Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: Caligula is a fascinating subject to explore through poetry. How did you decide on him/his statue as the central focus of a poem, especially in connection with the speaker’s father? 

Rachel Becker: My dad used to take me to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts when I was a little, and the hall with Caligula was a favorite place of ours to visit. The room with the statue was vast and quiet, a powerful, silent place. We were almost always the only people there. I’m interested in the ways children understand (and misunderstand) what they see, and how susceptible they are to the power of suggestion. I’ve also been estranged from my father for over a decade—I think this is more common than people speak about—so interrogating and reimagining these memories is a little like sleuthing. 

RR: We’re curious about the presence of water in this poem, from the “rain boots,” the pool/fountain, the “penny’s plash” and crying. How did the images of water come together throughout this piece?

RB: There was a huge (it seemed huge, anyway) wishing pool in the hall. I loved tossing a penny in, but I can’t recall what I wished for. Water can be deceptive and enticing, and that’s certainly how I felt about Caligula: drawn to the statue, to a man who was not who I believed him to be.

RR: Your bio mentions that you’re originally from the Richmond area. Can you comment on how the local culture of Richmond nurtured or affected your development as a poet?

RB: I went to school in the suburbs, and some of my classmates were fourth or fifth generation Virginians. My parents were both transplants, so I felt like I was from elsewhere too.  The Richmond I know is from a specific time, but it interests me because I felt like there were parts of the city hidden from view, under the veneer of all that niceness. In high school, I was lucky enough to attend the UVA Young Writers Workshopa friend of my parents suggested I applywhere I found a writing community, lifelong friends, and a profound sense of belonging. But, I’ve now lived outside of Richmond longer than I ever lived there: in New York, England, and now, Massachusetts. I think I write about home in part to remind myself of that place and who I was in those years.

RR: Your website mentions you are an educator and parent; how does your personal stake in child development influence your writing?

RB: I guess I do spend most of my time with kids! I love how dynamic they are, how they shapeshift, how they announce themselves to the world. I was given a lot of space and time as a childit was the 1990s!

I also write about children a fair amount, both in this poem and elsewhere. I love Sharon Olds, poems like “My Son the Man ’’ and “35/10,” and I share her interest in images of children and parents. I find writing about students harder and tend to write about them more situationally, and as a collective. My own kids are nine and twelve now, and I sometimes wish I could stop time.

RR: We saw you’re pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University. What advice can you offer to someone interested in pursuing something similar?

RB: Do it! And on your own terms. I’ve been doing mine part time (I’m in year three of four). My best advice is to find a program with faculty you admire and advocate for working with the people you want to work with; this is something I wouldn’t have known to do in my twenties. The low residency model is wonderful for working writers, and I have learned so much from my stellar mentors.


Read “Caligula” by Rachel Becker in Issue 11.1.