Interview: Erric Emerson

Erric Emerson

We talk to Erric Emerson about visual poetry, Sylvia Plath, and editing. Erric’s work appeared in issue 37 of Neon.

I enjoyed the unusual layout of your poem “Aureole”. How did you go about creating it? Do you ever have ideas for formally innovative pieces, but find them difficult to execute because of the limitations of software or technology? Or do your ideas for formal innovations come from the technology you have available?

“Aureole” is a bit of an oddity, one of those poems that sits in your notebook and you wonder about it, and how the hell it manifested itself. I’d been possessed by surrealistic tendencies, having so recently taken interest in visual form. Visual poetry intrigues me, it seems to almost be attempting two mediums at once. I was always interested in that concept; a poem that doubles as an image. For the poem I wanted to create a cylinder shape primarily because I couldn’t visualize it, and couldn’t find an example. Throughout the piece, I attempted to have cues; rolling down windows, driving in circles, pressing of lipstick, etc… to emphasize the cyclical representation. To create the circle I played around with a website for a while until it was more or less what I wanted. It was a rather difficult process, as I’m not particularly tech-savvy. Ironically, with a different laptop now, I’m not sure I could even recreate it at this point.

In terms of technology as either influence or afterthought, it’s rather conditional. Currently I’m using an inexpensive laptop, which consequently doesn’t allow for the same editing options as my previous computer did. So that’s limiting. Also file types are important as well, because if the poem is visually engaging it can sometimes come across awkwardly in translation. But I consider technological setbacks to be negligible. I can’t imagine from a creative standpoint how execution of a poem would be affected to such a point of being problematic.

Most of my first draft poems are typed, as I find it easier to capture fleeting thoughts and concepts than writing free hand. I will typically write in block form, and play with line breaks, stanzas and punctuation afterwards. Some of my better poems came about from playing with presentation. I remember writing a poem called “High Point” about an old sailor who was so obsessed with a lighthouse he went to find it in a storm, drowning himself. The poem was shaped like a lighthouse. When I sent it to my writing professor, he said that it was shaped like a pipe. So sometimes it misfires. But I’ll say this, the poem would not of looked like a lighthouse or a pipe if I had simply handwritten it. I rely heavily on the blinking cursor of an open document for these things.

The atmosphere of paranoia and the bleak setting of “A Suspicious Cigarette” are both very palpable. The little scene really caught my imagination. Have you envisaged what happens next? Is there a story that brought those characters to that place?

“A Suspicious Cigarette” is a narrative poem (again with surrealistic aspects) that I envisage as a part of a poetry collection I’m working on. The collection is loosely narrative, tied together by these vignette poems, that more or less address a particular issue in a single scene. For this poem, I address the concept of withdrawal (specifically from nicotine), and parade it around with surreal images and happenings to offer a strange and disturbing take on the symptoms felt. The poem itself, from a narrative standpoint, ends with the last line. I never address explicitly if a character is the same as in the last piece, or if they are going anywhere in particular. Thematically, the characters echo the nature of previous manifestations, as future characters will echo the characters in “A Suspicious Cigarette”.

In your biography you mention a journal you’re working on called Duende. Where does that name come from? Can you tell me a little bit about it?

The wonderful Duende literary journal staff came up with this name collaboratively, as a representation of the mission and goals of Goddard College, namely an emphasis on literary writing and artistic expression. The college itself is a low-residency program consisting of writers, artists, and beautifully-gifted people with individualized studies in everything from environmental sustainability to studying “The Occult”. As we are all students there, our name Duende wanted to capture the uniqueness of the culture represented at our college, as well as being an outlet for innovative writing that is soul-speaking, authentic, and expressive. The word itself, while tied to the fluidity and eloquence of Flamenco dancing, and further back to the archetype of a fairy or goblin in Spanish mythology, is artistically bound to the elusiveness of truth, essence, and beauty. Duende literary journal can be found here: www.duendeliterary.org.

Could you tell me about a writer who is significant to you, and why?

Sylvia Plath’s poetry has had a profound influence on my writing, and the way I view poetry in general. I find her work to be hauntingly bleak, blunt, and forward in such a way that I’ve rarely seen from any other poet in the last century. Besides her expansive vocabulary, there is a sort of dark tinge, a black veil over the speaker’s eyes in her poems. One of my favorite poems is “The Applicant”. To me it reads as society questioning an unperson (to borrow an Orwellian term) someone who’s being interviewed in the application of life, more or less. Her writing is an inspiration in my work, as I attempt to try to capture the horrors, the unrelenting nature of human nature and so on, a certain surreality rarely seen.

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Erric Emerson is currently the poetry editor of Duende, an undergraduate journal from Goddard College, the first edition of which is due out in the autumn of 2014. His poetry has been published in Collage literary journal in the 2011 and 2012 editions. He is a poet from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, currently studying a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree at Goddard College. He previously held the position of Creative Writing Club President at Brookdale Community College.