What is a current project you are working on?
I’ve reached an impasse with Real Mother, the manuscript this essay is part of, so I’m going to let it sit and stew a while until I can figure out how to resolve it. Meanwhile, I’m working on a nonfiction manuscript about perfume, and a weird necropastoral/domestic fabulist thing set in northern Minnesota that combines poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
What is the piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?
I have a long-running tendency toward writing that involves a lot of research down arcane rabbit holes. One of my former professors, Kate Coles, said that my poems needed to do more than present the reader with “here’s this weird thing I found,” that I needed to make an imaginative leap from those facts to give them stakes or significance. I still double-check to make sure I’m making that leap, because I can get bogged down in fascinating minutiae pretty easily.
What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?
Nicole Walker and Lee Ann Roripaugh, both poets who moved into writing lyric and literary essays, have been hugely influential for showing me this pathway. Also motherhood – I used to write 12–20-line lyric poems, but after adopting Wyatt, my poems started expanding to three, four, even more pages, then into lyric essays, then essays. I had more and bigger and more complicated things to say.
What encouraged you to share about your experience with the adoption of your son? With this essay in particular, the emotions here are raw and often go undiscussed; what pushed you to be this open with readers?
The manuscript “The Means of Labor” is from, Real Mother, is a collection of linked essays that explore our family’s experience with open adoption and attempt to understand the problematic relationship between me and my son’s birthmother. There are many narratives about adoptees searching for birth families, or about birthmothers searching for children placed for adoption, usually from the pre-1980s “Baby Scoop Era” when records were cloaked in secrecy and shame. But accounts of open adoption are uncommon, and descriptions of the relationship between adoptive- and birth mothers are rare. While open adoption is an improvement, the process opens both families up to different, unexpected, and prolonged issues that have not been fully explored. My hope is that this collection will expand understanding of the possibilities and problems of open adoption relationships and the intersecting socioeconomic, gender, and personal issues adoption involves.
As far as why I was so open with the reader for this essay, in many ways, the reader I most worry about is my son, who will almost certainly read this someday. I tried to get this essay (and the others) as truthful as possible, and if I’m being honest with him, then I’m being honest with the reader.
Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?
Oh shit, just one? Well, since we’re talking about adoption, Sun Yung Shin’s Unbearable Splendor (Coffee House Press, 2016) is a remarkable book-length hybrid-text meditation on what it means to be a hybrid, unheimlich, guest/ghost/host, a Korean adopted by white American parents.