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Q&A with Poetry Contributor Anna Bernstein

Anna Bernstein is a historical research assistant in Brooklyn. She has had fiction published in Litro NY and decomp magazine, and poetry in Dunes, Reed Magazine, Inch, Atlanta Review, and others. She is constantly in search of good nature writing.

Anna's poem "Hen-Eater" will appear in the Fall 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Tuesday, October 2, for special savings and discounts.

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How does your relationship with reading influence what you write?

What I read hugely influences how and what I write. If I read about daughter-mother relationships, I write about that. If I read nonfiction books about animal or plant behavior, which I do often, I find even technical biological concepts making their way into my writing. This particular poem was influenced more in form than in content—before writing it I felt like I had lost the rhythm in my poems that made them feel urgent or fresh, and when I read a poem that embodied the kind of syntactic pacing I had been struggling with, I decided to try copying that pacing (though of course none of the words). I stuck to it for about the first stanza and a half before feeling I had gotten back into the flow I needed. Unfortunately I lost the original poem somehow, and haven’t been able to find it again.

"Hen-Eater" is a poem that is centered around the speaker's discomfort with the other character's predator-like attitude toward animals. What inspired this poem for you?

The setting was definitely inspired by my grandfather’s farm. As for the violent interactions with the chickens, that’s a difficult question. Sometimes in Thailand I had to chase chickens down for dinner, and even though I know it’s an everyday thing for so many people, handing them over to be killed always felt awful. The actual last line was inspired by something I heard on the podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me. They made fun of the concept quite a lot, waking up to a situation and wondering, “Are you my best friend? I guess you are, since I woke up here.” It was extremely funny to me at the time, and then afterwards I thought back on it and instead it seemed extremely sad.

This poem lacks quite a bit of conventional punctuation. How might that element (or lack thereof) contribute to how the poem reads?

As I said before, this poem actually started with its syntax, pacing, and punctuation before I was sure of its content. The rushed feeling of the first line, which starts with a kind of rebuke, seemed to fit into an outburst at a partner, then move on to mirror the frenetic nature of chasing after chickens (or being a chicken being chased). The interruption of “What was it?” feels to me like snapping back from an activity, or maybe a daydream. The rest is mainly long continuous strands of thought, and the way things get sort of piled on top, one after another, is meant to push the reader to the last line of the poem, which is a feeling of something like “How did I get here?” I was trying to structure the piece so that the rhythm up to that point makes rushing towards that destination feel inevitable.

I wanted to point out your choice to gender the chicken and the speaker, but the “you” in the poem remains ungendered. Because of that, I wondered if there was any intent in your decision to gender one and not the other, and if maybe that choice points to any of the gender-based issues that are prominent in today’s society.

I did actually mean for the poem to be gendered, since I saw it as a story between a heterosexual couple, with the “you” addressed being the male half. I guess choosing as an analogy something so disconnected from gendered human interaction was a way of distancing the poem from its own origins, almost like something to point at and go, “It’s this, she’s been put in the situation of this hen, the logic of these cruelties works outside of their societal context.”

I’m not sure it actually works that way. I’m also not sure this answer made much sense. But I enjoyed thinking about these questions, so thank you.