OBJECTS OF DERISION
AN INTERVIEW WITH Sonya Vatomsky
NGQ: Sonya, first I’d like to ask about your origin story: if you were a character in a poem, how might you introduce yourself?
SONYA VATOMSKY: Chaotic neutral half-elf bard. I’m the scoundrel in the corner of the tavern trying to sell treasure maps to unsuspecting adventurers. Seriously, though, I’m in all my poems. At least a little bit. Especially the angry ones.
NGQ: “My Heart in Aspic”, your poetry chapbook from Porkbelly Press, was released this year to well deserved high praise. How do you go about the process of constructing a chapbook? Do you tend to have an idea for a chapbook or a full length work prior to writing, or do you write a series of poems and then begin to see a theme emerge that ties them together?
VATOMSKY: Salt is for Curing, my full-length, is every poem I wrote from Dec 2014 and May 2015, and My Heart in Aspic is a handful of the earlier poems from that period. I was writing all these things that were very thematically united – but more because I felt I couldn’t write anything else than because I was trying to write to a theme. So they’re thematically and temporally tied; maybe thematically tied because they’re temporally tied. I have a very “get this out of me” experience with my poetry… I can’t imagine putting together a book from poems more than a year old, or dealing with releasing that. I was very fortunate that my books were picked up by presses really quickly and released really quickly – if I was doing this interview six months ago, I’d be nauseous from how raw it all still felt, and if I were doing it a year in the future, it’d be like Nick Cave when he’s asked to sing one of his PJ Harvey songs. I was at one of his shows a few years ago and someone yelled for West Country Girl maybe and he just muttered “that part of my life is over” and went screaming into something else.
NGQ: Related to that, what attracts you to writing about the visceral nature of body horror, folklore & mental health?
VATOMSKY: Body-horror as an interest kind of ended up syncing with my recovery from sexual trauma – though maybe the best thing ever said about it was Joshua Jen Espinoza’s comment that “‘body-horror’” sounds less like a genre of film and more like a description of my daily existence.” And folklore is pretty incidental. I don’t tend to think of my work as folkloric at all but it’s a descriptor that seems to resonate with other people so I don’t know. Mostly I’m just writing about dill and forests and stuff, which to me is like, duh, dill and forests. But maybe that’s folklore; I don’t know. I was thinking it might be funny to do a chapbook called THIS IS FOLKLORE like a play on the Pulp album.
NGQ: What gets your writer-brain ticking when you need an extra boost of help? Who are your great influences? Who do you turn to in your hour of need?
VATOMSKY: Encyclopedias and etymology dictionaries. Also my journals from middle and high school. That’s probably kind of gross and egotistical but if I’m going to be inspired by something I’d rather it be myself.
NGQ: What challenges you when you approach a poem after a brief sojourn away from it? How do you begin the (often) difficult process of revision?
VATOMSKY: I don’t revise. Breaking all the rules, la la la. Seriously though, my poems are these really intense little things about a very specific feeling, so coming back to them like that ends up feeling like pawing through your own vomit or something. Though I’ve long wanted to do that with owl vomit, so that metaphor doesn’t really work. Maybe it’s like more like time travel: if you go back within your own life and change things, you might make them “better” in whatever weird objective way – but really you’re just fucking it up.
NGQ: And finally, and possible a far easier question than all the rest, can you tell me who you’re reading of late?
VATOMSKY: This is actually my favorite question! Thank you for asking it. I just read and loved Kat Dixon’s Black Racket Ocean from 2014 because I am old and behind on everything. Kristin Hatch’s The Meatgirl Whatever. Rebecca Jones-Howe’s Vile Men, which I bought because of its title while purchasing another Curbside Splendor book – do that, by the way; it’s fun. Niina Pollari’s Dead Horse. And Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty! Those are all endorsements.