Amy Victoria Blakemore is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, where she received an Academy of American Poetry Prize. Her writing appears in Susquehanna Review and Cleaver Magazine. She currently works in Boston, Massachusetts. Her story “Previously, Sparrows” appears in the Fall 2014 issue of The Kenyon Review and can be found here.
Could you tell us a little about “Previously, Sparrows”? What was the hardest part about writing it?
The first draft of “Previously, Sparrows” was a poem. I had been exploring the phenomenon of falling in love with the idea of a person, with the hope of who they might become. The trend haunts me: for when we talk about love, do we really mean love, or do we mean creation myth? Either way, the poem never felt complete because I needed the form of a story to explore the act of story making. When I considered the “myth” within the poem, Lucy, I pictured her at the table, demanding offerings. Bringing her to fruition was both my entry point and most difficult point of writing as her insubstantiality was at the core of her character. I wanted to represent her tenuousness in a way that felt complete. My shopping lists helped me do that: we know her peripheries, and they make us feel as if we know Lucy.
How did you settle on the trope of the shopping lists as a vehicle for character development?
When people make demands of each other, something just shy of objectification follows: as if the person is instrumental, not intrinsically beautiful. At the same time, one person’s willingness to oblige demands can reveal a number of rich subtexts: does one person love more? What is the cost of fulfilling any kind of “shopping list” versus rejecting it? While writing, I found a strange kind of care in these relatively cold exchanges—I found Louise, who proceeded with the optimism that these items would accumulate to something real.
But the shopping list is only half of it for me: when I drafted my original poem version of Previously, Sparrows, I began with a shopping list, and I closed with a returns list. The short fiction piece still loosely adheres to this with Louise “returning” the lobster to its original home at the conclusion of the story. This return, of course, does not mean everything re-sets, which was perhaps her hope. I picture a table rearranged after a dinner party with the same used linens—an attempt, and the inevitable wrinkle.
This story, the winner of the KR Short Fiction Contest, had to clock in at under 1200 words. Is flash fiction a form you ordinarily work in? Do you think that successful short-shorts share any common characteristics?
Yes. I am a ravenous reader of comics, graphic literature, and poetry, and I’m sure they have conditioned me to think concisely and visually. When I think of successful flash fiction, I think in white: the white lines between comic panels, the white space in a poem. It’s not a question of what is being said, but what is not.
What have you learned about the writing process in the last five years?
If I actually write what I intended to write about, I am wildly unsatisfied.
In the 1950s, John Crowe Ransom invited a coterie of critics (William Empson, Northrop Frye, etc.) to write a “credo” for The Kenyon Review. The results became an essay series by ten leading critics on their core beliefs regarding literature and the critical practice, entitled “My Credo.” If you were to write a credo, do you have a potent piece of advice, either from yourself or from another writer, that you might use as a jumping-off point?
When I studied at Franklin and Marshall College, Amy Margolis visited our Writers House. She told us that writing is not the clergy. That was revelatory for me. Growing up, I had always pictured writers as nothing but writers…as if their pens were sewn to their hands. I commute to work in Boston, and I had started writing, once, on the train home, all my hair falling onto the lines. I looked up for a second, and I found a man talking to his own reflection. He was repeating: it feels so good so good it feels so good to kiss you on the cheek. And I almost missed it.
What project(s) are you working on now, or next?
I’m transfixed by representations of embodiment and the bounds of skin and gender. I think of the body in the same way some people think about the ocean, or space: I feel we haven’t fully explored it, its seductive darknesses. As someone who spent a substantial portion of her life rejecting her body, and who now feels awoken in it—as if someone has told me a big secret—I write to push its bounds, to make it sing, to make it hurt, to debone its complexities. It’s a process of returns. I’m slowly shelving what I knew.