What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?
I wrote “Twenty Years” in November 2014. That semester, I was in a graduate poetry workshop taught by the very talented Kimberly Blaeser, the 2015-2016 Poet Laureate of Wisconsin. The focus of that course was poetry of witness, spirit, and social justice. In a text we read, Yeats explained this idea of a half-conscious, dreamlike state directly after death — what I like to think of as a reverse limbo, a peaceful liminal space. In my memory of that essay or interview, he said this state could last about twenty years. I was struck by the specificity of that amount of time, and wondered what it would be like to exist in that state. When I started writing the poem that November morning, I was looking at this vase of lilies my boyfriend at the time had bought me. Without consciously deciding to, I starting writing that poem to him (the “you”). I might have been attempting to articulate something I was unable to express in person, in dialogue. (Isn’t poetry sometimes the only way?) Like that relationship, the flowers were slowly dying and I felt this immense sense of loss for what I couldn’t hang on to. (My father would also die of liver cancer a few months later.) This poem is about how we can sense something is ending before it has fully left us.
“For the Occasion” is a much less narrative poem. I think this poem is about living in the aftermath of sexual abuse, how that abuse becomes tangled up with one’s adult sexuality and desires, the performativity of having to remember or process or talk about that abuse, and how memory and time can queer those experiences. As opposed to Pound’s “make it new,” I believe in the power of “make it strange.”
Tell us about your writing life.
I started writing short stories and song lyrics when I was four or five years old. I was fortunate in this way — I was always a writer and I always knew it. My sisters are both creative types — my older sister did drama and my little sister was into visual art. Our mother was totally supportive of this, which is lucky, because it helped me stick with it. But it took me a long time to realize that I could study writing and make it my profession. I currently live alone for the first time in several years in an old studio apartment with hardwood floors and French doors. I’ve worked hard to get to this point in my life where I can dedicate so much time to my work (I’ve also had a lot of help and support along the way). I try to shape that space and my days around writing, the writing life (the French doors really help). This can be difficult, as you probably know, because life gets in the way. There are errands to run, student papers to grade, books to read, and friends to see. The writing life can be hard on the one living it, but it can also be hard on our loved ones. I have to remember to touch base with the outside world and remind myself that writing is very much a social act, even if it is done in private. If writing is ever not about connection for me, it might be time to quit.
What writing advice has stayed with you?
A few years ago I came to a turning point in my writing. It was the beginning of my first year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where I was completing an MFA in poetry. I’d always written on the side, as a hobby, somewhat separately from the rest of my life. In Alaska, the stakes were suddenly raised; poetry was now the main thing, the reason I’d moved to this remote state where I didn’t know anyone. Writing was always important to me, but I’d never been disciplined about it. That first fall in Fairbanks, I met another poet (full beard, hand-rolled cigarettes, somewhat of an eccentric — you probably know the type) who wrote, or attempted to write, every day. He told me, “You have to do it regularly. You have to get serious about it.” I’m naturally competitive, so if someone challenges me, especially if I think they think I can’t do it, I usually go for it. So I started getting up an hour or two earlier and tried to write every morning. Obviously, this isn’t for everyone. Even for me, this practice wasn’t sustainable. Now I write whenever I have a free morning (and I am a morning writer, the earlier I get up, the more productive I will be), maybe three or four days a week for an hour or two at a time. You don’t have to write every day to be a writer, but you do need to be rigorous and put in the time, read as much as possible, do the submissions, etc. You have to do the work. You have to stay at the table.
What are you reading right now?
Right now, I’m interested in poets, especially female poets, who are doing some genre crossing or experimenting with hybridity and the lyric essay mode. I’m thinking specifically of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and Carmen Giménez Smith’s Bring Down the Little Birds. Nonfiction is my favorite genre to read (and write, actually). I just finished Philip Connor’s All the Wrong Places, which I found pretty compelling. I have to put in a plug for David Vann here too; he is one of the most talented writers I’ve encountered in years, and certainly one of my favorites. Seriously, read Legend of a Suicide as soon as you can.
Anything else our readers might want to know about you?
Random fact about me: I am obsessed with Alaska, the circumpolar north, and Antarctica now. I like to look at pictures of cabins for rent in Alaska on Craigslist (sometimes daily), even though I currently live in Milwaukee. It feels like a dirty little secret.
Where can our readers connect with you online?
Anyone interested in reading more can find my first chapbook, The White Dog Year, here.
CAITLIN SCARANO is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbooks: The White Dog Year(dancing girl press, 2015) and The Salt and Shadow Coiled (Zoo Cake Press, 2015). This past winter, she was an artist in residence at the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls and the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island.