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"The Thin Scrim Between Dark and Dawn": An Interview with Wendy Chin-Tanner

Wendy Chin-Tanner is the author of the poetry collection Turn (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014) which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards and co-author of the graphic novel American Terrorist (A Wave Blue World). Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net Prize and the Pushcart Prize, and has been featured at a variety of venues including The Rumpus, Vinyl Poetry, Denver Quarterly, The Normal School, The Huffington Post, RHINO Poetry, and The Mays Anthology of Oxford and Cambridge. She is a founding editor at Kin Poetry Journal, poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown, and staff interviewer at Lantern Review.

Her poem, "This Bed This Room," appeared in Issue Seventy-Four of The Collagist.

Here, Wendy Chin-Tanner speaks with interviewer Jason Gray about childbirth, the universality of pain, and doing things in threes.

How did you come to write this poem?

This poem was written in the first months following the birth of my second daughter during what is commonly referred to as “the fourth trimester.” I often find inspiration in the body, specifically in the juxtaposition between the world of the mind and corporeal reality. What interests me about childbirth as a subject for literary inquiry is the twinning of the creative force with the abjectness of the body. Many of the world’s spiritual traditions, both eastern and western, explore the meaning of the body in pain and the universality of pain, how physical suffering is the common denominator of being alive. Think of the Buddhist principle that life is suffering. Think of Christ on the cross. In exploring the relevance of these venerable spiritual traditions to the suffering of the female body, specifically the maternal body, I find the postpartum space to be a fruitful poetic garden. Childbirth is a liminal space and the confinement of the immediate postpartum period allows for a lingering between one world and another, where the membrane is thin. To write from that space is to enact one of the defining characteristics of poetry: the act of verbalizing the nonverbal. To write from that space also creates a feminist counternarrative to the longstanding mainstream contention that the subject of motherhood is not one of serious literary endeavor. I beg to differ.

Why did you decide on lines of three syllables each? Are syllabics a usual form for your poems to take?

The poems in my forthcoming second collection "Anyone Will Tell You” are preoccupied with an investigation of form and its subversion as an expression of the relationships between gender and identity, parent and child, self and other, the personal and the political, humanity and the environment, and the earthly and the cosmic. Within that investigation, I started out working mostly with blank verse couplets but then, in conjunction with the birth of my second daughter, I began to write primarily on my iPhone's Notes app while pacing the halls with the baby in a sling to keep her asleep. This rhythmic movement coupled with the restriction of that tiny screen led to the development of a new form consisting of three syllables per line and three lines per stanza, which I think of as trisyllabic triplets or 3x3s. Eschewing punctuation and most capitalizations, on a technical level, I discovered that 3x3s are highly fluid with a multitude of  elisions that work with and rely on the rhythm of the English language to expand the possibilities of meaning from line to line.

How does the presence of the many instances of internal rhyme (skin/thin; moon/spoon; night/flight) in concordance with or contrast to the full rhyme that exists between the two last stanzas (rest/breast) affect the poem, in your mind?

I’m interested in general in the way that internal rhyme lends itself to a quieter, less percussive, more subtle, and fluid musicality than end rhyme, which I think works well with the elisions that the 3x3 poetic form employ, and in particular, I find that internal rhyme suits the tone and narrative content of this poem. The masculine rhyme at the end of the poem serves as a kind of sonic punctuation signaling a sense of conclusion to the ear. In thinking about the natural iambic pulse of English and how it informs the comprehension and interpretation of language, I experimented with different compositional strategies for making meaning, notating, and directing the way in which the poem might sound and be read; its beats, its rests, its cadence.

What are you reading?

Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion” and Vanessa Angelica Villarreal’s “Beast Meridian.”

What are you writing?

A novel set in 1950s NYC and rural Louisiana.

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