Christine Rothenbeck sat down with us to talk a bit about her design aesthetic and her poetry. This is the first in a series of poetry & design interviews. Enjoy!
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I'm a grad student (I'll be finishing my PhD this summer!), so right now it's a combination of thrift store furniture dressed up in slipcovers and sentimental family hand-me-downs. I have the afghan I napped under as a toddler, the mirror that used to hang in my parents' bathroom when I was little, a rocking chair that belonged to my aunt, and a chair that I used to sit in when I visited my next-door neighbor when I was in preschool. I have a lot of sentimental connections to furniture for some reason, but since I'm a thousand miles away from my family, it's nice to have things that remind me of home. I also have lots of strange things I've collected over time and visits to thrift and antique stores, like a piece of coral, a lot of old bottles, and the ceramic animals that used to come in boxes of Red Rose Tea. So, eclectic cozy thrift store oddities?
How do you decide what goes in your space. How is that different from what goes into one of your poems?
I have some magpie tendencies in both decorating and poems. In decorating, I find weird old things at antique markets or thrift stores and bring them home—and then I try to find a place to put them. In writing, I tend to find interesting pieces of conversation and text, or ideas that I get excited about/obsessed with, and then I try to link all the pieces together into something different and new. I also do a lot of work with found poetry, which makes sense given my love of found objects. I'm always trying to find something a little strange in the everyday.
What are you working on creatively right now?
I am working on finishing my first full-length manuscript, Quarry, trying to fit the poems together into a a coherent whole. I've been writing a lot about hunting lately. I've never actually been hunting, but I've been reading about the medieval traditions of the hunt, and I'm interested in the ways I can bring that into play with the rural New Jersey/Pennsylvania culture I grew up in—my dad and many of the other men I've known are hunters and trappers, and I grew up around antler trophies and talk of deer stands—and the language and ideas of relationships, the pursuer and the pursued.
What is your favorite object in your home?
I have so many favorite things that it's hard to pick one, so I'm going to tell you about my most newly acquired favorite thing: my 1950s Remington manual typewriter. I won a gift card to a local Hattiesburg antique and craft store called The Lucky Rabbit, and the typewriter was just begging to come home with me. I like that it's so much harder to operate in terms of typing than a computer keyboard, because I have to really concentrate on striking the keys and it slows me down and makes me really think about every word I put on the page. And I like the idea of being able to type even if the power were to go out—a distinct possibility in Southern Mississippi during storm season!
What is your least favorite object?
Because I live in Mississippi, central heating isn't a requirement for houses. My least favorite object is the wall-mounted gas heater that supposedly heats my apartment. Basically, when it gets cold out, I have to live with an open flame on my living room wall, which is terrifying, and also pretty inefficient, since it faces away from my bedroom. The heater itself is temperamental—it's so hard to light that when I manage it on my first try, I feel like The Fonz with the jukebox on "Happy Days."
What poetry books have you been reading recently?
I've been reading Monica Ferrell's Beasts for the Chase, Sarah Rose Nordgren's Best Bones, and Caki Wilkinson's The Winona Stone Poems. They're all on my reading list for my comprehensive exam in contemporary feminist poetry, and I'm so lucky to have a reason to acquire so many fantastic books by women writers.
What design elements have you been crushing on recently?
I'm obsessed with pallet furniture. I like the idea of building my own things, taking what has been thrown away and making it beautiful. I'm hoping I can build a pallet platform bed for my next apartment, wherever that may be.
If you had unlimited time to create, what would you make?
I'd like to build the aforementioned pallet bed, and this great bookshelf/coffee table I saw that was made from a cable spool. But I also love collage, and I would love to have more time to devote to making collage art/erasure poems. And maybe finally knitting an entire afghan. But first of all, I really, really want to finish this manuscript.
What is the oldest object in your home?
I think it's probably a three-way tie, actually. The chair I sit on at my desk belonged to my great-grandmother, I keep my linens in a chest that dates back to probably around the same period, which my mother got from her first mother-in-law, and I use my grandmother's Hoosier cabinet as a sideboard/desk overflow storage/craft station/cookbook holder (I live in a really, really small space).
What do you love about your work space? Why did you set it up that way?
I love that it gets natural light from windows on pretty much every side, and that I can look up and watch the squirrels and birds in the oak trees next door. A lot of my poems start out with me feeling some kind of way and looking out the window to see what catches my eye, so it's good that I can look outside from my desk. The situation of my desk also turns my back to the rest of the room, so I can't see anything I should be cleaning or working on (I'm a terrible procrastinator). I set my desk up here because it's the only available outlet that would accommodate my electrical needs, but it's also a very fortuitous placement. I also love my wall collage of poems and pictures, especially the print my friend Natalie gave me for Christmas a few years back—it's a character from a Weakerthans song (“A Cat Named Virtute”), and its collar says “I know you're strong.” I like that it's there to stare at me both encouragingly and a little creepily every time I sit down to write.
Christina Rothenbeck is a PhD candidate at The University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Writers. Her poems have recently appeared in Reunion: The Dallas Review, Bone Bouquet, Sugar House Review, and Switchback. She is the author of two chapbooks: Girls in Art (dancing girl press 2012) and Erasing Innocence (forthcoming from dancing girl press). She lives in half of a tiny pink house in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.