May as well start here. I’m curious: what’s your elevator pitch for your book?
Garden Effigies explores the varying intersections of desire, intimacy, and loss. With poems that span subjects such as familial relationships, celebrations of intimacy, and awakenings into female reclamation and empowerment, the collection is both lush and analytical, willing to examine the most beautiful and painful moments of existence. One theme that haunts the collection—that of disclosure, culminating in the collection’s final poem entitled “Erasure with Starlings and What Women Won’t Tell You—nods to contemporary neo-confessionalism, a poetics that delves and breaches the manifold expressions of human experience.
How did you come upon the subject of your book?
I came upon the subject of Garden Effigies when I was looking to dovetail poems dedicated to social justice—specifically violence against women—with an exploration of matrilineal relationships. By uniting these seemingly disparate notions, I began to weave a collection that wove the subjects together in a way that felt culturally enriching to me. Living in a world where women are stolen and imprisoned—I am specifically thinking of the kidnappings of women by Ariel Castro, among other such cases—I began to think about how crimes against women percolated in my own reality.
And the title? Sometimes, it seems to me, titles can strike like lightning or can be extraordinarily elusive. How did you go about finding your title?
I appropriated the title from a poem in the collection entitled “Apostasy Concerning Lingerie and Garden Effigies.” I did so because the poem seems to take to task the notion of how women cluster their most painful and ecstatic experiences in an emotional secret garden, tilling their memories there and tending them like exotic plants. This seemed to be a productive way to consider how the collection treats notions of memory, longing, and preservation.
Tell us something about the most difficult thing you encountered in this book’s journey.
The most challenging thing for me was yoking together the disparate notions of social justice and private lineage. I wanted both to illuminate each other rather than cause minimization or hyperbole.
And the most pleasurable?
Seeing poems with thematic differentiation come together under an overwhelming architecture was very satisfying to me.
What’s the best and / or worst piece of advice (writing or publishing or similar) you’ve gotten?
I think that the best piece of writing advice I have ever given is fairly pat and regurgitated, but very useful to my projects: write what you know. I think that this particular piece of advice can come with a warning label unless an individual is constantly engaged in research and extending one’s experiences. Writing what I know feels very liberating to me, and I often extend and complicate it by considering trope, metaphor, and creating images that delve at the level of the poem and the line.
Tell us one of your favorite books you’ve discovered recently and say a little about why.
This summer, I finally got a chance to spend time with Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec. It has been on my reading list for a while, derailed over the past three years by the demands of Ph.D. program coursework and my preparation for written and oral comprehensive exams. The collection is moving because it considers cultural, familial, and intimate lineages in ways that feel compelling and seamless. The painful themes of poverty, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and familial loss are explored with dignity and candor. The collection offers a tapestry of depth and range that few collections these days really harness.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? Give us a taste.
Sure, I would love to do so. Here is a poem entitled “Woman, Border Crosser:”
WOMAN, BORDER CROSSER
—In Japanese folk literature, a Kitsune is a celestial fox that can take on human form, often in the form of woman, girl, or elderly man.
The vixen trespassing my mother’s gazebo, the one whose tail helixes in the turn spindles as she crouches by the parquet deck—will she fit reeds and skulls like avatars over her head at dusk, will she stand erect then, a tincture of hips and clavicles, though the brush stays fused to her pelvic girdle?
She’s a body zigzagging between darknesses, only flirting with space and time as she’s one place, then another.
I’m watching her sashay, not prowl, toward the storm-fractured pine trees bordering the yard, then turn back, as though her secret’s already slipped into pantyhose, flattened and cinched into a pretense of spine.
Fox by day, woman by night. I want to watch her lure any man not inoculated against her beauty into fever, watch him grow lacerations of desire like seeds of Spanish moss winded or carried by birds, watch him thrash under the fate of her body still swathed in almond-colored organza.
I want to watch her decide between eating his liver, unfolding the russet lobes like leaves of artichoke, tonguing long strips of his heart trimmed and seared in shallot oil, or letting him lift her hips in his car seat’s sun-bleached suede.
She’s what I mean by woman, not transformation. He’s what I mean by man misled by pleasure, thighs glistening like bitten star fruit.
So what if he closes his eyes, grasps her flushed belly, so what if her tail is unraveling into a bolt of lightning? She’s only waiting for him to come so hard she disappears.
And then by his front axle, he’ll see the red plume loitering as she’s loitering now by the gazebo, my eyes still caressing her, dandelion florets catching in her fur. What do I call this border crosser, this parable once awkwardly concealed in stilettos, now running at full throttle? Her hocks and hind feet, translucent in her wake, are kicking up names and dust.
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
What is your favorite gustatory writing muse? My answer: sea salt dark chocolate, especially if the salt used is Fleur de Sel. J
OK, we’re smitten. Where do we go to buy your book?
Thanks so much for saying so! You can buy my chapbook at the Dancing Girl Press website linked here: http://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/garden-effigies-sara-henning