H_NGM_N books

Ryan Bollenbach's In the House on the Cusp of Light

Ryan Bollenbach - In the House on the Cusp of Light

Tell Tell Poetry: This book is amazing. Can you talk about the process of writing it and finding a publisher? What was working with H_NGM_N like?

Ryan Bollenbach: First off, thanks so much Kallie! I really appreciate the kind words and for asking me to do this. As for the process, well, I had a long-running obsession with writing letters. At a time, this was part of an 85 pg manuscript that was nothing but letters. Letters to inanimate objects, abstract concepts, singer-songwriters etc.

This poem started as multiple smaller letters addressed to the season “Summer” that weren’t attached to each other. Many of the other kinds of letters were fairly heady and abstract. Because I wrote this in summer, in Alabama, which is so damn hot and visceral, I felt like it’d make sense for the summer letters to be a bit more direct. Because summer is also extremely bright and gets into everything in Alabama (and I have blue eyes, really susceptible to light), I felt compelled to draw attention to the amplification that artifice, repetition and the reuse of metaphor, was doing to its subjects in the early poems. At a point, I decided to embrace the oversaturation (like an overexposed photo) as a source of energy, contemplation, and complication, rather than something I would try to minimize or edit out of the poem.

Once I decided to move toward the artifice and find its limits, I realized the poems I was writing to “Summer” made more sense together, and I took what work I had already done and turned over what was going on in those poems as many times as I could. It was a quick, and reactive process. It felt a little viral at the time.

As for working with h_ngm_n: it was great. They allowed me to provide my own cover art (done by my friend Katy Rossing). The layout was mostly done when I sent it to them. They responded quickly to the small revisions I suggested. I sent it to h_ngm_n in part because of the awesome chaps they've done in the past (Carrie Lorig, Nick Sturm, and Wendy Xu come to mind), but also because I think an online hub to download free chapbooks is the ideal place for the form. 

The book incorporates a lot of art and artists into the poems. What were you looking at and thinking about as you were writing?

A lot was swirling around in my head at the time. This is what I remember: Sutures (a consistently torqued idea in Eric Baus’s “The To Sound”; Photography as a medium (my mother is a wonderful nature photographer so that whole way of perceiving, as a process and product, is really important to this poem); The human eye (hence the Dali); A ( possible mis)reading of Joyelle McSweeney’s Necropastoral idea of the collapse of past, present, and future; the relationship between artifice and non-fiction (specifically from Brian Oliu’s “So You Know It’s Me” and Heidi Lynn Staples’ “Take Care Fake Bear Torque Cake”); and the way narrative moved in Colin Winnette’s amazing chapbook “Loudermilk” which we published in issue 42.1 of Black Warrior Review, the first issue that I was poetry editor for. I think I write best from a constellation of ideas.

My favorite line from the book is “his cancer is suburbing, one of many / houses inside my body inside your body.” Does the “your” shift throughout the collection, or is it the same body?

My hope is that the body, and the address “you” is always morphing and being repositioned in productive ways that create new contexts. Especially with the 2nd person, I try to use the implications of the “you” as “Summer” (the straight reading) and that confessional tool of the veiled “I.” 

 The body morphs in this collection, the moths come to and retreat from the light, the cancer spreads and doesn’t spread. Everything is brewing in this book, and it seems to blend memory and myth. What is it like to write from a memory? What does it feel like?

I’ve always had a lot of trepidation about writing straight non-fiction. Partially because my memory for details is not great, partially because (and more importantly for me), I haven’t figured out how to write directly about someone in a way that feels more productive than, say, having a conversation with someone about a particular subject (which is not to say I don’t love a good long talk about big subjects; I certainly do).

The mythologization of memory that happens in this book, I think, is my attempt to make something new (quite removed from the “real”) and generative from my own thinking and memories: an alternative space to try configurations out. In the case of this poem, the impetus is thinking through my childhood and my relationship with my mother, both from my childhood perspective and from my current perspective looking back.    

Damn: “i heard he looked a lot like a rat. / i heard he looked a lot like me.” This collection is stunning. This isn’t a question, just a statement. Can we please talk about your author photo and how awesome it is? Who took it and where were you?

This photo was taken by my longtime homie Laura Cooper. We went to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida while I was down in Florida for winter break. It was 82 degrees (In December, no lie), hence the t-shirt. There was this curtain of feathery-looking lights I found, and, well, sometimes I like to be draped.

Can you please send us a playlist to listen to while we read your manuscript?

Oh man, I always think about poems with music, but, for some reason, not this one. Try printing the poem out and reading it while sitting in the middle of an asphalt parking lot on the hottest day of summer. I’d bet you can almost hear the heat.

Read Ryan's book from H_NGM_N here. 

Interview with Eszter Takacs

TellTell: Your chapbook, The Spectacular Crash, came out recently from H_NGM_N. How long did it take you to write the book? With the exception of the last poem in the chapbook, I wrote most of these over the course of a winter and a spring.

Where was your manuscript written?

Most of these were written in my apartment but a handful were written in Hungary last winter. All were written on my laptop. I don’t hand write drafts of anything. I’m told that is unpure.

How did you come up with the title?

The Spectacular Crash was the title of a poem I’d written a while before the project came together. I went looking through old work and revisited this poem. I realized that it, the poem itself, tied the whole project together. I placed this poem at the end of my chapbook and ordered the rest so that they progressed toward the finality of this poem. I realized then that The Spectacular Crash was the title of the project. It’s a metaphor for the friendship which inspired and fueled the chapbook as a whole.

How long did it take for your chapbook to get picked up?

I started sending it out around February of 2013. H_NGM_N picked it up mid-May. I’d only sent it to a few places and at the time I was still waiting for a couple of responses but I went with H_NGM_N because they are a really special press.

In your poem, "DON'T WORRY ABOUT YOUR HAIR BECAUSE THE WORLD IS ON FIRE" you write "I asked you for a toothbrush/ and you gave me Chlamydia." Is there anything that you think is off limits in poetry? Any language you wouldn't include?

I don’t love poetry full of curse words that don’t function within a larger scope of meaning, beyond the words themselves. If they are what most stands out about a poem, then I think they are in the wrong place. This particular poem became known as the “Chlamydia poem” within my small circle of readers. Knowing this made me really consider the value of such a negative notion within the poem but I decided that it contributes to the poem’s momentum and integrity. The poem which contains it is the first poem of the chapbook and I wanted the poem to really push the reader onto the tracks, you know? Or in front of the train, so to speak.

How did you come up with the poem title "TOGETHER WE WILL RESEMBLE A SMALL MYTH ABOUT ARMS"?

This is the third poem in the chapbook and one of my favorites. Because this chapbook indirectly narrates the decomposition of a relationship between two people, I chose the titles accordingly. A “small myth about arms” refers to the enclosed space of a hug and the validity of an embrace. I was searching for a way to say that an embrace can have so many different meanings to all involved, all as equally true as they are false or fabled. When watched, though, the meaning is usually static.

Many of your poems explore place or even particular places. Do you need to be in a particular place to write about that place?

Not at all.  In fact, when I’m drawing inspiration from a particular place, I usually prefer to be somewhere else entirely.  I feel like I need to take a few steps back and remove myself to really understand the meaning of being anywhere. Time plays into this, but only a little.

What is a typical day like for you?

Begins with coffee. Often too much. And I’m always running because I’m always late. I do most of my writing in the mornings before school and work.

What were you reading when you wrote the poems in your chapbook?

Heather Christle and Ariana Reines.

I love the lines "Ask me if I am taller. Ask me if I am winning the race" and " What is your favorite line or lines from your chapbook?

We will be friends forever like so many frogs crouched in the mud,

ambling toward a brave new democracy.

We welcome ourselves into the jungle and it is quiet in its middle.

We welcome ourselves delicately into the season of goats

like espoused women looking for rain.

These lines from “Please come to my poetry reading” are some I most often returned to when struggling with revisions and sequencing. I think they best capture, or rather, exude the mood that I was trying to capture with this chapbook as a whole. They represent the underlying narrative and come close to its actuality.

Were most of these poems composed in the goal of putting them in a chapbook, or did you compile the chapbook later?

I think I’d written about half of what is in the chapbook when I finally felt safe calling it one in progress.  It felt pretty weird but also pushed me to synchronize a bit.

Who are 5 of your favorite contemporary poets?

Anne Sexton

Ariana Reines

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Tao Lin

Rachel Zucker

Five seems such an impossibly small number. This is a terribly difficult question. There are so many.

Name 5 of your favorite journals or presses




Action Books


Where do you see yourself and your writing in 5 years?

I’ve got 2.5 years left in school. I hope to have a book ready by the end of that. I like teaching so I’d love to keep with that too but I also change my mind far too often to give a practical answer to this question. Leaving Los Angeles after 22 years was a feat.  I lived a different life for the eight years between undergrad and now. I’m starting to feel settled here in Arkansas for the moment but ultimately don’t plan to stay.  Maybe I’ll go camp out on Alice Notley’s porch in Paris, degree in pocket. Does she have a porch? I have a playlist called “Runaway Songs,” if that tells you anything.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new manuscript tentatively titled In Share of Light. I’m really loving Susan Briante’s Utopia Minus right now.  I really appreciate poetry that infuses the traditional with the current, the natural with the artificial. I’m trying to do something similar. I want to weave a tangible narrative about economic boundaries into a fairy tale about unicorns, for example. That’s not literally what’s happening though.

What is the title of the last poem you wrote.

“You are a congressional rhythm of human chemistry”

Please send us a link to your favorite song so we can get to know you better.

I’ve embraced pop music this year. I’m all about Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Kanye and Miley. In undergrad, it was Dashboard Confessional and Saves the Day. I still have a Saves the Day t-shirt. I also have Mozart on my iPod. I can’t answer this question because if I tried, it would take me another month to finish this.


And here is a picture of her desk: