In this episode, Cate Marvin shows off her bookshelves, shares about her obstacle of getting rid of books, and the importance of the poetic line with CCP Publicist and host, Ryo Yamaguchi.
Ryo Yamaguchi (00:00):
Hey everybody. I’m Ryo Yamaguchi, the publicist at Copper Canyon Press, and you are watching season two of our interview series Line / Break, which goes off the page and into the homes and minds of our beloved poets.
Ryo Yamaguchi (00:11):
We began Line / Break as a way to connect during the severe lockdowns of the pandemic and we’ve had so much fun seeing poets on screen, hearing poems, talking about writing, books and life that we simply had to keep this series going. Thank you for tuning in.
Ryo Yamaguchi (00:27):
So I’m super excited this week to welcome Cate Marvin, a poet I’ve admired since being handed a copy of Fragment of the Head of a Queen in the stairwell of Lind Hall in Minneapolis, where I did my MFA, having stood there for a second to read and immediately fall in love with the first poem of that book.
Ryo Yamaguchi (00:45):
Now Cate joins Copper Canyon for the first time with this incredible new book. I am astonished. Cate, I am so glad to be sitting with you. How’s your morning going?
Cate Marvin (00:56):
It’s a little not so great. I normally have a very rigorous morning where I get myself out of bed and I go to exercise class. I literally just take myself there and deposit myself there and make myself do a whole bunch of vigorous exercise. This morning didn’t really start out… I canceled my exercise class and so I decided to sleep in a little bit. So I’m not feeling great about myself this morning. I have my friend, the iced coffee, to help me start things up.
Cate Marvin (01:25):
My house has been under construction, some renovations have been going on for… I don’t know, something over a year. So I just have construction stuff. Everything is messed up. I just try and keep structure in my life with exercise. So, I’m thinking I might paint a room today, just try and move forward in the project of getting my home back together. That’s-
Ryo Yamaguchi (01:54):
Yeah. So you’re doubly triply disrupted or that kind thing. Does it throw you off to not to have your morning routine kind of thrown off that, or you just kind of feeling… I mean, I’m a little tired this morning too, but mostly be.cause I’ve been up for maybe too long, but… Yeah.
Cate Marvin (02:09):
I feel it kind of I’m really an all or nothing person. So once I get going it’s then it’s going to happen. I feel the energy is starting to kick in because I have, I have some things I want to do today… I’m trying to think about the disruption part. Well, right now I’m just so accustomed to it. And my life has been disrupted for the past… I don’t know, maybe two years. Almost two years a year and a half, because I got, I started going through a divorce a year and a half ago. So divvying up belongings and separating things and situating myself and figuring out… What the house is hugely symbolic and actually just very realistic in that.
Cate Marvin (02:50):
Now I’m trying to move on a lot of projects that I couldn’t do when I was married. Also I’m now in just about to enter into summer mode, which involves a lot of house projects, like painting and gardening projects. So that’s pretty much well I’ll do all day and I’ll write at night or write some. It’s a good thinking space for me. To be working on stuff. So this, I was talking just one poet a few summers ago and he was like, “What have you been doing?” I was like, “Well, I’ve been painting.” He thought I was painting watercolors or something that. I was like, “Dude, let time for that.” You know?
Ryo Yamaguchi (03:25):
Totally. Well, I mean I hear there’s something maybe Zen in that or something do you feel like… Are you writing poems while you are a paint fence up down that kind of thing? Do you feel you’re working on creative projects in the midst of those things like that?
Cate Marvin (03:41):
Yes. Yeah. I think that doing this stuff, I’m thinking the whole time. God knows, it’s a thinking project.
Cate Marvin (03:47):
So a lot of the poems, there’s some poems in Event Horizon, the Violets poem where it’s about thinking while gardening and thinking through your path. So a lot of it is… When you’re gardening. Gardening for me is a lot writing poem because you’re rearranging things and digging things up and it’s really active.
Cate Marvin (04:06):
For me my favorite parts of writing poems are when you really excavate them and rearrange them and make them completely weird.
Cate Marvin (04:15):
So gardening has become something… I’m not a good gardener also. I basically just dig a lot of things up. It’s my favorite thing to just get rid of things. It’s like a revision process. If I have more money, then I would be planting things. It’s been this sort of long term. I’m also trying to re-wild my yard. And so I have a-
Ryo Yamaguchi (04:39):
Like a native plants kind of stuff.
Cate Marvin (04:40):
Yeah, all native plants. So I have a landscaper who’s helped me… He’s going to help me figure out what the plant, but I’ve also am creating a meadow because I have an enormous lawn. A really big lawn, that was pretty much you would just mow it and it was kind of serve no purpose except to be a lawn. Really pretty big piece of land.
Cate Marvin (04:57):
So I was like, “I don’t want to mow that,” But it turns out that mowing is really fun because my ex-husband did all the mowing and I was like, “Well who am I to mow lawn?” It turns out that with a writer mower, it’s very easy. You could probably get drunk mowing on the lawn. Some people probably do-
Ryo Yamaguchi (05:15):
I know a few people who have. George Jones famously actually, maybe I… But oh boy… You’re touching on a lot of things here. I love the metaphor of gardening as poetry and kind of the way you’re saying it too, this excavation.
Ryo Yamaguchi (05:28):
I’m also reminded of an anecdote that I’ve always held onto about Wallace Stevens that he began every morning with a flower arrangement however you feel about Wallace Stevens or whatever, but what a delicate, lovely thought…
Cate Marvin (05:40):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, one thing I do I have been doing in my house and is having flowers every day. Making sure that always have flowers in the kitchen and that’s also sort of for my kid, who’s now 13. I want them to have that sort of almost take that kind of thing for granted, have beauty around.
Ryo Yamaguchi (06:00):
Yeah. Yeah. For sure. Yeah, absolutely.
Cate Marvin (06:03):
I’m also really into the decorating and so that and furniture and things like that. I’ve spent a lot of time hold up in Facebook marketplace, looking for mid-century modern furniture. That’s a huge obsession of mine. I mean, I actually, this room is really hideous right now, but you can see, I have this really great couch.
Ryo Yamaguchi (06:23):
Cate Marvin (06:23):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is really I-
Ryo Yamaguchi (06:24):
I like that chair too. Yeah.
Cate Marvin (06:26):
I just made this room this year. It’s a room to just… It’s completely messed up right now, but it’s going to be a reading room.
Ryo Yamaguchi (06:36):
Yeah. Yeah. I’m feeling a tri-angler-
Cate Marvin (06:39):
It’s like, “How decadent is that? You just have a room for reading?” I really feel I’ve arrived.
Ryo Yamaguchi (06:43):
Yeah, for sure. No, that is decadent, but that’s decadent in a poet’s way. I think that’s… Which is wonderful.
Ryo Yamaguchi (06:49):
Well, no, and I’m grateful to have the stack of books. I’m feeling an A-frame triangular affinity with you as I am in this space, which is my typical space here, but we’ve got our heads are pointing to the same… Yeah.
Cate Marvin (07:02):
Half a frame here. So I found this guy who would do… Hang on. I don’t know if you can see this who built me shelves and he’s been building the shelves that are throughout the house. They’re not perfect. Some people might have issues with these shells, but I really them because they’re so funky and homemade. There’s another one across the way.
Ryo Yamaguchi (07:23):
Yeah. Yeah. Those super cool.
Cate Marvin (07:25):
[inaudible 00:07:25] in the bedroom, over there,. My kid has one, I’m going to have one. So that’s been another big project is… Well, I mean, frankly, it’s finding space for the books, you know? I mean it’s a lot.
Ryo Yamaguchi (07:35):
Yeah, yeah. For sure. Yeah. Yeah. It’s very functional, but then it’s also, I mean there’s something aesthetic and emotionally meaningful about how you contain your books, right? Especially for something your new reading space that…
Cate Marvin (07:47):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s like your books are your friends.
Cate Marvin (07:54):
It’s like all your people are just surrounding you. So I love it. I’ve been, many times, made the feel bad about not being alphabetized. Are you alphabetized?
Ryo Yamaguchi (08:08):
Do alphabetize my shelf or…?
Cate Marvin (08:10):
Do you? Yes.
Ryo Yamaguchi (08:12):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I do, but I break them up more… I mean, I also break them up kind of by genre, I guess. Yeah. So the posts are all in one place.
Ryo Yamaguchi (08:20):
I’ve actually on my case… That’s not totally true. So I’ve got just a poetry bookcase and then I’ve got certain presses that I had. So like Wave books where I worked at Copper Canyon. So all those presses are together.
Ryo Yamaguchi (08:32):
Then past that, then it’s anthologies, and then after that then it gets alphabetized, but so it’s a couple different-
Cate Marvin (08:42):
I don’t have that at all. I have cookbooks mixed in with poetry, mixed in with…
Ryo Yamaguchi (08:44):
Cate Marvin (08:46):
It’s a nightmare. The thing is I did have an alphabetizer at one point and then it got mixed up when I moved, cause I’ve moved many, many times. It just got completely messed up and a bunch of my books went to my office and I was using them to teach with and all they’re all still stranded there in Staten island.
Cate Marvin (09:01):
My books are totally disorganized, but I really like the process of trying to find a book and going through all the other books. Being just like, “Oh, and here’s this and here’s this and here’s this”
Cate Marvin (09:14):
I like it. I mean, if I didn’t like it, I would do something about it. You know what I mean?
Ryo Yamaguchi (09:17):
Yeah. Yeah. For sure.
Cate Marvin (09:19):
Ryo Yamaguchi (09:19):
I love it. I’m hearing this is like a…. Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (09:22):
The disorder of the world forces you to interact with the world, or something like that. It makes you engage.
Cate Marvin (09:30):
But everybody’s here. All the books are here. It’s not like they’re not here, they’re all here. I’ve had them forever. I’ve been carding these books around with me for so long. When I finished my PhD, at university of Cincinnati, I got a job at the college of Staten island. They don’t pay for you to move. I had been a graduate student for four years and I’m super broke by that point. I had left, I just moved my books and I got rid of all my furniture, all of it. All of it. Then I moved to New York and my books were mailed. They were 26 boxes or something that. Then I just lived on an air mattress for two months. I would sleep and grade on this air mattress with my books around. It was horrible, it was-
Ryo Yamaguchi (10:16):
It’s surrounded by these boxes.
Cate Marvin (10:18):
Yeah, totally. So these books have been with me for a really long time. When it’s been suggested I get rid of them, I’m not pleased by that.
Cate Marvin (10:27):
I did get rid of a whole bunch. I unloaded them this church sale at Maplewood, New Jersey and there were a bunch of sign copies that would that I just bought to be nice.
Cate Marvin (10:39):
Various news conferences. I went back a few days later, and they had this sign that someone had written and sort of week lettering like, “No more books please.” Cause I just completely unloaded 500 books on them, and they were like, “We can’t get rid of these.”
Ryo Yamaguchi (10:59):
That’s that’s so funny. I’ve talked to different poets about this, of the push pull books. I mean, some poets. I know their relationship with books is just really fluid. They kind of come in and out of their lives. They gift them. They sell them and then other one… I think I’m a bit more you. Maybe kind of a hoarder or something. I really, I really love to get rid of any book at all. But… Yeah.
Cate Marvin (11:20):
Ryo Yamaguchi (11:21):
Well, yeah, yeah…
Cate Marvin (11:24):
I’m not a hoarder, but I like to have my books. I want my books.
Ryo Yamaguchi (11:27):
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. For sure. I don’t mean to put it like that.
Cate Marvin (11:27):
I’ll look at a book that I read when I was 18 and I’m like, “Wow, I’ll have my handwriting from when I was that old” Yeah. They’re precious.
Ryo Yamaguchi (11:40):
Yeah. This gives me kind an opportunity. I mean, so we’re touching on… I mean, you’re bringing up so many things that are kind of part of the themes of things that I wanted to kind of interact with today. This idea of disruption and looking back into your life across a schism or something like that. As well as the idea of friendship and books as friends and those things.
Ryo Yamaguchi (11:59):
Before we get into all of that, I think we know who you are now, Cate, Marvin. You have the new book and I kind of want to show that off very quickly because we’re super, super proud of it. Which is this one here.
Cate Marvin (12:12):
Show them the back.
Ryo Yamaguchi (12:13):
I’d love this. Yeah. Yeah. So here’s the back. I was just going to kind of mention. I was really staring at this for quite a while, both the front and back of this, the artist here, right is… Tell us about the artist. It’s Marina [inaudible 00:12:26].
Cate Marvin (12:26):
Well, I don’t know the artist at all. I found the artist online. I was sort of doing a Google for images like women, et cetera. Then I found this and it was in, it was in an article that was sort of about representing different artists for… I think it was a… I barely remember it was for an exhibit for women artists. I found these and then I was just like, “Oh, that’s it.” There’s a whole… If you Google her, she has this whole collection of these photographs that she’s sewn on. This is actually… She’s hand sew these blood droplets.
Cate Marvin (13:01):
All of these things are super imposed upon the same image, which is an image of a body of a woman. Woman who’s had several children and who wasn’t super young. It’s all these things are super imposed on her and they’re really amazing. I just knew it when I saw it.
Ryo Yamaguchi (13:21):
Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. I love the… There’s a tactile feel now to that I didn’t get before without knowing that those had been sewn on, those to the superposition. Yeah. That’s really amazing.
Ryo Yamaguchi (13:34):
I’ve got some kind of standard intro questions I’d like to ask, but kind where we are now, I kind of think… Actually I wouldn’t mind hearing a poem if you’ve got a poem ready. Read from it. Maybe we would start there. Yeah,
Cate Marvin (13:48):
Sure. Okay. I’m going to read the poem-
Ryo Yamaguchi (13:51):
If you’re cool with that, but yeah. Yeah.
Cate Marvin (13:52):
I’m totally cool with it. I just want to figure out where I kind of figured out what to read and I kind of didn’t.
Cate Marvin (14:00):
Okay, I’m going to read a poem called War on Sun.
Cate Marvin (14:03):
War on Sun. In a deceitful time with a deceitful friend, I stayed at sea for days called sea days on a vessel with casinos, for hallways as triumphant waves licked the ship’s sides and blackest night and luscious wet bodies leapt the smack balls over nets on the pool deck.
Cate Marvin (14:25):
It was my birthday and the poor cell phone service disguise the lack of a call or text from a man. I long back then to call my boyfriend. I drank in dazzles a lounge, a theater that morphed from dance party to game show within an hour, ordering devil whiskeys by the dozens to bill accruing invisibly, almost like a portent. A receipt on spooling into the fathoms of a sky that seemed to move its length like a giant cat. Alongside the wind and water whipping up at me from the deck side, where I stood smoking one cigarette after another. My dreadful friend, latent back then, a disease claimed seasickness chewed on Dramamine, cluttered our birth with products designed to make her privates hygienic, worthy, chemical, or as she said, because she was so sensitive down there.
Cate Marvin (15:23):
The only reason I was on that ship was due to a conflict between her and her rehab friend who cut her off after the fatal discovery of stolen pills. This friend had booked the trip for her birthday. And my birthday happened to be one day after. The all cost paid trip was a mere $400. So I thought I may as well experience it, the lower level art gallery with art so ugly and stood in direct opposition to notions of art. And what I was doing there was due to my being in a weak position.
Cate Marvin (15:57):
I was lonely. The purpose of the journey it soon became apparent was to experience fun, which was doled out in many formulas and flavors. None of which agreed with me. It was, I saw, a metaphor for the life I had not yet lived and avert at every corner I turn.
Cate Marvin (16:15):
A friend whose sleep is malicious, who can Cox tails of having once seen a ghost in your attic. Who is described unremarkably as dawned in a long white nightgown, a candlestick clutched in her hands, her hair wild and white. Was that me wandering my attic just above my own head? I’m not the medium. I have no funnel to prop open to the essence of the other world. I have failed to distinguish between a friend who has devoted to me and the friend now approaching as I stand by the railing, smoking, pouring myself into the task of regarding the voluminous carpet of the sea, her hand, gentle at my back.
Cate Marvin (16:57):
On those sea days and nights, how she smiled. As she smiled at me often watching me trip and tasting my shoe on the step in the back of her throat. Now that I have experienced so much intentional fun, I have given up on fun.
Cate Marvin (17:11):
Now that this venal friend has made her apology years after, I do not accept. I do not accept fun. The fun that is for liars peering down and over the ship side from which hundreds of lifeboats hung.
Ryo Yamaguchi (17:31):
Oh, that’s so awesome. That last image is one that has really sticks with me, I mean, throughout the entire collection.
Ryo Yamaguchi (17:40):
I remember reading that home for the first time and kind of chuckling, because I remember having a lot of friends who I assume this is a spring break cruise kind of thing or something-
Cate Marvin (17:47):
Ryo Yamaguchi (17:48):
Can you please tell me… Yeah.
Cate Marvin (17:49):
It’s a cruise. I forget what it was one of those Norwegian cruise lines. So it was like a four day all expenses cruise. It was also the first time I had been away… I had, I think a two year old at the time. It was the first time I had been away from my baby. What happened is my friend kind of disappeared and went sleep, just went and just wasn’t going to hang out.
Cate Marvin (18:15):
And I was on a cruise for days. So I… It was actually fantastic. What I did was I-
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:21):
So just wasn’t going to hang out at all right… Yeah.
Cate Marvin (18:23):
Asleep, was… Went to bed.
Cate Marvin (18:29):
What was great was I did something that I really loved. I loved doing in my single life, in my non-mother life, which is I went and I got my journal and I just went and got my journal and I just drank tons of whiskeys and just wrote my journal for hours. The wait staff was so confused as to what I was doing. Then I just go smoke cigarettes. And then I would even get involved in some of the activities, just by myself. I have done things where I travel alone and I just go and do shit by myself. It’s kind of fun.
Cate Marvin (19:04):
So that was actually a really great night I wouldn’t mind re-living.
Ryo Yamaguchi (19:12):
Yeah. I hear this like an accidental self-actualization or something like that, by as a result of being ghosted, I guess. It’s another term that comes… I think also very prevalent in this collection, but the-
Cate Marvin (19:26):
Yeah, no, I’m thinking because this is such a very different… I have those… Five guzzles for a friend who, I guess… I don’t want to use the word lost, but I guess lost is the right word.
Cate Marvin (19:36):
I have a great deal fondness for that friend. To my mind, those are kind of a series, even though this poems are pretty bitter. They’re kind of a series of love poems in a lot of ways. This is not a love poem. This isn’t about ‘I want you back’, this is about ‘what the fuck the happened’ in that situation. So I don’t know.
Cate Marvin (20:04):
Whenever people talk about having fun, I feel a real, I’m just like, “What the fuck is fun?” Well, I have fun all the time, but when people are purposely pursuing fun and frivolous activities, it’s not something I have a whole lot of respect for.
Cate Marvin (20:18):
Maybe that’s this-
Ryo Yamaguchi (20:22):
Idea of that fun has to be precious or something. It has to be encapsulated in this…. Well, a cruise or something.
Cate Marvin (20:29):
These people, they literally are, they’re going to have fun. It’s like, “Don’t you just find fun, in regular things? You know what I mean?
Cate Marvin (20:41):
[inaudible 00:20:41] kind of fun?
Cate Marvin (20:41):
It reminds me of my aunt, who has dementia, but when she had to go into assisted living, she started crying and she said, “It’s just not fun.” I was like, “Who told you everything was going to be fun?” Like she went through her life thinking everything should be fun.
Cate Marvin (20:57):
Anyway, I don’t know. I mean, I really think it’s probably… My father and me who was a sort of dower person. He had no time for fun. So that’s probably just a bit of him that landed in me. Cause he know it-
Ryo Yamaguchi (21:11):
I think that you’ve just carried that through. Yeah.
Cate Marvin (21:13):
Well also it’s okay, ZZ Packer was one of my best friends. She’s a fiction writer. She would say, “Vacation? The last thing I want is a vacation,” because she just wants time to work on her book.
Cate Marvin (21:23):
So a lot of writers are… They’re like… And another friend of mine, [Nai Emer 00:21:28] who I haven’t talked to in a million years. He would say… When we were at university of Houston, he’d say you saw people sitting around like, “I need your time. Give me your time.”
Cate Marvin (21:41):
I think when you’re a writer, you sort of feel like, “Okay, I only have so much of this,” in which to get everything done that I want to get done.
Cate Marvin (21:48):
So the idea of being idle is a little offensive.
Ryo Yamaguchi (21:51):
Yeah. That’s so fascinating. I mean, and I hear what you’re saying too. I mean that… Well… Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, it’s, I guess other poets might say that part of their process is idleness or needing to just be free to kind of wander around or something that. Which kind of sounds sort of what happened on the cruise, for you. But…
Cate Marvin (22:13):
Well, I was writing my journal whole time smoking. I mean, I was pretty active. I don’t like not being active, but that’s just…. I’m kind of a hyper person. I don’t smoke pot. It’s way too much of a… It doesn’t suit me because I like to do stuff.
Ryo Yamaguchi (22:26):
Drags you down.
Cate Marvin (22:27):
And that’s just me. That’s just how… Maybe I’m just trying to… I’m actually kind of trying to learn to sit with myself more and process.
Cate Marvin (22:35):
That’s been something that’s been a challenge over a couple of years, cause I’m always on to the next thing or, or doing stuff. Like I said before, I like to think while doing stuff.
Ryo Yamaguchi (22:45):
Yeah. Yeah. Would you not equate the act of writing a poem like with something meditation or something like that? I think that those are often strongly aligned, but as we’re kind of talking, I kind of feel like maybe meditation seems too passive or… Yeah.
Cate Marvin (22:58):
It’s not meditation for me.
Cate Marvin (23:02):
For me, it would be more something more like a dance or an engagement. It’s very much an engagement and there’s nothing still about it in the writing of it.
Ryo Yamaguchi (23:16):
Yeah, yeah. Does this make you think of… So one question I kind of had for you was somewhat of a formal question that that I’m kind of trying to rapidly reticulate here in my mind.
Ryo Yamaguchi (23:26):
It’s the sort of idea of how you tell stories and how you tell a good story in a poem. Particularly the kind of story that you tell in these poems, which is something that’s very acutely focused, I think, that is sequencing a lot of details or number of details that have resonance meaning have this kind of symbolic weight.
Ryo Yamaguchi (23:44):
The thing is that I think that these poems in, this book in particular, move so rapidly, that those details are kind of meant to sort of spin in the air or something like that like plates versus being kind of heavy and static and meant to kind of a deep… What would call deep energetic, I would say.
Ryo Yamaguchi (24:04):
That’s just sort of my interpretation. I was kind of curious if you might talk a little bit about your sense of line and rhythm, in this book in particular, and how you think maybe it’s kind of developed from your other work…
Cate Marvin (24:17):
Okay. That’s a really good question. So the way that I work with a line, I should just say right off the bat, it’s like I’m really obsessed with the line, but I think that poems have to sort of fall into a form, right? To me, the form is so evocative of what the poem is. So for example, the poem Lottery of Eyes, the first poem in the book, that had to have this really weird suspended enjambment because it’s supposed to feel like it’s teetering on something. I want it to feel really floaty. It’s very unlike a poem I normally write. But a lot of times what I do when I’m working with the line is, I try and tighten everything up.
Cate Marvin (24:56):
So there’s a line, it has a lot of integrity and then I sort of pack it in and get everything to line up… Almost it’s very much sewing. Tightening everything and then going to any sort weak line and reconfiguring that line.
Cate Marvin (25:09):
So my thinking is that every line has to kind of really be beautiful or so do something. There’s no wasted line, there’s no wasted room. So a lot of my process is it happens in the reworking with our vision happens in the reworking of individual lines in getting the whole thing stitched together to make a thing. Moving stuff around so that there’s an arrangement. Doesn’t sound very interesting, but it sure is a bitch. It’s probably the most fun part of doing it too.
Ryo Yamaguchi (25:45):
Cate, that’s so amazing to hear about the way that you think of line kind of stitching together and I really hear that informal qualities.
Ryo Yamaguchi (25:55):
Going back to kind of another part of that question, which is how do you think that differs from your previous works? How have you developed in Event Horizon?
Cate Marvin (26:04):
I think that the poems… I just looked over the book and I realized that the majority of the poems in the book are in couplets. Which is a much looser form I normally employ. I think that if there was a much more of a concentration or a density in the work, like in Oracle, which has a number of very dense poems. Some poems, in fact, that people mistake for prose poems that are not prose poems. They’re just poems are in longer lines and I don’t write prose poems. I have one prose poem in Resistance. In Fragment of the Head of a Queen is a very dense, decorous, very heavy line throughout, almost brocaded. That was actually my intention, with Fragment Head of a Queen, was when I was halfway through finishing it.
Cate Marvin (26:46):
There were some poems that people pushed back against that were more elaborate. I realized that was exactly the direction I wanted to go in. So I kind of rewrote Fragment Head of a Queen and made every thing twice as long or even more elaborate, just to see if I could do it. Almost like Henry James type of ridiculous. So, with this book, this book is different because it’s a little bit more colloquial. The speakers more casual in a lot of ways. There’s a few poems in the book that are much more like Two Views of a Discarded Mattress are very much, in what I think of, as a pretty typical mode for me, which is this very decorates image laid in line. With a lot of really loaded metaphorically and some really high diction.
Cate Marvin (27:30):
That’s very arch and aimed at expressing a certain thing. More on Fun is a little bit that. More on Fun is not a loose poem by any means, but a lot of the poems are looser. I think they exist a little bit… I think about the poem, My Father’s Daughter, it’s a portrait of myself, cause I could really couldn’t write in the eye about sort of myself after my father’s death. Sort of the sense of looking at myself as this woman who’s in her forties smoking on a stoop. That’s one of the most pathetic images I can conjure of myself. It’s different and that’s sort of… It’s also, these poems are inhabiting some spaces that are just a lot more familial or about friends and stuff that.
Cate Marvin (28:21):
So I don’t know if that answers your question, but I do think that they’re a little bit scrappier in a lot of ways, these poems.
Ryo Yamaguchi (28:28):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I hear kind of all of these qualities in a way. I mean, definitely there are moments that I pick up on that are more decorates or, or certainly sonically driven. I hear almost, even formal [inaudible 00:28:39] at times, but of course also these images that are, I kind of think of the sort of lapidary or glitzy and that kind of thing happening. In some of the poems that you just cited, that they are looser, what I would almost even say is associational. This is kind of what I feel in some of the narrative elements of it, where it’s the sequence of details where the details are kind of trying to resonate with each other toward building on this kind of momentum. Toward this sort of destination, which is reckoning really, is sort of the way I think of it.
Ryo Yamaguchi (29:10):
That’s kind of a… Another question. Well, it’s all these kind of ways of looking back, in the past. I think that’s something that’s really crucial to, from my understanding of the poems in this book, which is looking across this gap, across this Event Horizon toward these kind of formative moments. Which are really kind of moments where people just being shitty and what you do with that and how you heal from that.
Ryo Yamaguchi (29:37):
So I’m definitely interested in hearing you kind of maybe sort of talk about that a little bit. What was your sense of reckoning, in the creative process of going through these problems? Was that something that you set out to do or was it something that you felt yourself doing and then kind of began rolling with as you assembled the collection?
Cate Marvin (30:01):
Yeah. I just had this image of the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania. When it was this lake, this manmade lake, broke through and spilled into this town. Carrying all the refuge, carrying everything with it, through the town. It ended up crashing, there’s this big fire of all the debris. That’s sort of, I think in some ways, it’s sort of the pushing forth of a poem. It picks up all these things that come along with it and just sort of carries them through. That’s stuff of… Because I’m not strategic, I’m just sort of remembering and putting this thing together. In terms of a reckoning, one thing I will say that is different about the poems in this book, is that they came out of a process of writing a poem every week for a writing group.
Cate Marvin (30:53):
So when I came to Maine, I had very few friends here. In the beginning, I realized my friends were fiction writers primarily. I went, and I did a reading, a local reading. And I met up with a couple with some poets, Jefferson and Vicki and Colin Chaney. We started a writing group cause I realized I really needed the companionship of other poets. That was what was very kind of difficult for me at the time. Adrian Blevins was also part of that group and Katherine Larson joined.
Cate Marvin (31:20):
So we meet every week and we write a poem every week. I wasn’t really consciously working on a book at that point and I wasn’t writing in the way that I typically write. Which is to write many times a week at night, I write at night all the time and just start to compose book and get a sense of a book of what’s happening with that. I should also add that I always write three to five years in retrospect. I don’t write really usually about things that are going on currently in my life. I mean I might, but usually those poems don’t end up being anything that’s too great. I’m always kind of… Yeah. I’m just always sort of looking back and trying to figure out what, what happened.
Cate Marvin (31:59):
So, in a lot of ways, these were poems that I would go to the public library and write a poem, two hours before we met or just because it’s… For some reason, it would be the night before, but it was always kind of rushed. So I ended up writing a lot of poems. I was writing them for me. I think that’s the point you maybe get to, of course, all my poems are for me and for my reader, but I think these poems were a little bit… I sort of had this immediate audience and I was just sort of, “Oh, okay, I’m going to write about that.”
Cate Marvin (32:31):
They were those sort of one offs, ’cause I wasn’t really worried about it. I wasn’t worried about and I wasn’t sending out. So, so when I, it was a few years of this and I was like, “Oh shit, I have a book.” I realized that all these poems had come together in this way that was a little bit different from how I normally put a book together.
Ryo Yamaguchi (32:56):
Yeah, yeah. No. I like that does feel a looser process to me or something that is letting yourself explore your own kind of psychic past. That kind of idea of the past is… This gives me an opportunity to ask one of my intro questions that we have otherwise haven’t gotten to yet, which is if you could… I really do to ask this question a lot. It’s one of my favorites. If you look back in your own history as an artist or as a writer and describe for us one of the first moments that you recognized yourself in a work of art. Something where you felt that you were reading a book or watching a movie and maybe finally felt at home with yourself in that work, on something like that.
Cate Marvin (33:41):
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great question. I want to make sure that I book note, I want to add about your question about these poems. Then I’m going to get back to your question Ryo, but that I think I became less concerned about pretending that my speaker was not me. You know what I’m saying?
Cate Marvin (34:06):
I just didn’t have a shoot anymore, ’cause I’m in my late forties, early fifties. I let there be a way less of a sort of is it’s these pieces… Poems lied much more closely against my life. Against my lived life. Yeah. So, I guess when I was… I would say the poem that immediately comes to mind that I really loved when I was a kid was Steven Crane’s little poems and one of those poems was fast road the night and I can bring it up.
Ryo Yamaguchi (34:42):
Yeah. Can you read it?
Cate Marvin (34:43):
Yeah, totally. It’s really short. I’d short poems when I was a kid. So my parents had… They didn’t read me poetry but they had poetry anthologies around the house. I would go and look at those. So, and this was a poem that I loved, still love.
Cate Marvin (35:06):
Fast road, the night with spurs hot and wreaking ever waving an eager sword to save my lady. Fast road the night and leaped from saddle to war. Men of steel, flickered, and gleaned like riot of silver lights and the gold of the Knight’s good banner, still waved on the castle wall. A horse blowing, staggering bloody thing, forgotten at foot of castle wall. A horse dead at foot of castle wall.
Cate Marvin (35:43):
So that’s like… Poem is freaking amazing and I think you can see, “Okay, there’s the action of the poem and the glory of the heroism and then the focus goes to the horse.” It’s dead. The horse was dead. So it just moved me so much. It made me so sad. It just it’s the story under the story.
Cate Marvin (36:06):
And so I think I’m interested in the horse’s story.
Cate Marvin (36:11):
So that’s, yeah. That would be one example. I also really Tennyson and… Yeah, I really liked that poem, Tears, Idle Tears. I know not what they mean.
Cate Marvin (36:26):
I started to… Okay. So I read a lot when I was a kid, a lot. I basically really didn’t do schoolwork. I just read all my own books. I read a lot of historical romances. I read a lot of junk. Read a lot of Anne Rice, a lot of… My mother and I would go to the library and just read all these books and trade them and we were just voracious readers. I wasn’t allowed to watch television. So all I could do was read. So a big book for me was Watership Down. It had a lot of epigraphs in it and that reading those epigraphs was really interesting for me.
Cate Marvin (36:54):
I would find poems in those epigraphs and that’s when I started. I wrote one of my first poems about Watership Down as a book report. Then I started writing up in sixth grade. So that’s when I was starting to really get into writing poems and then seventh grade, then I sort of… I had not such great time in school and we moved and it wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I was writing. That was when I knew for sure. I was like, “Oh, this is what I’m going to do.”
Cate Marvin (37:24):
Ryo Yamaguchi (37:26):
That’s so fascinating that you… I mean, I’m just kind of comparing the Stephen Crane poem that you just read and Watership Dow. This idea… I mean, both animals, this connection with the animal world as being able to serve as a vehicle for a young person’s understanding of the violent often fulfillment of a narrative or of the exhaustion of one’s commitment towards something. That can be brutal.
Ryo Yamaguchi (37:55):
I mean, that’s kind of what I hear. I mean, Watership Down is also one of my favorite… But I mean, I know more the animated film, I’m going to… Haven’t read the book, but…
Cate Marvin (38:02):
The movie’s so much better. I read that book 11 times and when I was in sixth grade, I had a fever of 104 and I hallucinated that I was Hazel, the chief rabbit. Anyway the poet, Jennifer Militello, she also was obsessed with Watership Down. So when we connected. She has the whole… They have the special language, she has their language memorized and she’ll greet me with the special language.
Ryo Yamaguchi (38:26):
I love that. That’s so great. Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (38:30):
Well, this is so thinking about childhood and looking back at that, and this maybe this will be kind of the last question I ask for this interview, because partly because I want to… I’m kind of a hopeful person. I want to end on a hopeful note here a little bit. I had that motivation a little bit too, because I think that Event Horizon has this hopeful ending to it.
Ryo Yamaguchi (38:53):
We’ve talked a little bit about the inclusion of that last poem about your child, but a lot of it has to do with… You’ve got this speaker who’s looking back and is, again, this kind of reckoning with all of these bad moments in the past. But then looking toward your child and the kind of their self actualization they’re coming into their own self possession in their identity and things. Maybe if you could…. Yeah. If you could talk a little bit about the inclusion of that last poem and… Yeah.
Cate Marvin (39:23):
I would love to talk about that because it occurred to me while we’re talking that a big part of my childhood was animals. I was really in the tropical fish, when I was a kid. Really I bred tropical fish and I’ve been in the fish all my life. So when my kid turned 11, I think, I got them a fish tank. When during the pandemic, we ended up with a situation where we now have three cats, a dog, a snake, and a frog. We’re we have so many animals. It’s ridiculous. So my kid is really like… I ended my last book with a poem about my kid, which is called Next of Kin. She’ll spit you up on her pinkest bib or something that.
Cate Marvin (40:03):
My child has always been so sort of righteous and they’re a real inspiration to me. When I had the baby, the baby was would just smile and wave at everybody. I’d be like, “What are you doing?” And not go up and talk to people, dance and do robot dances in the frozen yogurt shop. Which is a total trip. So, there so I think that the poems that are sort of threaded throughout the book about my kid. They are loved their love poems. They’re about the child who has a very, very much a forward movement, who moves into the future. So, it was very important to me because I’ve been writing these poems about Emerson for several years to transition them since they transitioned to being non-binary a year ago.
Cate Marvin (40:49):
So I knew I had to write the… I had to transition them within the book. They are the future, and they’re beautiful. It’s also the way that they conceive of gender is such a unexpected and fantastic answer to all the problems I’ve had with gender. Which is fuck gender. Fuck It.
Cate Marvin (41:13):
I know that there’s so many things to worry about now. Everything every day in our world, there’s… But I also think that Gen Z is pretty amazing. I have students who are Gen Z students, and my kid is Gen Z and they’re so sensitive and realized and passionate and everything. My kid has taught me a lot about how… My kid will, for example, if I cut in a line, they’ll take me back to the end of it.
Cate Marvin (41:44):
Do you know what I’m saying? They check me, they check me.
Ryo Yamaguchi (41:48):
Cate Marvin (41:49):
They also know a lot more than I do about a lot of stuff. So we have a relationship that’s where I learn a lot from them and they use me as a sounding board for a lot of stuff. I think that’s one reason that I’ve been on sort of the inside and I’ve known about their transition from really early on that they didn’t share it with me right away. ‘Cause of course they were concerned that they might not be accepted by me and that’s really crushing to realize. So, I don’t know.
Cate Marvin (42:13):
I feel a lot of my future has to be, I have to be involved in activism on the part of LGBTQ people and trans people as a cis white woman, that’s going to be something that I need to invest in.
Ryo Yamaguchi (42:32):
Yeah, absolutely. I can’t resist other cause you bring up this other question that I have here and that’s kind of if you see a role or a or even a need. What’s the word that I have here, a requirement of what we maybe would have called feminist poetry to support LGBTQ or to support non-binary communities. I think this is a major kind of question lately. It’s how should you be a feminist in a non-binary world? How’s that?
Cate Marvin (43:09):
It’s so funny because I used to just love being a feminist. I think I loved how it positioned me. I was very comfortable with it, but I was engaged in a very white feminism. That was something that I didn’t see at the time at all right. I really didn’t see it. Now that I understand intersectionality and now that I have spent a lot of time engaged in anti-racist practice and thinking about that, and now that I also have a trans non-binary child, I don’t think a lot about feminism because I see myself as a white woman having so much fucking privilege. It’s ridiculous. I see white women weaponizing themselves against other… I see against other women. So of course at a time that Roe versus Wade is coming under attack.
Cate Marvin (44:06):
I’m trying to sort of figure out where my feminism, where it fits into all this stuff. Cause I know it has to be completely be integrated into anti-racist practice and into LGBTQ stuff. It can’t be separate from that.
Cate Marvin (44:25):
I’ve been doing this course with [Resum Manickam 00:44:27] he’s like the my grandmother’s hands guy and in this one session, he was pointing out that white women are very much pitted against white men. There’s a lot of anger that white women have against white men. He’s just like, “Go fucking work on that. That’s your shit.” And he was like, “Wow.” What a great way to distract people from what the real work should be, but to get people to fight each other, I guess, I mean, that’s probably very cliche.
Cate Marvin (44:56):
So I’ve been thinking about that too, about… I have a lot of anger toward men and is that helpful? What does that do? So I think I have a lot of work to do in terms of figuring that stuff out, which is of course, a little depressing for young folks out there to see someone in their fifties realizing that they still have work to do. I guess it’s also kind of good. I think I’m still working on that.
Cate Marvin (45:32):
I also see it more as right now I’m more interested in identifying white supremacy, cultural norms and how they appear and how they appear and they’re very much embedded in patriarchy and all these things. Just recognizing these things and seeing how those things play out in my own expression and expectations and just checking those all the time and identifying them. Frankly, being in conversation with people whose values are aligned with mine. That’s been a really important thing for me over the past two years.
Ryo Yamaguchi (46:08):
Yeah. Yeah. I know you know, express this challenge of feeling that you have more work to do, but I’m very encouraged by that sentiment and the kind of messy honesty that I think we all need to embrace, as we… A memory from my perspective that to move forward and that kind of work is a testament of care. I think that’s worthwhile.
Cate Marvin (46:34):
It also feels good. It feels horrible, but it also feels good, ’cause it’s just a lot of the stuff I’ve been engaged in, which has really been pushing past really sitting in uncomfortable spaces, big time. I feel I am not in denial in that sort of white denial where, “Oh, I don’t have anything to do with this one.” It’s actually you’ve completely benefited from this, your entire frigging life. Just seeing it for what it is such a relief.
Ryo Yamaguchi (47:11):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. A hundred percent. Yeah. Well I think that’s a good place to kind of end or close this conversation, at least this chapter of this conversation, I hope there’s many more. Yeah…
Cate Marvin (47:27):
We didn’t talk about box of line. We didn’t have a conversation.
Ryo Yamaguchi (47:28):
I know, I know the space act. I was going to bring that up actually at the beginning our affinity for it. I’ve kept it… I’m here in Colorado and it’s been in the nineties. I kept actually my box wine in the fridge here just to keep things a little refreshing. So I raised a toast to you from afar with the box Portuguese wine. Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (47:50):
Really, really wonderful Cate. So, but let’s keep this going. I love talking to you so much and there’s so much more to discuss in the future and let’s just call this chapter one. I think of this line break between the two of us.
Cate Marvin (48:02):
That sounds great. I love talking.
Ryo Yamaguchi (48:06):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s so great. Well thank you Cate, so much for being here and thank you all for tuning in. We’ll see you next time. Thanks so much.