Behind the Curtain: A Conversation with Alison C. Rollins

Alison C. Rollins is the author of Library of Small Catastrophes (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). Rollins is a 2016 recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg fellowship, a 2018 recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and has been awarded support from the Cave Canem Foundation, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, New England Review, The Poetry Review, and elsewhere.


Lisa Grgas: Thank you so much, Alison, for sharing your time with me this morning. I’m excited to talk about your debut poetry collection, Library of Small Catastrophes, and to learn about your life as a poet and librarian.  Since this is your first collection, I’m wondering: How are you feeling now that your book is out in the world?

Alison C. Rollins: It’s surreal. I bounce from a variety of different feelings. I think the weirdest thing is to be on a pseudo-tour, not really on a formal tour, but continuing to do readings from the book that for me as the writer feel more and more past tense in terms of the things that I was ruminating on and writing about. I’m really interested in the new work that I’m developing which will be future tense.

I did a reading last night at the Poetry Foundation for their Teacher’s Institute, which is one of my favorite readings because it’s teachers from middle school through community college. For many of them it was their first time encountering my work. And so while I, as the reader, felt like, “Oh these poems feel old to me,” it was good to see the impact they had on the teachers and how invigorated and excited the teachers were about the work, and to have people come up to me after the reading to say, “I ordered your book online as soon as I got home!” It felt really, really great.

My work that feels past tense to me is still reaching audiences in the present tense and is their first introduction to my work. That’s something I hadn’t really accounted for or thought about. And it’s really dope and great that there’s now a collection that people can get their hands on and take into the classroom as an actual object and thing. That feels really gratifying.

LG: Absolutely. I imagine, too, that it might be a little frightening initially to share work this deep and personal. But I suppose that, now that you’ve been on this tour for a little while, maybe it’s gotten a little bit easier?

ACR: I think that’s also kind of a mixed bag. Erika Sanchez was one of the other readers last night and she was saying, “I promise I’m really fun in real life!” I try to aim towards joy and peace and many of the poems in the book are rather difficult. They’re grappling with loss, they’re grappling with trauma, they’re grappling with violence. Sometimes you’re wanting to carry and, I guess, be respectful of that energy and those tones in the poems. I aspire to be a happy and joyous person and maintain joy in spite of many injustices that I face or that are part of our world. That can also be a little bit difficult to navigate, going back and forth.

LG: When the book first came out, you mentioned in an interview with Poets and Writers that it was a challenge to contextualize the collection from a marketing and press standpoint. How would you explain the book to readers who are unfamiliar with your work?

ACR: “How would I explain the book to readers who are unfamiliar with my work…”

LG: Is that still a question you hate?

ACR: Well, I think, for the Poets and Writers interview they sent me the questions and I was able to reply in written form and think about it. What I liked about that interview was they asked me questions that I typically get asked by non-poetry communities. That’s a common question. I never find it any easier to answer. I feel like, even in my answer for that interview, I kind of had roundabout ways of getting at deeper levels of nuance or complexity that I think are at work in that question.

To answer your question—and even in meeting with and working with the teachers yesterday—poetry continues to remain a genre that many people deem inaccessible. There are a lot of stereotypes that kind of shroud or cut poetry off from traditional conversations, like book clubs in a neighborhood public library or reading fiction. Those things are taken for granted as easily accessible genres. Poetry already becomes this realm in which [people think], “I’m not going to get it.” Or, “If your poem isn’t giving me a straightforward narrative that’s linear and that I can trace in the way I could a short story, I’m kind of done. It’s too hard.”

A lot of the feedback I get from readers is that many of my poems require multiple readings. For some, that’s a barrier to access. Like, “I’m going to read it once. If I don’t quote-unquote get it, I’m done. I’m moving on. If I have to look something up that you’re referencing, I’m moving on.” There’s a desire for it to be straightforward in its presentation.

So, I think for my poems, I’m really interested probably in image and sound. If I have a poem that takes up a complete page and all that you walk away from that poem with is one particular image that was striking for you, I’m fine with that. If you encounter an interesting play of sound, whether it be mentally in your mind or in your mouth if you’re reading the poem out loud, I’m fine with that. If you’re interested in exploring images, in a way of looking at the world that you’ve never thought about before, or encountering themes like loss and memory and pain in ways that try to pull or deduce beauty from that, that’s what my work is interested in.

Other than that, I don’t know. I mean, Copper Canyon edited and made it more beautiful, but the blurb at the back of the book and even the Amazon blurb are arguably things that I crafted in earlier drafts. I guess I could just repeat that!

LG:  That’s a hugely helpful answer! I found as I read your book that I did need to go back and re-read at least twice. My process for reading is a little slower to begin with. The first go-around I try only to listen to sound and to pull out pictures that are most interesting to me. With subsequent reads, I try to figure out more of what’s happening. I found Library of Small Catastrophes hugely fun—especially digging through the notes section and figuring out the different hints and puzzles that you leave for us in these sonically gorgeous poems.

ACR: Thank you. That’s fantastic. I’m an educator at heart and so I think this is the thing that’s real about books. There’s the book itself, the content of the book, and then there’s how the book is packaged. How the book is packaged determines whose hands the book is in. If I had given a set of instructions—like, “You must read this book and actively annotate with a dictionary”—then [readers] still may never have picked up the book. It’s this weird exchange where you’re trying to in some ways seduce—seduce might have negative connotations—but seduce or bring in readers or invite readers to the text. But then really there’s no wrong way to encounter it. And I’m not really interested in controlling or dictating readers’ experience with the book. But I guess that’s how capitalism works. People need to buy a thing and want a thing.

LG: I want to spend some time talking about the poems that resonated with me—because I’m selfish—as well as ones that continue to present a challenge for me after multiple readings. But I’d first like to hear from you. What poems are you proudest of? Where do you feel your vision is best achieved?

ACR: I’m really invested, since the time I was little, with the surreal. I’m a huge fan of Roald Dahl. Like, James and the Giant Peach and any of Roald Dahl’s novels were extremely transformative for me. I don’t know why, but that’s always been a part of my sensibility. I guess he reflects certain aspects of my personality. Typically, the poems I enjoy or like the most are the ones that are most surreal or deviate from some type of straightforward, traceable narrative. I feel most comfortable in that realm. I feel most interested and engaged in that realm. However, I realize that for readers, it really raises anxiety and discomfort surrounding not understanding.

The Beastangel,” for example, is written in relationship to Robert Hayden—who is one of my absolute favorite poets—and in that poem I like that there’s a sense of ambiguity, enough so that you feel disoriented. I think the tone or energy that I’m trying to achieve in that poem is a type of disorientation. You, as a reader, have to figure out how comfortable you are in relationship to that disorientation. Is that off putting to you? Is it inviting? Do you still find certain things beautiful despite [not] having good footing as you navigate the landscape? I think that probably embodies what I like most.

Also, as a librarian, I think I’m very much dedicated to exhuming caskets or calling people from the dead. When I enter a room to do a reading I’m calling in twenty-five other living and/or dead poets with me. In “Cento for Not Quite Love,” to be able to have over 100 female-identified poets that I’m calling onto the page with me, spanning literally time and space, from a craft standpoint, is something I’m really interested in and invested in as well. The fact that I can call these ghosts and other bodies into a text that I’m sewing together is something I’m really fascinated by.

LG: Interesting that you mention “Cento.” That’s my favorite poem in the book.

ACR: Oh, really!

LG: Yeah, I was blown away to learn that so many different poets’ work—I didn’t realize they all identified as female—is incorporated into the text. It’s honest, and it’s musical. I might describe it as brutal, too. Can you talk about how this poem was written? How did you find your voice amidst all the others?

ACR: The poet Nicole Sealey in her first full length collection, Ordinary Beast, has a cento called “Cento for the Night I Said, ‘I Love You.’” To my knowledge it’s written as a homage to her husband John Murillo. I saw some pictures on social media of her on a kitchen countertop or large table organizing these little pieces or lines of poems in different color markers and pens and the attributions for the lines. I was like, “Wow this is literally like crafting a quilt or making some type of large, visual collage with all of these different voices.”

I took a workshop in St. Louis with the poet Justin Phillip Reed, and we were talking a lot about form. We had to choose a form [for the workshop] and talk about appropriation or what it means to remix something. I was like, “Okay, I’ll play around, and for this workshop I’ll take the cento and talk about my own experience in terms of getting married and divorced. I’ll choose this limiter to create some parameters for myself: I’ll only take female identifying voices.” Then I just went crazy looking through my bookshelves at the books I had, using the Poetry Foundation’s website and Poetry Magazine to cut and paste and create this pastiche of different voices, the areas segmented, the different sections kind of moving tonally around. Like, “Can I achieve comedy?” I have the “goldfish of genius” and moments that are unexpected or, again, surreal. How can I make these snapshots of what I found to be a very fractured relationship and very disappointing or falling short of the ambition of a wholesome marriage or a wholesome representation of love or partnership?

LG: That’s amazing. It really is a gorgeous poem. Now I need to cross into a less comfortable area. Is there a particular poem that was a hurdle for you? I’m thinking of the sort of piece you have to stick in a drawer and hope to forget about for a few years before you go back to it. Maybe one that still kind of bugs you that it’s not quite the way you want it even now?

ACR: Probably all of them. It’s a little bit terrifying, the finality of a book. I’m really proud of it and glad to have it in the world. There is something—the finality of the thing in book form—that suggests to you that it’s done. Or it visually suggests that it is done. That doesn’t really make me feel the best, but it has to be. I think of ways it could be better or, “Why does this have to be my first book?” I’m thinking about all these other things. I think I probably have that relationship to all of it.

I, as a writer—this is just my own personal relationship to narrative—find that narrative makes you very vulnerable and it’s very difficult to not fear sentimentality, if that makes sense. “Oral Fixation,” for example, is based on a story that my mom told me. She had a business meeting and she left me with my father to watch me. She came home from the business meeting and my dad was literally trying to get me to breastfeed from his chest, trying to soothe me. She was explaining: “I’m sitting in this meeting and my breasts are leaking, I’m uncomfortable, I just want to be at home, and your father is trying to make something with his body to comfort and soothe you.” My dad’s a very logical, problem-solving attorney, so that would be very much along the lines of something he would think would work. So that poem comes from that story and the very complicated relationship that we currently try to navigate as adults. In my mind, I don’t feel like this is a strong poem because of my own hang-ups about what I think is the most interesting or beautiful in poetry. But it’s fine for the sake of what it does. I guess it’s my own insecurities or views of my work.

LG: Maybe it’s because it’s more direct than some of the other poems?

ACR: Probably, yeah. For some reason that doesn’t make me feel as comfortable.

LG: I’ve heard poets speak also to the fact that, as memory shifts over time, things that they’ve written earlier in their career or even before they had careers, become more uncomfortable to revisit because their interpretation of events has changed so dramatically.

ACR: Interesting. Yeah, memory is slippery.

LG: That’s something that comes up quite frequently in Library of Small Catastrophes. Could you talk a little bit about what you were thinking about in terms of time and history that these themes seem to recur in many different ways throughout your work?

ACR: My mom is an only child and I was the eldest child of hers. My mother was the primary caregiver for my maternal grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s throughout most of my young adulthood and passed away when I was in college. I became the primary caregiver for my younger siblings and was also supporting my mom and grandmother during that period. Before I knew I wanted to be a writer or a poet, when I was literally trying to make sense of the world as a youth, I was haunted by seeing this person that I adored—my maternal grandmother—lose her memory. I would walk into a room and she would call me by my mother’s name. Or I would walk into a room and she wouldn’t be able to recognize who I was at all. We would try to find photographs and have her tell us the names of the people in the photographs or give us a little bit of context that we could write on the back. During many of my formative years, I was trying to understand how a person can literally not be able to identify the people who are caring for them or the people that they brought into the world. That’s kind of mind-blowing—that you can’t recognize your only child or that you’re misnaming other people as the child you gave birth to. So, memory has always been a slippery terrain at the personal level.

And then always—I don’t know. This is just my sensibility—some people, I guess, are attracted to nursing as a profession or science—but I’ve always been interested in keeping. I’m not a hoarder! I try not to be a hoarder! But there are parts of my personality that are very librarian-inclined in terms of archiving, so I’m also invested in cultural memory. How do we understand and interpret history? Is history truly an act of fiction? How do we understand content and information that we receive on the news in terms of processing it as truth or historical fact versus a blog post that we see as short story that’s strictly fiction or sci-fi? How do we determine those different genres or the boundary points between those genres? I’m a true bibliophile nerd. I wouldn’t call myself a historian—I’ve never studied history that seriously enough—but I really am a librarian in terms of record keeping, the storage of facts, and an interest in how that functions on both the personal, emotional level and the more scholarly, historical level.

LG: I want to touch, too, on your career as a librarian. How do you think that influences your writing?

ACR: Because I don’t have an MFA—I’ve never taken graduate level workshop classes—much of my writing genuinely comes from a dialogue that I’ve created in my own mind with texts of my own choosing. I’ve worked in a least three public library systems now, I’ve worked in higher education in libraries, at the high school level in libraries, so I’m literally always engaging with and encountering books. I think about books as visual objects, as things I’m trying to get into the hands of more and more readers, of what we choose to put on the shelves of a library. All of those things are at play in terms of how we create our own personal cannons.

If I walk into your home, Lisa, what do the books on your shelves tell me about you and what you value and what you see as possible? What things are missing and what are the reasons why those things are missing? At a variety of different levels, I’m interested in the book as object, the book as cultural artifact, the book as a value system. When I get a little bit too heady in the poetry realm, it’s very important for me to be able to step back and say, “Today I might not be able to write a poem or be working toward a project, but what I can do is make sure our collection purchases this book. Or what I can do is make sure to put this book in the hands of someone who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. Or I can make a display and pull these books off the shelf where they’re only seen by their spine to showcase this incredible cover art or to showcase that I think this book is worthy of a second glance.” Being able to function in both of those realms is really gratifying and removes pressure from either space, if that makes sense.

LG: It absolutely does. It sounds like a lovely way to live your life, with all of these books and writing around you all the time.

ACR: I think so! It’s a hard field of work, but if I could recruit more people for libraries or just increase exposure of it as an alternative career track to teaching, I think it’s important. I’m not a hermit, but it’s a little less intense than teaching. There’s a little less overhead or work involved and investment, arguably, than being in the classroom actively teaching creative writing.

LG: I’ll have to pass that advice along to my husband. He’s been debating going to school for library science for years now. I’d love it if he did.

This discussion of libraries makes me think of your poem “A Valid Archive.” That poem is the most challenging for me in the collection. It stands out from the poems that come before and after it—and not just because it’s in a black box. The first ten plus lines look like computer code. The poem then expands into search terms for African American poets for young readers before contracting again into code. Can you talk about this piece? What’s happening?

ACR: I’m going to see how I can do this. I’m by no means a computer scientist. I have done cataloging before for jobs before, but I am not a true cataloguer. But, when books are acquired for a library system, they have to go through some process of cataloging to be searchable in the database. This [“A Valid Archive”] is a representation of the back end or what the computer and cataloguer are speaking, the dialogue they are exchanging, to make the book searchable on the front end. So, you would type at the library the name of the editor of the anthology which, in this case, is Charlemae Rollins. Or the name of the book, which is Famous American Negro Poets. Maybe you’d just be searching “Black poets” or “famous African American poets.” Any cataloger would read this poem and understand what it means. It is, in a sense, computer code for how data is entered to make a book searchable.

I wanted this to be kind of like the Wizard of Oz, kind of like going behind the curtain. Because, in many cases, we take for granted that when we type something in Google or we type something in a search catalog in a library that everything that is being returned is all that there is. We don’t see the people behind the scenes that purchase that book, the books that weren’t purchased, the other things that are being missed because we didn’t catalogue it properly. To title this “A Valid Archive” [asks], What does it mean for something to be valid or truthful?

I could have done a persona poem about Charlemae Rollins, who was a famous Chicago public librarian. I could have done a variety of other formats or poems that would have perhaps tapped into the essence of who she was or who some of these famous Amerian Negro poets are that she included in her anthology, including Gwendoyln Brooks or Jupiter Hammon. But I chose to give a very precise, computer jargony, arguably imperceptible poem for anyone who is not familiar with library cataloging. So what does that mean?

LG: I love this explanation. I think I was on the right track, but I wasn’t positive. Having this additional context opens up the poem for me a bit more. I love it, too, that it pops out from the rest of the book. It caused me to pause and reconsider, actually, the notes section, which I love so much and that I hope readers won’t overlook as they read your book.

Your notes helped guide my re-readings and challenged my initial interpretations of each poem. Even better, you introduced me to new texts that I didn’t have on my radar. It’s also inspired me to reread The Small Back of Children, for example, which I honestly didn’t appreciate well enough the first time around.

ACR: It’s a very odd book.

LG: It is. But I’ve seen Lidia [Yuknavitch] read now a couple of times in Portland and every time I see her I love her more. I do need to read her work again and give Small Back in particular another shot. Seeing it in your notes section was a reminder—that book’s still on the table! Pick it up! Are there any books that you’d like to recommend as must-reads, either to help us get closer to your poetry or just for the heck of it?

ACR: Oh, man! Like I mentioned earlier, I love Robert Hayden’s work. His Collected is fantastic. I read so widely this is kind of hard. I like Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic and also Dancing in Odessa, his first collection. I think it’s literally genius. Who else am I really working through right now? I also like Carl Phillips. He’s not originally from St. Louis, but he became a sort of legendary hero for me growing up. I didn’t attend Washington University, but he still kind of embodies this foothold of contemporary poetics in my hometown. I think Carl does an excellent job of merging lyric in ways that are interesting to me and always something I’m reaching for but always seems kind of out of my grasp.

I think that Jos Charles and Justin Phillip Reed at the moment are doing really interesting things with completely dismantling language in ways that are challenging readers, in ways that I think are powerful and innovative. Like, literally taking language apart, and taking our conceptions of grammar and how language has to function apart, which is fantastic to me. I love Tyree Daye’s work as well—his second book is coming out with my press, too, Copper Canyon. I like what would be considered pastoral or nature-driven imagery and I think he has a fantastic ear and eye for that realm. I also really love Traci Brimhall.

LG: Wow! That’s so much you’re bringing up off the top of your head! Thank you so much!

There are two poems that I’d like to touch on just for a few minutes. The first is “Water No Get Enemy” The poem is dealing with the assassination Berta Caceres, so, before we dig into the poem, can you speak more about Berta and her activism? What about her life and work do we need to appreciate as we read your poem?

ACR: Berta was very dedicated to Indigenous rights activism, particularly surrounding access to natural resources. Because of her dedication to these particular initiatives, she became a target by the government and by major corporations. [Among] many things surrounding her actual murder, the highest profile problem that she was facing at the moment was ensuring that

Indigenous communities have access to clean drinking water, which is literally a basic human right. Like, “I’m ensuring that persons have access to drinking water in their communities and that this access is not being corporatized or taken over by a monopoly of private interests.” That to me is fundamental. This is like science fiction that is alive and well in the world, [that] somehow it’s fine to deny people access to drinking water.

Various persons or militia came into her home under the cover of night. I believe the time of death is dwindled between two days, but it was on her birthday. These people broke into her home on her birthday, murdered her, and she was found the next day. The audacity of men to break into your home and kill you over trying to gain access for your community and members of your community to drinking water on the night of your birthday. How inhumane and also how—I’m trying to think of the word and “petty” is what’s coming to mind—that there are no boundaries for human life or appreciation for human life. Also the audacity of that kind of violent assertion.

She was a mother. She obviously was viewed as a community leader and maternal to many people. Her birthday also situates right around the time of my mother’s birthday and I was working at a public library at the time—right around the time of the writer Dr. Seuss’s birthday as well. I was thinking about birthdays, entering and exiting the world, the ways in which we take or extract life and also the power and notion of water.

[Some lines from the poem are based on a song by] Fela Kuti who was an African activist who, [in the song], talks about the fact that we all have to use water. Our bodies are comprised of water, but water has very violent capacities in terms of natural disasters, in terms of how we navigate our access to it. His notion in the song lyrics is that water can’t get enemies because it’s necessary for all of us. It can produce the most horrific disasters and still we must drink, and we’re still a part of it. That’s what that poem is sort of navigating. Like, What does that mean? I have a line, “these women don’t rise again.” We have mythology or spirituality surrounding martyrdom or prophets dying and rising again or coming again through their message or their lives. What about those who are forgotten? What about this woman who people don’t know or won’t know her name? What type of corporate corruption and greed will continue in spite of her efforts, arguably?

LG: It’s a really challenging poem. I didn’t know much about Berta before reading it. I’d read about her death a few years ago but didn’t understand the full context. As I’ve read more about her, it’s reinforced the emotional impact of your poem.

It’s also opened up some questions for me as well. I might be completely wrong here, but I sense three voices (or tones?) in “Water No Get Enemy.” There’s the primary narrator, the italicized lines, and the shift in the fourth stanza. It blows me away where you write “these women / don’t rise on the third day, blinking / in the moonlight, wrapped in invisible / wire like something beautiful / is gonna come.”

I found the use of the word “gonna” had a different tone to it than other sections. Are there multiple voices being used here? What do you see as working here in terms of voice and tone and music, which are so important to your work?

ACR: If I remember correctly, the italicized portions are actual lyricals from that song, which is in English but have a Nigerian dialect to them. That’s why the spelling and grammar is not quite accurate, if that makes sense. I think I was listening to not only that song but a lot of music at that time so, like that section you just read, [the poem reflects] how I would phrase a song or lyric. I think I was more invested in this in terms of song or music lyrics. The next stanza says, “I sing the body hydroelectric” [and contains] this notion, with a nod to Whitman, of lyric and song and sonic capacity. That’s a very thoughtful and kind observation.

LG: It’s a really beautiful poem and I keep coming back to it. There’s so much depth, there.

There’s one final poem I want to touch on before I let you go. “Why Is We Americans” has garnered a ton of attention and has been published (and re-published) in Poetry, The Poetry Review, and the anthology Misrepresented People. Why do you think this particular piece resonates with readers?

ACR: I think perhaps especially at this moment in time or history we are probably invested in what is this notion of “Americanness,” what is it that defines being an American, what it means to be a patriot. I think the Poetry Review comes out of Paris and that anthology is dedicated to what it means to be in a post-Trump era. I wrote this before Trump was even elected, [but] I think we’re particularly interested in that. For that [“Why Is We Americans”] to be the title sets up a framework and, then, the text of the poem arguably builds a world or landscape that is speaking to that.

The title comes from Amiri Baraka; he has a poem called “Why Is We American” as well. It’s kind of a nod to if the Black arts movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s passed the baton to contemporary Black poetics. Like, what would be my rumination or what would be my version or remixing of that song/poem? I think because it has nods to Orpheus, to Whitman, to Walden Pond, to kind of traditional canonical notions of poetry while also inserting Radio Raheem from a Spike Lee film and Zoot Suit Malcom X and has nods also to contemporary Black culture, to certain things from my own childhood spent on a farm—it’s kind of traversing time and space in a very expansive way. That, I think, is perhaps interesting.

What’s driving that car or that spaceship is image. As we move through what is essentially a list poem from image to image, we are hopefully just in awe or captured by the beauty of the language so that we’re putting thinking critically or socially to the backburner. That’s also what’s happening, but we’re so captured or entranced by this world, these images, that we feel connected to it or inspired by it or entranced by it. It’s like when you want to have a serious conversation about something that is unsettling, but you want to be as engaging as possible. People can’t turn or look away but, no matter what, they find something enthralling about it even if it’s a comfort to them.

I just went, as a matter of fact, a couple months ago to Alabama, to the lynching memorial. It was one of the most unsettling public displays of a part of our nation’s history. For this poem to end with [the lines] “We is lassoed cowboys swingin’ in / the sweet summer breeze”—arguably that’s a depiction of a lynching, of a public atrocity that we carried out in this country repeatedly. But there’s something inviting about this poem. I enjoy reading it. I like that people reading it publically find it fun, find it engaging. How do we grapple with [the fact that], even in this notion of a public lynching, people are coming to this as an extracurricular activity or as a thing you’d bring your family to gather around and watch the spectacle? I think the poem performs the spectacle and calls into question in an unsettling but inviting way: Why do we find it interesting? What do we find interesting? What do we value? This was a poem that was fun for me to write. I think this is how I process and think about the world. Most of these lines just like came in this form, oddly enough.

LG: Is this a poem you continue to read because it is still so much fun?

ACR: It’s fun to read. However—again just due to my personal preference—if I could make it like three times weirder, that would be more me. It’s a good poem, but I’d like even weirder.  

LG: Thank you again, Alison, for a great conversation about your poetry. Library of Small Catastrophes is a challenging work and truly deserving of careful reading (and re-reading). I know I’ll be coming back to these poems for years to come. There’s always something more to uncover in them. But you mentioned you have a new project underway. I’m eager to know: What’s happening next for you? Something weirder?

ACR: Yeah! Hopefully! I think this book is really excavating loss and trauma and memory in a particular type of way and so I’ve been really interested now in the notion of immortality or the notion of—it sounds very cliché—but of a love that is everlasting. One of the epigraphs for this was from an Outkast track: “Nothin’ is for sure / Nothin’ is for certain / Nothin’ lasts forever.” If I were to create the inverse of all three of those claims, what would that look like? Probably [that’s] the easiest way I can describe it.

That’s the poetry project. I’m also working on a project that’s going to be probably slippery in terms of genre but more so non-fiction/prose. It is arguably the companion to this book. What I found while doing readings is that people want a story about what the poem means. “Give a short story or explanation about how that poem came about.” “If you had to tell that story, just telling it on the phone, what would it look like?” That’s what this prose book is going to explore. Kind of like Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts—because hopefully it will have theory, some visual poems. I’m still playing around with that essay format.



Lisa Grgas

Lisa Grgas is the supervising editor and associate poetry editor at The Literary Review. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Atticus Review, Common Ground, Black Telephone, Ki'n, Luna Luna, and elsewhere. She lives in Hoboken, NJ.

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