Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Tethers, by Carrie Etter

Carrie Etter’s debut collection, The Tethers, was published by Seren earlier this year. Originally from Normal, Illinois, Carrie Etter now lives in Bradford on Avon and teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University.

I interviewed her by email about the book, her writing and teaching, and her future plans. Read on to find out more (there's also a couple of sample poems too)...

The Tethers
struck me as remarkable for its maturity – it feels far more rounded and focused than most first collections. How long were you honing these poems for?

Thank you, I’m pleased to hear that. I started collecting poems under the title Cult of the Eye in the autumn of 2002, so the book’s been evolving since then, with five poems pre-2000. I suppose the book’s maturity derives partly from the amount of time the book itself was evolving and partly from the amount of time I’ve been writing – I’ve been serious about poetry since my teens and I turned 40 this year.

I guess readers and critics must immediately be drawn to your transatlantic background in talking about your poetry (and I’m not going to be any different, sorry!). I’d be interested to know if you feel it’s allowed you to sit happily between some of the more entrenched camps in UK poetry?

I think the pluralist attitude to poetry of my generation of American poets has led me to pursue in both reading and writing a broad spectrum of poetries, and to wish there was less prejudice here, especially in regard to more experimental work. I don’t know how happily I’m sitting between camps, but I do what I can to get them to talk to one another, so to speak, and feel my position as a reviewer is helpful toward that end.

I’ve worried about the great difference among my first three books – The Tethers; Divining for Starters, a more experimental collection; and Imagined Sons, a strongly thematic collection consisting of prose poems and catechisms, but finally decided that I have to pursue my work, my desire to become a better poet, wherever it leads, regardless of response. That’s not to say I won’t pay attention to that response – I have so much to learn – but that I won’t let it narrow my options. A great part of the joy of poetry lies in its wild possibility, and that should be cultivated rather than tamed.

It’s had an obvious effect on your subject matter, too, but another thing I really enjoyed about the collection was your ability to slip between, and document a certain tension between, the urban and the rural. Do you feel you belong in one or the other?

I am heartened to hear that this issue is apparent in the book, as it’s integral to who I am. The answer to your question is that I feel I belong in both, I need both. Tonight, on a visit to my hometown in Illinois, I took a night walk, to the sound of cicadas and crickets, with my 12-year-old nephew Brandon; heading in the direction of my parents’ house meant that we were heading toward the fields. I took so much solace in that walk, in the easy conversation along the way and the noisy quiet surrounding it. At the same time, I crave the stimuli that comes with the urban, with its abundance of specificities and push for quality.

Could you tell us a bit about the process of publishing with Seren? What kind of editorial input did you receive?

I didn’t receive a great deal of editorial input, but I don’t know whether that is the norm at Seren. The poetry editor, Amy Wack, differed with me most on some of my syntactical constructions and on my use of dashes. On the former, I resisted because I felt the revisions would have normalized the syntax in a way that was untrue to the poems; on the latter, some of my dashes stayed, others were not instituted. All in all I’ve been happy in my experience with Seren, and I’m especially glad to be on a list stronger for the presence of a number of younger, intelligent women poets, Kathryn Gray, Zoe Skoulding, and Tiffany Atkinson among them.

I’m interested to know how teaching creative writing affects your own writing, both in purely practical terms (does it leave you enough time?!), and in terms of there being an ongoing exchange of ideas.

I believe teaching poetry makes me more alert in the process of writing and revising poems, as the precepts I’ve been teaching will be that much more present, consciously or unconsciously, as I work. Practically speaking, I find it impossible to write when I’m marking; something about the process of explaining to others the strengths and weaknesses of their writing inhibits my own ability to create. As far as time goes, I’m on a fractional, 0.7 contract, which means money is tighter than I’d like but I have more time to write. The exchange of ideas in teaching writing has been extraordinary; it keeps me thinking and questioning and reconsidering. I wouldn’t do anything else. The ultimate test, the lottery test, works here: if I won the lottery, I’d still teach, just less so as to allow more time for other activities.

Could you tell us a bit about your future publishing plans? I understand you’re going to be pretty busy.

Remember I’ve been writing, reading, and publishing for over 20 years before bringing out my first book, so there’s something of a backlog. Next month Oystercatcher Press will publish a pamphlet, The Son, that draws on my third book manuscript, Imagined Sons. I hadn’t planned on bringing out another pamphlet so soon, but Oystercatcher’s editor, Peter Hughes, asked me to submit, and I knew this was the work I wanted to show next.

In early 2011 Shearsman Books will bring out Divining for Starters, my second book. A draft of my third, Imagined Sons, has been by a couple poet-friends, but needs a little expansion, I think, and a final overhauling revision, before publication. The manuscript I’m actively writing, focusing on family, identity, one’s relationship to a home environment, etc., will presumably be my fourth book, The Weather in Normal. Suffice it to say I’m rarely wanting for something to write about!


Forced to apologise
for the dirty sheets, he looks

proud in his shame.
I left that bed years ago

and have returned to collect
a forgotten book, a favourite blanket.

He knew the names of trees better
than makes of cars, but neither well.

He remembers which sister
I like least and asks

how she is doing.

Americana, Station by Station

At our lowest price today only
vote Appelman for the school board
the Lakers beating San Antonio by 39 points
your sins will be forgiven

on mattresses all your favourite brands
because as a teacher he knows
in the fourth quarter a few minutes to go
so long as you accept Christ as your lord

name-brand comfort at a great value
what students need and parents want
yet another rebound - let's see that again
you are saved, I tell you, you are saved


Michelle said...

Wonderful interview, Matt and Carrie. I really enjoyed it.

Matt Merritt said...

Thanks very much Michelle, glad you enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to do, and it goes without saying that I recommend the book very highly to anyone who hasn't already got it