Poetry Blog: Brittney Corrigan

Brittney Corrigan is the author of the poetry collections Navigation40 Weeks, and most recently, Breaking, a chapbook responding to events in the news over the past several years. Daughters, a series of persona poems in the voices of daughters of various characters from folklore, mythology, and popular culture, is forthcoming from Airlie Press in September, 2021. Corrigan was raised in Colorado and has lived in Portland, Oregon for the past three decades, where she is an alumna and employee of Reed College. She is currently at work on her first short story collection and on a collection of poems about climate change and the Anthropocene age.

Brittney’s poem, “Whale Fall”, originally published in Thalia:

The ocean’s innumerable tiny mouths
 await the muffled impact like baby birds.
 Sediment clouds up at the deadened

settling, and the flesh is set upon. How
 the weight of loss can be beautiful
in its opening. Luminous worms undulate

like party streamers as isopods
and lobsters arrive to feast. This body
 holds an ecosystem unto itself: species

found nowhere else but here, cleaved
to the sunken remains. Sleeper sharks
 move in slow and gentle, ease

the messy carcass to gleaming bones.
 And then, how the skeletal rafters
of grief fuzz and bloom. How sometimes

the coldest depths allow for such measured
 undoing. All the while hungry lives
swarm and spread, come to stay.

Limpets attach to the unhidden core. Sorrow
 in its abundance crushes, cycles, feeds.
How the body rests, rich in what sustains.

Brittney’s poem, “Iteration”, originally published in Feral:

after the Aldabra rail
One flightless bird evolves twice, before and after extinction.
Collective bodies remember what it is to feel safe.

You remember this, too. Before the world came lapping.

A coral atoll—lagoon brimming with black-tipped sharks,
no people—flourishes. Giant tortoises wander between

turquoise worlds of sea and sky. The birds have no
reason to fly away. A body with no enemies simplifies.

There was a time when you didn’t need wings.

Nothing is wasted. The birds push their long, ruddy necks
through the coastal grass. Nothing chases them down.

There was a time when you never looked behind you.

The first time the ocean takes the island, every species on it
goes extinct. A mass drowning. Thousands of years later,

the water recedes. Fossils and sand surface; flora blooms.
The bird’s white-throated cousins land on the shores.

There was a time when your throat was open to the sky.

The bird evolves again. Again relinquishes its wings.
Again has no enemies. Again is a singular kind of being.

You can do this, too. Sharks circle but can’t cross land.

Bodies remold. Bodies wingless. Bones tell stories. Versions
of stories. You recolonize your body. What it is to survive.

Brittney’s poem, “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”, originally published in The Wild Word:

The night a neighbor girl knocks on our door,
baby rabbit in the bowl of her hands, I place

it in a darkened box of straw, know it won’t
make it to morning. My grandmother’s tradition

for the first day of each month: stand at the edge
of the bed upon waking, make a wish, yell

Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit! and jump. Tiny rabbit
body in my palm, soft and cold and still.

Rabbit sitting on the moon, pestling herbs
for the gods. A chant of white or grey rabbits

to ward off smoke. The Black Rabbit of Inlé:
his taking of this small life, his taking of my

grandmother when I was still small. I must
give this little un-rabbit back to the ground.

Oh, to be so frightened that your heart cannot
go on. But first, I must wake my young child.

On this first of the month, I ease tangles
separate through my hands. Sense something

quivering just beneath what’s real as I leave
the room. From down the hall, I hear

the bedframe sigh. Little undone heart cupped
in my hands. Little voice shouting a herd

of rabbits onto the floorboards. I hop
from foot to foot as they run past.

The following is an interview conducted on April 28, 2021, by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Carolina Quintero. It is in regards to Brittney’s works, writing process, and inspirations.

Carolina Quintero: Hello, Brittney! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview with me. I really enjoyed reading your poetry. You have such a passion for animals and our environment and you put their importance into beautiful words. I also thought it was really striking and genius how you connect animal life to human life…Your writing frequently involves animals and the environment. What experiences or special interests have driven you to center your writing around this topic?

Brittney Corrigan: I’ve been drawn to animals and the natural world since I was a small child. I grew up in the gorgeous landscape of Colorado where my family spent a lot of time in the mountains and generally outdoors. And when I wasn’t playing outside or surrounded by a zoo’s worth of pets, I was watching episodes of Wild Kingdom. For years I wanted to become a marine biologist, drawn to the ocean and its creatures from my land-locked home. Though I’ve always felt connected with and protective of the environment, living in Oregon for the past three decades—with its wild coasts, wild animals, and wildfires—has strengthened that affinity and resolve. As the realities of climate change have made their way into my consciousness over the years—from my founding of an “environmental action club” in high school in the 1980s, to my love for the flora and fauna of the place where I live, to raising up my children in a world fraught with natural disasters and extinctions—I wanted to move toward action to preserve this planet and the life forms with which we share it, beginning with bringing awareness to these issues through my writing.

CQ: Your poems carry thorough knowledge about animals and ecosystems. What inspires you to learn about this? 

BC: Voracious curiosity! I subscribe to countless email newsletters that showcase all things weird, wild, and wonderful (such as Atlas Obscura and National Geographic), and I love listening to podcasts of that ilk, as well (such as RadioLab and Ologies). I keep a running document of links to articles and oddities I find particularly fascinating that I come back to time and again to mine ideas for my work. In both my science-oriented poetry and my short fiction, the research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. I love diving headlong into educating myself about a place or a species that I haven’t encountered before or that I just want to learn more about. In a high school English class, my teacher once presented me with a quote by Henry James: “Be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!” I carry that desire to notice, explore, and elucidate the world around me into my writing life.

CQ: What advocacy do you hope your poems will achieve? What audience do you hope your poems will reach? 

BC: By bringing the plight of various ecosystems and species into my work, I hope to make what can seem like an overwhelming problem to tackle both particular and personal. I think if folks feel connected to the natural world and its creatures in specific, tangible ways, they will want to help and make change in small, meaningful ways. I hope that my poems reach folks of many interests, backgrounds, and generations and move them to learn more, and to do more, to combat climate change, extinction, and the effects of our current Anthropocene age.

CQ: What are your poetic influences as of late?

BC: My current favorite poets are Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ada Limón, Ross Gay, Natalie Diaz, and Camille Dungy. I’m also enjoying reading essays on topics of extinction and the natural world by writers such as Michelle Nijhuis, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Elena Passarello, Linda Hogan, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

CQ: What advice would you give to young writers? 

BC: I would say start with what you know and move outward toward your passions and ideas or topics you want to find out more about. First write for yourself, and then, when you are ready to share your writing with others, find your people. Seek out your fellow writers and readers with whom to share your work. Find a group of folks you trust and can share your roughest drafts with, and also find the mentors whose feedback will help your writing become stronger. And don’t be afraid to write outside of the boundaries you’ve been taught or the parameters you’ve been given. Break the rules and bust the genres open. 

CQ: What are you currently working on in your writing? 

BC: I recently completed a manuscript of poems about climate change, extinction, and the Anthropocene age. I’m now exploring those same topics in my first collection of short stories. As to poetry, I think science, ecology, and the natural world will always find their way into my work. I’m not sure exactly what’s next, but I’ve no doubt it will reveal itself to me, like bright animal eyes blinking out of the dark.

Be sure to check out both Brittney’s website and Twitter.

Guest Blog Post, Vanessa Blakeslee: Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Vanessa Blakeslee1. Take care of yourself. Much like the announcements before flights regarding the placing of oxygen masks, you can’t expect to render your characters fully if you’re out of shape and eating poorly. Exercise regularly and eat fresh foods. Caffeinate moderately. Get eight hours of sleep every night. To underestimate the power of the subconscious, the breakthroughs that undoubtedly come from the dream-state and walks in the park, is foolish and undermining of the imagination at work. Never mind that your ability to contribute to the literary canon is severely compromised if you’re sick or dead.

2. Become aware of the effects of environment on your process—and change it up if need be. If you can’t settle in at your desk today, try the couch. If the sun is shining during your writing hours and you can’t stand being inside your apartment one more second, find a park bench or an outdoor café. If you’re in public and one-sided phone conversations keep intruding on your characters’ dialogue, seek out someplace quiet. Go wherever you need to be to enter the fictional dream as completely as you can.

3. Write first drafts in longhand whenever possible. My initial drafts almost always turn out truer to my vision when I’m connected to the physical page through a pen or pencil, thus saving time later during revision. I think there might be scientific data to back this up, but regardless, one obvious benefit is that you are much more apt to cross-out and play with alternative phrasing in the margins and between sentences, etc., sometimes literally question what you may be attempting to say on the page. Whereas in word-processing software, you don’t like a phrase, Delete-delete-delete, and not only is it gone forever, but so is your record of what you were aiming for, even if your initial attempts at grasping for an image or line fell short. When you type up the handwritten pages, you’re composing your second draft—added bonus.

4. Keep questioning the stakes of your premise. Often, at the beginning of a new story or before a revision, I’ll write, “Is this a great story of love and death?” across the top. If the answer is no, then consider how you might approach the premise differently to make it more gripping. If it is a novel, trace the narrative backwards to see where you may have gotten off-track, or strayed from the tension. You may be surprised in going over your drafts at how much of what you may have considered essential is in effect tangential.

5. If you’re stuck or between scenes or sections and uncertain where your protagonist goes next, take a short nap. Again, sometimes a quick dip into the subconscious is just the trick for stirring up new ideas/images. Although you’ll have to wait until you get home if you’re at a coffee shop.

6. That said, sometimes you have to just power through. This is tricky advice to give, when to step away (or nap!) and when to power through, and largely instinctive. But powering-through happens for me after I do a good bit of questioning and jotting down of potential ideas in my notebook regarding where the story needs to go next. There follows the sort of heavy feeling of anticipation, excitement, and despair regarding how I am going to accomplish what is to take place—but all that remains is doing it. That’s when it’s time to log out of Facebook, brew a fresh caffeinated favorite, push ahead, and trust.

7. The Internet/Facebook/Twitter/Etc. Figure out your relationship to it. I love nothing more than perusing for articles on strange happenings and the idiosyncrasies of my friends’ lives; as such, I’m a self-proclaimed Facebook addict. I’ve never been a big procrastinator, either, but when I arrive at my desk I tend to scroll the Facebook newsfeed until I have an overwhelming feeling that I’ve been pummeled enough by everyone’s happenings and achievements, and am then happily driven to the page and my inner world. In between scenes or sections and when I take a snack break, I will often log back on. Sometimes I go to coffee shops because although I have a smart phone, I am much less likely to be distracted by the Internet when I have actually driven somewhere and purchased menu items with precious dollars. Only you can figure out how to balance the work/Internet pull.

8. Learn to trust and develop your gut instincts regarding your work, and others’ critique of it. True, you’ll always be too close to it, because you’re the creator. And there will always be some voices ringing out in workshop that are way off for your vision of the story, your aesthetic, etc. But then there will be some who are right on, whose searing feedback or advice matches the quiver in your middle when you hold the draft up before your eyes. Better to have a handful—even one—of these voices in your corner than none. Cherish such readers, yet also keep in mind that someone who may have resonated deeply with a previous project of yours may not have the same relationship with the next one. Have the courage to seek out fresh eyes.

9. Realize the value of your work—because if you don’t value it, why should others? Delegate as many nonessential, non-writing tasks to whatever degree you can—to agents, interns, teenage children/siblings, eager grad students, etc. If you’ve got a $50,000 a year teaching gig, hire a maid service to clean your house once or twice a month so you can invest in those precious days off to write. Figure out which holidays you prefer to celebrate with family and which ones you can skip to attend a writers’ colony, or borrow a friend’s cabin in the woods for a couple of weeks.

10. Meditate on your death every day. This meditation will usually be fleeting and hardly morbid—but certain, yes. You are going to die. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or six months down the road. Then again, maybe today. All that will be left of your essence in this life will be what you’ve left behind, written down. Is what you have to say essential? If not, how to make it so? Most everything pertaining to the craft of writing can be boiled down to those two questions.

The Aesthetics of Scale: An Artistic Collaboration

The Aesthetics of Scale InterchangeNow through April 28th the Orlando Museum of Art is hosting an exhibition titled The   Aesthetics of Scale. The exhibit showcases the collaborative work of Rachel Simmons and Lee Lines and explores the ways in which landscape affects how people live in conjunction to the land. Perhaps more importantly, from an artistic perspective, the exhibit opens a discussion about artistic collaboration and what it offers to those willing to pick up its admittedly unwieldy mantle.

The project that would eventually lead to The Aesthetics of Scale started in 2010 during a research trip to Iceland. What was eventually born out of this trip was the marriage of Simmons’ artistic background and Lines’ knowledge of geography and environmental issues, a collaboration of not only academic goals but artistry.

This does not mean that the marriage of their backgrounds and intentions came together easily. In an interview conducted by Laura J. Cole for Rollins College, Lee and Simmons discussed a point of tension between the two over an image for a presentation. Simmons wanted to flip the image because she felt that it looked better aesthetically while Lee saw that as a misrepresentation of the regional landscape. Simmons was speaking from the artist’s point of view and was more concerned about how the piece spoke to its audience. On the other hand, Lee was looking at it from a geographer’s point of view and felt that repositioning the piece was dishonest from a scientific standpoint.

loft windowHere, in the variance of vision, is where collaborations like this so often fall apart. These differences in artistic direction are likely to pile up and can easily have the capability to either destroy the project completely or just pull it towards a weaker middle where neither artist’s vision is fully realized. Art is, after all, to be done in one’s loft in total secrecy and seclusion until gallery opening or publication.

And this is the opinion I had for a long time. Having been an artist earlier in life and now, as a writer, I knew the value of working in an environment free from distractions. Another artist who might question your decisions or vision certainly has to number extremely high on the chart of distractors.

While that need for seclusion is still strong and one that I find necessary a great deal of the time, something changed for me recently and I no longer feel that sequestering oneself is a hard and fast rule. The first step was realizing the value of another artist’s opinion. This began by using family and friends in the artistic community as sounding boards. This practice was broadened during my exposure to writing workshops. Granted not everything you hear from either group will crack open your work, but by listening to others’ perspectives you may begin to understand how your work appears to your audience, something which is certainly invaluable. Whether this newly shifted perspective on your work means a change in the work itself or merely a change in how you see it working is entirely up to you.

theaterThe second big break came when I started to become involved in theater. Here is an art form where artistic collaboration is an undeniable necessity. Actors, directors, lighting, media, and stage designers, and playwrights are all necessary for any given project. Each person involved has their own artistic vision for the piece they’re working on. It goes without saying that this often leads to creative differences and disagreements, but once you do you are more likely to end up with a piece which is more fully realized. What I’ve found is that, and partially because of artistic differences, you are left with a much stronger piece. In a well-functioning group, each artist will have had their input and that input will push the piece further than any one person might have been able to do alone.

The interesting thing about collaboration is that it is not an event that happens terribly often in the artistic community and even less in the literary world. Obviously a lot of this has to do with the private nature of writing itself and how differently the craft operates from one writer to the next. This is disappointing because artistic collaboration seems to have such an interesting potential if for no other reason than expanding the understanding of craft for those involved. In her interview, Simmons said “there’s nothing like trying to understand the point of view of another academic discipline to help you understand your own.” Why should this be any different for the artistic community? Shouldn’t we, as artists, being doing all that we can in order to push our craft to the highest level possible? It seems that collaboration is just another step down the road to self-actualization for any artist.

The entire interview with Simmons and Lee can be found here.