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Interview with Tony Trigilio 

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Tony Trigilio is a prize-winning poet and works as a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago. He is the author and editor of 14 books. His new book Proof Something Happened was released in 2021 by Marsh Hawk Press and was the winner of the 2020 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, selected by Susan Howe. From 2017 to 2021, He was an associate editor of Tupelo Quarterly and his work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies.

What theme is at the heart of your in progress book, what inspired you to focus on this theme?

TT: I’m fortunate to have a couple books in progress right now. The prose poems in this issue are from one of these projects—the fourth book in my multi-volume experiment in autobiography, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). For this project, I’m watching all 1,225 episodes of the old late-1960s/early-1970s vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows, and writing one sentence (in poetry, prose, or a hybrid of the two) in response to each episode. The first three volumes were published in 2014, 2016, and 2019, respectively, by BlazeVOX [books]. The manuscript for Book 4 is roughly two-thirds finished. As a child, I watched Dark Shadows every day with my mother, a stay-at-home mom. The show’s main character, a 207-year-old vampire named Barnabas Collins, gave me incessant nightmares. Each episode becomes a conduit for autobiographical exploration in the project, which means that I’m always simultaneously writing about the soap opera (Dark Shadows is, for me, a monument to low-budget television kitsch), my childhood, and the present day. The current in-progress volume is a cross-genre hybrid of poetry and prose titled The Punishment Book (aptly named for its documentation of everyday life during the Trump presidency and the COVID-19 pandemic). While the first two books in this project were book-length poems, both the third and fourth volumes mix poetry and prose in ways that, for me,

stretch the boundaries of what poetry and prose can do. The manuscript of The Punishment Book should be ready to send to BlazeVOX later this year or early in 2023.

I’m also working on a book of linked craft essays, titled Craft: A Memoir. Last year, Marsh Hawk Press started a series of books on craft, and I was excited that they asked me to contribute a volume that would be a memoir-based approach to craft and technique. The writing world has a healthy number of how-to books on craft, and I’m glad to be contributing to a book series like Marsh Hawk’s that focuses instead on narrative memoir as a vehicle for discussing the creative process. Craft: A Memoir is scheduled to be published in 2023.

 

What do you think is the future of more experimental and speculative poetry?

TT: I’m excited by the future of experimental and speculative poetry. Previously rigid boundaries among genres are becoming more porous, thankfully, and this is inspiring us to read and write in all kinds of hybrid forms that seemed off-limits in the past. A couple decades ago, the boundaries among different types of poetry were inflexible, and I don’t think this was good for the art form. At the risk of overgeneralizing what it was like, I remember feeling back then that we being asked to choose between being willfully opaque or stubbornly straightforward in our poems—but, like many other poets, I was looking for a middle-ground between these two poles. I’m grateful that this environment is changing. Of course, no matter what kind of form we’re working in, the writing still has to be evocative, emotionally moving, and intellectual sharp. For me, whether a poem is experimental, speculative, or mainstream, it still has to dramatize fresh and surprising ways of seeing the world.

 

What is your work process with each poem/collection of poems?

 

TT: My process for poems/collections of poems is different for each work. Book-length poems and multi-volume poetry projects require a different kind of conceptual energy than, say, collections of stand-alone lyric poems. But no matter what I'm working on, my process for individual poems requires that

each poem go through tons of drafts and revisions before it can reach a stage where it's ready to be included in a book. The same goes for full manuscripts. Every manuscript I've published goes through lots of revisions before it's even ready to submit to a publisher. Once it's been accepted, the manuscript then goes through even more revision in collaboration with the publisher. This means I have to be patient with myself and with the writing. The patience pays off when I see how multiple drafts and revisions make each work stronger.

 

Your poems feel at times very prose like, how would you describe your poetry?

 

TT: This observation feels right on the mark to me. At a foundational level, I’m absolutely fascinated with the sentence as a basic unit of phrasing. Sometimes the sentence can be evocative as direct statement – as in conventionally narrative poetry or prose. Other times, the sentence can be made of flash-cut fragments that defy conventional logic and syntax, as in the work of poets such as Gertrude Stein or Ron Silliman. As a writer, I’m interested in both these extremes of the sentence, and to all sentence-level possibilities in between these extremes. But just the fact that I feel such a connection to sentence-level phrasing says something, I agree, about how drawn I am to prose-like line trajectories in my poems. I should add, too, that my poems are hugely influenced by novels I’m reading -- almost as much as they are influenced by poems that I’m reading.

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