Pretend Until You Feel It – Slog
Colleen Louise Barry, feeling one of her own countless. Melissa Kagerer
As curator of the Pioneer Square Mount Analogue art space and as editor of Poetry Press Gramma, Seattle artist and writer Colleen Louise Barry spent much of her time showcasing the work. from others in spectacular fashion. While she has since quit those two projects, she has left a trail of sequins, silk roses, inflatables and BDSM operas that will surely live on in the minds and Instagram feeds of Seattle art lovers. for the coming years.
But now, with the forthcoming publication of his first collection of poetry, Colleen (After Hours Editions, 2022), Barry is finally doing something for herself. Rightly so, it is also about itself. Sort of.
Over the past month or so, she has been teasing the book’s themes via email with New York writer Sarah Jean Alexander, who has released her second book of poetry, We die in Italy, on Shabby Doll House. Barry describes Alexander’s new book as “deceptively simple, full of optimism, food and friends,” and she likens his reading to “a slow afternoon doing nothing but loving. the world “.
Their conversation below touches on Barry’s choice to give his book his name, Alexander’s rediscovery of his voice after breaking his jaw, and the origins of their new mantra: Pretend until you feel it.
Sarah Jean Alexander, stuck and relaxed. Courtesy of Sarah Jean Alexander
Collene: I love the way you and Lucy Shaw have published your books under the name Shabby Doll House. It feels authentic and collaborative and as if fueled by a deep love for poetry, books, community. Can you talk a bit about the process?
SJ: Lucy and I have been publishing writing and art online through Shabby Doll House since she started the magazine in 2011. Next, Lucy created ~ Profound Experience of Earth, a collection of travel essays, in 2019, which became the ~ Profound Experience of Staying at Home Quaranzine, a weekly magazine series once lockdown began. As the lockdowns continued, she created the book club ~ Deep Experience of Poetry. These spaces began to develop on their own, unique microcosms of innovation nurtured by Lucy, and this is a major reason why we felt able to self-publish our books.
When we individually started wrapping up our writing projects earlier this year (which then turned into We die in Italy and Lucy’s incredible novel Third Wave), we naturally returned to Shabby Doll House as the only way to see them come to life. We wanted to take full ownership of the process.
On each of the last pages of our book, we provide a link to a hidden tab on shabbydollhouse.com with ‘behind the scenes’ content: images directly referenced in our books, photos from our publishing journey, recommended reading and music lists that were either in our books or just what we listened to along the way. We’ve updated it with links to interviews and features since release.
Seems like a natural way to keep our books alive, as opposed to published on October 1 so fin. We interact with our friends and our community largely online, so why not create a one-space Easter Egg to exist only there, only for all of us? And anyone can do it! More books should come with a reading list. What would be on yours?
Collene: i need to do a Colleen playlist! I’ll do it and link it right HERE.
In one of my favorite poems from We die in Italy, “We Feel Ancient”, you write about eating, sleeping and resting, with the phrase stuck and relaxed cascading up and down the entire poem. I like the idea of being stuck but not of panicking. Instead, revel in it. What did this idea mean to you as you wrote this book?
SJ: After breaking my jaw last November, everything slowed down. I had no reason to cook, nor to move in general (friends brought me soup and Soylent, I was very well groomed). I was just sipping oxy cocktails through the cracks between my broken teeth. I didn’t particularly want to go back over the poems I had worked on, many of which revolved around food.
After the initial shock and swelling from the accident subsided, I resumed cooking * (* liquefy meals in the Vitamix). I began to remember with passion all the meals I had shared with the people I love. I couldn’t realize it then, but I had changed! I was slow. I accepted the help, the love and the circumstances, and I embraced it. I came back to poems.
I wrote “We Feel Ancient” in a moment of extreme contentment ~ lake house, happy dog, friends. I wanted to capture both the acceptance and the desire. Obviously, life is not a peaceful journey. I pretend until I feel it. That works!
It is interesting that you mention the rhythm of We die in Italy, because here are the first notes I took after reading Colleen: movement, wind. The dichotomy of our books seems almost natural in our stillness + movement. I especially felt this in the last line of your opening poem, “Objective”:
The wind moves them but it can’t move me
Thematically, wind transported me through the entire book, and that line specifically made it seem like you were sharing and transferring a power into me, into the reader, in preparation for the poems to follow. It was exciting! Do you think that natural phenomena and ethereal subjects have always been motifs in your creative outings?
Collene: Pretend until you feel it is so much better than pretend until you get there. New mantra.
I think the mystery of natural phenomena has always been an obsession. Not just for me, but for every human in one way or another. I feel it is humbling and heartwarming to know that great forces are at work with or without us.
I particularly like the wind. The wind represents for me the dichotomy of power ~ sometimes destructive in its irrational violence, sometimes so soft and loving that it caresses and soothes. It’s always in motion, it carries messages. Poets talk a lot about the sun, the moon and the stars. But if anything in nature represents poetic romance, for me it’s the wind. The wind has symptoms, visual evidence, but itself is simply an invisible power. And isn’t it like language ?!
Maybe in the same way as We die in Italy use the food to relate to the language, I use the weather. It’s that thing that we deal with every day as humans and it can be beautiful or terrifying. It’s the idea of making everyday life wonderful through art, but it’s also a way of honoring art as everyday life itself.
I am thinking in particular of “Red Wine”:
here – i made these meatballs
beef, half a can of spam
tender fat, very delicate
SJ: You know when you meet someone who attracts you so much, that you can’t tell if you want to to be them or be with them?! I want my reader to feel the attraction of being both the speaker and the reader. Make these meals. Eat them with me. Relating to a power which does not exist outside of us all, but which moves with us!
There were several lines in your poems that made me think, “damn !!!” There is a ferocity that often surprises me, in the midst of the wind and dreams.
From “Route B43”:
There is actually nothing
unbearable to live.
I accept the brutality of this.
You lull the reader to sleep with creamy clouds of tenderness, and then suddenly, Silence after a mistake (from “Postcard”), like a punch. Do you find that you often oscillate between soft and hard images? Did you learn anything new about your relationship to poetry while writing Colleen?
Collene: Part of the reason I named the book after myself (lol) is because writing it made me feel like trying out a language, the same way one could. with clothes on, to see what kind of person he was. Sometimes the poems seem harsh, a language to stay alive in a brutal world; it’s so intense. Sometimes they are laid back, almost casual. They want to see how elastic reality is through absurdity. And some are romantics, in love with the world, and interested in the reader, holding them. Of course, there is always the question of being perceived at all. Is it still artificial? I think a lot of Whitman’s line: I contain multitudes. It seems that one of the great strengths of contemporary American poetry has been to leave room for contradictions, confrontations, disunities.
When you write poems, do you feel like it’s a version of yourself that is separate from others? Do you think the idea of the poet as a character has value?
SJ: By the time my first book, Wild animals, released in 2015, felt quite removed from work. I had started writing most of them in 2012, and by the time the ad day rolled around I had changed my writing style a lot. I spent the following years relearning my voice, that’s why I’m so proud of We die in Italy – it looks like me. I want it to be timeless, and I don’t want to feel separated from the poems. Basically what I’m saying is I don’t want to contain multitudes. I want them exposed!
One of my favorite poems from Colleen is “A diamond is forever”. It is complex in the way it clearly presents the symbols of the real and the imaginary, of memory and value, unfolding to reveal a mosaic of liminal space, as if we are living in the Matrix. Multitudes! I felt stunned while reading the line, The mystery of the gaze is distance and time / It instantly takes forever.
Collene: I am obsessed with statements ~ the strength and confidence of language in the form of a statement. I thought, what if I wrote an aphorism poem that didn’t have a real message? It is a testimony of your. I also have a lot of fun letting a sentence structure run its course without crossing over, but in connection with the one before and after so that it can only happen in a poem.
Sometimes I feel like a cold, cerebral poet when I write these kinds of fake aphoristic poems. I have to take breaks in this mode and do something more flowery, exercise this muscle.
Am I a language surgeon, or a lover, or… what! It’s my job ! My responsibility! To words! As a poet!