Tell Tell chats with Susannah Nevison and Molly McCully Brown
Poets Susannah Nevison & Molly McCully Brown take us step by step through the creatively collaborative poetic process that went into their collection In The Field Between Us (Persea Books, 2020). Use their advice for your poetic practice (and your love life): all you need is “trust, knowledge, and curiosity” it’s “very simple. Find someone you love, trust, and admire.” We’ll learn how to infuse more joy and support into our next book project and get some great lists of new collections to check out (and more!) in this interview with Tell Tell Poetry!
Molly McCully Brown is the author of the essay collection Places I’ve Taken my Body and the poetry collection The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017. Brown has been the recipient of the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, a United States Artists Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship, and the Jeff Baskin Writers Fellowship from the Oxford American magazine. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, The Guardian, Virginia Quarterly Review, Vogue, and elsewhere.
Susannah Nevison is the author of Lethal Theater which won the Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize from OSU/The Journal, and Teratology which was the recipient of the 2014 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize. Her honors include the 2014 Patricia Aakhus Prize from Southern Indiana Review, the 2013 American Literary Review Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets / Larry Levis Prize, and recent Pushcart Prize nominations in both poetry and nonfiction. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Crazyhorse, Pleiades, The National Poetry Review, and elsewhere.
Molly McCully Brown:
Susannah Nevison & Molly McCully Brown Interview
Layla Benitez-James: Hello, this is Layla Benitez-James for Tell Tell Poetry, tuning in today for an extra-special double interview with poets Susannah Nevison and Molly McCully Brown who co-authored a collection of poems called In the Field Between Us which was published by Persea Books in 2020.
Molly McCully Brown is the author of the essay collection Places I’ve Taken My Body and the poetry collection The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critic’s Top Book of 2017. Brown has been the recipient of the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, a United States Artist Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship and The Jeff Baskin Writers Fellowship from Oxford American Magazine. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Tin House, The Guardian, Virginia Quarterly Review, Vogue and elsewhere.
Susannah Nevison is the author of Lethal Theater, which won the Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize for OSU/The Journal and Teratology, which was the recipient of the 2014 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize. Her honors include the 2014 Patricia Aakhus Prize from Southern Indiana Review and the 2013 American Literary Review Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Larry Levis Prize, and recent Pushcart Prize nominations in both poetry and nonfiction. Her poems and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Crazyhorse, Pleiades, The National Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Molly and Susannah, thank you so much for making the time to connect with me today!
Molly McCully Brown: Thank you so much.
Susannah Nevison: Thank you so much for having us, it’s a total pleasure to be here.
LBJ: Yeah, thank you. And so I’ll say while I’m really curious to hear about your poetic practice, I’d like to begin at the end in some ways, in that I’d love to leap right into how you guys got this project published. How did you pitch the collection to Persea books? And did you have any other publishers who you were interested in pitching?
MMB: So we obviously, as you just read in our bios, both our first collections were published by Persea. We both won the Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, which is the first book prize that Persea administers. And so we had a relationship with the press and, in fact, that prize and that press is how we first came to be introduced and came to know one another’s work. And so in some ways it felt really natural that that is the first place we would take the collection. Because this was an editor who—Gabriel Fried, who’s the poetry editor there, knows our work as individuals and also has sort of born witness to our creative partnership from the beginning. We’ve read at some events together for Persea and been to some book festivals that Gabe has been involved in. And I think we just got really lucky in that this was an editor we liked and trusted. And when we brought him the manuscript and said, “We did this sort of crazy thing, would you ever be interested in putting it into the world?” He said, “Yes.” And so we sort of were . . . we had talked in general terms about other places we might pitch the collection if he wasn’t interested, but we got really lucky in that he did want to give it a home and we were really happy to have it there.
LBJ: Lovely. So what was the actual process like, was it sending a draft, did you complete the whole book together and then send it their way? Or was it kind of like, you know, you mentioned that you talked about it a little bit before, how did that editing process work?
SN: We did not send anything to the press until it was done. Or until as far as we could take it, right? Until we had an actual book. But I think Gabe, I think he knew we were writing it because we’d been publishing excerpts from it as it was coming to be. So he knew we were doing a project and he kindly did not harass us about it. He just let us kind of do our thing. And so once we had, you know, a real working draft of it, of the whole collection, we sent it. Were you asking about editing the collection as in before we sent it, or?
LBJ: Yeah, before and during. And actually, I guess a little bit of a side question, since you mentioned publishing it in journals. How did you find journals that were open to collaborative poems, and what was the thinking behind that process?
SN: Okay, well, the first part of that question about editing it, so the fun thing about . . . Well, the thing about this book that is both fun and true, is that it’s easier to do because you’re doing it with someone else. So for me, at least I was like, “Great, I write one poem, I get another back and contained within that poem is the prompt or the seed of the next poem.” So, A, I get to read a beautiful poem that Molly writes, and B, I get a very specific starting point for my own work, which is way different than starting with a poem of my own and then thinking, how do I jump from this to another poem, to a book? By myself alone in the abyss. So because of that back and forth nature, a lot of the poems were not edited, really, until I think the end. Namely, because if Molly sent me a poem, I was using that whole draft to draft my draft. And so then it became this thing at the very end where we went back through and said, “Okay, here are sets of poems that are working, here are sets of poems that are maybe making the same gesture, but less well than other sets of poems, and then we went through, and we lined edited each other’s poems. But the initial drafting phase, we didn’t really do that. We sent it back and forth. I think we each individually tweaked stuff as we went, but there were not major revisions in the beginning because so much of what was happening was the giving of that poem to another person to use. So there was less interference in the actual editing, or drafting and editing as you went kind of thing, just because I didn’t want to . . . Well, I would’ve been mad if Molly had messed up her poems for me, right? And I didn’t want to screw up whatever I was giving her, you know? There was that kind of thing. So that’s a little bit about the kind of editing process of the book. In terms of placing them in journals, I remember very clearly talking to Molly and thinking like, where do you send poems that you’ve both written? Like, how do you even do that in Submittable? Like what does that even look like?
LBJ: Oh, right.
SN: And we just kind of looked around and we found some journals that we love and that looked like they would be open to it, that didn’t explicitly say that they weren’t. And I believe the first place we sent poems was actually Diode. And they were kind, and they took them, and they published them, and we thought, okay, this is not something that just exists in our heads and in our weird email exchange, or it isn’t something that only holds meaning for just us, right? This might be something that holds meaning for someone else. And then based on that, we continued to send stuff out, and because Molly is famous, she gets solicited occasionally from good journals and she kindly submitted this project there too, so we . . . Some of the poems got placed because they were solicited, which was a huge gift, and others we just sent in cold.
MMB: And I’ll say that this project was maybe slightly easier for editors of journals to imagine publishing or situating than other kinds of collaborative projects, because the epistolary form of the poems is very clear. Like it’s not hard to make it clear that these are letters in conversation. There’s not a lot of . . . In the majority of the poems, the poems that are “Dear M” and “Dear S,” it’s very clear who the author is and who the addressee is. And so a lot of that sort of situating work that might be kind of difficult in a collaborative project was done by the form of the project itself. And so it was pretty easy just to see them in journals and be like, “Oh, these are letters back and forth.” It doesn’t take a long time to get the conceit of what we’re about, which I think made it different.
SN: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right, Molly. The framework is built into the . . . is baked into the form.
LBJ: And so how did you handle Submittable? Was it just one of you submitting it in your name and then just saying in the cover letters, “By the way, this is a collaborative project,” to explain the background a bit?
SN: I think we took turns. I think I submitted some, and I think Molly submitted some, and we put both of our names in it and then the cover letter, and then we emailed each other to say, “I got accepted.” Right, is that it, Molly?
MMB: Yep, I think that’s right. If we were submitting cold, we just, it was like whichever one of us happened to have time that week to manage the logistics, and then obviously if one of us got solicited, that person would sort of handle the logistics of sending into this journal and be like, “Hey, heads up. I wrote these poems in collaboration with this other poet.” But it was . . . I remember being concerned that it was going to be a logistical nightmare, but then it really was not a logistical nightmare. The only time that it got mildly complicated is when some poems got reprinted on the Academy of American Poets website and their website was set up so that there couldn’t be more than one name in the author field and that was confusing and took a lot of . . . I think they had to really like recode things on the Academy website where we had some like weird back and forth about that, but that was kind of the worst of the weird logistical boondoggles.
SN: Yeah, I think that’s right.
LBJ: And then, so getting a little bit more into the process, what were the benefits? You talk about getting that prompt basically in your inbox, what were the benefits to your poetic practice from working so closely? And were there any drawbacks?
SN: That’s a good question. I don’t think there were any drawbacks for me, except that I felt pressured not to disappoint Molly, but that’s not actually a drawback, I think that’s maybe a benefit, right? It can feel like a drawback, like, “oh God.” I guess it’s a little bit of like, it’s pressure, right? You don’t want to let down your co-author, you don’t want to be a disappointment ever. But also it makes you write better. So yeah, I don’t think there were drawbacks for me. But in terms of, I’m trying to think, Molly, what? I’m sorry, Layla, what was the first part of that question? I’m not good at following basic things right now.
LBJ: Oh no, you’re totally good. So what were the benefits to your poetic practice? Because you talk about, you both talked in another interview about the fact that the project kind of came about because you were stuck or trying to avoid other projects and so, I mean, that positive pressure would be one of the benefits, but I wonder if your style changed or anything like that.
SN: Yeah. That’s an awesome question. I think for me, one of the enormous benefits was that I didn’t feel like I had to have a plan, which is like, when you’re writing a book, you’re always trying to think like, okay, here’s this poem, what am I going to do with it? What do I do next? When you finish a poem, there’s always, at least for me, that pregnant space of trying to consider where you go, right? You have a poem, you’ve ended it, where does it point to? What is it pointing you toward? And in this case that never existed because every poem always just pointed to Molly. And so the where to go next was always this huge, joyful surprise because it came from Molly. So I didn’t do any of that configuring, I didn’t do any of that, like planning, where the book went was totally organic because it had to be contained at whatever Molly gave back, right? And so that, for me, I thought was super-liberating because I didn’t have to cling tightly to a notion that the book had to be a certain way or had to fit a certain way. And it also changed the kind of material or changed the sort of gestures I would make in a poem because I was pulling from Molly’s brain so to speak and not my own. I was pulling from Molly’s lexicon to develop mine, right? And so that pushed me to think in a different way to engage and kind of think about form a little bit differently. And so for me, the benefits were pretty manifold in that sense, and that they asked me to really expand both my understanding of what a book could do and to just relinquish total control, which I don’t think is something I’d be able to do on my own, right? And it’s an enormous gift to be able to do that, I think. Sorry, I just talked a lot, Molly.
LBJ: No, that’s perfect.
MMB: I think that one of the things, there’s so many things I loved about this process, and I loved now about the resulting book. And I think one that’s really interesting to me is that even though the majority of the poems in the book, I would say have a very clear author and are very much my poem or Susannah’s poem addressed to the other author, or the other sort of speaker created by that poet, the voice of the collection as a whole, I think is very much this third voice that is neither entirely mine, or entirely Susannah’s. I mean, it was so much fun to have access to this entirely other poetic voice and it makes coming to the book now sometimes feel like, oh, or like being introduced to this person that you just are sort of starting to meet, because it’s not like coming entirely to my own poems, which feel sort of total in their connection to me, which is I think a real gift and a real pleasure. The other major benefit I would say of this project to me goes back a little bit to what Susannah was saying when she was talking about waiting to revise the poems until the end, which is that I am captain of getting in my own way in the middle of a poem because I like to edit as I go, I’m always intent on making things perfect, I have a lot of weird ego tangled up in my work I think as we all do, and it’s easy to sort of lose sight of the fact that, like, you’re supposed to like this and it’s supposed to be organic and joyful and interesting and alive. And I think because I was writing these poems for another person, and I was sort of . . . I needed to get them sent off and they were intended as communication and not just this thing that I was making, and then I had to leave them alone, right? So that I didn’t exactly . . . So that I didn’t ruin something that Susannah was responding to. I got the hell out of my own way in a very different kind of way and that was, I think, really pleasurable. And then because the poems that Susannah was sending back to me were such a pleasure to read, the book stayed a total pleasure all the way through, because I was reading poems from someone I loved in a way that, I sometimes think with work we do on our own, we can get to a point where you’re like, “Well, I hate this and it’s frustrating and terrible, and everything is bad.” I mean, it never got frustrating in that way, because there was always just this sort of joy as a reader and a companion that stayed alive.
SN: And I think one other thing that just sort of occurred to me, is that one thing about process that happened with this book that never happens if you’re working alone, is that you get to see what in a poem is exciting for someone else, right? So it was always like a real surprise to me, to see what Molly responded to, or what resonated with her and to think, okay, that’s where part of this poem is really alive in a way I didn’t know. Yeah, right? But then in her response to it, animated something in the initial poem that allowed me to then think about doing a different poem down the line, right? And so that was really . . . It was kind of about, it was like having a really close reader as well, whose work engaged or animated their close reading in some way. And so because of that, I learned, I think, I hope, to read my work a little differently and to think about it differently. And that’s a really unusual gift that I don’t think I would ever get in any other circumstance.
LBJ: Yeah, I love that. You know, we talk a lot about writing in community and the benefits and drawbacks of being in a workshop, but it’s like just doing it with one other person and one person that you’re already friends with, it seems like a really hyper, intense little workshop, but just like, you know, bouncing back and forth. And if you guys had advice, or almost like a checklist of how to write a poetry collection with a friend, what would you say? Do you have constraints that you guys wish you had put in place in the beginning? Or did you put any constraints on in the beginning?
MMB: No, I mean, I think the constraint was to a certain extent housed in the form itself, right? Like we had decided that these poems were going to be letters, that they were going to be epistolary poems. And that was sort of enough of a constraint, right? And we talked, I guess the only other thing that we talked explicitly about is that the thing that both our friendship and our artistic relationship have always shared, is that because we are both poets, but we’re also both poets with physical disabilities and a history of medical intervention, that lexicon and that language was one that we shared instantaneously, and I think it’s a lot of what led to this sort of immediacy of our friendship and our artistic kinship. And one of the things that we talked about wanting to do in the collection was engaging in poems in which we spoke to one another, in that shared lexicon, rather than translating that experience for an able-bodied reader who might not have access to it, to some of those metaphors or experiences. And so those, I think were the constraints that we were going to write letters and that we were going to write them in this shared lexicon rather than sort of in an act of translation. I don’t know that I have much good advice, Susannah may well, she’s better at these things than me. But I think the thing that made this project work, I think in addition to all those things I’ve talked about that we shared, I think was that Susannah is almost certainly the writer whose work . . . She’s the only writer whose work I know even close to as well as I know my own. And even before we started working on this project, we knew one another’s work really well and trusted one another and we’re really interested in one another’s brains and I think that that knowledge, that intimacy and that trust was really core to making the project work. And so it’s the only thing I would have that approaches advice is like, make sure that the process is grounded in that, in trust and in knowledge and in curiosity, because that I think is what made it work.
SN: Yeah, trust, knowledge, and curiosity. I mean, we know each other’s work like Molly said, like, I think that’s true of my relationship to Molly’s work. It’s probably the only other person whose work I know as well as I know my own. Which is not to say I can understand it or am necessarily its best reader at all times. But it is to say that I think there’s something about our friendship and our working relationship as writers that makes us pretty in tune already to each other’s process. I think it also helped that this wasn’t the first book we ever wrote. And so I think to have a sense of yourself as a writer and an artist first, so know what you’re about and bring that to the table, and know what you’re willing to play with and what you want to play with, and what you trust this other person to give you and to kind of make work with you is important to you. I’m trying to think. Yeah, just find someone you love, find someone whose work you admire and give up any notion of control because that’s when it’s actually fun, believe it or not, right? So, that very simple. Find someone you love trust and admire, it’s you know, and then you’re good. You’re good to go.
LBJ: Yeah, just as long as you love them, it’s good. No, that’s great.
SN: Yeah, and as long as you trust them and have like a good working relationship and you can talk openly about things, which I think has always been true of our friendship and of our sort of working relationship, right? To be able to say, “Okay, this line really works for me. This line is maybe not working for me.” Right? And to be able to see as writers, what the shape of that looks like as you work to manipulate it together.
MMB: Yeah, I think we’re both comfortable being very plain with one another about things. Like, you know, and Susannah knows, I hope, I think, that I adore and admire her work beyond reason and that I think she’s an incredible writer. And so I feel very comfortable being like, “This line is bad,” or like, “That isn’t working.” You know, and I think she would say the same, that we kind of don’t have to pussyfoot around each other about that. We’re just like, “Well, that’s a problem.” And we’re both good at untangling our ego in that way and just being like, “Well, got to fix this and make this work.” And that I think was crucial, especially as we were revising the book and kind of getting it toward publication.
SN: Yeah, I think that’s very true, that’s very true. And there are a few people I think who can say that to me, who I am instantly like, “They . . . she . . . it is.” That she knows that it is bad. Or if there’s someone else that’s like, “I don’t like the line,” I’d be like, “Well fuck off, you don’t know me.” But if Molly says, “That line is like, really bad.” I’d be like, “Oh, it’s really bad, isn’t it?” “Oh no. What have I done?” True.
LBJ: I like that. All right, so love and trust. And I love Molly, how you said, you talked about translation because when I was reading the book, or as a translator I was like, “This feels almost like a translation, like between the poems.” Just because those images, some of them kept weaving through, so it was like, in a way, like almost like a hybrid translation project. Like if you were translating each other, like from English to English and maybe I didn’t realize that it . . . That, that lexicon wasn’t really being translated for me as somebody who doesn’t share those different physical histories, but that was maybe even what was making it feel like that, which like you guys were, you were speaking the same language in a way that didn’t feel like it was trying to reach out to all readers necessarily. Each reader would have a different relationship with the text depending on where they’re coming from. And then, you know, I wanted to ask, because you mentioned too about, you know, taking some sections out or ordering . . . when it came time to really physically make the book, how did you guys go back and forth about those sections and how did you hit upon the “Maker” sections? Did those come about as you were bouncing them back and forward? Or was that completely something that came on as a way to break up the book?
MMB: Go ahead Susannah.
SN: Go ahead.
MMB: No, you, no you go ahead.
SN: Well, when we started with this project, we had two ideas, one, like we were really just two ideas. So we’re like, “We don’t have a lot to think about, let’s try these epistles and then these Maker poems.” And the epistles instantly for me were a lot easier. I was like, “Oh, let’s just do this.” And Molly was like, “Well, let’s not like quit the other idea.” I’m like, “No, Molly, like, I hate it. I hate writing it, like I feel bad at that.” And Molly was like, “Oh, it’s too bad.” So, we drove through and then because Molly’s nice, Molly, let me pretend we hadn’t written them for most of the book and then we put everything on the floor and Molly was like, “What about these?” I was like, “What about them?” And she was like, “We need to like, maybe they work as part of the larger project.” And I was like, “No.” But she was right, and they did. A lot of what we did was put things on the floor. We try to see each other, I’d say a couple of times a year. And so we’re in the same location and we put all our poems on the floor and whatever animal I have at the moment tromps all over it and makes a mess. But we arranged them that way and then kind of try to tuck the Maker poems around the sections, kind of as bookends give kind of the longer arc of the book, a little bit of a break. Although I realize now looking at those poems, it’s not a break, it’s just a different kind of intensity.
MMB: A different kind of brake than it was before.
SN: She was great, like, “Surprise! Now we’re going to be weird in this way.” Also intense and sad, moving on, right? So, titling the sections really helped us, I think, kind of this reverse chronology and that was one of the very last things we did was title the sections. We had . . . We considered the sections in large chunks as we went, mainly because after we got through a certain place, I would need to tell Molly, “Okay, I’m going to write back, but this is a jump. I’m starting a new section because your last poem was like too good, and I’m like, I can’t.” Like “how a good war spreads,” like I can’t touch that, like I’m not. So you know, that kind of thing. And then my friend, J.P., Molly’s friend too, J.P. Grasser, who I did my doctorate with in Utah, who is like a straight able-bodied White dude, dude, right? Like not—
MMB: He is a dude, he’s also a brilliant poet, but he’s like the—
SN: He’s also a brilliant poet. But like a reader who was really outside of this lexicon and someone whose work I admire and trust and also someone who is very direct and very clear and very loving. We sent it to him because also he has an incredible understanding of form and craft and technique in a way I don’t. Like he can scan a line. He knows meter and any kind of complicated rhyme that you can imagine, like, he’ll know what it is and in a heartbeat, right? And I will not. And so we wanted that kind of attention to detail and that sort of, someone with that familiarity with music, I should say, to take a look at the book. And so he was actually the one who suggested the reverse chronology of it to us. Like we had the section titles, but not in that way. And it was his idea, I think, that prompted us to really think about—
MMB: I had forgotten that, that’s interesting. I had forgotten that. I’d forgotten that J.P. is why it’s in reverse. Thanks, J.P. Yeah.
SN: Yes, it was amazing. And there were a lot of little reversals, actually, that he did in terms of syntax in the book. So I had a line that reads, the final line of a poem that says, “The trees once were alive,” and predictably, it used to say, “Once the trees were alive.” And he, like, he re . . . Kind of, he had this idea, he’s just good at sort of reconfiguring your syntax to make it more surprising and new and pretty, right? And so there were a lot of those little sort of line edits that he was able to kind of give us that helped, I think, both in the large scaffolding and in the smaller stuff. And for that I’m enormously, I think we’re both enormously grateful. But in terms of sort of the structure and like Maker poems, that’s all Molly. Molly was like, “We have to write these Maker poems.” I hated it, she made me do it. It did it, we did it. We folded them in, and she was right. And like, this is also why you have poets and readers and friends you trust, and love tell you what’s working and what’s not because, I mean, if it were up to me, I would never have put them in and that would have been, I think, a real loss, right? And I wouldn’t have known that.
MMB: Because they provide a collective for the book in addition to a register change, right? Like they’re the poems in the book that aren’t married to a single one of our voices, right? It’s not clear who wrote them. They become a kind of collective call. And I think that Maker can be a lot of things. It can be a divine figure, it can be a surgeon, it can be an artist and I was really interested in that. And Susannah was really interested in it too, even as she was resistant and we needed a break from just people hearing us talk to each other, I think.
SN: Yes and it’s 100% the right move. I just thought I was bad at writing them and like, my own ego was like, “Gross don’t, I don’t like this.”
SN: Yeah, and the poems of those that Susanna spearheaded are some of my favorites in the book. So don’t let her lie to you about their quality.
LBJ: The record will be straight. I loved those sections, and they also were really surprising to me as well. And I’m going to link to that Kenyon Review reading because you guys talk a little bit more about your different perspectives and like, why you had some back and forth about that. But I also want to jump . . . in addition to the Maker poems, I was obsessed with the images and the themes that were emerging and repeating. And I can’t remember if it was the Poetry Foundation interview or another one, but you talked about the fact that that was much more organic than I thought it was. I thought there were some things maybe added back in, but it just really organically came from bouncing back and forth and Molly in particular, like in Places I’ve Taken My Body, which I haven’t finished yet, but it’s really good and I love it. You talk about turning left and then you guys have all these . . . these “hunting” ideas and I called it in the email I sent to you guys, like “auto hunting” or “hunting of the self” but this came up again and again, this really fascinating idea of like the bones hunting themselves, or the ocean hunting itself and I just wonder, like what? How did you guys pick up those images to repeat, or the ideas to repeat? Or was that just totally like, that’s what happens when you write a book with one of your really good friends and all this amazing imagery comes out?
MMB: Yeah, I think it really was pretty organic. It was also one of my favorite parts of working on this book, because usually when you read a line of poetry, or an image, or a metaphor, you really love, you think quietly to yourself, like, fuck, I wish I had written that, and that’s the end, right? Like, you’re like, “Well, damn it, I didn’t.” But in this, like Susannah would send it, Susannah would send a poem and it would say, you know, “The bones are hunting themselves in the dark.” And I got to be like, “God, that’s fucking great!” And then use it, you know, and pick it back up.
LBJ: Yes, yeah!
MMB: But I think because we are so familiar, both personally and artistically with one another’s ways of thinking, with one another’s sort of dominant artistic lexicons, everybody has them, everybody has the images they love and the language that reoccurs, it felt really easy and really natural to just pick up on language and on ways of thinking. And it also felt, as Susannah said, like a great pleasure, because sometimes you write a poem and you’d be like, “Well, that line’s dumb.” And then Susannah would send back her poem and she would’ve done something extraordinary with that image that I thought was really stupid, you know? And so it became really just I think organic and wonderful.
SN: Yeah, no, that’s really, really true and like it’s what Molly says about seeing a line and recently written it then guess what you get to, I get to be like, “Ha! Ha! And I’ll take that, and now I’m going to do something, maybe not as pretty, with it, but I’m going to try.” And we will further this conversation, and Molly will still keep writing me poems back.
LBJ: Ah, I love that. I really want to do this, and I need to pick somebody to do it with. I want to write this book with someone. We are just out of time. So if either one of you have books that you love and you would like to recommend, I would love to hear about them, and we will send links to those as well. It could be . . . I don’t know if you have any other books that are co-authored that you love. But in general, just like whose poetry is giving you life? What poets do you love?
SN: Go ahead Molly, go ahead.
MMB: No, you’re probably going to say the same thing, you do it.
SN: There is a coauthored collection [Low Budget Movie] that Molly and I just blurbed that’s by Tyler Mills and Kendra DeColo. And it deals with issues of kind of womanhood and capitalism and consumerism. And so that’s an example of a coauthored. I believe it’s actually a chapbook? No, it’s a chapbook,
SN: That just came out . . . And so that’s the one I can think of that I’ve read most recently, just because it was quite literally on my desk. But I don’t actually know a lot of coauthored collections. I know poets who have written in conversation with one another, but I don’t know about full collections. Molly, were you going to say something?
MMB: No, I mean, I was also going to mention Tyler and Kendra’s book, which I’ll just say is really wonderful and it’s also like the complete tonal opposite of our book in like every single way. So if you would like to go all the way to the other end of the tonal spectrum into like contemporary pop culture and then you could have like a weird time in the wilderness with our book and then go over there and hang out with that one, which is awesome. And there’s some great series again, as Susannah says, full length collections are harder to think about, but Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón had a great series in The New Yorker called “Envelopes of Air” where they wrote back and forth, which is really beautiful. Yeah, so those are some places to start, maybe if you’re interested in thinking about collaborative work.
LBJ: And then can you each maybe say, what’s your favorite collection that you read? Not coauthored just in general, lately.
SN: Past five years, this is like an easy one, but, and I know it would be similar for Molly, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. I come back to him again and again and again.
MMB: Yeah, I’ve taught Deaf Republic pretty much every semester since it has been released. And my students . . . I have never had a student say anything other than like, “Oh my God, this book is my life.” I’m really super crazy about Donika Kelly’s new collection of poems which the title is now escaping me in a terrible way. Ah, starts with an R, [The Renunciations] it’s one word, this is killing me. You’ll find it and link to it.
LBJ: Yes, I will definitely link to it. I love Donika Kelly.
MMB: It’s a really beautiful book And I loved Bestiary so much. I mean, the new book is really great.
SN: Yeah, but I think the two that I have been . . . That I’ve taught that I’ve had the most success with, that our students have responded most to are Ilya Kaminsky’s and a book by my dear friend, Claire Wahmanholm called Wilder, which I mispronounced Wilder [like wild] for one hundred years, but apparently it’s Wilder [like wilderness]. And—
LBJ: Oh, I thought it was Wilder.
SN: I mean, I did too, but I’m here to set the record straight, so wherever Claire is, she’ll know. I love that book—I love that book so much. Also it’s a beautiful object, it’s a gorgeous cover.
MMB: It is, yeah that book is amazing.
SN: Just really changed the way peoples’ . . . my students thought about what books can do.
LBJ: Well, amazing. You guys, thank you so much for joining me today and yeah, I’m looking forward to reading all of this, thank you.
MMB: Thank you so much
SN: For having us, it was such a pleasure.
Bookshop Recs from Susannah Nevison & Molly McCully Brown
Check out Susannah and Molly’s bookshop recs HERE.
Resources for where to send your collaborative projects!
Diode Editions Book & Chapbook Contests “We welcome translations, collaborations, hybrid works, and prose poetry.”
*ATTN***:** Open Archive Series ****for multiple-author poetry collections and archives
*ATTN***:** Correspondences Open for Poetry Collaboration