Christopher Randall

(he / him)

Author of “Salt with Savory Debris like Lavender Leaves,” “I Wanna

Know What is Next and Want it to be Good,” and “Tandem Talks”

from ISSUE 01 and "Pinecones as in a Kid Collects a Bunch of Pinecones" in ISSUE 02. Below are his thoughts on poetic form, writing routines, and experiments in taking in catastrophe

What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?

 

Recently, I have been experimenting with ways of taking in catastrophe. By catastrophe, I mean the feelings I feel when I hear the word Covid, or when I think about George Floyd, or the environment or Yemen or economic growth or on and on. I recently read Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy and watched Don’t Look Up. Both were exercises in taking in catastrophe – making the thing palatable so I can face it and behave like a useful, functioning version of myself. But for me, neither Migrations nor Don’t Look Up were more effective  at helping me process my physical existence, my thoughts, and my environment – and at helping me stomach the possibility that the world won’t get better – than The New World by Kelly Schirmann, which I’ve read several times. (Schirmann also has a wonderful Substack.) I love The New World, but I have trouble… I mean it’s depressing to read sometimes, but The New World also presents a positive point of view that reminds me that a broader vision is possible. It is a catalog of waking up every day; it shows someone else doing it, and so I can, too. I can figure out how to live in the world as it is.

 

Could you provide for us a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you? 

 

This poem is from Erica Hunt’s Veronica: A Suite In X Parts. I found it in her book of new and selected poems titled Jump the Clock.

 

This is where love comes in

 

there’s so much to do for justice, we’re running out of brink. so

I grab my socks and pull them up. slip the latch on my one-track

mind and avoid the chair that catches me with a nap. I point my feet

in the left direction, prove, I am all ears, work with the pivot, the hip

the city, its dance map, avoid the cemetery of stubborn spots. avoid

walks with a slow crawl, and notice the furnished detours along the 

way

 

Each step one takes in public, jars the partially apprehended

panorama of the cookie cutter’s regrets and is an occasion to

learn from the field of the interior. Here—the street home, catalog,

collected histories of first aid and relief, post no bills on dread, seek

out uncollectibles, be suspicious of fancier goods lost then found,

bravery starts from the bottom love notes warriors send souvenirs

home

 

The simple assault of questions too numerous to canal, the sky’s not

the limit, it turns out the breeze a whisper of eighth notes detached

from the staff, birds wing by named and numbered in regimented

flight, no words without commitment to the act of answering

or defaulting to an I don’t know

 

This is where love comes in coat on or coat off, hat on or hat off, go

back for gloves, go back for umbrella, go back for scarf, for plastic

orange glasses, rain boots with frog face on the toes, Both the kids

like them, their small hands fit perfectly into mine, let few events

escape; they mark every page like a bookmark or as if joy dropped

on the path a few days ago will show up later in melting snow

 

Hunt, E. (2020). Jump the Clock. Nightboat Books.

 

When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?

 

The website, Pennsound has been the most enduring all-purpose poetry input for me. I mean, you can listen to H.D. herself read Helen in Egypt. For help, I rely on recordings of Stephen Ratcliffe and Robert Grenier having conversations. When I hear their recordings, I hear poets solving problems and it helps sometimes. Understanding the dailiness of Ratcliffe’s work and the forms his poetry takes were big influences on my writing in Issue 02. The base inspiration of the Issue 02 poems is Rosmarie Waldrop’s series of poems titled Lawn of Excluded Middle (LoEM). I was introduced to Waldrop’s LoEM by a Pennsound video of Laynie Browne in a fellow poet’s home, giving a reading of her 2019 book of poems In Garments Worn By Lindens, which re-imagines LoEM. An “homage text” is what Laynie Brown calls it.

 

What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?

 

The poem that I currently idealize consists of two lines that are nearly the width of the page. I aim for some sort of rhyme or rhythm and an awareness of grouping syllable chunks. And the last words of the poem loosely relate back to the first words, making a loop. I’m also interested in how to take these short poems I write during short time-periods and put them side-by-side to make something longer, while avoiding the effects of collage. I’m guessing I could connect them with a story and some research on social circumstances or political consequences. Something like that. I’m not sure.

 

Who (or what) are some of your writing obsessions, and why?

 

A crucial obsession in the past was listening to the Naropa Poetics Audio Archives year after year in my cubicle. It was my poetry education. 

 

What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer? 

 

I am a stay-at-home parent to a toddler. To best use the time during naps and my time alone that is facilitated by my partner, I’ve broken up the process. 1) For a couple of weeks, I’ll accumulate words on pieces of paper. 2) I collect and edit them all at once later on. 3) I use a two-line form. These are the basics that I use to write poems and that I’m adjusting to fit.  

 

What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?

 

Some things I feel during blocks are an awareness of my privilege, and fear of writing transparently, and frustration with feeling like a very different person from who I was five years ago. When I’m blocked, I wonder, why would I bother to find new ways to write? I could just be a fan, a reader of poetry, a disseminator of poetry. You get it. I don’t have answers for these blocks. For other blocks (are there other blocks?), I listen to poetry at Pennsound. 

 

How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?

I submitted poems every month or so for five months last year, as these short poems accumulated. I was writing enough, at the time, to submit a unique set of poems out to each publisher. I submitted an evolving chapbook as well. The only thing I can say about this round of submissions is that it created a good amount of editing and reassessment.

 

Regarding your piece in Issue 01 and your upcoming piece in Issue 02, what does it mean for/to you?

The main difference between the poems in Issue 01 and Issue 02 is the form. Both start as chunks of words. Issue 01 collages these chunks together. Issue 02 uses a two line form that I’ve then collected as short poems. Those that I collected under the title “Pinecones as in a Kid…” in Issue 02 tell the story of having my toddler around with me a lot. The poems in Issue 01 were written at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 2018. The poem in Issue 02 is part of a recent, year-long process of creating poems using the two line form, first thing in the morning and during naps, and editing in chunks. It feels good to have adapted to this new way of writing, but I’m left wanting my poems to be more and more straightforward; I’m wanting it simpler, and I’m left having new rigid beliefs about the schedule of my writing.  

Do you have any recent publications and/or projects? 

 

I had one poem in Fence about my Grandpa’s death. I also read my poem for the Fence Podcast: Fence Magazine #37-38 / SPR-SUM 2021, https://www.fenceportal.org/ and https://fenceportal.org/podcast/.

 

 

The four short poems I published in The Chicago Review are in the style of the Issue 02 poem: Chicago Review 64:04/65:01 Fall 2021, https://www.chicagoreview.org/.

 

Is there anything else you would like to share with other writers?

Muriel Rukeyeser’s Pennsound archive, specifically the audio clip, “on the role of the poet,” is worth checking out. When I feel galvanized to write after hearing this commentary, I remember why I’ve listened to it often.  She says:

 

“...in any of the very deep places in our lives where self is more or less given up (it is here) that we do reach each other and that there is a way (a poem) of sharing this kind of experience and that seems to me to be the center of this function (the role of the poet).”

 

https://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Rukeyser.php

Christopher says, "I am a stay-at-home parent in western Colorado.  My time as an apprentice in the kitchen at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a fond memory that I share in conversations.  Poetry writing happens during naptime, sometimes in the morning.  That’s the schedule.  Some of the poems that were written on this schedule have appeared in Chicago Review;  Fence, New American Writing, and Crazyhorse have published others."