Corey Van Landingham recently completed her MFA at Purdue University, where she was Poetry Editor of Sycamore Review. She has won the Indiana Review's 1/2 K Prize, the 2012 AWP Into Journals Award, an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and was awarded a Bread Loaf Work-Study Scholarship. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Collagist, Copper Nickel, Crazyhorse, Cream City Review, Devil’s Lake, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Redivider, Third Coast, TYPO, Washington Square Review and West Branch.
Corey’s poems “Parallax Designed as Endless Disappointment” and “Diurnal” appear in Issue Thirty-One of The Collagist.
Here, she talks with interviewer Amber L. Cook about writing in and out of forms that are uncomfortable, unsettling, and undoing of themselves.
1. Where did these particular poems, “Parallax Designed as Endless Disappointment” and “Diurnal” originate from respectively?
Unlike most of my poems, “Parallax Designed as Endless Disappointment” stemmed from a specific image I kept coming back to, that of Tereza’s dream in The Unbearable Lightness of Being with all the women marching around the swimming pool while Tomas shoots them one by one. Kundera writes: “She was ready to dismiss the crew of her soul from the deck of her body.” I kept coming back to this idea of agency (or the lack of it), and how it seemed almost liberating to Tereza. That has always been maddening to me, as is a country (or its leaders) telling women what to do (which seems quite relevant right now). This seems more didactic and political than my poem ends up being, I think, but it does seem to harken back to a gaggle of people telling the speaker what to do, and, ultimately, her being unable to escape any of it (except maybe with a really good cup of coffee).
“Diurnal” began, as an embarrassingly large number of my poems do, during a storm (thank you, Indiana!). Aren’t big storms so simultaneously scary and sexy? This seems a good mental place to begin a poem to me. To begin with, there was a “you” in the poem as well, and the “girl on the floor” was largely passive, perhaps some failed metaphor for a failed relationship. Ho hum. Instead, the poem wanted to navigate a plurality of selves, so I let it.
2. I love the repetitions of “some days” in “Parallax” and “a person can” in “Dinural.” How do you see these repetitions morphing or staying the same when they are used again and again? How does repetition work for you in these poems?
I’m really interested in anaphora and its capabilities, its benefits and drawbacks. It can seem like an easy poetic device, something to return to when the poem slows down. But it has the ability to create such an interesting emotional space. There’s this artist, Kara Walker, who casts these silhouetted figures onto the walls of a room to create an interesting kind of gothic feeling. There’s this one piece where she did so in a round room, so that there was a kind of narrative that never began or ended, or, rather, was always beginning and ending. I wondered how a poem might do something similar, and I decided that might be a role anaphora could play.
Both of these poems feel really claustrophobic to me, in that they are both birthed and bound by their respective repetitions. While there are moments of departure, each poem is unable to escape the anaphora, which, at least to me, falls back to the mental state of the speaker. For me, repetition creates a comfortable pattern that can then be used to create discomfort in its breakage. It places the reader in its lap and strokes its hair repeatedly, so that when it’s replaced by something sinister (what nice hair you have!) it almost goes unnoticed.
3. I’m so drawn in by your language, especially when you write something so jarring like: “A person can/ say things that cleave open the roof like a falling tree.” How do you see the forms (stepped couplets and tercet lines) of your poems informing the language? What else is working to inform things like line break, pronoun shifts, etc.?
I wish form informed my language more, as this seems to be the case with so many poets I admire. Form often comes last for me, and each poem often gets forced into many different, uncomfortable forms before it finds the right one. More so than stanzas, I’d say the long line has had more of an influence. I’ve always thought longer lines were more suited to narrative poems, of which I write very few, and so I’m interested in the pressure put on a lyric poem when it’s forced out of its comfort level. The amalgamation of images goes back to that idea of claustrophobia, I think, so that the silence that has always comes so easily to the lyric poem is interrupted. Ultimately, too, these forms—the couplet and the tercet—seem somewhat unsettling to me. And I do write to unsettle. The couplet seems to force two things together and make them confront each other. The tercet seems to enact a kind of third-wheel awkwardness.
The pronoun shifts in “Diurnal” go back to the idea of multitudes of selves. Because, really, what poet can say that any “she” or “he” or “you” in a body of work doesn’t have an “I” involved, too? I feel, as a younger poet, like I’m supposed to distrust the “I,” to distrust poems with ideas about the self. It’s something that I think about a lot. And so I wanted to write a couple of poems that seemed to go over the top with them, to get almost vitriolic in the aggressive use of the “I” and the self.
4. Who have you been reading lately that you’re especially fond of?
Oh, let’s see. My problem is often that I’m often too fond of everything! I have recently been reading Eduardo C. Corral’s Slow Lightning and Tracy Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins, both of which are lovely, and I’m trying not to devour them too quickly. I just finished Stacy Gnall’s Heart First Into the Forest, which I wish so badly I had written. I’ve been reading a lot of Paul Celan lately, too.
It’s also always important for me to have something around that I’m mining for material, and right now that’s The Encyclopedia of the Occult—demons and devils and witches, oh my!
5. Are these poems part of the same project? Different projects? What other projects are you working on?
I wouldn’t really call it a project, but these poems are both from my manuscript Dear Body Count, Dear Bother.
I’ve been wary of projects as they seem so in, now, but hell, that’s a silly reason not to do something. I recently began a series of prose poems enacting surrealist reinterpretations of Annunciation scenes, where Mary has a lot more agency, and isn’t just passively being impregnated by some creepy light.