Monday, March 13, 2017

Interview with Poet Lore Pushcart Prize nominee Suzanne O'Connell


I stalked her petticoats like a caged shrimp,
noticed when she shaved her legs,
when her skirt was an inch shorter,
when she wore two different white socks,
traced the raisin-shaped scar on her knee.

A thread dangled from her hem,
a tease, a mystery that would unlock
the other side of the world.
I imagined what would happen
if I pulled it.

Would she unravel?
Become a cocoon spinning toward me?
Could I use it to tie her to the tetherball pole?
She never noticed me once.
I could wrap that thread around my finger—
a reminder never to forgive her.

Interview conducted by Ellie Tipton, managing editor of Poet Lore. Follow her @ellietipton & follow the mag @PoetLoreMag 

ET: What prompted you to write this poem?
SC: I’m often prompted by a word or an image, something random, and in this case, it was noticing someone wearing a skirt that had a thread dangling from the edge. What would happen if I pulled the thread?

ET: So, the speaker here is obviously obsessed with their object of desire. Did this come from your own personal experience?

SC: This poem is about a childhood obsession with a classmate.  I was the object of some of these obsessions, and I had some major crushes myself.  I remember a fellow once telling me it was unfortunate that I had cut my leg while learning to shave and noticing when I began to wear a bra. Often these obsessions did not end well, thus the resentment at the end of the poem.

ET: Can you talk a little about your poem “Sepia Tones”?

SC: The poem “Sepia Tones” that precedes this one in Poet Lore is about domestic violence, and it features a father-figure and a child.  In a violent household, there are two modes of experience: when the violence is occurring and the waiting.  People often describe the waiting as the more painful of the two modes.  I tried to capture this tension and anxiety: how the child watches the father’s fingers.
ET: Did you find an emotional release when writing either of these poems?

SC: I think not of this poem, but of my poem “The Smackdown” (Atlanta Review).  The opening line is: “Maybe I should have saved all the money I spent on therapy and invested it on one big smackdown with my mother.” Even though I am defeated by the end of the poem, I felt something important was released when that poem was finished.

ET: Who are your influences?

Matthew Dickman, Charles Bukowski, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickenson, Billy Collins, and Ellen Bass.

Purchase the issue where Suzanne’s poems appear here.

Subscribe to Poet Lore here.

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