Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interview with Simone Muench and her Chapbook Orange Girl

1. Thank you for letting me ask you some questions about your book, Orange Girl from Dancing Girl Press. What was the inspiration behind this collection?

The poet Kristy Odelius and I were trading 20-lines a day via email in a writing project (ala Harry Mathews). Once I became aware of the re-occurring elements and image patterns in my writings, they become the vertebrae for the collection. The motifs arose from my interest with Buffy, film noir, and a recollection of reading True Detective when I was kid with these disturbing images of women in bondage, as well as an ongoing dialogue in my head with the archetype of the dead girl.

As a culture, we are obsessed with images of dead girls but I think women experience the concept of “dead girl” less as a fascination object, and more as a subjective residue. In a world that still devalues women at birth, regrets us, or in worst cases even expects/wants us dead, we retain a connective ghost tissue of dead girls in our psyches. And not just in the figurative sense of being silenced, violated, and erased, but the real accounts of girlfriends, sisters, mothers who’ve been preyed upon in some way: beaten, raped, murdered. As my friend the poet Lauren Levato says, “I lived through that violence and I was the walking dead. And it sucked. And there will always be these girls in me - the girl who was raped, the girl who was abused 6 ways to Sunday before that, the girl who _____________”.

2. The title Orange Girl and every subsequent poem, refers to “orange” in some way. What does the orange represent in context of this collection?

I recently finished a manuscript that was originally called The 29th Bather, but is now titled Orange Crush, which pays tribute to the figure of the “orange girl”. The term “orange girl” historically refers to girls during England’s Restoration period who sold oranges at the theatre. Selling oranges was often a euphemism for prostitution. The orange girl, and the word “orange” (which, for me, connotes illumination), become a device, a type of familiar, in which to view the various binds that women find themselves in, even as the poems shift quickly from Elizabethan England “Which girl hath the merriest eye?” to the present, so that history is observed as a loop instead of a line.

Within the same manuscript is a sequence of prose poems, called “The Orange Girl Cast,” which are about actual contemporary women, all living poets, whose language is gathered and re-considered and finally re-configured into homages, language portraits if you will, of women who through language, through the act of unsilencing in their decision to be writers, are re-inventing the “orange girl” so that she becomes, as the final poem in the orange girl sequence suggests, "Like riddles and diseases we are a multiplying sigh. . . blazing through doors of sugarwater and fire”.

3. I loved the first stanza of poem #2 and it led me right through to the end with intense interest. May I post the entirety of poem #2 and could you explain what this poem is about?

Yes, of course. Einstein says, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious,” so for me, the explanation of the poem is the poem. I can’t paraphrase it, but I can tell you some of the materials that were spinning in my head at the time I wrote it: film noirs, specifically Double Indemnity; a painting of a tree by Gabert Farrar; Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep; Nick Cave’s song “Lime Tree Arbor.”

The poem is as follows:

[The orange-girl is generally allowed to enter an auction-store, for auctioneers are mortal, and sometimes eat oranges]

I’m stone and pulp, like policemen’s wives.
you’re an emerald, buried in dark clothes.
your eyes leaf, bone.

your fingers so many songs

out of tune

I have fallen out of trees singing your name; I have
fallen into foliation

into your moth-mouth, plum-
thick tongue.

wherever you are, I’ll be white teeth,
an abandoned town, a wrapped parcel.

I’ll be a blonde in a black smock with sex
appeal, smelling of apiaries.

I’ll be a cold sea in an old war film.
I’ll be insubordinate

and seville sweet.

you’ll be long gone
though you said you’d never leave
“those poor crippled orange trees”

4. Is the entire collection a reflection of a particular group of women or are they separate lives? Sometimes I get the sense that this revolves around a group of women who sell themselves to make a living, other times I wonder if they are individual girls in their individual tragedies?

Both, and all of the above. See answers to 1, 2 and 6.

5. Poem #16 is tragic but you don’t know what happened, specifically. May I post this poem and could you tell me what happened to this woman or how this poem came about?

The poem is essentially an ekphrastic poem in response to a 1926 painting by Yves Tanguy that’s located in the Met. It is also an acknowledgment of the surrealist painter Kay Sage who married Tanguy and committed suicide after his death, as well as Virginia Woolf, thus the reference to the lighthouse. But, hopefully, the poem is more than just tragic. It is a salutation to creation, not waste; and the belief that even after death, we continue to transmit our stories.

The poem is as follows:

[Till all the crimson changed, and past into deep orange o’er the sea]

The water owns her, wears her
like a blue ball gown embossed

with froth. Cypress swoon
from white light. Leaves fall

into goldfish. Beneath a boat,
a girl. Beneath the girl, a poppy

spilling into fire-tangles into
a balefire wheeling in the water.

In one version, she folds up

like a hand fan, her songs
pleated gills panting underwater.

In another, she fashions
the wires of her earrings

into antennae, transmitting
her story across the harbor,

her taffeta dress sliding
toward the lighthouse without her.

6 The perspectives of your poems change between “I”, “we,” “you,” and so on. How did you decide which poems had a sense of ownership from your perspective as opposed to an outsider’s?

In my latest manuscript I have several epigraphs: one is by Lisa Robertson, “Dear Reader—a lady speaking to humans from the motion of her own mind is always multiple;” the other is by Dara Weir, “(we hadn’t been cursed or blessed) (we’d been syncopated)”. For me the “I” is vertiginous, a constantly revolving pronoun, inhabiting the roles of confession, personae and community, sometimes functioning separately from one another, and sometimes simultaneously. In most of my work, although the “I” seems confessional, it is often times a persona; but the familiarity and intimacy the “I” helps to create is central to the material at hand. The “I” and “we” become umbrella pronouns that create a connective empathy. The alternation between first, second, and third person in the manuscript goes to both quotes’ sense of syncopation and identity as a multiple entity (which nods to Whitman as well). The quick-stepping between points of view also has to do with the previous response about the circularity of history.

7. Which poem are you particularly fond of and may I post it if it isn’t already mentioned?

Probably #11, which has been re-titled “Psalm”.

[An orange a day keeps the doctor away]

Fever-damaged girls
light up in a row. Spells
and vixens and dead calico kittens.
The convent said fire. The fire
said kindness. Kindness
took a victim. Bone
bonnets for the little girls
sleeping, and blue
beds for their snapped
necks. A kiss is a bite
is a bit. Slit in the clouds
above a slit throat. A black
coat and a black glove
went missing.


One girl was fallen
in cold golden light. Girl
was killed by frost, a man’s
hand on her starched
white collar, undone and
saturated with woodburn
while snow descended
like laudanum.


Doctor, come quick, the little girls
are sick, their voices muffled
by smoke and wool,
hands and psalms.

Hurry, hurry, it’s the eclipse,
the girls aren’t breathing
and the chapel is breaking.

Doctor, come quick,
someone’s a heretic someone’s a witch.

8. How often do you write around a theme like you have with Orange Girl and where does the inspiration for the theme(s) come from?

Even though Orange Girl is definitely spun around a theme and historical figure, I don’t customarily think of my work as being theme-oriented; however, I do have obsessions: ambivalence, drowning, the uncanny, dead girls, estrangement, subterranean southern landscapes, crime scenes, the colors orange and blue, clothing as an articulation of self, violence and the silencing of women, the mouth as a window with its capacity for two types of language, both kiss and tell. These fixations resurface even when I’m not consciously attending to them.

9. Your collection is very tight and each poem can be more stunning than the last, which is difficult for a poet to do with any sized collection. Any advice for poets who want to round out or complete a collection based on an idea or theme without losing its intensity or integrity as they add more poems?

The only advice is to read people who do it well. . . Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “A Street in Bronzeville” and her sonnet series “Gay Chaps at the Bar”; Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters, Marilyn Krysl’s Soulskin, John Berryman’s “Op. posth.” series, John Yau’s “Russian Letter” series, Ed Roberson’s “Beauty’s Standing” sequence. . . Also, it doesn’t’ hurt to be passionate about the material at hand. It is the obsession that propels you forward and helps sustain the recursivity of a particular theme.

Thank you again for answering my questions Ms. Muench! Please let me and Poet Hound readers know where and when there are more collections available from you.

Courtesy of Ms. Muench:

Lampblack & Ash (Sarabande, 2005)
The Air Lost in Breathing (Helicon Nine, 2000)
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Air-Lost-in-Breathing/Simone Muench/e/9781884235306/?itm=1

Thanks to all the readers for dropping in, please visit the links included in the interview and please stop by tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…


Talia Reed said...

I just ordered this chap. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Great interview!

Poet Hound said...

Thanks! The moment I read it I knew I had to track down Ms. Muench. I'm happy to hear you ordered her book, you won't be able to put it down.

Michelle "Mim" McEwen said...

Great interview. Just came upon Simone M. this morning. I'm smitten! Great work.