CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
LINNEA NELSON

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editor: In “Some Things Will Never Happen,” the idea of grace is explored and then subverted by the title, by the “dissonant chord,” and by the final image. Can you speak towards what grace means to you in this poem? Is it empty, is it an artifice, is it an idealized concept, or just something that “will never happen”?

Linnea Nelson: I love this question. The definition that I most espouse is “undeserved mercy,” which comes from a Christian understanding. At the time I wrote this poem, I was mired in a struggle to find resolution following the most difficult and baffling experience of my adult life. I wanted to know what the takeaway was supposed to be—what the lesson was, so that I could move on. While this piece doesn’t directly touch on that specific upheaval, it speaks to the same compulsive desire for answers.

When the “dissonant chord” is introduced, I think there’s an implicit expectation that it will resolve. But in this piece—and in my experience—dissonance, and the knowledge that crises can occur at any moment, exists right alongside grace. It is the conduit through which grace unfolds. Grace is what sustains the act of living boldly, when we know the worst-case scenario can happen.

 

RR: The enjambment here is especially effective and powerful. Can you talk about how you approach form and the line? How did this poem come together for you?

LN: There are all kinds of ways that a poet can subtly indicate a sense of control or knowing through the form, including capitalization, use of standard punctuation, etc. The poem deals with a lot of uncertainty—topics that the speaker finds unwieldy—so letting individual lines take on ambiguous meanings and foregoing other traditional modes of sort of “tidy” writing seemed to me the most authentic way of rendering the speaker’s stance. At the same time, that organizing principle can be taken too far. I didn’t want to leave the reader without any footholds, hence the couplets.

 

RR: This poem balances different seemingly unrelated yet powerful images, the rehearsing choir, the bright sun of the beach, the burning SUV. Can you talk about how these different images came together in one poem?  

LN: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever written a poem that involved such diverse situations and imagery. The kernel was planted as I listened to that choir practice the same phrase over and over. I don’t know which musical arrangement I heard that evening, but the harmony was such that I just ached for the chord to resolve—I could hear in my head exactly how the resolution would sound, but it kept being delayed. I think much of the poem dwells in places where resolution feels close enough to conceive of, but not close enough to be sure. There was a lot swirling around in my personal life at the time, and that emerged as the common denominator, I guess.

My sister’s courage at the scene of the car accident revealed to me the beautiful, stunning truth that resolution is less compelling than resolve: moving forward without knowing what the outcome will be. Towards the end of the poem, this allows the speaker to accept the assurances of the beloved, (“when my man says never / I believe him”), which feels like a really important moment, to me.

 

RR: What writers have shaped your own work, either aesthetically or in your subject matter?

LN: Loads, of course, but a very pared down list of poet-loves whose works have most directly influenced my writing would look something like: Marie Howe, Sharon Olds, Lorine Niedecker, Ross Gay, Matt Rasmussen, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Voice is often the aspect of poetry that I find myself most drawn to, and it may be what I attend to most closely in my own writing. Each of these poets has such a definitive and magnificent voice, and I’d like to think that spending so much time with theirs has helped me find Mine.

 

RR: What creative project are you most excited for in the future?

LN: I’m in the early drafting stages of a long hybrid piece focused on the greatest friendship of my life, which is with my husband’s sister (who was my best friend long before my husband was my husband). It’s kind of embarrassing and nuts, but great fun. I recently moved from western Oregon to eastern Virginia, so I’m also excited to see where that transition takes my writing.

 

Linnea Nelson’s work in Issue 6.1: 

“Some Things Will Never Happen”