When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I loved the beats in high school (of course!), but I didn’t start writing poetry until college. I really wanted to be a novelist, or write a short story, but I could never get past a page. I kept going over and over what I wrote—I was only concerned with the language and style, I kept trying to condense, to make it “sound” right. Then I took a poetry course and realized that what I was actually trying to do was write a poem.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I like to write in bed, like Edith Wharton. I usually write first-drafts in my notebook at night, and then in the morning I look at whatever dreamy thing I ended up writing and type it out on the computer and see what’s happening, what I want to do with it. Sometimes they seem finished. Sometimes I have to work on them for a long time—months, years.
That’s my preferred routine, anyway—but I currently have a newborn and a two-and-a-half-year-old so it’s not quite that smooth. For example, it’s 8:17am and I’m writing this interview in bed with an infant sleeping on my chest. Writing is catch as catch can for the moment!
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
I think they usually come from lived experience plus anxiety. My poems are often a way of recording or working out things that have happened to me or things I’ve witnessed. Plus I think I still have the narrative impulse of a fiction writer.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
This is the hardest question! At any moment I’m feeling more or less influenced by different writers. Anne Carson, John Berryman, Frederick Seidel, Kim Hyesoon, Thylias Moss, James Schuyler, Bernadette Mayer, Etheridge Knight, Mary Robison (whose prose is like poetry)—they’ve all changed the way I thought about writing.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what’s the significance of the title? Are there over-arching themes? What was the process of assembling it? Was is a project book?
The Plot Against the Baby is a series of poems in which the speaker and an imaginary baby pal around, mostly feeling sad for themselves and committing various acts of depravity, like breaking into houses and breaking up weed and making crafts. The first Baby poem came to me when I was lying awake in the middle of the night worrying. I was in a big period of transition. I had just gotten married. I was thinking, for the first time, that I might want to have an actual baby. I was feeling a little ashamed about my more dissolute practices of previous years, and I also felt the pressure of being accountable to someone you really love. You’re no longer (as) free to destroy yourself! Even though you might still want to! I was sure I would never be able to make it as a sane, secure adult. So this character, Baby, became a stand-in for my preoccupations, a way to dramatize it all. I wrote them over a period of two years or so.
“It’s a Big Buck World”
Times, I think Baby’s a real psychopath.
One second we’re on our laptops looking up
the nutritional value of a hazelnut,
and another we’re crouched on an ex’s porch
in the middle of the night and Baby’s using my car key
to cut the screen off an open bedroom window.
He makes a loud, long slit, you’d think my brain split,
and pokes his head inside. “Self-deprecation,”
he calls to me in a whispered yell. He yanks his head out.
“And not the funny kind.” I say, “Duh-dum.”
Full of hand-flapping adrenaline,
wondering if it’s safe at home,
we think it best for Baby to drive us
very fast to Buffalo Wild Wings.
We eat celery and bleu cheese dip,
play some arcade Big Buck Hunter Pro,
try not to shoot the cattle or does.
Holding the plastic, glow-green rifle to my shoulder,
I say, “Baby, when will we be done with this sort of thing?
I have a feeling it will remain unbecoming,
even weeks—even years—later. How will it end?”
From the corner of my eye I see him nod,
hold up his glass of beer, and take a sip,
as if he’s about to tell me everything, right after this—
but he just sits there, staring, slumped on the table,
hot sauce on his belly and lips. I drop the gun
and pick him up. Poor Baby. Something’s gone terribly wrong.
Sarah Trudgeon is the author of Dreams of Unhappiness (Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship) and The Plot Against the Baby (dancing girl press). Her poems and criticism have appeared in Eight Miami Poets, Hyperallergic, The London Review of Books, The Miami Rail, The Nation, The Paris Review, The TLS, and other publications. She is the director of education for the writers’ residency and public humanities project The Mastheads and lives in Great Barrington, MA.