Rusty Morrison’s Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta) was published in January 2014. After Urgency won Tupelo’s Dorset Prize, the true keeps calm biding its story won the Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, the Northern California Book Award, Ahsahta’s Sawtooth Prize and the Di Castagnola Award from Poetry Society of America. Her first book, Whethering, won the Colorado Prize for Poetry. Her poems are anthologized in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (second edition), The Arcadia Project: Postmodern Pastoral, Beauty Is a Verb, and elsewhere. She is copublisher of Omnidawn. Her poem “Escape Fable” from the May/June 2015 issue of the Kenyon Review can be found here.
What was your original impetus for writing “Escape Fable”? Did you begin with a line or phrase? With an image? With the poem’s overarching animating impulse?
As is the case with much of my writing, this poem began from a quote. In this case it was “place, where violence is rife, at the boundary of that which escapes cohesion”—Georges Bataille. The question of what “escapes cohesion” is bound up so closely with my quandary regarding the image. From this quandary, the image of a silty pool emerged, or I might say erupted, and that image gave me a terrain to navigate.
I begin most of my writing sessions by opening a book and skimming until a quote pulses forward, a little more vibrantly, or violently, than the rest of the page’s words. I’ve not always been responsible about keeping track of the quotes systematically, and I’ve grieved that. Just last week I joined twitter, really just to be able to tweet each day the quote that started me writing ( In the most recent, I just say “poeming with —:” and then type the quote. This probably makes little sense to anyone. But it works for me. I got the idea from Matt Bell at AWP. RJ Ingram introduced him to me. I believe Matt shares his quotes on many platforms! I’m not very active on social media, but the limitations of twitter actually are surprisingly useful, for me, at least so far. The character limit means that I usually can’t post in a tweet all of the quote, so I must hone, and that honing is a catalyst for the poem’s beginning.
How has your writing or writing process changed since you started out?
I’ve grown more obsessive about carving out morning time for writing. I tend to do all of my best writing early-early in the morning, before tea, before dressing.
Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?
I’d say reading, but I can’t actually call this a non-writing activity, since the language of some passages seem to write themselves into my mind and then I carry that language to my own page.
And, I try to pause a couple times a day and just see where my attention is, and just look there fully, when it occurs to me. I might be driving, or talking, or watching the news, or dressing, or whatever. I don’t write notes, I just try to look and listen. Then I’ll ask myself what I remember of that looking and listening, and record what I recall of it the next morning.
What is either the best or the worst piece of writing advice you’ve received or given?
The advice I give myself: to take every challenge to the work back into the work and foreground it.
What project(s) are you working on now, or next?
I’m obsessively counting syllables in my new poems!