Hi all! Summer is finally here! We kicked it off early last week with a new call for submissions and have been reading our hearts out for issue 2 coming in the Fall. We’re also working on some features here at Virga to support our contributors and give our readers some follow-up on their work in the wider literary community. Prior to issue 1, we interviewed Sarah Nichols and discussed her chapbook, She May Be a Saint. You can read that discussion here! Recently, we spoke to Lindsay Illich, a contributor to our recent issue and author of Rile & Heave, released this year from Texas Review Press. Here is our conversation!
LP: You have some of the most delightful first lines! A couple of my favorites are “right there with the big nasty contrails / of disaster behind me…” (from “what the f dear Mr. Chrysler”) and “I wanted the bees to die / & meanly for having broken / in the house” (from “Frozen Bees”). How do you typically begin writing a poem? Does it often begin with such pivotal realizations or moments?
Lindsay: Sometimes it does, yes. When this happens I fumble as quickly as I can to record the words with whatever writing instruments I have on me. And sometimes that means I have to write on my hand. It feels like I’m being invited in, when a line arrives out of nowhere, rising to the surface of the flow of words that’s in your head that’s always flowing, or in response to a flow of words you’re reading. But there’s also opening lines that happen when you sit down to write without knowing what it is you’re going to write. I imagine standing in front of a door, then opening it. I write about what’s on the other side of the door, what I see. In this kind of opening, it’s you inviting the thing in. So there’s intentional inviting the imagination to play (opening the door and seeing what’s inside), and the more mysterious first line bird lighting on your head. Another kind of first line thing happens during revision. In the revision process, I can be reading over a draft and come to a line and think, this is where this poem begins. Sort of like, retrospectively seeing among all the things which one is the door, locating it among the other things. Sometimes that means what comes before that line falls away, that it was necessary to generate the energy to get to the door, but ultimately isn’t necessary for the poem. Throat-clearing. But other times, what comes before is essential and gets rearranged, getting folded in somewhere else (even another poem).
A note: if I’m reading a poem and something occurs to me so compelling that I have to stop reading and start writing my own poem, the poem I was reading gets put in something I call the spellbook, a file of poems I that I think have some energy, that I want to return to for a while. Poems rotate in and out as they gain or lose my attention. I go to the spellbook to get me going when I need it. The spellbook is cardio.
“What is the God particle in us if not the bolt of being alive?
Poetic logic accesses it better for me than other forms.”
LP: Your work has been described as “devotional,” following in the ecstatic tradition. Can you talk a little about what the devotional or ecstatic means to you in terms of poetic voice and style?
Lindsay: I think for me writing is a practice of devotion, so maybe that trace lingers on the poems. If there’s a way I talk to God, or try to share the mind of God, this is it. But I think it’s less an expression of individuality (hopefully) and more about looking for forms that others recognize as beautiful. I mean, what are we doing if not attempting to enact a collectivity? And isn’t that a kind of love? As for the ecstatic, I don’t know. I’m trying to get at a kind of experience that is something like the experience of consciousness, and that buzz for me does strike me as spiritual. What is the God particle in us if not the bolt of being alive? Poetic logic accesses it better for me than other forms. I don’t know, maybe the medium artists choose to work in is that person’s portal to this thing I’m talking about. It’s mysterious, so much that I’m not even sure about the directionality: is it accessing the beyond (ecstatic tradition) or what is within (surrealism)? Somehow, those two seem very close together for me.
LP: I did a little bit of digging and came upon a piece you wrote for the North American Review in which you describe writing as “the self in aural archive.” I think this idea resonates significantly in your new book. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of “curating” the material that became Rile & Heave?
Lindsay: So much of Rile & Heave comes from the growing pains of early adulting and becoming an artist: figuring out how to live with intensity that feels unbridled and irresponsible, failing in chords when it comes to love, becoming a mother (which for me felt at the time at antipodes to being a poet, but learning it is its corollary in discipline, attention, and care). It felt and still does a little, that it takes an enormous amount of anxiety, persistence, support, and luck to get out of those early years and feel whole (or whole-ish). In the archive where all this experience lives, along with everything you’ve touched and read and watched, there starts to be these things that go together–musically, visually, conceptually, emotionally. If there’s anything to individuality, the individual artist’s voice and style, this curatorial judgment that I’m talking about is it. This framework for creativity is continually generative and gives us the hope of always growing.
LP: What poets (past or present) have most influenced your work?
Lindsay: I thought a lot about this question, and I have to say that it is a very difficult one because it assumes that we’re the best reporters of our poetic purveyors. Here’s a list of poets whose work that I think about and return to, which I think may be the best approximate indicator of influence: C.D. Wright, Marianne Moore, Mina Loy, Ben Lerner, Dana Ward, Dean Young, Maggie Nelson, Paul Celan, e.e. cummings, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, John Keats, Jessica Greenbaum, David the Psalmist, Sappho, Ruth Stone, Mary Oliver, Wisława Szymborska, Alice Notley. And to the Mother and Father: E.D. and W.W. Praise be.
More recently: Ocean Vuong, Simone White, Kaveh Akbar.
LP: Summer is here and that means a lot of folks are adding a few extra books to the stack! I wondered if you would mind giving Virga readers some inspo. Five poetry reading recommendations for summer?
Lindsay: There are so many strong books in the world right now. Here you go: Together and By Ourselves by Alex Dimitrov, Self-Portrait as an Alcoholic by Kaveh Akbar, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, The Sissies by Evan Kennedy, and Blackacre by Monica Youn.
Thank you so much for letting us pick your brain, Lindsay!
Lindsay Illich is Associate Professor of English at Curry College in Massachusetts where she teaches first year and creative writing courses. Her work has appeared in journals such as the Adirondack Review, Gulf Coast, Hunger Mountain, North American Review, Salamander, Sundog Lit, and Texas Coach Magazine. A native Texan, Illich recieved her Ph.D in English from Texas A&M University.