Kicking off our third season is an episode with poet and Dornsife Fellow, Taneum Bambrick!
Taneum Bambrick walks us through her experience on tour for her recent collection, Intimacies, Received, and how she uses images to begin her writing practice with our host, Ryo Yamaguchi.
Ryo Yamaguchi (00:00):
Hey, everybody. I’m Ryo Yamaguchi, the publicist at Copper Canyon Press, and you are watching season three, season three! of our interview series, Line Break, which goes off the page and into the homes and minds of our beloved poets. 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, and books, and life, that we simply had to keep the series going, and here we are in our third year. Thank you for tuning in.
When we began planning for season three, one of the very first poets who came to mind was the wonderful Taneum Bambrick. Her latest book, Intimacies Received, is an extraordinary account of emotional reckoning and this really honest portrait of the risks we take when we get close to others. I love it so much, and I also love talking to Taneum, so it was pretty much a no-brainer to start our season here with her today. Taneum, thank you so much for being here.
Taneum Bambrick (01:01):
Thank you so much for having me. I didn’t realize this was the beginning of a new season. It’s so exciting.
Ryo Yamaguchi (01:06):
Yeah. It’s brand new. It’s brand new. We’re bringing as much energy as we can into it, and so I’m glad you’re here to help us kick it off. Yo, we’re looking forward to a lot, so I kind of want to… For folks who don’t know, it’s Monday morning here. It’s October. So I’m kind of curious what you’re looking forward to this week. I’ll tell you, I can’t resist saying that it’s snowing right now, here in Santa Fe, before Halloween, so winter’s on my mind and things. But I’m curious what you’re looking forward to in the coming weeks.
Taneum Bambrick (01:33):
Wow. That’s amazing. I love it so much when it snows in the Southwest. That’s really special. I live in LA so the weather is always exactly the same. Things I’m looking forward to… I guess I’m really excited to go to the Miami Book Fair, which is coming up.
Ryo Yamaguchi (01:51):
Taneum Bambrick (01:52):
Yeah. Also… So we’re talking, my book just came out about a month ago. I’m still very much in the middle of tour time, and I’m also going to go to Kansas City with Joy Priest and reading at poet Jenny Molberg’s school with Joy, so I’m really excited for that, too. So just tour excitement, I guess, is what’s going on.
Ryo Yamaguchi (02:13):
Taneum Bambrick (02:13):
Ryo Yamaguchi (02:15):
Oh, that’s good. I’m so glad to hear that. It’s so fun to have that support or to be able to support your book in that way. Obviously, we’ve been working on the Miami Book Fair thing for a little while and stuff, and that feels really suited to this work, too. Obviously, because of alligators, which we’ll talk about…
Taneum Bambrick (02:28):
Ryo Yamaguchi (02:30):
… during things. But yeah. I’m so glad. Has this been a good time for you to connect with other poets? And now that you’ve got this living entity out in the world and sharing with others, reading with others, yeah?
Taneum Bambrick (02:42):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s been so interesting. It’s been a long time. My first book came out right before the pandemic, so I had about four months to tour that book before things sort of fell apart and that wasn’t possible anymore. This is still pandemic time, so it feels relaxed but also the readings I’ve done have been really fun.
I went to a conference. I went to a few bookstores. I’ve been around, and I’ve heard a lot of people. The things people comment on are never what I expect. I think one of them is a lot of people have come up to me and talked about just illness that I talk about in my poems and be like, “I had that same experience.” That’s one thing we can talk about later today, too, but that’s been really interesting to me is how many people have come up to me and been like, “Yeah, I always get UTIs.”
Ryo Yamaguchi (03:33):
Taneum Bambrick (03:34):
Thank you for telling me, I guess. But I actually really appreciate that because I felt like I’ve gotten a lot of surprise community out of the tour so far, which is so sweet.
Ryo Yamaguchi (03:46):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny, I’m a great believer that that poetry has health qualities to it, healing qualities, of course, but I wonder if you had braced for this more direct role as a UTI support network or like a figurehead in that?
Taneum Bambrick (04:04):
Yeah. No. When I started writing those poems about having chronic UTIs related to sex and just being so confused by that, I was thinking, no one’s going to want to read these poems. They’re gross, and I feel gross writing them. Then I thought about it later and I was like, “No, it’s not.” I think that I showed myself a lot of my internalized body shame and things, obviously gender-related body shame. But being on tour with it, it’s been really surprising how that’s made me feel distanced from it in a way, to talk to people about it and laugh about how terrible it is. Yeah. It’s been an empowering thing, too. I think, so I only have good things to say about those reactions.
Ryo Yamaguchi (04:53):
Taneum Bambrick (04:54):
Ryo Yamaguchi (04:55):
I kind of want to hold that idea in mind, too, in a little bit for our conversation, of this, how to write about the body, how to write about the abject, maybe, grossness, but also violence. All these. Of course, we’ll talk about…
Taneum Bambrick (05:09):
Ryo Yamaguchi (05:09):
… all that. But you’re sort of helping me segue into one of my favorite questions that Laura Bucceri used to ask. Kicking off the season is one I try to ask every single Line Break we do. I’m so excited to have your book and, of course, your book is this statement about even your writing life now, where you are as a creator at this moment, so I want to go from the present and walk back to your early interactions with art, and when you can think of the first time you recognized yourself in a book, in a painting, in a movie, in a piece of music, something like that. When did you have that first sense of self-recognition as existing in an artwork or something?
Taneum Bambrick (05:55):
Yeah. I actually before, to prepare for this podcast, talked to my mom a little bit about early childhood things to try to remember… I have a terrible memory in some points.
Ryo Yamaguchi (06:09):
Thank you for doing the research, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (06:10):
I had to do my research, come prepared, yes. But we talked about that. She said, “Even when you were a little kid, we would buy you notebooks and you would sit and just draw pretend words onto the page. You’ve always wanted to be a writer since before you could really talk,” and so I guess I feel like I’ve been writing some variation of poetry my whole life.
I wrote long novels that were just stolen from the novels I was reading as a kid. They were just like the characters had the same names as the characters in the books I loved. But then I think I shifted into reading poetry at the same time that I’m thinking I found maybe a voice that inspired me, which this is going to be… I’m not embarrassed. I’m proud of this. I feel like the song The Ghost of You by My Chemical Romance was my moment of being like, “This is what real art is.” And I stand by this to this day.
But I was going through a typical emo phase and my parents would… I can’t prove that they were reading my diary, but I felt very strongly that they were. So, I started writing poems as a way to confuse what I was trying to write about so that they couldn’t understand exactly if it was about them or what I was talking about. I would use metaphor and different devices inspired probably by the emo music I was listening to, to try to hide what I was saying from my parents in case they were looking through my diaries, which I’m pretty sure they were because I was also grounded all the time and just in trouble.
Anyway, that’s where I feel like it started out, was listening to music. That, of course, deepened. The first poetry book I ever read was Crush by Richard Siken. I think that book, being a queer kid in a rural space and not knowing or not having language to describe my queerness at all, graduating in 2010, which was a great time for Crush. That book came out. I think I was a senior in high school when I first read it. It changed my whole life, reading that book. I didn’t really know what poetry collections were until I read that book also. I didn’t know there was entire books of poems you could have access to. Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (08:38):
Oh, that’s so cool. Well, I love the shout out to Richard Siken and I love Siken’s work. Crush was also this really foundational book for me, too. I think we probably, maybe around the same age or something, encountered it as a young person beginning to understand, well, A, that poems could do that, that poetry could be collected in that way. It was one of the first books, too, for me where I became aware of small presses as a thing.
Taneum Bambrick (09:03):
I was like, “Ooh, the Yale… What is this? It’s so fancy.”
Ryo Yamaguchi (09:07):
Yeah, yeah, for sure. Mm-hmm. Totally, totally, totally. But everything… Oh, I love… You’re so Derrida, Levi-Strauss, mimicking writing stuff as a young kid. I love that, too.
Taneum Bambrick (09:17):
Oh, my gosh.
Ryo Yamaguchi (09:20):
My third point of interaction with this also is I was in… I’ve been kind of flying a lot over the past couple weeks. I was in airport security, standing behind this person who had this amazing My Chemical Romance tour shirt on.
Taneum Bambrick (09:34):
Oh, my God.
Ryo Yamaguchi (09:35):
It was pretty goth, just really elaborate tableau of these angels and stuff. It was a super rad shirt. Yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (09:43):
Ryo Yamaguchi (09:45):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, music’s such a connecting thing. Yeah. Yeah.
I’m wondering about… I’m hearing you talk also about… Well, I also like the term esoteric exoteric writing, where it’s like you write in code. There’s this kind of code element that’s happening. So that’s so fascinating to hear you talk about writing poems to obscure the truth or to obscure feeling, in a way. In that way, because it can pass as a secret or something. There’s all kinds of cool stuff that’s wrapped up in that.
What I find so fascinating, of course, about this book is the great lengths you go to clarify, to demystify truth. That’s one of the main prevailing things I kind of want to talk about today, too…
Taneum Bambrick (10:28):
Ryo Yamaguchi (10:28):
… is that idea of truth. Well, maybe before we get all into that, this is probably a good point to maybe hear a poem, if you feel like…
Taneum Bambrick (10:35):
Ooh, of course.
Ryo Yamaguchi (10:36):
… reading one, if you’d be willing to. Yeah. Yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (10:40):
Ryo Yamaguchi (10:41):
Or a piece. I mean, this is a kind of multi genre work here, but [inaudible 00:10:44]
Taneum Bambrick (10:44):
Yes. Thank you. I was very offended. Yes.
Ryo Yamaguchi (10:48):
Taneum Bambrick (10:49):
No. I’m just kidding.
Ryo Yamaguchi (10:51):
Poetry is a superlative. It’s always the best compliment you can give, I think.
Taneum Bambrick (10:56):
Yes, I agree. Okay. I’ll read the poem on the back of the book. This is called On the Nightstand: A Bowl of Fabric Roses.
Behind our apartment, an old river, and behind that, a field of hived bees. From bed, a horse we could watch, freckled gray, walking the circle permitted by a long leash. Each morning, a farmer came hammering the metal stake she was roped to a few feet over. We were having sex when you asked if we could get married. Because I waited to say yes, you stopped moving.
Ryo Yamaguchi (11:46):
Wow. Yeah. I’ve been doing my research also, spending so much time in the book again. That poem is so close to me and near to me.
Taneum Bambrick (12:03):
Ryo Yamaguchi (12:04):
Yeah. One way I kind of contextualize the sense of truth is through your detail. That’s one of the extraordinary. We got, what, an earlier review, it might have been, I don’t remember if it was Publishers’ Weekly or something, and they really zeroed in on the way that you write detail and the way that you write scenes. I kind of want to ask you, sort of start this conversation about that, about this, you are this kind of I who’s tracking across a scene, panning across the scene, and just selecting these details. I think it’s a little bit minimalist. It’s kind of spare. For that reason, these scenes are able to really open up. So I wanted to ask a basic question, which is just can you describe your process, this painterly process? What goes into your choices about the details, well, that you choose?
Taneum Bambrick (12:55):
Yeah. I love that question so much. I’ve been thinking about it. I think for me, I can use this poem as an example since I just read it. But I remember I was doing this exercise where I would write down on just my phone notes, I would write down an image or something that had been staying with me or something that I caught myself looking at every day. I think that that is something that I try to do is focus a lot on every day, like things I see all the time, and maybe why I lock onto them or think about them.
So, there was this one field where there were these two things happening. There were these boxes of bees and this horse that only ever moved in this certain radius that was just moved around this field until the horse ate all the grass in one circle. So there was just these circles where all the grass was gone, and there was hoof marks all over them, and then they would grow back. So I was thinking about that image, and I would just give myself a lot of space and time with it. I would just write down a line. I think I wrote down, um, the second stanza gave me a lot of trouble, but I was trying to write down the image of that radius, that tethering and walking in a circle. I was trying to figure out how to write that in a way that wouldn’t require too much explaining because I didn’t want it to get in the way of the music.
But I think when there’s an image I’m really excited about, I write it down and I try to force myself to come back at it in as many ways as I possibly can. I’ll just use my phone notes and write like 40 different ways of describing the same thing. I’ll have a working document that’s like, “The swans and the fountain at this bar. Describe.” I’ll just describe them in as many ways as I possibly can. Then when I sit down to actually write the poem, I’m not as intimidated because I can just open up my notes and find my favorite line and try to start there.
A lot of times it’s not my favorite line that works. It’s the one that I didn’t think was going to work will open up in some way and give me more to work with. So, I use my phone, I guess, is my answer. I use my phone notes a lot. That’s one thing, as I’ve air quotes “matured” or whatever, as a writer, I’ve just learned to give myself a lot more time.
There’s another image. This is like a gross image, but when I was working at Dairy Queen in high school… Can I go down this path really quick and tell you the…
Ryo Yamaguchi (15:37):
I’m with you already. Yeah. Yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (15:41):
Yeah. Okay. So when I was working at Dairy Queen.
Ryo Yamaguchi (15:43):
Yeah. Dairy Queen. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (15:44):
Yeah. When I was working there in high school, all the women I was working with were talking about… They were like… Oh. This is so embarrassing to say out loud. They were like, “Have you ever felt balls before?” And I was like, “What do you mean?” I was like 16. I was so scared of them. I was just trying to be cool. I was like, “Yeah, totally.” And I had never. Then they were like, “Okay, we don’t believe you.” One girl put her hands over my eyes, and then the other girl put something into my hands, and it was cold and squishy and scary. And I was like, “What is this?” I opened my eyes and it was a rubber glove full of soft serve ice cream that they had made to replicate this body part. I was so horrified, and it really left an imprint or a thing in my mind forever that I kept returning to.
So I had been trying for… I don’t know. How old am I? I’ve been trying for at least 10 years to write that into a poem. I tried to write that as its own poem, just that image because I thought that would be really beautiful. Maybe I still will do that.
But it ended up being in a long list poem about my hometown. It’s called Home for Ellensburg. It’s not in this book, but maybe in my next book that I’m working on. But it is that one image I had in my phone notes, like a ice cream balls note, that’s like, someday this will become a poem. I still don’t think I’m done with that image. But yes. I guess giving myself time and space to rewrite the same thing that I’ve looked at over and over again has been… That’s my approach.
Ryo Yamaguchi (17:22):
Yeah. Yeah. My goodness. I love that. A, I love all stories of like… I guess it’s sexual discovery, although that’s a weird way to put it, but like…
Taneum Bambrick (17:35):
Yeah. No. It is sex… Yes. Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (17:39):
And kind of the funny otherness of the other gendered body. That’s so funny. But this was also lesson in metaphor. Like, what are balls like? They’re like a latex glove filled with soft serve. And that’s awesome. Thank you for… That probably won’t ever leave me. Thank you.
Taneum Bambrick (17:56):
Ryo Yamaguchi (17:57):
No. That’s so amazing. I’ve been to a Dairy Queen in Ellensburg. I wonder if it’s that one.
Taneum Bambrick (18:02):
Oh, my God. It’s definitely.
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:04):
There’s got to be only one, right? Yeah. Yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (18:06):
There’s two actually.
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:07):
Taneum Bambrick (18:08):
One has the birthday cakes and the other one doesn’t.
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:11):
Oh. Well, I didn’t…
Taneum Bambrick (18:14):
It’s a big deal.
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:15):
I didn’t pay attention to that. Yeah, of course. Yeah. It’s a big deal, the birthday cake.
Taneum Bambrick (18:15):
It is a big deal. I didn’t work at that one, so I was really jealous.
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:15):
I was going to say, is it kind of highfalutin? Is it like, “Well, you work at the birthday cake one…” So… Yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (18:15):
Yeah. They’re like, “Oh, you don’t have to make a birthday cake out of ice cream, so don’t talk to me.”
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:27):
Oh, man. That’s so awesome. Well, you’re also kind of describing the thing that I’ve always wished was part of my practice, this kind of “plein air” writing, where you’re out. I know I’m full of all these Frenchy words today, right? French [inaudible 00:18:45]
Taneum Bambrick (18:44):
I don’t even know how to spell that one. I’m trying to write down my list of words to Google after this conversation.
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:49):
Oh, good. If you could send me the definitions of them, too, that’d be helpful because they just kind of…
Taneum Bambrick (18:53):
Okay. I will.
Ryo Yamaguchi (18:56):
No. You know what I mean, though. You’re out in the world. You’re not sitting in your studio. You’re out there and you’re taking the phone notes. Phones have really helped us a lot, of course. Prior to, were you a keeper of notebooks and things, or is it the phone that really helped you [inaudible 00:19:11]
Taneum Bambrick (19:10):
Yeah. No. I loved notebooks as a kid. If anything was significant to me that could be glued into my notebook, I would glue things into my notebook all the time.
Ryo Yamaguchi (19:20):
Yeah. That’s so cool.
Taneum Bambrick (19:21):
My notebooks are very thick and airy. They have letters and receipts and just scraps of my days from when I was in high school, especially. I actually always kind of want to go back to that. I would draw all over them. I used to love drawing a lot, too. But now, I’m just starting to… I’m in a Ph.D. program, and so I’ve had to become someone who uses a calendar and keeps detailed notes. I had to become very organized, which is a stretch to call myself very organized. I’m not. I think now I’ve become a note-taker again, which feels very childlike and nice. It’s been a really fun return. So, I have actually been relying on my phone a little bit less, and I have specific notebooks for specific things because otherwise, they’ll all become the same messy object that I can’t find anything useful in. Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (20:18):
That sounds deeply organized to me, actually.
Taneum Bambrick (20:21):
Ryo Yamaguchi (20:21):
Yeah, yeah. I mean, multiple notebooks. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s… Whoa.
Taneum Bambrick (20:28):
Ryo Yamaguchi (20:29):
Yeah. Yeah. How’s the PhD? How do you feel? I think this is true for lots of folks who’ve kind of already put a book, two books out, and then now you’re back maybe in these old forms or back in a classroom. So has that been pretty fun, or?
Taneum Bambrick (20:48):
Yeah. It’s been…
Ryo Yamaguchi (20:50):
I don’t mean to tell you that it’s been fun. But yeah, yeah. No.
Taneum Bambrick (20:57):
Has it been fun? Yeah. I’ve been working with a lot of writers I really respect and admire, and I have had a lot of fun with Danzi Senna and Maggie Nelson and David St. John especially. Lots of people. I can’t even list all the people I’ve worked with who I’ve loved at USC. But I took a class that I think it was called Music and Composition, and it was a poetry and opera class. So, we would write poems and undergraduate students at USC would set them to music, and then other students would sing them in opera form. So, it was really interesting.
I’ve also taken gender and sexuality studies courses and focusing a lot… You mentioned Derrida earlier, and I was like, “I still need to get there.” I’m still not there. But I feel like I’m trying to understand what affect theory means right now. That’s my current thing that I’m working on. I go climbing three or four times a week, and I’ve been trying to listen to Cruel Optimism while I climb, which has been really funny and weird. I don’t know. I’m trying to listen.
I’ve just learned, again, the thing that you learn when you’re in school, which is like, how do I make my brain hold all of the readings and all of the information that I need to go to class and say my one smart comment?
Ryo Yamaguchi (22:21):
Taneum Bambrick (22:24):
Yeah. That’s what I’ve been trying to teach myself to do again. I really want to be a professor. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how I feel in the classroom space and what I’m getting out of it and how to transfer that into a learning experience someday when I’m not a student and a teacher instead, hopefully. So that’s been… I don’t know. I can’t even remember what you’re… Is it fun, is what you asked me?
Ryo Yamaguchi (22:53):
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (22:57):
I don’t know if that answered it for you, but.
Ryo Yamaguchi (22:58):
No, it totally does. It sounds like it’s been educational.
Taneum Bambrick (23:03):
Yeah. Ooh. Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (23:05):
I love you listening to difficult texts while climbing. I kind of have a really similar practice, actually. I also go climbing a few times a week, and I bring poems with me. So climb a couple routes, get all pumped, and then read some hard poems then, which is kind of a weird… Just some of it’s that kinesthetic, that body intelligence flipping around thing.
Taneum Bambrick (23:25):
Yes. Totally. Totally. I think that it’s challenging yourself at every turn kind of vibe is the one that I like. Yeah. I like that a lot.
Ryo Yamaguchi (23:35):
You’re so hardcore. You’re so hardcore. I love it. That’s great.
Let me steer that a little bit into talking about seriousness and things and organization. I do really want to get into this question about Intimacies Received in particular, and it’s this idea of truth.
Taneum Bambrick (23:53):
Ryo Yamaguchi (23:55):
I know you got to sneak peek at these questions, too, so let me make sure I’m getting it all, say it the right way here. The one thing I hope people can understand about this book is how I call it emotionally unflinching. It is one of the most frank, unflinching books I’ve ever read. It was so fascinating to hear you talk about using poems to obscure or to code truth, whereas Intimacies is something, as a book, that I think is really trying to speak as plainly as possible about really, really difficult topics. I mean, health related things, of course, post traumatic stress, sexual violence and being assaulted.
The person it reminds me of, and the way that you talk about all this, is Jamaica Kincaid, who I’m a great lover of Jamaica Kincaids’s work, where there’s this really profound sense of both vulnerability, but that vulnerability that’s beneath the composure of just these simple, declarative sentences that are just speaking truth. I think this writing’s really hard to do, both emotionally and technically. I was really excited to get a little window into the technical aspect of it, of how you write scenes and things.
But I kind of want to ask you a little more generally, since we’re getting onto theory and philosophy and things, it’s just how you think about truth in writing, and what’s the relationship between truth and tone? Did you purposely choose a tone that was very matter-of-fact to enable truth or how do you think about that
Taneum Bambrick (25:21):
Yeah. Oh, my gosh. I love this question so much. I always appreciate when I wrote my first book, and Sharon Olds wrote the intro, which was this surreal… I still read it sometimes, and I’m like, “I can’t believe this happened in my life.” But in her intro, she did say something about the plain language or the simple language, and I laughed so hard when I read that because I was like, “I just don’t know a lot of words,” but I also do feel like there’s a reason why I’ve stayed there, why I’ve maintained an interest in the language I use in my daily life. You can tell me if I’m wrong about this, but I also feel like I read similarly to how I talk, like a similar pace. I feel like I write and read my poems in a similar way to how I talk to people in real life. I think that’s always been important to me, and not for any value reasons or anything. It just feels natural to who I am as a writer.
But yeah. I guess thinking about truth in relation to that simple language is interesting. I think that maybe there is something to trying to, especially I write a lot of dialogue into my poems. Dialogue is one of my obsessions, how to get almost… In poems, it’s really difficult sometimes to get exactly what someone said into the poem, but there’s a lot of ethics involved in replicating what someone said to you, even though, of course, the poem is not meant to be a non-fiction space. But I think that I do approach it that way as much as I can in terms of emotional truth versus literal truth, of course.
But also, sometimes I’ll talk to people who I had these had interactions with and say, “Do you feel comfortable with this?” When I still can talk to that person, if they weren’t a stranger or if they weren’t someone who I’m now estranged from. So, I do try to ask permission as much as I can, but permission is a really complicated thing that I think changes all the time. You can say something is okay one day, and then the next day feel differently about it. I try to leave a lot of space for that in my practice and in my work, too, with the people in my life. One thing I…
Ryo Yamaguchi (27:57):
Is this permission from people who whom you’re writing about? [inaudible 00:28:00]
Taneum Bambrick (28:00):
Yeah. Yeah. Literally. Sometimes it all depends on a form. I feel like, especially in forms, like persona that are really complicated, fraught forms with a recent and historic past where that form has been used to inflict harm, I think a lot of times. I think a lot about the pressure that that form has on it, and also the people who have used it to speak towards their own experiences being marginalized or being in a painful experience that was out of their control, how to re-understand that experience or how to enter into it differently. I think that the persona form can be really empowering for survivors and for anybody who has experienced any kind of violence or marginalization, to re-access that moment in a way that might be safer for them, or might be, as you said earlier in our conversation, a way of healing.
I think a lot about what do we have, when I’m writing a poem, what part of this story do I have, not necessarily agency, or what part of the story is mine to tell? If I tell it this way, what does that mean in terms of the ethics of this poem, in terms of who I’m becoming as a writer and this relationship, maybe, with this person or these people, too. There’s a lot of big questions I always ask myself about truth when it comes to who’s being portrayed in the poem, if it’s not me.
I think also I’m learning how to write nonfiction. That’s kind of one of the reasons why I wanted to go back. After being on the job market for three years, I was getting close and not getting jobs, and I kept noticing a lot of people who were getting them had PhDs, and a lot of people who were getting them had books in multiple genres. So I was like, “All right. I’m going to try. I really want to teach. I’m going to try to rise to that occasion and do what I need to do to get there.”
I really benefited a lot from learning more about nonfiction because the question I have to ask myself with every detail in an essay is like, “Did that actually happen the way that I remember?” It changes. It’s changed my relationship to truth a lot. I realize a lot of times that I don’t remember things correctly, that I’ve told the story a little bit wrong once, and then that’s the story I have in my head. Because of laziness, maybe I’ll omit or I’ll cut out a detail or something, and then I’ll realize that detail was actually really important and I’ve lost it. So, there’s these things like that where I’m like, it’s a constant microscope on yourself of are you being honest, not with other people, but with your actual memories with yourself? I’m interested in how that’s going to change my poetry practice in the future, too. That was a long answer. Sorry.
Ryo Yamaguchi (31:11):
Yeah. No. No. Of course. That’s why we’re here. Well, I love that idea of how conscious you are of how writing in one mode is going to impact writing in another mode. Of course, I mean, it’s called nonfiction. Right? That’s the whole idea. That’s the whole point. It’s funny. I’m kind of like you too. I’ll be so confident about telling a story or something, and then my partner, my wife, she’ll show me a photo and be like, “See how wrong you are about the way that you’re talking about this,” and it’s a humbling moment. Yeah.
There’s so many things you’re talking about. I’m so grateful for you being also honest about how the professional requirements and seeing what’s happening in the landscape also impacts your creative practice. Forever, I would talk to people about this and be like, “You think that writing is supposed to be this really inviolable space,” and it is. But also I’m absolutely thinking about magazines that I’m going to be putting pieces into and who the audience is going to be. I welcome that input. I welcome that feedback or my sense of it. I don’t know. I just think sometimes we conceived that a little bit incorrectly.
Taneum Bambrick (32:22):
Ryo Yamaguchi (32:25):
Yeah. Yeah. Of course, I love how attentive you are to other people, and kind of the duty you have to represent or be quiet or be silent about folks. That’s such a fascinating space that you went into it in regards to this question about truth, because I was realizing how much things like persona poems… It’s Halloween now, and one thing… not that… I mean, who cares, but whatever. But nonetheless, I watch a lot of Japanese horror around this time of year, which I love. There’s so much masking that happens in these movies. It has this therapeutic… You can only get at some kind of metaphysical realization, or you can only cross some threshold into an important realm by putting on masks and doing these things.
Taneum Bambrick (33:14):
Yeah. I love that. Yeah. I love that so much.
Ryo Yamaguchi (33:18):
It’s super cool. Of course, it’s a beautiful act of creation, a testament of human creativity.
Going back to the non-fiction thing, my wonderful colleague, intern Tobi, wrote this question about the Alligators piece: In Alligators, you write, ‘These actions I associated with love were often small forms of attack.’ Yet love is still a possibility in the book. I came away from Intimacies, Received with greater attunement to the ways the language of intimacy and the stories we tell ourselves about that language can be deceptive, and I wonder now about what forms can enter in place of that language. What do you think about writing Intimacies, Received has taught you about love and intimacy, the differences and continuities between the two?” I think part of what’s baked into this question, too, is also this idea of how writing about them has maybe changed your perception of them.
Taneum Bambrick (34:14):
Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate that so much. This question’s so brilliant. Yeah. Yeah. I think that that quote… I’m trying to remember exactly what it was. But the things that you associated with love are often small forms of attack. The idea of the alligator in the essay is the idea of what’s perceived as a monster and by the speaker, but also the speaker loves alligators. Thinking of them that way is an imposed thing, like a learned or taught fear. So I think that that coincides with a lot of what work the speaker is doing to understand who she’s been taught to be afraid of in real life, in relationships. I think that towards the end of the essay, the monster kind of becomes the speaker as the monster.
I don’t know who said this, but something that I’ve been thinking a lot about, my friend Natalie Lima, who’s like an incredible essayist, posted this. I can’t remember who she was quoting. But they said, “You should always be the worst person in your essay.” I think about that all the time. Then I also think a lot about Melissa Febos’ new book Body Work, where she’s talking about how cruelty rarely makes for good writing. I’m thinking about those ideas of slipping in and out of who is the person to be afraid of? Is it the person that you’re with and the risks that they pose to your safety?
In my case, in my life, physically getting sick from having sex, or being a survivor of sexual assault, being a queer person who more often I’m seen as a queer person now, but growing up, I was not. Those are a lot of threats to the foundations of an intimate self or knowing yourself as romantic, as sexual, as having identities in those categories. So I think that. Also just the speaker in me now, I don’t know what language to put on myself a lot of the times in terms of gender and sexuality. I feel really lost.
But I think in the book, that idea of not knowing, that idea of ambiguity and loss is a power source for this book. I think that in that way, that’s something that I’m proud of that I wasn’t expecting the book to feel that way as I was writing it.
A lot of people have come to me and said, “This is such a queer book.” I always was like, “Ah, I need to have more of that part of myself in the book.” But I think that during the time I was writing it, I did feel really distanced, whatever that means. There’s a poem that literally says, “I know it’s wrong every time I feel further from an idea of queerness.” That’s a line in one of the untitled poems in the book, and I actually wanted to talk about that next.
I love Tobi’s question so much, thinking about forms, what forms we can use to talk about not only these struggles, but also the possibility of intimacy and love despite those struggles. I remember my first meeting with Michael Wiegers, the editor at Copper Canyon. I don’t know if you know him. But when we had our first meeting, he was like, “You’re a really romantic poet.” I was just like, “What?” That’s the opposite of how I thought of myself, especially during that time. But he was like, “I think we need to rearrange it so that the book focuses more on love as a possibility rather than…” Because the way that I had organized it initially, I think it did feel less possible.
So, one of the things that he did was he took this long untitled poem that I had, and broke it into three parts and staggered them. So beginning the book, at the center of the book, and towards the end of the book or the actual end of the book, these little baby poems that they’re almost haiku-like in size. I think they’re both about four pages long. All sections are about four pages long. They stagger throughout the book to create a lot of space and pause. Also those poems are, I think, of them as little questions.
One question in it, and this is the entire poem. It’s like, Who was it? Who laughed when he said, “All independent lesbian films end with the lead going back to men”? More than love, I choose disappointment. So it’s like there’s questions in that poem, too. So, I think that by bookending the collection with those pieces, that it did center on the idea of questioning, which is focusing us in the idea of curiosity rather than definitive, everything sucks or whatever mode that I was in before.
Then the graphic designer took the strawberries from the cover and put them between those sections to create even more levity, I think. I was really interested in how design played into the book. That wasn’t my choice. That was their choice. And I love it. I never would’ve thought of that.
Also, I think sometimes you finish a book and you think you’re done with it, and then your editor is like, “This is who you are. And you are hiding that behind these gestures,” like who you are as a writer, maybe not as a person. So I think that sometimes the editing process, not always the workshop, sometimes the workshop, sometimes just talking with your friends about a piece, I think that there’s a level of community interaction that can help you pull out that idea of hopefulness. That’s what happened to me in the construction of this book.
Yeah. Sorry, again, my long answers. But yeah. This question is… Possibly, my dissertation will focus on a question like this one. So, I was just like, “Wow.” Yeah.
Ryo Yamaguchi (41:21):
Oh, that’s so amazing. Well, just be sure… But give a credit to Tobi in your dissertation or something.
Taneum Bambrick (41:27):
No, I’m not going to copy Tobi. I mean, similar idea, but not as well written at all. I have been working on this for years.
Ryo Yamaguchi (41:34):
Oh, man. No, that’s so amazing. I’m so happy to hear things. Well, like the levity of the cover. I remember when I saw the cover, too, I was a little surprised by it. I was like, “Wow, this is very whimsical,” in a way, given how powerful this book is. But it works. I totally agree with you. I think we’ve had wonderful designers who do a really great job by using contrast to bring out that power.
Taneum Bambrick (41:55):
Ryo Yamaguchi (41:57):
Yeah. Yeah. Your earrings are strawberries, too, right? Am I seeing this?
Taneum Bambrick (42:00):
Ryo Yamaguchi (42:00):
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (42:02):
I wore my strawberry earrings and my frog on a cake today.
Ryo Yamaguchi (42:06):
Taneum Bambrick (42:06):
Ryo Yamaguchi (42:09):
Cake is going to be kind of a framing theme here, I think, hopefully. No. But I love… What I’m hearing you kind of say, too, is that I love… I’m not going to be able to phrase it verbatim the way you said it, but the power of ambiguity, the power that arises out of this ambiguity and where hope can exist in there. I hear you saying, too, that queerness lies in that also, that queerness comes out of it. That’s a really amazing… I’ve been really privileged to have a few conversations recently about, in a way, that amorphousness of queerness and its capacity. That’s maybe why it seems folks kind of prefer to go to that term because it is capacious and…
Taneum Bambrick (42:51):
Yes. That’s the word that I was going to use. [inaudible 00:42:54] to me, they were like, “Oh, yeah. Well, the word queer is capacious.” I was like, “Oh, my God. I’m going to think about this forever.”
Ryo Yamaguchi (43:01):
Taneum Bambrick (43:02):
Ryo Yamaguchi (43:02):
I love that. Of course, I don’t want overly define it, or not define a word like that, but it gives me hope to think of it in that way, as something that welcomes. That’s wonderful.
Well, I think this very… This brings us to a good closing point, I think, also. We always run over, but we’re very extra today.
Taneum Bambrick (43:26):
Ryo Yamaguchi (43:26):
So I’m grateful for it. Maybe, do you want to close with a piece or how do you feel about that? Yeah. And you don’t have to, I always say. But if you want to.
Taneum Bambrick (43:35):
Sure. Maybe I’ll close up with one of the untitled pieces, which I’ve never done in any recording before, so that would be cool.
Okay. Yeah. Okay. Content note. There’s mention of sexual assault, using the R word, but not any description. Just to say. All right. So this is number five through seven.
Five. At the top of the bluff, our knee blood collected on the heads of chamomile plants. I know it’s wrong every time I feel further from an idea of queerness.
Six. In a Picasso museum, I saw rape depicted as a series of charcoal drawings. I bent my legs. I learned this in choir practice. If an audience causes you panic, how not to faint.
Seven. Who was it who laughed when he said, “All independent lesbian films end with the lead going back to men”? More than love, I choose disappointment.
Ryo Yamaguchi (44:59):
It’s just such a powerful ending. So many of your endings just… You know. Well, thank you. Thank you so much, Taneum. Thank you. I think that was a beautiful set of pieces to close with, and I’m just so grateful for this conversation. I’m so grateful for you and your energy and glad to kick off the season with this.
Taneum Bambrick (45:23):
Ryo Yamaguchi (45:23):
I think we did a good job, I think. Yeah. Yeah.
Taneum Bambrick (45:24):
Ryo Yamaguchi (45:24):
I think so.
Taneum Bambrick (45:29):
I hope so. I’m sorry for my rambles.
Ryo Yamaguchi (45:30):
No. No. It wasn’t. There was so much to think about. Yeah. I’m so glad, and I hope everyone out there enjoys this and comes to hear you read because you’re about to go on tour. So, get out there and have fun. Connect.
Well, thank you all. This is the first episode of our season three, and we’re so excited to have it here. Thanks for tuning in.