“I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process”: Paul Cunningham interviews Sade Murphy
[Sade Murphy has poems in the new Action,Yes. Paul Cunningham, assistant editor of Action Books, interviews here here.]
Paul: Hi Sade. How do you approach writing a new poem? What kind of work do you typically set out to write?
Sade: I feel like when I start something, it’s usually accidentally. Dream Machine began because I wanted to trick myself into a good writing routine during a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I’d start my day by writing about the previous night’s dreams over breakfast. It eventually replaced the project that I thought I would start there and grew eight legs and several other healthy appendages. So I guess I stumble into new poems while I’m doing something else. But once I have a concept I’m obsessed with it and I have to work it to completion. So I don’t feel like I typically set out to write anything. But even if I don’t have an intention in that regard I do intend for the poetry to be visceral. I want to write something that makes me feel powerful and effective when I read it. I want to write poems that touch something chaotic and messy without destroying myself in the process. I want, at least for the time being, to write poetry that creates questions and discomfort for people, to make them wonder if they’ve underestimated me.
Paul: Could you say something about the structure of Dream Machine? For me, the rapidity and the weight of the poem’s numbers tugged and propelled me through what felt like a filmic dream archive.
Sade: That’s really well put. So Dream Machine is set up in sections of six poems each and each section is titled Dream Machine of the Decade and then subtitled with a certain kind of number. For instance most of the dream machines on Action, Yes are “Sexy Numbers” or “Prime Numbers”. I have this thing about numbers, so the numbering of the poems is fairly intentional. The numbers are the titles for the poems. But it’s disordered too, the numbers aren’t sequential, they aren’t all there, they’re grouped somewhat subjectively. Ultimately the numbers kind of represent this ideal of structure or order within the realm of Dream Machine, in a way that the order is only meaningful to the imposer of said order.
There exists a sole dreamer spawning the Dream Machine. That dreamer is me… which I feel is important to say because I have a particular position and experiences which inform the things that are able to happen in the Dream Machine. There are also a few recurring characters.
Paul: What primarily influences your use of language and wordplay?
Sade: Eleutheromania. I want freedom. I remember growing up and feeling very policed about what I was allowed to write or think or feel.
People at times have read my poems and felt the need to tell me that I couldn’t use certain words the way that I had used them, or maybe that I hadn’t earned being able to use words the way that I do. And while I’ll probably never be free of that kind of policing, I am bold in my disregard for it. I also feel very deeply about literacy, a love for words and language being closely intertwined with gaining freedom. I loved reading the dictionary as a kid and I still love learning new words and languages. And I tend to be very particular about the words I use in my poems, they have to be exactly right and if I can’t find exactly the right word, then I’ll fuse it together from other words.
Paul: Our daily media landscape is saturated with bodies and various brutalities inflicted onto those bodies. Do you think writers are often discouraged from engaging with violence? Do you think of your own writing as demonstrative of a violent ornateness? If so, what is its intention?
Sade: I’m going to say there have definitely been times where I felt discouraged from engaging with violence, especially when that violence is an experience of personal trauma. I feel like there’s a certain way that I’ve witnessed women or people of color labeled because of the ways their writing has spoken to the experience of violence.
There are ways in which the Dream Machine is my way of getting around that. Being able to speak to the experience of violence and trauma without the danger of having my work reduced to sad black girl poetry, or more politely labeled “heavy”.
Violent ornateness. I don’t want ornate to be confused with superfluous because the violence is necessary, it serves a purpose and isn’t ornamental. I think the Dream Machine takes a very Chaotic Neutral stance when it comes to violence. Violence is a tool, the quality of it is determined by who wields it. I think the function we see played out with the use of violence in the Dream Machine is a landscape ripe with and melding subjective violence, symbolic violence, and systemic violence. Violence isn’t actively sought out, but it occurs. Violence is done to the dreamer and the dreamer does violence to numerous characters throughout the poems.
Paul: What is the function of a body in the Dream Machine?
Sade: I’m of the belief that everything/one in the dream is the dreamer. So part of me feels inclined to say that the only body that exists in the Dream Machine is the dreamer’s body. And the dreamer’s body provides the boundaries for the dreamscape and the parameters for what is allowed to exist in the dreamscape.
Bodies in the dreamscape work outside of the rules. In a way the forms they take are redundant, representative, derivative and idealized. Bodies don’t decay. Perhaps that is part of why the violence is so blatant. Bodies in the dreamscape don’t register pain. Only the body of the dreamer upon waking and even then it’s more of a psychic uneasiness.
There’s also less room for compartmentalization or dualism. Bodies act without the stress of distinguishing between need and compulsion. No guilt, no need to rationalize one’s actions.
Paul: Social media. A writer’s friend or foe?
Sade: Talk about a violent landscape. So I have mixed feelings about social media and it doesn’t have anything to do with being a writer. Something that I really like about social media is the opportunity to build communities and maintain relationships. But fully participating social media also exposes to me a lot of structural violence, so I disengage from it a lot.
Paul: What is your conception of the prose poem?
Sade: So I had no clue how to answer this question. Then my roommate was reading to me from the introduction of Zizek’s Violence. Though I don’t necessarily like dichotomizing prose and poetry I think the prose poem for me has been a great form to use to bring together the “factual truth” and “truthfulness”. Prose poetry, as I use it in Dream Machine, is a description both with and without a place. It is situated within a specific time and space but it also creates a landscape which exists beyond reality. A dream machine is both real and unreal. The prose poem is a form that straddles and I feel like it’s allowed me a lot of freedom in writing Dream Machine.
Paul: Who should we be reading and what attracts you to their writing? Or, better yet, who do you think we’re not reading enough of?
Sade: I hate answering this question, even when friends ask me.
I always feel like I should be reading more women poets, poets of color, queer poets. Subversive poets. Poets I want to read more of: Ai, Chelsey Minnis, Deborah Digges, Will Alexander, Tomaz Salamun, Raul Zurita.
There are three kinds of poetry I read: poetry for base pleasure, poetry for obligation, and poetry that inspires me as a poet. So I’ll share some of the poets who have joined that last category most recently for me: Harryette Mullen, Lara Glenum, Aase Berg translated by Johannes Goransson, Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi. I’m not sure how to describe what attracts me to their writing but it probably has something to do with not being able to consume one of their books in a single sitting (not for lack of trying or interest). Their writing is intellectually and linguistically exciting, as well as distressing and confusing, but a seductive confusion. Their poetry does not leave me with neat answers.
Paul: Any new projects? What are you currently working on?
Finishing Dream Machine. I’m roughly a month of neurotic editing away from feeling like I’ve finished it. I have two other unfinished projects.
[PAUL CUNNINGHAM is the author of two e-chapbooks of poetry: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Pangur Ban Party, 2010) and Foamghast (NAP Literary Magazine, 2012). He manages Radioactive Moat Press and edits Deluge. He served as co-editor of the sixth issue of SLAB (Sound & Literary Art Book) which was awarded the AWP National Director’s Prize for Undergraduate Literary Magazines in the Category of Content. He recently began work as a deputy editor at The Fanzine. His writing has appeared in publications including Tarpaulin Sky, DIAGRAM, Witness, A capella Zoo, H_NGM_N, The Destroyer and others. He is currently pursuing a MFA at the University of Notre Dame where he also works as an editorial assistant for Action Books. Here is his tumblr.]