By Leslie Lindsay
Such a gorgeously dark and ruminative collection of poetry focusing on one’s thick, oppressive familial heritage, and yet, a compelling light to break the cycle.
~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
With a title like ARIA VISCERA (April Gloaming Press, May 5 2020), I could hardly resist this collection by Kristi Carter. In music, aria is defined as a singular voice, self-contained, and it also brings to mind great expansion, an origin I am not familiar with etymologically, but maybe. And of course, viscera represents the internal organs. Being a writer with a background in medicine, this collection spoke to me, quite literally, but once I dove into the pages, I discovered there was another calling: it’s about a scarred past, and how scars don’t exactly go away, but fade; it’s about finding one’s own light in dark times, of escaping the cycle of abuse, neglect, of breaking away.
Divided into four sections, ARIA VISCERA focuses on birth, names, anatomy, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers, life cycles; it’s also about myths and monsters (literal and metaphorical), it’s troubling and speculative and yes, self-contained, but not self-absorbed, it’s a shout in the darkness, a rise to confidence, to self-awareness.
These are deep, thoughtful pieces that will resonate with the reader, they leave a residue, a thickness that encapsulates feelings and words and experiences, so thick at times, you can chew on the words.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Kristi Carter to the author interview series:
Kristi, hello and welcome. I am still cogitating this visceral and compelling collection. And poetry is like that; it is sticky. The prose slips in and out, becomes a sort of ear worm; there’s a rhythm and cadence that goes along with the words. I always want to know the inspiration behind a title, but that’s easier with fiction or non-fiction. Instead, can you tell me a little about the title, ARIA VISCERA?
Thanks for asking. I appreciate what you have already discussed bout the title—it borrows from music and the body. An aria is such a transcendent, dramatic event for a singer and/or a character in an opera (as well as the listener, one might hope), so while researching about operatic elements for fun then playing around with titles, this entered the list. As for viscera, the feminist dwellings on the policing of female bodies and my leanings toward darker aesthetics landed me on that particular word.
I’d like to ask about ‘Southern Fiction,’ because April Gloaming, the publisher of ARIA VISCERA, publishes only what they deem ‘southern.’ There’s an aesthetic to it: it’s about the land that bore you, and it’s about our connection to that land, the thick, sometimes oppressive way the ether hangs from the trees. I get that. I’m constantly reminded somewhere deep within, of that wet, aching landscape. Can you add a little more what it means to write ‘southern literature?’
It’s such a fascinating question and I’ll do my best but it strikes me much like one being asked to describe one’s own reflection in the mirror; it’s both you yet not exactly you at the same time. All one can give is the closest understanding they have of a representation of themselves at a remove. I think all artists are subject to this when discussing their own work somewhat but before I get too vast with my answer, let me try to come down out of those ether-festooned trees you describe.
With April Gloaming, the very name of the press has to do with the twilight. The name of the press reminds me of how photographer Sally Mann describes the evening light in the Southern states she captures in her book Deep South. [I’ve linked some images I thought illustrated this just because I thought you might want to look!]
If we add the time of day, the gloaming, to the matter that it happens in April, during the sort of twilight of spring, you’re in at least two liminal zones at once. Being in-between is such a great place for generative potential, but it can also cause unrest and anguish. The history of the American South is one that rotates around the death and rebirth of identity, but not necessarily the replacement of what’s come before. In fact, erasing or forgetting the important failures of the South means to not truly understand what the South is.
There’s a lot of trauma that makes up Southern identity. The south itself is a region with contested parameters—cue the great state debates. It’s also built out of horrific human slavery and defeat, yet it happens to contain some of the most beautiful parts of our nation. It is inherently problematic, complex and bruised.
In terms of the themes that flow through ARIA VISCERA, I made a list of words that struck me. This could just a Rorschach-like insight into my brain, but here they are: ash, gold, mirror, truth, name(s), birth, grey, womb, mother, cleave, parallel, daughter. Maybe I was just glomming onto those words for my own reasons. Can you talk about that, please? What themes you were exploring and is there any accuracy to my list?
I like the idea of the reader’s interpretation being a Rorschach test. The poem exists as itself yet, simultaneously, the reader inserts a part of herself into the poetry that forms a new meaning. I don’t mean to make it sound like my poems are ambiguous, I would even argue they’re quite direct, but I just want to emphasize that I admire your interaction with the poetry.
As for those words, most of them look similar to a list I’d make myself if I was forced to pin down those I use the most throughout the book, however, I’m surprised to see “grey” and “parallel” on this list. It makes complete sense, and yet, those two words almost look innocuous when listed next to the others. Little toothless snakes. However, of course they aren’t toothless at all, but I think they stand out here because the rest are so blatantly tied to tangible imagery used in the ways, the narratives, we create as we try to make sense of history, time and myth.
There are many mother-daughter poems in this collection. They are dark, ruminative, and resonate. My mother and I had a tumultuous relationship at best, and I get the sense you did/do, too. There’s even a line that says, ‘I hope you have a daughter who hates you as much as you seem to hate me.’ I gasped aloud when I read that. Someone told me that once. I’m guessing the same is true for you? Can you tell us more, please?
Thanks for sharing that reaction. I would even venture that most daughters have had some kind of similar interaction with their mothers or the person that raised them the most closely. It’s always validating to see that moment happen in books because for most people, it’s not something that naturally comes into daily conversation.
It’s important to recognize that not only are there struggles that make up what it means to learn about womanhood, often via one’s mother, but that those struggles are legitimate rather than the punchline of some misogynist joke.
As for me, there’s definitely some personal history to it, but suffice it to say there is and always has been, mutual strife.
But—there’s light here, too. In “Inheritance of Ochre,” you write:
“I fled the cave of family, and on my exit, rolled the stone over the path to the chthonic womb you so hoped I’d pass down through closing the circle of ritual. You hoped, like yours, my hands would ring the neck of the next daughter who […]the curse[…] only release her from the jagged lines once someone inherits it from her.”
I’m thinking this is about breaking the cycle, finding one’s one light and saying, ‘look! I’m not like you.’
Ha! One can only hope, right? Your interpretation is so inspiring because it’s a double-edged thing, wondering if one can break any cycle at all, and of course, how. In so many ways, there are things I will never know (because I will never be told) about my own mother, so in some ways the poems do map out the reaching for the light but also, the possibility that such light might exist for me, even if it did not for her.
Kristi, thank you for this. I am so grateful to have connected. Before we go, can you talk a little about what’s obsessing you now? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Well, the current state of the world during COVID is terrifying which does take up a lot of my energy. As a contingent professor of undergrads, I fear for their education and welfare, as well as my own job security (and the general state of higher education in this country). Other than current affairs, I’m working on a teaching resource, TransNarratives: Scholarly and Creative Works on Transgender Experience, with my co-editor James Brunton due to come out in May 2021. I am always obsessed with coffee and reading. I’m looking forward to reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s newest book because I deeply admire her writing. Thanks again for having me!
Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Join her on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook
For more information, to connect with Kristi Carter via social media, or to purchase a copy of ARIA VISCERA, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kristi Carter is the author of Aria Viscera (April Gloaming), Red and Vast (dancing girl press), Daughter Shaman Sings Blood Anthem (Porkbelly Press) and Cosmovore (Aqueduct Press). Her poems have appeared in publications including So to Speak, poemmemoirstory, CALYX, Hawaii Review, and Nimrod. Her work examines the intersection of gender and intergenerational trauma in 20th Century poetics. Currently, she is editing, along with James L. Brunton, a collection for students consisting of scholarly and creative work on trans* studies and experiences, set for publication in 2021. She holds a PhD from University of Nebraska Lincoln and an MFA from Oklahoma State University.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. Forthcoming cover art to be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly, other images in Another Chicago Magazine (AJM), poetry in The Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Journal. Leslie has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of April Gloaming and used with permission. Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Join her on Instagram@leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook]