Earlier this month, Palette reader, Kate Leland, was lucky enough to chat with poet, Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers about her upcoming collection The Tilt Torn Away from The Seasons, the publication process, and the shift from her first book to this second collection. Scroll to the bottom to find an original work from the collection. This interview was transcribed from a phone interview.
KL: So first of all, congratulations on The Tilt Torn Away from The Seasons!
ELR: Thank you!
KL: Can you do a quick recap on the major concerns of the collection?
ELR: This second poetry book is a collection of persona poems that explores the fallout of climate change and addresses the relationship between ecological ruin and colonialism. The book is composed of both traditional and experimental lyric forms and exit interviews. I suppose I would say that the book is dystopian in its premise: two-thirds of the poems are set on Mars, and the landscape becomes a kind of arena where the mistakes of western civilizations are rehearsed and examined.
KL: I wanna circle back to Mars, but first, how does it feel to have your second collection picked up?
ELR: It’s a huge relief. With my first book, I started sending it out and there were some places that were interested, but there were also a lot of places that were not. This second book started placing in contests right away. I thought “Oh, this is gonna be so easy!” and then actually it circulated for an eternity before anything actually happened. I feel relieved that I’m not going through that process anymore. It’s pretty difficult.
KL: As someone who follows you on Facebook and saw how you’d placed in contest after contest, I noticed in your posts that you kind of like always had this tone of… I don’t know, “chagrin” about it. You were always like “and there goes another one.” I thought it was really interesting because I follow a couple other “grown up” poets and they are not very open about that process. So I wondered if you like made a conscious decision to be open about that?
ELR: To be fair, I wasn’t open about every single opportunity that came my way. There were some times when I needed to use discretion, but I kept telling people about the contest placements as a way of kind of continuing to have the motivation to send it out. I think it’s so easy when you get into the very last stages of these contests, many of which them have like five hundred or six hundred manuscripts, to focus on the failure. But I think that’s only because you are inside of it. A wider community is able to see, “oh wow you did this!”
KL: That totally makes sense! It was super interesting to see the process that established writers go through, and that’s it’s not like you get your first book and everything’s suddenly easy.
ELR: I guess that does happen to some people. I wasn’t convinced, but I was kind of hopeful that it would be easier the second time. And it’s interesting, like I said, I had fewer just like non-placement rejections. I started semi-finalizing and finalizing almost immediately. It was a little different than last time. But yeah, the process was pretty similar and there are actually fewer contests to send to once you’re out of the first book territory.
KL: I hadn’t really thought about that with the first book contest thing. Weird, so circling back to the beginning of our conversation, can you talk about where your interest in Mars began?
ELR: *Laughs* I wish I knew. So right around when the first like panoramic photos were coming back from Mars–I guess this was like 2012/2013—I had just moved rural Ohio *laughs* and yeah, I had been living in Ithaca where I’d gone to graduate school and had a very vibrant graduate school life—you know small town life—but then I moved out to Ohio to do the Kenyon Review Fellowship and I guess I was really lonely the semester that I was there. Meanwhile, there was something in the landscape of those Mars photos that I was attracted to: I guess just the complete sparseness of them. I’ve always been interested in minimalism, you know, as an artist, there was something about the landscape that I was drawn to. I was also starting to think a lot about climate change and sort of what the fall out of climate change was going to look like. I was writing in that kind of apocalyptic vein that a lot of people are sort of interested in right now, sort of dystopian future, like “what does our future look like once we’ve really kind of screwed up the planet?” I mean, it’s hard to say how I got interested in the Mars poems. Part of it was from looking at those photographs and just being inspired and some of it was my own sense of isolation and writing that from a metaphorical scale. Then some of it was my interest in climate change and what the future is gonna look like.
I was pretty shy about those Mars poems when I first started writing them because they seemed pretty out there. You try to explain it to another person without you know actually showing them the poems and it just sounds like you’re writing a sci-fi fantasy thing. Yeah, but once I started showing those poems to people and people started responding positively I thought, “Okay I’m on to something culturally. Like I’m hitting some sort of cultural nerve right now. Even if I can’t identify why or what it is like people are responding to these.” And then I just kind of went with it.
KL: Kind of going back to what you were saying about that feeling of solitude, I’m thinking back to your essay in the Missouri Review “One Means Being Alone,” did your experience of living in rural China inform at all the writing of the Mars poems?
ELR: I think it did. Going to Asia, living in rural China as a twenty-two year old who had really not seen very much of the world yet was a radically transforming experience. And I was living on the edge of the desert.
KL: Which almost has that same Martian imagery.
ELR: YES! And also China has very extreme environmental problems. The providence where I was living is very polluted, both the air and ground water. There’s a lot of mining going on in that area, and also a lot of other industrial stuff, so I think there’s a way in which images in the new book are reminiscent of that landscape.. There’s also a way in which I started writing, in China, from that place of feeling radically displaced, and that has been a common theme in my work.
KL: Yeah, definitely.
ELR: It starts in the last section of Chord Box, maybe even before then, but definitely in the last section. You know some people say that whatever happens at the very end of your first book is going to somehow lead to what happens in your second. And the second poetry book is about displacement as a result of climate change. It’s not autobiography, not my own feelings of displacement, but obviously I’m channeling some of that into those poems. The essays, too, are often about feeling on the fringes of a culture in various ways, I think it’s something I’m interested in. And I didn’t really do that consciously, it’s one of things I’ve had to like step back from and be like, “Why am I always writing about what it means to be like part of something but on the very edge of it?” But maybe that’s what we all always are doing as writers, don’t you think?
KL: Yeah! Sometimes as a femme lesbian I feel that way like I somehow don’t count as much.
ELR: Right! Because you’re both on the outside you know you’re sort of passing normative, hetero, whatever. But there’s always this feeling of otherness. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
KL: Yeah, it’s like you don’t fit either place.
KL: So you’ve already kind of alluded to the shift from your first book to your second, in that the first was truly autobiographical and the second is persona, but can you talk more about that change or any struggles you may have had as you made that transition?
ELR: So, one thing about the first book: the end of the first book did something very different than the beginning, like it’s clearly going off in a completely different direction. Which was a formal risk, by the way. I mean some people were like “you can’t put all this together as one book, it’s too different,” and I was like “ehhhhh yes, I can.” *laughs* So having that diversity I think has maybe saved me from some of that like “oh you only write this particular kind of confessional poem.” I think there’s a range in that first book. But I have definitely felt kind of like at times the risk of being like pigeonholed as a lesbian poet. But quite honestly, I don’t even know what that means now; there are so many queer people writing and all the queer people are part of making literary culture what it is. So I don’t know if there’s so much of a queer separation, but I definitely have struggled with the fear of being pigeonholed as a queer writer.
KL: Do you feel like you write about queerness a lot?
ELR: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, the essay collection–I’m calling it a collection now because like it’s a real thing that’s happening—it’s very much about queerness and queer identity. When I describe it to people I usually say it’s about queer identity, mostly in the American South but then also in other areas that are largely considered to be conservative culturally, like rural China for example. So, I do think that I explore queerness in terms of identity, like in the essays and definitely in the first book, that’s a big queer coming of age story. In terms of the second poetry collection, I think that you could consider it queer in the sense that it is questioning. There’s a lot of gender critique going on in the new book but it’s in the kind of like speculative dystopian vein, like it’s not autobiography or based on real people that we know, I mean all of those poems are persona poems, and in some ways I think that makes it queerer you know what I mean? Because there’s an imaginative code to all these people’s lives, like their lives are strange, strange to us.
KL: I’m already stoked to read it!
ELR: *laughs* Thanks!
KL: I think that was about all my questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about your new book, and congrats again!
ELR: Thank you! Anytime.
30° S, 166° W
Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers
Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers is the author of The Tilt Torn Away from The Seasons (2018) and Chord Box (2013) which was a finalist for both the Miller Williams Prize and the Lambda Literary Award. Her poems appear in The Missouri Review, Boston Review, FIELD, Guernica, Washington Square Review, Blackbird, The Journal, Mid-American Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Hayden’s Ferry Review, AGNI Online, Crab Orchard Review, Kenyon Review Online, StorySouth, on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, and many others. Her creative nonfiction appears in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017, Best American Travel Writing 2017, The Missouri Review, The Journal, The Rumpus, LitHub, and Prairie Schooner. Currently, Rogers is the Murphy Visiting Fellow in English at Hendrix College. She is also a Contributing Editor at The Kenyon Review and a volunteer for the Veterans’ Writing Project.
Kate Leland is a reader for Frontier Poetry, Palette Poetry and an associate editor with Sibling Rivalry Press. Her work has appeared in The Hunger and Rust + Moth and her debut chapbook I Wore The Only Garden I’ve Ever Grown was published in January 2017 with Headmistress Press.