Interview with Elizabeth Cranford Garcia

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: “Tween Pool Party” balances the ethereal, imaginative world of the daughter with the real, grounded world of the speaker. What was the hardest part of crafting that balance?

Elizabeth Cranford Garcia: In the earliest days of the draft, when I started to articulate and experiment what I wanted to capture from the occasion (which was based on something that happened at my niece’s birthday party), I was drawn to the idea of “tween-ness,” exploring the liminal. (The first line of the first draft was “Everything about them is liminal, and they know it.”) I was searching for embodied language/metaphor to express it, and had quite a few competing ones, a number of central questions that the speaker was wrestling with. But as I pondered the central tension and quality of the girls’ desire (that time of life when everything makes you feel like you want to burst!), I happened to look back through my “word book” (where I collect words, images and lines) and found some lines I’d written about seeing a butterfly outside my car window; it was flying into the wind with the same fervor as the wind pushing back, so it seemed to be suspended in the air—and I was struck at the similarity, and decided this was the vehicle for it. So one challenge became how to use a butterfly/chrysalis metaphor for a girl without it sounding cliché. I decided to deliberately avoid the word. I also had to experiment with the order; do I start with a literal description of this butterfly? Or start with the girls at the party? Eventually I felt drawn to the line “This is the chrysalis soup” for its succinctness and sound, and decided I wanted to follow that idea–to make a “soup” of the ideas, so that the literal and figurative (the real and the imaginative) were a bit ambiguous, which also fit the content. So—the hard part was (like always) puzzling through the vehicle and how the poem would move. I tried to make instinctual choices based on sound and voice, and see if they also worked intellectually, even if it didn’t “make sense.”

RR: We loved how the interrobangs created a jarring sensation that emulates the feeling of getting water tossed in your face or being shoved under by your rowdier friends. Did you include them before or after writing the words of the poem?

ECG: The idea of the interrobangs was present in an early draft, when I was trying to mimic the sound of the girls’ voices (“they squeal in question points, in exclamation marks”). But when I workshopped it, my colleagues put me onto the scent of the interrobang, so I looked it up, and loved the word itself, and wanted to incorporate the symbol. I had several lucky moments in this process of researching more of the language I had been drawn to in my drafting, such as finding that the word “ancillary,” which I’d used in connection with the chrysalis, was derived from a “female servant,” and that the yellow butterfly went by two different names—so many things that reinforced the dualities.

RR: When sitting down to write, do you create a similar atmosphere to your subject matter—i.e. a pool side table—or do you prefer to write in an isolated environment?

ECG: I usually have to have some distance between what I’m writing and the ”occasion” that gave me the idea. I’ll jot it down, and when I’m in a writing session (usually in the mornings before my kids wake up, or some days at Starbucks), I’ll start experimenting with it, taking notes on words and images. But my writing environment has to be fairly consistent, with no distractions or obligations to other people.

RR: Congratulations on your debut collection, Resurrected Body, coming out later this year; what was that publication process like?

ECG: I was thrilled when my manuscript won Cider Press Review’s contest last year; I literally cried when I got the voicemail. (It was my first day returning back to teaching part-time, and I was in class). I’d been submitting it for a year to about thirty contests, and in that time, made revisions twice. The last set of changes were just a few months prior after I’d attended the Longleaf Conference in Florida (which is fabulous!), and been encouraged through several conversations to keep submitting. It had been a finalist a couple of times, and starting to get discouraged about how stiff the competition is out there, and was pondering just having a regional publisher do it, which would limit my audience, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that for my first book. So it was really helpful to have some pep talks and new advice. Although there’s a whole year between the announcement and when the book comes out (in August), Catherine at Cider Press Review has been great to work with, very responsive and clear about the publication steps, asking for my input on cover art. I just saw the mock-up the other day, and am very excited!

RR: On your website, you mark the birth of your children under your Poetry section, creating a connection between your art and your motherhood. How has being a mother influenced your writing?

ECG: I love that you noticed that. The inclusion was motivated more by an urge to explain the big gaps in my publications; I couldn’t write when I was pregnant (i.e. sick) or nursing, because I couldn’t think. It would take months for me to find the time and opportunity to remember how to write again, and I always felt like it took so long to make any progress. I live in the suburbs of Atlanta, so there weren’t many poetry events I could get to with my schedule raising little ones, and I felt (still do!) fairly isolated. I was fortunate, though, to have found some kindred spirits through Segullah (other LDS writing moms), which helped me stay connected. Which is a long wind-up to answer the question this way: motherhood has both put a damper on my ability to write, and also given me plenty of material, although I didn’t know how to write about it (without sounding either self-indulgent or sentimental) until my oldest was probably four or five. My book is about this whole dynamic—how do you find your identity again after you’ve lost it to motherhood? I sometimes envy the moms who seem to LOVE everything about having kids—but I remember many occasions lying on the carpet with my toddler, who wanted me to put a puzzle together with her, or pretend play, and I’d think This is so boring I just want to lie down and sleep. The day my youngest started preschool, I cried with relief at being able to eat my breakfast in peace, and just sit and think for a while. My babies were cute (still are!), but I don’t miss that phase.


Read “Tween Pool Party” by Elizabeth Cranford Garcia in Issue 11.2