Rappahannock Review Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Mackenna Chandler
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: With such a dynamic format, your poem “Drug Store Love Receipt” allows itself to be read a variety of ways. Do you have a certain way you recommend people read it? What are you hoping readers take away from it?
Mackenna Chandler: This is definitely a poem I have struggled with reading aloud, just because of all the fine little details, picking and choosing which pieces to vocalize. However, when the opportunity to read this piece aloud arises, I do find it important to include the small anecdotes such as the price of each item and moments such as the “This is your copy…” There is a lot of thought going into each part of this poem, where leaving the small details out may not give as much of an impact. I have made an abundance of prototypes, asking my friends to cough up any old receipts they had, trying to recreate the look of an actual receipt, for I want readers to read this with the same familiarity. This may then warrant people to skip around throughout the poem, jumping from aspect to aspect, which is also encouraged. This poem depends less on chronology and more about an overall message, like how a painting has no start or finish. I find non-time- based-art fascinating. The take away from this poem is quite ambiguous. It has the main message of “Don’t do drugs kids” yet I also wanted to recreate the pain of loving someone, a friend, family member, or partner with a drug addiction. Because this relationship is more difficult than a simple one liner, I hope readers understand the complexity of drug addiction, and where it lands in the lives of those we love. There is no cut-and- dry way to read this poem, which is why the format is so complex and detailed. I hope, in this way, the pain of this situation is easier to understand and cope with.
RR: It seems that the design aspect of this piece is focal to the narrative. How did you come up with the stylistic choice for this poem? Do you usually prefer to create such detailed, Â format-focused works, or does it vary? What was the process of writing this piece like?
MC: I was sitting on a bench, waiting for my Chinese take-out and looking closely at my receipt out of boredom. This is when the idea came to me. I was unable to let go of a certain question for a while before I wrote this, a quote by poet David Luben, “How do we forgive ourselves for all the things we do not become?” With drug addiction, it is often hard to forgive yourself for the lost time in your youth. The receipt in my hand gave me the inspiration to write a piece. It allowed me to begin began tracking back that lost time, as if it is in fact, a receipt of an addiction. This is one of the first pieces I was able to create such a strong format for. Usually, I avoid fixed formats in poetry like the plague. However, this format was fun for me to write in. Since I hadn’t seen anything in this style before, I was able to play around and create moments that would not have existed without it. I would be lying if I said I spent more time on the actual writing than the format. The words came easily for me, however making this authentic, receipt was at a point so tedious, I must have had 10+ files on my computer of this poem in different formats at one point. The first draft of this poem was strictly the words that were crossed out, yet not crossed out yet. Each day I would wake up and expand a bit more on the format of it, adding the prices, adding the coupon at the end, changing the prices, crossing out the words, changing, changing, changing. Eventually I met with my poetry professor to figure out a final format, and that is what is being shown now!
RR: Do you feel that working in a fairly predetermined format such as a store receipt for your inspiration makes the process more interesting due to restriction placed on how the words have to be put down? Or do you find having a sense of guide to what the final product will look like frees you to truly experiment with your word choice?
MC: I think there is a bit of truth in both of those statements. Since I was able to create the format myself (with help of different forms of receipts) there was opportunity to mold the format and my word choice together. No receipt is the same as another. This isn’t like a sestina or a sonnet where there is no room for movement. There was a lot of fluidity of what I wanted to include and what I felt wouldn’t add to the meaning of the poem. For example, I got an incredible amount of inspiration from the small little coupons at the ends of receipts, feeling I could relate that to an offer of rehabilitation. This also happened with the “This is your copy” portion, which was a last minute addition. I found that the little bits of fixed format that were in the receipt helped inspire me more than the less structured parts of this poem, such as the crossed out portions underneath each item.
RR: We see from your bio that you’re a college freshman English major. Has attending college changed your writing style and process? Where do you hope to see your writing go?
MC: 100%. College has been amazing for my creative process I feel, mainly because of the amount of english courses I enrolled myself in, forcing myself to be reading and writing constantly. In my opinion, this is the best way to improve writing. Before college, I feel my poetry was a bit stagnant, trapped in the same style, same meter, same format, etc. However, being exposed to so many talented writers, inspiration is abundant. I’ve written more poems ‘after’ other authors here in the last 4 months than I ever have in my life, for I'm constantly being amazed by new word choices and structures. When I tell people I hope to write for a living, as a freshman in college, this is the question I am always asked. People look at itas more of my pipe dream than an actual achievable goal. But I do hope to write for the rest of my life. I’ve read more chapbooks than I can remember hoping I will one day have my own, hold one in my hands, and kind of have a nice ‘I told you so’ moment.
RR: Are there any poets you’ve particularly latched onto as key influencing forces or inspiration for your work?
MC: I could go on forever naming poets I have pulled inspiration from. Some modern names include Clementine Von Radics, Lora Mathis, David Luben, Sarah Kay, Louise Glück, and many more. One of my all time favorites is Sylvia Plath, who got me into poetry in the first place. I became fascinated with the way she could place words in an order that portrayed such a strong message. I remember her poem ‘Mushrooms’ made me gasp in the 7th grade, and the obsession ensued from there. I also gain an incredible amount of inspiration from music, as you can see in this poem, I enjoy sampling lyrics from songs and writing off of them. Music has always been a huge influence in my life and is constantly affecting my writing. My all time favorite poem is ‘I Remember The Carrots’ by Ada Limón, and it is my biggest inspiration to continue writing through pain. It starts, “I haven’t given up on trying to live a good life/ a really good one even…” I constantly read and reread this poem, remembering the art that can be created from trauma in life- it doesn’t all have to be pain and pain and pain. That is truly the reason I write.
Mackenna Chandler’s work appears in Issue 5.2 here.