technology as simultaneously empowering and oppressive: ghost ocean talks with Susan Slaviero
Susan Slaviero's first full length book of poetry, CYBORGIA, is available from Mayapple Press. She is also the author of two poetry chapbooks: An Introduction to the Archetypes (Shadowbox Press, 2008) and Apocrypha (Dancing Girl Press, 2009). Her work has appeared in Fourteen Hills, Flyway, Caffeine Destiny, wicked alice, Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, Eclectica, RHINO, and others. She has a BA in English / Creative & Professional Writing from Lewis University. She blogs occasionally at http://mythology-and-milk.blogspot.com
Ghost Ocean: You've previously published two chapbooks, An Introduction to the Archetypes and Apocrypha. What was the transition like from chapbook to full-length collection?
Susan Slaviero: I think putting together a chapbook manuscript is one of the best strategies for discovering the different ways in which poems fit together and to find the recurring threads in one’s own work. I like looking for connections, whether it’s form or theme or a certain kind of language that makes each poem part of a larger whole. Both chapbooks and full length collections can function as a kind of mega-poem, with each piece building on the other. I approached writing Cyborgia in much the same way I did Apocrypha: with a specific concept—this time the female cyborg as opposed to the female Catholic saint—and expanding on that central image with a complexity that I hope can be interpreted as something larger and more prismatic than the cyborgs we sometimes see in films or commercials or mass market science fiction novels. Putting together a full length manuscript differs from a chapbook primarily in allowing the writer to explore the subject in greater detail than might be possible in a smaller collection. I think the process for creating both large and small poetry collections is the same.
GO: I think Cyborgia does exactly what you've just mentioned: expanding on the central image of the female cyborg and characterizing her in a much more substantial way than we have seen in films or mass market novels. How much of the personality and ideals of your female cyborg(s) can you attribute to yourself? What else played a role in the characterization?
SS: While the cyborgs in the poems represent various personae, I think many women (including myself) have experienced technology as simultaneously empowering and oppressive. The speakers within the poems represent different aspects of the mechanical woman—they are wives and warriors, maidens and monsters—the archetypes that exist within us all. The characters are inspired by the fairy tales of my childhood, Catholic saints, film, art, literature and popular culture. I owe a special debt of gratitude to the short stories of writers like Alice B. Sheldon (writing under the pseudonym of James Tiptree Jr.), C.L. Moore, Anne McCaffrey, and others. Their work interrogates the concept of the female cyborg in ways that I admire.
GO: One moment in particular, in "Pandora's Robot," where you write that she "opened the brass plate over her sternum / and let out language," seemed reflective of you and what I might guess is your general approach to poetry. How do you view and value language in poetry, from both a writer's and a reader's standpoint?
SS: One of the things I appreciate most about language in poetry is the way in which it can be both visual and auditory. During the writing process, I always consider both how the poem looks on the page and how it sounds when read aloud.
As a reader of poetry, I appreciate both the written and spoken word. I have been enchanted by pieces I’ve heard read aloud that might not have captured my attention on paper. I’ve also been intrigued by how certain poems are arranged on the page, gleaned something new from the visual structure of the piece. I’d like to think “Pandora’s Robot” is one of those poems that can be experienced in one way by listening to a performance and in another, slightly different way within the pages of a book.
GO: With that in mind, consider the well-worn "If you were stranded on a desert island..." question. What one book would you want to have with you in print? And if you had an mp3 player (Solar powered, perhaps? Use your imagination...) what audio book would you want to have with you?
SS: Just one book?! What a dilemma! Is it cheating to say I'd want a hefty anthology of literature by women writers? That way I could bring Margaret Atwood, Anne Sexton, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Octavia Butler, and many others along to keep me company...
I'd want the complete works of William Shakespeare on my mp3 player, to be read aloud by Sir Patrick Stewart. (No, I would not substitute William Shatner! Okay....maybe.) That would keep me entertained for a long, long time.
GO: Any final words of wisdom for the struggling poet?
SS: I'm a struggling poet, too! I try to write about the things that fascinate me, to find a balance between work, family, and creativity. I use writing as both a mode of discovery—to learn about things like science, history and culture by exploring them in the privacy of my journal—and a mode of communication by revising and crafting finished poems in order to share ideas with an audience. Writing is a solitary activity, so be sure and spend some time among your fellow humans, when you can.