Poet Spotlight: Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance

Anthony Frame
Anthony Frame is an exterminator from Toledo, Ohio, where he lives with his wife. He is the author of A Generation of Insomniacs and of three chapbooks, including Where Wind Meets Wing (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018) and To Gain the Day (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2015). He is also the editor/publisher of Glass Poetry Press, which publishes the Glass Chapbook Series and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. His work has appeared in Third Coast, Muzzle Magazing, The Shallow Ends, Harpur Palate, and Verse Daily, among others, and in the anthologies Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books (Minor Arcana Press, 2014), Come As You Are: An Anthology of 90s Pop Culture (Anomalous Press, 2018), and Not That Bad: Dispatches from the Rape Culture (HarperCollins, 2018). He has twice been awarded Individual Excellence Grants from the Ohio Arts Council. (Note: bio from the poet’s website.)

Your most recent collection of poetry is Where Wind Meets Wing. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Frame-Where Wind Meets WingWhere Wind Meets Wing was an odd collection/project for me. I tend to be a project writer — after writing a few poems, I start to become obsessed with an idea or image or rhythm or something like that and then I focus on it until a collection starts to take shape. Of course, by the end of the project, the final manuscript has usually drifted pretty far from the original obsession but that still tends to be my writing process: fiddle around for a while until I get hooked by something.

Wind happened very differently. A lot of things kind of came together organically and independent of themselves and then, suddenly, I had a new manuscript.

I had recently released my first full length, A Generation of Insomniacs (Main Street Rag Press), and, in the time between finishing Insomniacs and finding a publisher for it, I had been writing a lot of poems about my job as an exterminator. The subject matter was very different than my usual poems about Kurt Cobain and Tori Amos. And they were really rough — really narrative, which is fine with me, but there was almost no sense of music to the poems, which wasn’t fine with me. I needed to do something to re-engage with my poetic voice or to evolve my voice to accommodate these narratives I wanted to write about.

I was also reading very heavily during this time. A lot of amazing poets who blend lyricism with narrative — Alison Stine, Lisa Fay Coutley, Adrian Matejka, to name a few — and their work started to influence my work quite a bit.

Meanwhile, to try to help promote Insomniacs, I participated in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 challenge, which had me writing a brand new poem for people to see every day for a month. It was an exhausting and invigorating experience and it pushed my poetic limits intensely. What I found myself doing during that project was merging some of the pest control images/ideas I’d been struggling with with various current events, which for whatever reason, helped me access those ideas in a more lyrical way.

A lot of the poems in Wind started during that 30/30 challenge. Those that didn’t, owe a line or two to that challenge. The rest owe a debt to what I gained from pushing myself and my voice during that challenge.

After it was over, though, I was pretty burnt out. I wrote a bit here and there, but not with much consistency — I’m not someone who sits before the page every day; I do a lot more daily internal work and note taking, which leads me, eventually to the page — but after a while (maybe a year or eighteen months) I had a decent stack of poems. So, I did what I normally do — I looked through them to figure out my obsessions to help guide me towards a new manuscript. But this time, the manuscript was there. It wasn’t as overtly cohesive as some of my other collections, but I could see that these poems needed to be together — I could also see that they needed a lot of work and that there were missing moments in the collection that I’d have to fill in. But the manuscript, the project, as a whole was ready to be chiseled into shape.

It was really weird for me because, in a lot of ways, I’m quite the control freak when it comes to my manuscripts. So, for this one to happen without me really knowing it was happening was wild. But I think this particular manuscript couldn’t have happened any other way. Too much control early on would have scared these moments away and I would have either written these poems off as not meant for a collection (as Tori Amos says, “Not all the girls are meant for the album”) or I would have convinced myself that they were meant for different collections.

Nature plays a key role in Where Wind Meets Wing. Rather than viewing nature as a separate pristine, pure space, your poems address the ways people and nature come into conflict with each other. Is this a subject that you work with often? Or was it discovered through the more organic process of crafting this collection?

It’s a subject I’m now working with more often. It started to show up near the end of writing my first full length, A Generation of Insomniacs, and it found its way into a later poem in that book (later both structurally and later in the chronology of writing those poems). And it is definitely a part of my previous chapbook, To Gain the Day, which is, in many ways, a sister collection to Where Wind Meets Wing.

Mostly, this is the world work that I do. My day job is in pest control so those conflicts between humanity and nature are a part of my daily life. And, as we often say, I write what I know.

To Gain the Day by Anthony FrameTo Gain the Day was written early in my pest control career and focuses more on the humanity of that work — on the people who work these kinds of jobs — and on my transition from academia to pest control. I think of it as a Whitman book (and its title comes from a line from “Song of Myself”).

Where Wind Meets Wing developed after I had processed a lot of that strange career transition stuff but while I was still trying to navigate my work with my strong concerns about the environmental impacts of people, something that is heightened by my job. If TGtD is a Whitman book, focused on people, WWMW is a Dickinson book (with a Dickinson epigraph), focused on spirit and nature and self.

I consider myself an environmentalist, which some people consider odd considering what I do to pay my bills. WWMW tries to explore my relationship with my job and my love of the planet and my concerns for the planet. And I’m interested in what you say here about nature being viewed as “a separate pristine, pure space.” Because it isn’t separate (we are a part of our ecosystem and we are animals ourselves so we are nature as much as a tree is). I partly want to honor that — that we are an intrinsic part of our world — while also looking at the effects we have on our world (and on each other).

I’m interested in the organic way this collection was formed and how you had to give up your usual tendencies of control for that to be possible. Would you also consider yourself a “control freak” when it comes to writing individual poems as well? How do you approach the process of composing a poem?

My instinct is to say that I’m less of a control freak when writing poems, but I’m not sure if that’s true, or if that’s just not true for certain parts of the drafting process. Early in the process, for very early drafts, I tend to let go and follow the words, the images, the language, and see where they take me. If I find an image or sound or line that engages me (which is usually what initiates the process for me), then I tend to try to unpack it. If it’s an image, I try to open it up and see what’s inside. Or I try to pick it apart and see what other images hold the original one together. Or I find a piece of the image and let it point me towards another image. Similarly, if it’s a sound that initially catches my eye (my ear?), then I follow it. I look for similar sounds or opposing sounds. I look for possibilities of internal rhymes or slant rhymes or any kind of sound pattern I can create, which usually results in the creation of a number of different sound patterns and effects.

I’m not looking for narrative here, or cohesion, or structure. I’m literally just compiling images and lines and ideas. The crafting of these notes (for lack of a better word) is where I start to take control. Then I’m looking at how these images and sounds go together. At how they need to be altered so they fit together (if they are meant to fit together). I look for places where they belong on the same page, but there are gaps between them. This is the space where I start to focus on narrative and structure. And once I have a draft from this, then I do the harder work of try to figure out what the poem is trying to do, which leads to lots of revisions and edits as I take these early drafts-from-scattered-notes and try to craft them into unified, structured poems.

So, I’d say that I try to maintain a balance between controlling the poem and allowing the poem to control itself. And there’s definite overlap during these different processes. I’m conscious of what I’m working with during the early stages and I’m also always trying to listen to the poem during the later stages.

How has your work as an editor impacted your writing?

I’d say that it has had a pretty big impact on how I go about the business of being a writer. Reading submissions, seeing the difficult decisions that I have to make for each issue of Glass, is certainly an eye opening experience that helps me understand the decisions editors make when I submit my work. And that, I hope, changes how I go about the submission process. I definitely work harder to tailor my submissions to the publication that I am submitting to, which sometimes means sending them work that resonates with the other pieces they’ve already published and sometimes means sending them something that seems stylistically similar but might offer a different approach or perspective. And being an editor trying to promote the issues and chapbooks that I publish definitely helps me understand my role (and possibilities) post publication.

In terms of my writing process and in terms of the individual poems I write, being an editor exposes me to a very wide variety of voices and styles and approaches to poetry. Often, I’ll read a submission that isn’t the kind of poem I would write but that opens up new perspectives for my own work. A poet might make a move in their work, one that I would never think of, and though it’s not the kind of move that I would make, seeing it, seeing how it works for them, helps me reimagine my own work and find my own ways to change up my own work. And often I’ll read a poem that I wish I had written, that uses language in ways I wish I used language, that finds ways of dealing with subject matter in ways I wish I dealt with subject matter, and that pushes me to work harder with my own work.

Basically, being an editor let’s me read a lot of work that I might not have the chance to read otherwise, and that has an influence on my work as I draft my poems, and being an editor let’s me work closely with authors as we bring their work into the world and going through that process gives me a very different perspective when I am shepherding my own work into the world. It’s a fascinating experience, being on both sides of the table, as it were, and it’s an experience that I highly recommend for anyone who is able to do it.

As both an editor and the author of five books and chapbooks, what advice can you give other poets about putting together a collection?

So, the best advice I can give is to think clearly and thoroughly about what you want your collection to be. Often, when I read a chapbook submission (and occasionally when I read a published chapbook or book of poems), I’m not sure why the poems are being collected together and/or why they are being put together in the order they are being put together. Sometimes, a manuscript feels less like a collection and more like a greatest hits.

When I make the decision to put together a manuscript, I start by looking at what I have and asking a few questions. What do these poems have in common? What differences are there between them? Do they evolve each other or are they basically saying the same thing? I also ask what is missing in the conversations the poems are having? As I start putting the poems together, I try to think about how each poem speaks to each other. I did an interview with Kaveh Akbar where we talked about this idea and he said he looked at whether poems “vibrate at the same frequency”. I responded that my metaphor for the idea was to look at how the poems dance together. It’s this weird thing where there’s no really precise way to describe that feeling when a group of poems really works well together so we fall back on metaphors. And whatever metaphor works for you is fine but I think it’s really important to think carefully about how the poems work together. I think that’s a lot more important than some of the things I see folks worrying about — things like whether or not to use section breaks or a proem or whatever. In the end, how do the poems work together and how do they progress together?

Once I’ve started to understand these things, once I’ve done the hard work (for me) of removing poems that are just repetitions, I can start to see the gaps that need to be filled. This can be a difficult part of the process. I don’t really like to write a poem to fit into a collection, but it is also a process that always helps me understand my manuscript and that ultimately changes the manuscript in ways I never could have imagined. If I know, for example, that I need to write a poem that somehow bridges the divide between a poem about bedbugs and an elegy for a lost friend, what I can’t know is how that poem will develop. Once I start that bridge poem, I have to let it develop in its own way, which will often be very different than what I expected. So, once it is ready for the manuscript, I’ll often see new ways of thinking about the poems it was supposed to bridge, or I’ll end up seeing the order of the collection in a completely different way.

I rewrite the poems in the manuscript dozens of times during the process of creating the manuscript. And rethink the collection dozens of times, too. Each time I approach the manuscript, I have to be open to completely changing it, to removing my favorite pieces, to writing new pieces, to allowing poems I’m convinced belong next to each other to be separated. Each time I go through this, I’m thinking about the rhetoric of the collection. What argument is this collection trying to make? What is the purpose of this collection? And how does it enact that purpose? In the end, I need to know that I can justify every decision that I make when I’m putting together the final draft of the manuscript.

I’m trying to figure out my second full length book of poems. I’m looking at the poems I have and trying to see how (if) they work together. I’ve got two chapbooks that address my day job as an exterminator (To Gain the Day, from Red Bird Chapbooks, and Where Wind Meets Wing, from Sibling Rivalry Press), so I should be well on my way to having a new full book. I should be able to just place these two chapbooks together and maybe write a couple few new poems and that should result in a new book. But it’s not working. Because TGtD and WWMW are very different chapbooks. Stylistically, they are very different. Vocally they are different. They approach the subjects differently. Their subjects are different. There are benefits to some of these differences (I don’t want to write a book that is filled with the same poem written fifty times) but, so far at least, the differences are so wide that I’m not sure if these poems can live together in a collection. I wrote these two chapbooks as two distinct chapbooks. On the surface, they should work well together (and I often talk about them as sister chapbooks), but when I place these poems together, I find that they’re not very good dance partners. Maybe, I’ll need to really rethink each poem — maybe I’ll need to shuffle the sequencing of them and let them lead me to new revisions of each poem. Or, maybe I’ll need to accept that these collections are done, that they work as they are and don’t need to be part of a larger collection, and that if I want to write a “exterminator book” then it’ll have to be filled with new exterminator poems. I’m not sure yet. But this is the process that I have to go through in order to understand what the new manuscript will be. Maybe it’ll work out and the poems in TGtD and WWMW will be in that full length. Or maybe just some of them will be in the new collection. Or maybe none of them will. All I can do is continue to look at the work, the work that is written and the work that I’m writing now, and ask the questions. And be open to new questions and new ideas about how to craft the best sixty to seventy page dance.

Other than the second full length collection you’ve mentioned, what can the world expect from you in the future?

It’s hard to say. My writing is moving along, slowly but surely, though there is nothing major in the works for future release. There’s plenty happening at Glass, though. Submissions are open for the journal again and there’s some fantastic issues coming up over the next six months or so. I’ve just unveiled a new Portfolio Series for new poets at Glass and I’m excited to see how it develops and evolves with the other Glass projects. We’ve just finished up the second year of chapbooks, with the release of Adeeba Shahid Talukder’s What Is Not Beautiful, which is seriously an incredible collection. That also means we’re looking ahead at the third year, which has great chapbooks by Anna Meister, Kwame Opoku-Duku III, Noor Ibn Najam, Shay Alexi, and Ashley Miranda, all of which I’m really excited about. And I’m very slowly doing some work on a special edition of Poets Resist/Glass: A Journal of Poetry that will be coinciding with the upcoming midterm elections. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of behind the scenes Glass related things happening, most of which haven’t been fully formalized and so aren’t quite ready to be announced, but all of which are going to be really amazing, I think.

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