Heather Christle’s book, The Difficult Farm, is a beautiful space that inhabits a transliminal world inhabited by goats and bunnies, dragons and little owls, and maybe a few camels. Well, maybe not all of those animals, but some. Heather’s poetry floats and whispers soft curses. Whips the reader around. Juxtaposes and poses right in your face. In fact, when I received her book in the mail, I decided to read the book backwards, so I curled up in a small corner where no one would find me, not even mom. You should do the same. In this interview, Heather and I discuss trust, Miss Manners, and the famous pizzeria Pizzeria Unos.
Almost Dorothy: Just a warning: I’m not real, so everything I say is real. First of all, I’ve never been to a farm, so I want to know what a difficult farm is like?
Heather Christle: A difficult farm is also not real, but I think it is probably common, tough, and rewarding.
AD: In your book of poems, The Difficult Farm, I laughed and cried buckets of milk. Well, I didn’t cry, but I felt like a bunny missing an ear. What informs or reforms your aesthetics?
HC: For a while in my first year at grad school, “your aesthetic” was a phrase that got tossed around kind of in place of “your mother.” Carson Cistulli was doing most of the tossing. I think my aesthetics are informed by Miss Manners, a belief in Enthusiasm, some Serbians, some Russians, a love of animals, and a pursuit of being deeply, deeply wrong.
AD: What is normal on a difficult farm?
HC: Everyone is doing her best, but it’s still not going all that well. We are trying to love one another. Sometimes it works out hugely! We have to be careful with the goats. It gets pretty loud. The crops might fail. People become superstitious. We worship one thing or another.
AD: Inspiration for the cover?
HC: It’s from this whole sheet of images. An army entrance exam. You’re supposed to identify what’s missing. One image is of (no kidding) people playing tennis without a net. It was sent to me years ago by my friend, Noah Feehan, who recently participated in the “Bizarre Animals” show at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
AD: I read some of your book backwards, which makes me a bizarre animal. For example, I read the “Five Poems for America” in reverse order. It worked. What do you feel about the reader’s role in reading your work? Do you trust them?
HC: I trust readers in the abstract. Sometimes I meet them and that trust dissipates a little. Or the trust develops into some other kind of understanding. Curiosity is bigger than trust, though, for me. I am often very excited about who is on the other end. I want to grab them for examination. I would like to ask them a series of questions communicated via dance moves.
AD: I always communicate through dance and even when I’m in bed. Have you read your book backwards?
HC: I have read it, I think, in every order. The book feels to me like an area, not a sequence.
AD: I love spatial poetry. Finish this line: Darlings! You are here at my invitation to…what?
HC: There is no what. Being there is the thing to which the darlings are invited. Just a kind of party the speaker didn’t mean to start.
AD: What poem in your book makes yo
u smile? Which one makes you cringe? And, which one makes you cry?
HC: That changes all the time. I am capable of cringing at anything I’ve done really. It’s very hard to be a person, I think. And wonderful! Crying, none of them make me cry. I’m too aware of their artifice, maybe? “Barnstormer” pretty reliably makes me smile.
AD: Favorite pizza from Pizzeria Uno?
HC: I have no idea! I do not know if I have ever eaten there! Suddenly I feel a little guilty about that!
AD: The 3 books that changed you, and by you I mean Heather Christle.
HC: Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained
John Ashbery’s Three Poems
Eugene Ostashevsky’s OBERIU anthology
This list could be totally different and accurate.
The first book I ever read by myself was Dragon and Sleepy Owl. That probably also changed me, Heather Christle. When I conquered the word “dragon” I felt unstoppable. When it appeared again and I realized that I already knew how to read it (and would not have to decipher a new word every time a word came up) I felt like I had been let in on the biggest secret.
AD: What are you doing now?
HC: Drinking coffee. I just finished typing up some new tiny poems I’ve been making on blank business cards. Also waiting for Zach Schomburg to arrive. Thinking about what to feed him.
AD: Final question: Are we
really surrounded by daffodils of normal proportions?
HC: Sometimes, frequently, yes, don’t you think? I am always wanting to eat them.
Heather Christle is the author of The Difficult Farm, published by Octopus Books, and The Seaside!, a chapbook from Minutes Books. New poems have recently appeared in the Believer, Columbia Poetry Review, and Gulf Coast. She teaches at Emory University and is the web editor for jubilat. More information is at heatherchristle.blogspot.com.