Georgia Dennison was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts and now resides in Montana where she is an MFA candidate and writing instructor at the University of Montana. She hosts the Second Wind Reading Series and is a poetry editor for Cutbank. Her work has appeared in Pacifica Literary Review.
Georgia's poem "Once Or Twice Or" will appear in the Summer 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, July 1, for special savings and discounts.
“Once Or Twice Or” is full of palpable images and rich textures. How did this poem evolve for you?
This poem began with a memory—catching sunfish in the pond behind my grandmother’s house with my father and younger brother. We didn't fish the pond that often, and when we did we hardly caught anything, but I have this very clear memory of a time in which we did. I submerged myself in this moment, that summer, and uncovered more visceral images. The poem unfolded like a series of vignettes and as I began to dive deeper into the seemingly benign imagery, I realized there was something much darker lurking beneath the surface. I let the darkness ribbon out, while also allowing the initial sensory details to remain on the page. I think imagery acts as a guide in this piece; it grounds the work while also making it more palpable.
The form of this poem is a prose block. Tell us about your relationship with the prose poem.
To be honest, writing prose poetry often makes me uncomfortable. When I write, I naturally spill out onto a page and engage with space a little wildly, perhaps even irresponsibly—this is writing within my comfort zone. The prose block, on the other hand, feels like a less intuitive and more vulnerable space. Within the lyric I feel more compelled to evade. Within the prose poem I feel more responsibility to communicate.
When I initially wrote this piece it was right-justified and had incredibly short, choppy lines. It became obvious that the poem wanted, needed, to be in prose form. This poem is supposed to make the reader uncomfortable. I think if the reader was given space in which to leave the poem they would, but this poem has no exits. The prose block is relentless like the poem itself and the discomfort is made even more tangible.
What had you been reading when you wrote this poem? For you, what is the intersection between reading and writing?
I was reading CA Conrad’s The Book of Frank when I wrote this poem. Conrad’s book gave me the permission I needed to write about something that I didn’t necessarily want to write about. I’m forever grateful for that collection as it continues to inspire me take risks and lean into the abject. You need to love what your reading to love what your writing. Or at least I do. Kay Ryan said, “You have to do it, about 100 pounds of wool-gathering for an ounce of really good language.” Of course, one can gather metaphorical wool by simply walking down the street and listening, but I think it’s also important to gather through reading—poetry, or otherwise.
How do you imagine your reader?
I imagine my reader in a floral dress, eating a mango on a train. No! I imagine my reader is a crow with something to prove. No, no. My reader is a pirate-radio signal. No! My reader is a birch tree that's grown weary of releasing sap to cover the beetle’s wound. In all honesty, I imagine my reader is somewhat like myself—someone who still believes language is powerful, someone who believes language can and should be used for good. I don’t know who my reader is, but I do know I am incredibly grateful for them.
What mantra is guiding your recent work?
I recently received my MFA in Poetry from the University of Montana. Upon finishing the program I also finished my thesis which has evolved into my first collection. All of my creative energy has gone into completing this first book and now that I’m finished I’m encouraging myself to take a moment. By this I mean, I’m writing my lists-of-things-to-do in my notebook that was once designated for “poem writing only.” I’m journaling more often. I’m writing down bulleted facts about jellyfish. I'm letting rhyme back into my life. I’m writing poems about the moon without being ironic. I’m in the process of sending out my book which is a lesson in letting go and I suppose that’s my current mantra: Let go. It’s the season of the open window and I have no intention of installing screens.