TCP interviews Kathryn Mockler, Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of my interview with Kathryn Mockler, author of Onion Man, The Purpose Pitch, and The Saddest Place on Earth:

Read:

Onion Man, Continued…

Onion ManRS: Who were your literary influences when writing Onion Man? How long did it take for you to settle on the form of the book, each poem a vertical compressed stack of words, each preceded by that bolded elongated em-dash? Did you try different forms, ways of arranging the text?

KM: Michael Turner’s Company Town and Hard Core Logo and Douglas Burnet Smith’s The Knife Thrower’s Partner were big influences. I also read a lot of Evelyn Lau during the time I was writing this book.

Over the years the poems took on many forms—short lines, long lines, prose blocks, etc. The shape of the poems was something I really struggled with, and after working and working on the line breaks, I settled on the form we see in the book. I didn’t think of the poems as cans until Michael Turner observed this in his blurb on the back of the book, but now I can see how they could be read like that. Whenever I’m working with line and form I usually rely on instincts and happy accidents. The form of Onion Man was a happy accident because it coincided with the content.

 

RS: In Onion Man, did you keep notes of overheard conversation? Or, perhaps, did you store inside your memory certain tonalities, creating a particular cadence/anti-cadence for the “voice” of the poems?

KM: I picked away at Onion Man over a period of about fifteen years. The voice is mine. For most of it, I just wrote what I remembered and then fictionalized some aspects of the narrative and some characters.

RS: Have you ever worked in a factory as a unionized/and/or non-unionized worker?

KM: Yes, I worked in the Pillsbury Factory described in the book over one summer in 1988 or 89. The factory was located just outside of London, Ontario and has long since closed down. It was exactly as I described. There were the unionized workers and then the non-unionized workers like me who were working for a fraction of the pay.

RS: When writing the iterations of Onion Man (as per your notes at the end of the book), did you think about/sound-out the line breaks? Each poem has a vertical shape, generally with very short edges. Kay Ryan, the former American Poet Laureate, speaks about how edges in a poem give it energy. Thoughts?

KM: The form felt a bit like sculpting and was an instinctual process in terms of how the poem looked on the page.

RS: Did you keep any kind of a character arc/narrative time-line check-list(s) for the characters and time-frame in Onion Man, as you wrote the poems, in the way of a novelist? What’s your response to the thought that Onion Man is a poem-novel? An epic?

KM: Because the poems were so narrative, it was necessary to employ some structure to the story. I wanted the narrator to transform in some way, but I didn’t want the story to take over the collection. I wanted it to have a narrative shape but for each piece to still feel like a poem.

RS: Do you re-write lines, for “funniness”? Do you think about “being funny/droll/witty” when writing or perhaps, you’ve no consciousness of this, and “it’s just what you do?” If the latter, with the greatest respect, I don’t believe you. Thoughts?

KM: I don’t rewrite lines for funniness. I may edit or shape a little but generally if something funny occurs to me, I write it down and leave it pretty much as is. Trying to make something funny will often have the opposite effect. Twitter is great for testing funniness, and I often start poems on Twitter for this reason. I like to throw out a line and see if I get a reaction. I also use my husband to test if something is funny. He’s so used to being around me that it’s much harder to make him laugh, so if he does laugh at something I’ve written then I can feel a little more confident that others might as well.

RS: The main narrative speaker in Onion Man is an 18-year old woman, un/named. What was it like writing a poetry book that in published form is 128 pages, without naming the main speaker? Did a name for the speaker rise up from the writing and did you redact her name? I refuse to believe the speaker in the poems in Onion Man is you. Is it you? A shade of you?

KM: The voice is pretty much me or versions of me which is probably why I didn’t think to name the speaker.

Stay tuned for the final part of this interview with Kathryn Mockler, next week.

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