Interview: Remi Recchia talks debut poetry collection “Quicksand/Stargazing”

Poet Remi Rechhia’s debut poetry collection, Quicksand/Stargazing, releases this October from Cooper Dillon Books (you can pre-order here), and we were fortunate enough to chat with the writer about this collection, his writing inspirations, and more. This collection is stellar, and Recchia’s star is ever rising.

Without further ado, let’s get right into it!

1. Let’s start with one of my favorite questions to ask writers. If you could describe your poetry collection in three words, what would they be and why?

I’d say risky, funny, and enamored. The last poem in the collection, “Family Histories,” makes some turns that I can only accurately call insane. It gets ugly. I actually wrote it during a manic episode, and it shows. And I’m hoping parts of the collection are funny. “Dear Ex-boyfriend” was certainly an attempt at simultaneously humanizing and satirizing a (predictably) failed yet harmless college relationship. The reason behind “enamored”? Love poems.

2. What is your writing process like? Do any of the words you chose to describe your collection also describe your writing process — or are a result of your writing process?

My father-in-law asked me this recently, and I’m hoping my answer was impressive enough (marriage is forever—gotta keep the in-laws happy). Just kidding. Sort of. Generally speaking, I’ll have a line stuck in my head for a while and let it brew—sometimes a week, sometimes a month—and set it down in a carefully crafted form (e.g., couplets, a sonnet, a ghazal, etc.). If I’m on hyper-speed, I’ll write a poem in twenty minutes with minimal revision based solely on intuition. “Aubade,” “Dressing as a Trans Man in the Early Morning,” and “When the otter drowned at Binder Park Zoo” were all written that way.

I have found that if you set a timer when you’re writing, the poem comes out as more urgent. It forces you to choose your words with precision because you have to get to the climax of the poem faster. For me, it’s like running a race and knowing how many meters are left, but not knowing exactly how I’ll place.

3. Who are some of your writing inspirations?

Who aren’t my writing inspirations? That is to say, poets should take inspiration from everything—reading everything, watching everything, eavesdropping on everyone. I suppose I should also say that my favorite poets include Ralph Angel, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Russell Edson, Jack Gilbert, Li-Young Lee, Timothy Liu, Jamaal May, Sharon Olds, Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Rimbaud, Anne Sexton, Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong, and Walt Whitman.

My favorite poem is Angel’s “Holding You Sober Close to Me” (it was actually one of the readings at my wedding last year). Also, while drafting my MFA thesis, the musical Hamilton had a profound impact on me.

4. Are there certain aspects of Quicksand/Stargazing that particularly elicit your inspirations?

I hope so! I would say that “Family Histories” elicits Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in its sprawling, manic nature. Of course, Whitman does it better. Whitman does everything better.

5. What was your journey like while collecting these poems? Were they all written in a general time frame, or do they come from different times in your writing career?

The oldest poem in Quicksand / Stargazing is “Dressing as a Trans Man in the Early Morning,” which was written in 2017 in my MFA program at Bowling Green State University; the youngest is “Reflections on a Punnett Square.” That one was actually added to the collection after Adam Deutsch accepted it at Cooper Dillon Books. It was a relief to see how so many of my poems work together because it means that my subconscious is doing something intentional even if it doesn’t always tell me what it is.

6. This might be a hard one. If there is just one poem that you think encapsulates the mood of this collection, which poem is it? Why?

This is hard! My impulse is to say “Family Histories,” though perhaps “Prosopagnosia Feels Like Looking Through a Tunnel and Landing in a Graveyard” may be a more accurate answer. Prosopagnosia, more commonly referred to as face-blindness, is

basically the neurological inability to memorize faces (and in my case, it extends to voices). What this means is that when I say, “I’m bad with faces,” I mean, I will never be able to recognize you at the store unless you reintroduce yourself to me—and yes, you will have to reintroduce yourself to me each time we run in to each other. Forever and ever amen.

But really, my “Prosopagnosia” poem is about recognition. When I write, “I do not recognize my face but I recognize / my tongue, salty and wet and small,” it’s a callback to the title of the book. The speaker is simultaneously sinking and looking for something impossible, something grand, something wild. What do we seek when we stargaze? Salvation. Always salvation.

7. I know you hold an MFA in poetry and are currently in a PhD program. How did these experiences affect this collection?

In all of academia, the workshop setting has been the most impactful on most of the poems in this collection. My MFA and Ph.D. workshops have been different, each bringing various positive elements of comradery and support. Here I will also borrow my wife’s expression of having a “live-in poet.” We met during our MFA program and are now in the same Ph.D. program. She’s a genius. If you haven’t yet, you should buy her book, Hiding in a Thimble. So even when I’m not in workshop I’m in workshop!

Moving from my MFA, which was in Ohio, to my Ph.D., which is in Oklahoma, also affected me in that certain aspects of my surroundings changed. Politically and socially, the atmosphere has been the same to me, but the geography is so different. I can access different parts of my psyche based on the differences of heat and terrain alone.

8. Quicksand/Stargazing focuses thematically a lot on the idea of place/space. Physical locations, parts of the body, and more. Was this a conscious overarching theme, or was this something that happened organically?

You know, it’s interesting—for a long time I tried to avoid writing about my body, but then I turned twenty-two and transitioned from female to male, and BAM! Poems about top surgery, poems about my genitals, poems about my scars, poems about addiction. The more confident I became in my writing, the more I realized what I’d been holding back.

As far as physical locations go, however, I have always identified as a Midwestern poet; I try actively to insert the Midwest in my poems. My Michigan roots in particular are very important to me, and I’m disappointed that Philip Roth beat me to American Pastoral as a book title every time I remember that he snagged it first.

9. Finally, because I like to always end on a high note, what is one thing you love about your poetry and/or this collection? Releasing a collection isn’t easy, and taking a second to be proud of your work is so important.

I am so, so indebted to my brilliant MFA family at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) for workshopping two poems, “Dressing as a Trans Man in the Early Morning” and “On Waking Up from Top Surgery in a Sparse Airbnb Living Room,” that ended up in Quicksand / Stargazing. I graduated from BGSU three years ago, but my cohort’s influence has remained with me (and I married one of them)—and obviously, Preston, you’re included in that. I love that I’m able to see my friends’ feedback in print.

10. To end, I want to give you a chance to say anything you want to potential readers of Quicksand/Stargazing. Is there anything you want them to know about this collection that we didn’t specifically cover? Perhaps there are certain poems you want to discuss, or perhaps there are behind the scenes moments you want to bring up. Anything goes!

I’d like to add that when I initially drafted Quicksand / Stargazing, I intended it to be a chapbook. My editor, Adam Deutsch—he’s fantastic, by the way, really the best editor I’ve ever worked with—proposed making it a full-length collection, and I thought, why the hell not? Cooper Dillon’s books are stellar. So I gave him some poems that were similar thematically to the poems already in the manuscript and he worked his magic to interweave them with the OG pieces. While we’re talking about Adam, I’d also like to say that he designed the front cover, himself, which I am so in love with.

Lastly, while this should go without saying, it somehow always needs to be said: The poems in this book are not necessarily autobiographical. Yes, I’m a confessional poet, but one of the best and most powerful things about poetry is that it’s always a blend of fact and fiction, a delicate tug-of-war to reveal the deepest truth in the most beautiful way possible. Sometimes getting at the heart of the truth means fabricating or embroidering details. Am I a transgender man, as are many of the speakers in Quicksand / Stargazing? Yes. Do I “burn my underwear at night when I’m bored / Breathe in the fumes and cotton just to stay awake”? No.

If you think you’re in this book, you’re not. A shadow persona based on you, however, might be. As Ron Padgett says, “Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice / that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.”

You can pre-order Quicksand/Stargazing at Cooper Dillon Books here

Are you as excited for Remi Recchia’s Quicksand/Stargazing as we are? Tweet us @Fuzzable with all of your poetic love and comments, and follow Recchia @steambbcrywolf to stay up to date on his work!

Written by Preston Smith

capricorn, coffee addict, cat owner

twitter & instagram: @psm_writes

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