OBJECTS OF DERISION
AN INTERVIEW WITH MARLENA CHERTOCK
If you were a character in a story, how might you introduce yourself to the reader?
What a cool question! I’m not sure. Knowing me and my obsessions, I’d probably be climbing a tree or have found a way to space. I’d wave and welcome the reader up with me.
Your second book “Crumb-sized” came out on August 15th through Unnamed Press. Aside from bestowing our congratulations on you, we’re curious about your inspiration for this collection of poetry. What was it—be it a single poem, an image, or a feeling—that sent you on the journey toward building this collection?
Thank you so much! I’m so excited for this book to get into the world! “Crumb-sized” explores disability, chronic pain, sexuality, and feminism. The poems show how to remain strong in the face of bodily challenges.
Some momentum for the collection occurred when I was reflecting on being bullied as a kid. I was actually called “smaller than a crumb,” which stuck with me. It doesn’t sting as much now, but it’s such a clear image and memory of how cruel kids are, and what it means to grow up short or different, which I hope everyone will be able to relate to in some way.
I think this book could sort of act as a response to (the call of) my first book, “On that one-way trip to Mars”, which was birthed with more of a solemn wistfulness. That collection was all about being upset that NASA has height restrictions, that because I have a bone disorder I’ll probably never be able to get to space. It was filled with a nostalgia for someplace I’ve never been (like Che says in “The Motorcycle Diaries”). In “Crumb-sized”, I think I’m responding to that emotion and embracing my size, my body, even more.
Speaking of processes, what does your writing process look like? Do you have a set kind of schedule you try sticking to, or do you write whenever you can?
I write every day, for my job. It’s a different type of writing, marketing, but it still helps to keep my creative mind present. I don’t write poetry or fiction daily, but I often jot down ideas or phrases that I return to. Sometimes, I manage to write the majority of a flash fiction piece in one sitting, revising it later. Other times, one poem takes years to revise into its final form.
What is your favourite line (or lines) of anything you’ve ever written? And why is this so important to you?
This is a hard question. You’re asking me to choose between my babies! Well, if I had to choose, it’s probably a line from “How to feel beautiful”, which I really love. “How to feel beautiful” is exactly that, an instruction manual for how to take your pain and channel it into self-love. The line “when you wake up with an orchestra / of drumstick knuckle cracks” just came to me. I appreciate inner or slant rhyme, and was drawn to the way orchestra mimicked the “k” sounds in drumstick, knuckle, and cracks. Also, the fact that it’s very hard to say/read this line aloud mimics the way chronic pain can slow you down, the way my body moves differently than others.
What or who do you turn to when you’re in need of inspiration, in need of refilling your creative well?
Sometimes I have to take a break. I go through creative and then dormant periods. I’ll listen to new music, go to readings, attend workshops, read a lot — but not focus as much on producing.
I reread Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler, Tracy K. Smith’s “Life on Mars”, Fatimah Asghar’s “Pluto Shits on the Universe,” Sharon Olds, Ray Bradbury, and more. I keep a folder of poetry I love by various poets in my email so I can access it whenever I want for inspiration.
And finally, can you tell me who & what you’re reading of late?
Oh, so much. I recently finished Jacqueline Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming” and Danez Smith’s “[insert] boy” — powerful, sad, raw poetry. I really enjoyed “Because You’ll Never Meet Me” by Leah Thomas and “TreeVolution” by my friend Tara Campbell, both realistic science fiction novels. Also, I’m obsessed with the “Giant Days” and “Paper Girls” comics, filled with badass female main characters.