“I’m a human with a petulant and sensual need for pleasure”: An Interview with Aricka Foreman

Dream with a Glass Chamber (YesYes Books, 2016), is a frightening chapbook. From dreamlike lyricism, to down right obsessive verse, Foreman manipulates the reader from space to space, allowing us entry to, what would be otherwise, a private sphere. The eloquent ways in which Foreman tarries along each dreamscape is damn near maddening. You are left broken, wanting to be broken again. And again. To say the least, I was just that–a black boy wishing to broken by these dreams. These altered realities; in that, they would offer me comfort while scratching at my sanity. Through Foreman’s use of language, imagery, and eroticism imagery, the chapbook is an elegy to critical illusion of time, and how much time the body has left in this world.

 

What does “dreaming with a glass chamber” mean?

The original title was Dream with an Empty Chamber. The chamber in the poem is specific to a gun chamber, but while editing the book, I kept thinking of different kinds of chambers: where people assemble; the heart chamber; an echo chamber. So much takes place without us being able to see how something takes place inside these spaces. My editor and publisher KMA suggested that the title didn’t hold as much light as the book did, and so I changed it in order to let that light in. As a reader, there’s a lot of time slippage and intricate ways of telling and retelling the same narrative. I’d like to think though that entering each poem helps to navigate them through the larger lyrical maze of the book.

 

How did Dream with a Glass Chamber become what it is today? What was the process in its creation?

The poems except for “Year of the Molotov” were written during a 30/30 through a writer’s group called The Grind. I signed up after my first grief group session; my therapist made it clear I wouldn’t be able to work through and with my mood disorder and depression until I untangled my “complicated grief”. The diagnostic and colloquial language we use to discuss grief and trauma is so absurd to me. And it’s complicated. Human instinct causes us to catalog and list and make linear the trauma of loss. So I kept interrogating the stages: anger, denial, bargaining, etc.; the process was compulsive, and obsessive. I’m sure there was some catharsis in there somewhere. Mostly I just wanted a safe space to thrash and rage, be out of control with some level of intention.


There are a few references to Detroit, or what could be seen as Detroit, throughout the book. Can you explain how this city influenced the creation of the book? How does Detroit inform your own work?

I mean I watched deer eat from the neighbor’s garden, asking myself whose life I was living. But I’d catch a moment here and there.

I’ll always be from Detroit, no matter how far I run from and back to it. At the time I wrote the book, I was living in Ithaca, NY pursuing my MFA. So much of it wasn’t Detroit: idyllic and pastoral; in that college town way where mostly everything is central to one place. I lived in a lake house I found on Craigslist. The first couple of nights, the silence kept me from sleeping. It was deafening. No sirens, or old men shit talking just outside my building. I mean I watched deer eat from the neighbor’s garden, asking myself whose life I was living. But I’d catch a moment here and there. I’d meet people who reminded me of bar patrons at a place I worked back home, or see a group of homies pump gas when I’d stop to get cigarettes. It’d feel more like “home” in that Detroit sense, where people nod and acknowledge you are someone in the world with them, albeit briefly. I felt a lot of geographical displacement in ways. In thinking about grief, I wanted to acknowledge how displacing grief can be in terms of state (psychological and emotional), as well as physical place. So much about to Detroit is wrapped up in the loss of my friend David Blair, who the book is dedicated to. Often when I’d be overrun with missing him, I’d miss Detroit.

 

While reading, I noticed poems titled different months. For example, “August” and “September.” More overtly, these poems lean more toward the fall season. What role does time and fall have in this book?

In his essay “Lyric Knowledge” James Longenbach opens with “ The impulse to be lyrical is driven by the need to be no longer constrained by oneself.” And I’m like word. I feel least constrained on the page when I play with time, as a way to take a moment that I can walk into, back out of, re-enter with as many points-of-view as I can. This book is clearly an elegy. An elegy is not inherently lyric, but potentially lives in the vast wheelhouse of the lyric poem. By pinpointing these poems to specific point in time, I can go back and pull from the moment something I missed, something I didn’t know to look at closely. Mostly I just wanted a safe space to thrash and rage, try to find myself beyond constraint but revising this contained moment. I have at least 4-5 other version of the “season” poems.

 

One of my favorite poems is, “Klapp Klapp.” In this poem, each stanza (and some lines) start with the word, ‘salt’. Can you explain the importance of salt (in all its varieties) in the book?

And then as a physical thing, how we use salt to seal doorways in ritual; to preserve and flavor in the domestic sense.

Honestly, I think that poem came after I told my therapist how salty I was at the Kubler Ross model. The neat ways that other folks seemed to methodically move through, and here I was, almost two years after Blair’s death, infuriated and then sobbing in the library stacks looking for a reference book. Then I’d get pissed at myself for not being able to move on in that same time, every triumph of “moving on” around me like salt in the wound. The word in all its iterations served different functions. The music video for Klapp Klapp is wild. A woman who refused to let the dead rest conjures them back. Clearly that goes against the natural order of things. But I started thinking about how we try to make sense and purpose of what has the potential to destroy us. And then as a physical thing, how we use salt to seal doorways in ritual; to preserve and flavor in the domestic sense. In some ways the poem is a clap back, at moving on, at being stagnant, how and what we unlearn in the process. It’s unsettling but can also be a kind of reclamation.

 

I noticed a few poems hinting at substance abuse and it reminded me of the stereotype that all poets become or are alcoholics (or some kind of addicts). What do you think is the correlation between poets and addiction? How do you see yourself as an addict?

I’m a human with a petulant and sensual need for pleasure, and sometimes escapism. We’re all addicts. When Louis C.K. talks about reality tv and gossip rags as everyone’s McDonald’s, their guilty hideout, it’s hilarious because it’s too real. The day after I got the news of Blair’s death, I essentially sat on my couch with a pint of whiskey, a bottle of water, and a pack of cigarettes. Drink. Hydrate. Smoke. And when the grief would come gnawing, even later, I had to implicate myself in my destructive behavior. Part of the work in living with depression and a mood disorder is not only being aware of my triggers, but paying attention to the frequency of when I’m doing the most harm: drinking, sex, eating, binging on Netflix. These days, if I can’t be inundated with the news cycle of Black death, Queer death, Woman death, I try to choose anti-vices: take walks, go to the conservatory and touch plant life, take a nap, roast a damn chicken; I’m just making different choices and trying to balance. Facing yourself, and facing the dismal state of things in the world right now (all the time)…you just want to shut the noise off, even temporarily. I won’t say poets have a predisposition toward addiction, but I did for a long time, and I happen to be a poet and a black queer woman trying to choose living over merely surviving.


Genesis
It’s the knowing that’s the bitch: electric with the body’s hunger
how I say look, the moon is beautiful and you not as beautiful

as you
and I already know its the end before I’ve begun to catalog

your fingers, treasonous the way they spread me across the morning,
hips eased into the oldest language of want. O how I’d forgotten
the sun: intrusive light stretched, forced me into waking: how
much knowing makes a home beneath the tongue, in the mitochondria
of your mother’s name, her penchant for vodka and erasure.
I wish I had the energy after we tear into one another
to tell her otherwise, other names, other rituals for sliding shadows
through the cracks of doorways. I am a coward and our fucking falls against
the floor into sounds of breaking. I want to be satisfied with the carnality
of shame, our fumbling crash against. I wish I were a simple girl satisfied
with syllogism: date and discover, find a swarm, find us making promise
find us clutching the static of a wormhole where we settled into
disappointment. It’s natural, the confusion of it all: to meet in the clearing,
find a semi-trampled trail to lead us to the humdrum of collecting fruit,
what will not seize the blood, game that will not rot us through. I know
we are gods of failure, susceptible to the waning light. When you ate first
I knew there was no end to what we need, knew no thing could cast us out.
We’d have to crawl on our hands, on our goddamned knees.

There is a line in the poem, “Genesis,” that states: “I wish I were a girl satisfied with date and discover.” This line really seems to sum up the character of the book seamlessly. Can you talk more about this idea of “date and discover[y]?”

At the time, it seemed like dating seemed an applicable metaphor for way too many things. Job interviews are like bad dates. Therapy intakes are like bad dates. It’s all cataloguing. It’s arduous, and of course at some point you feel misanthropic about it like “why don’t we just be honest in that you (presidential candidate, potential lover, day job, new interior ghost I have to face today) might be trash, but let’s just see if you prove me wrong.”

And then you get surprised (probably not by the candidate, or the day job), and you at least discover something necessary, or something that makes living a little more than bearable. You find a small joy, and another; you recognize an old joy you overlooked in the midst of all that surviving. You take each one and dogear them like the poems you want to return to.


Dream with a Glass Chamber
Before I return to that ruinous city of lonely
smoke stacks, puffing rotton clouds against

graysky, i catch you inside another woman,
your coyote’s coat strewn on the floor, body of
a hungry man, beautiful in every wrong
way. I pull the revolver from my coat. Fire.
Casings shatter before they hit the floor.
I want to see what shred bullets can do to
flesh, how they pierce and lodge hard in the bone.
I am standing at your hollow
door turning the key. There are two wet towels littered
from the bathroom to the bedroom. I haven’t seen her face.
Surrender your hands as your mouth bleats. Tell me it’s not
what I thought. Not the confession you transmit from towers. Go
ahead. Time it to the cylinder’s click click click.
In the morning, everything burns. Hairs inside my nose, curled
      and brittle darlings. Throat, after-clawed. Hands sweat-
fresh and black with residue. A finch jangles a chime outside
      my window. This bed will never know the rattle of pelvis
against my wrist, my begging grip, what giving up looks
      like, though I know I’ve already pulled the trigger.
            Buried the gun in the snow.

I remember reading the title poem, “Dream with a Glass Chamber,” on the train and being in tears. Especially the line: “Tell me it’s not what I thought. Not the confession you transmit from the towers. Go ahead. Time it to the cylinder’s click click click ” Moreover, being the title poem, this poem has great importance to the book. Tell me about this poem and how its creation informed the making of this book.

There’s a lot of dreamscape in the book since for me, lyric poems inhabit that space. The title poem was based on a dream I had that someone I was in a relationship with betrayed me, and I shot him. Of course the betrayal was not about the relationship in question, but how part of my anger with the dead was feeling like they had betrayed me by dying. It’s selfish and sort of fucked up when I say it aloud. In the dream I make a rash decision, and am left with the consequences when I wake in the morning. Part of being honest about how I wasn’t processing loss was turning a mirror on myself as a way to veer from the script of wellness. There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance beyond the funeral procession, when someone walks up on me in a coffee shop and asks if I’ve gotten my dead friend’s autopsy back yet, because how he really died is important. Loss can make us ugly and gauche, overly familiar and quick to subtle violences. I wanted to be honest about my culpability in that.

 

There’s a poem in the book titled, “Looking Glass,” and I’m immediately reminded of Alice in Wonderland (and the discovery of a new place). Furthermore, this idea of the “looking glass” being a mirror—a reflective tool used to study the self in some way. I’m curious to know why “looking glass.” What’s the importance, here? And is there any relation to Alice in Wonderland?

Here’s another Little Dragon reference, but I think that’s interesting, especially with as many wander-world turns these poems take. I mentioned before about this need to turn a mirror on the self and examine in the book. After a while there’s only so many times you can beat the proverbial horse. Making it the last poem of the book, integrating lines from the song like, “Made me have to throw the looking glass,” reveals no gentle resolve.The dead are still dead, the speaker’s still here. Klapp Klapp was a decision to stay and deal, despite the speaker’s perception of things. I wish I was thinking of Alice in that moment, lol.

 

Million dollar question: What poets or books is your book, “Dream with a Glass Chamber,” in conversation with?

“Saudade: Elegy for You” is in conversation with Richard Siken’s poem “Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out.” I read Crush after months of the “numb” phase of my grief, and it helped me to articulate what at the time was unspeakable. Tina Chang’s poem “The Future Is An Animal” helped me write “dream in which you survive and in the morning thing’s are back to normal,” though instead of devouring the self, the speaker’s inability to cope consumes someone close to them. Traci Brimhall’s Rookery helped me to look at the intimacy of brutality, especially when I consider your question about addiction and the brutality we inflict on ourselves. Tracy K. Smith’s essay “Survival in Two Worlds at Once: Federico Garcia Lorca and Duende,” was incredibly helpful with looking at the borderwalker space poets can inhabit if they are generous with themselves and with the work. I seem to always find my way back to Pablo Neruda’s “Nothing But Death” it’s relentless pursuit of de-facing and rebuilding death as a figure. If I consider the book as one multi-poem lyric, each poem has a way of building grief as a figure to stare down and question and dialogue with.

 

One final question. Describe the last dream you can remember.

I’d flown to NYC to visit two writers who had previously been teachers/mentors to me. I think I was there to meet about my current project, and for some reason we couldn’t get the timing right. In and out of the same rooms at different times. One of them had fallen ill, and a number of writer friends had gathered in their home to wait on news of their condition. I started obsessively cleaning, and then making food for everyone while we waited for the phone to ring. Then I woke up thinking Ha! I should probably deal with my need to take care of people.

 

June 24, 2016

You can purchase Dream with a Glass Chamber at YesYes Books, now!


index
Aricka Foreman

Aricka Foreman’s work has appeared in The Drunken Boat, Minnesota Review, RHINO, Day One, shuf Poetry, James Franco Review, thrush, Vinyl Poetry, PLUCK!, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation by Viking Penguin, among others. She is the author of Dream With A Glass Chamber from YesYes Books. Detroit-raised, she currently lives in Chicago.

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