s other friends too. I highly recommend.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m currently editing an anthology with poet and arts activist Neil de la Flor called Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos. It was commissioned in 2015 by Anhinga Press of Tallahassee in conjunction with the award-winning Miami grassroots organization, Reading Queer, and we had no idea, really, how necessary a volume it would be. We’re almost finished collecting really crucial work by queer-identified writers. The anthology is due to be published in early 2018. Thanks for asking!

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