Nicelle offers us four poems in the August issue. Today she talks with us about these pieces, where they fit in a larger body of work, and how she did homework in the delivery room.
1. Â We love that you had a reading partner in Judas and Jesus As Boys. Who is your partner in crime?
I’m not allowed to say. I promised my shy Jesus that if he read for me no one would have to know that it was him. Funny, this question almost made a Judas out of me.
2. Two of these poems have religious tones to them without being religious in very interesting ways. How did they come about, and are they part of a larger work?
All of these poems are (hopefully) a part of a larger (semi-autobiographical) collection entitled Becoming Judas. Growing up in the back room of a record store in Mormonville, Utah I developed sincere love for both religion and those who rebel against it. Using Joseph Smith as my example, I’ve been writing my own religion based on Christian principles. Only I don’t have angels or golden plates for guides. My religion is informed by pieced together scriptures, Gnostic texts, the Kabala, tabloid articles, and Beatles lyrics. In the poems John Lennon is cast as my Jesus, I morph into Judas, the complicated relationship between Judas / Jesus begins to take on aspects of my relationship with my mother. Eventually there are no clear dividing lines. There is no one to blame, nothing to judge. All is reconciled to love. Wish fulfillment at it’s best.
3. In When I Was a Boy and 1970 you write remarkable, visual, unexpected endings that really surprised us. Is it important to you to surprise and challenge the reader by upending expectations the way you do?
That’s not a question, that’s an embarrassingly kind compliment. I never anticipate or plan for a poems ending. Poems (for me) are all process, all exploration. If a poems ending doesn’t surprise me when I come to it, I’m a little suspicious of the lines—suspicious that they are lying or better put hiding something that needs further exploration.
4. Were you a boy? Or a tomboy?
Tomboy, but a real Tomboy: the kind who is completely shocked at puberty.
5. There’s a lot going on in 1970. How do you manage to compact so much story into such a small space?
Poems often operate as visual compositions. Erik Sandberg paintings are canvases brimming with story just as C.D. Wright’s poems are the mind in thought—seemingly endless. I do not mean to compare myself to either Sandberg or Wright, but they are the masters who I turn to in my desire to be an artist. My compression is an awkward mimicry of what I see in master works.
6. What is your writing process like?
A poem starts with an image, usually inspired by music. The rest is translation. Writing is always an emotional experience. I’ve come up with creative solutions to mask my face, namely wearing wide brimmed hats while writing in public. Writing (for me) requires many, many cups of coffee.
7. What are you working on right now?
I’m afraid to say—I might jinx the momentum. I recognize that this is a lame answer, but I also know my superstitious self well enough to leave her alone.
8. Mothers figure significantly into three of these poems. Is motherhood a common theme in your writing?
For this collection, motherhood is at the core of all the poems. This focus has a lot to do with timing. I had accepted UCR’s invitation to be a part of their MFA program and a week latter found out I was pregnant. Two months latter I got shoot gun hitched to my beautiful husband and went off to graduate school—with a full belly. The students and faculty at UCR welcomed the challenge; we even worked out a situation where I would Skype into workshops for a quarter. I was literally completing writing assignments from the delivery room. The combination of graduate school and child birth really forced me to explore this complicated thing—motherhood—in a way that I don’t think I’d otherwise be capable of.