Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We’re stopped short and drawn in by the devastating opening of “My Two Brothers.” Although a second brother is eventually born, the death of James haunts the family and the poem in such a personal way. If it’s not too much to ask, did the poem emerge from experiences in your own life?
Claire Scott: First of all, many thanks for including my poem in this issue. I am honored. The poem is quasi-autobiographical. My mother’s first child, a boy, died in the hospital after six days because he was not being watched by the nurse assigned to him. My mother went home alone and plunged into a deep depression. Then my older sister and I were born. Almost three years later, she delivered a boy and he became the focus of her life. “She took our pictures off the wall.”
RR: The second brother is born but stays unnamed in the poem. To us, it feels like the second brother is almost preemptively erased by the death of James, so much that he must remain anonymous. How did you approach or think about the idea of naming for each of the brothers?
CS: James was a ghost to me. But a very present ghost. I felt shunted to the wings after the birth of my younger brother. He definitely took center stage and so didn’t deserve a name in this poem. I wanted him gone. To have named him would be to accept his existence. Let John Silver whisk him away!
RR: There’s a breathlessness to the enjambment and fragmentation of sentences, and a lack of some punctuation, which feels significant in how we perceive the speaker’s experience. How does a poem come together for you in terms of form and lines?
CS: Form and line breaks don’t always come easily to me. I didn’t want the poem to bog down into too much darkness, so I kept some of the lines shorter. This was particularly true in the three short lines that contrast my brother’s experience (who got his own piano/who rode in the front seat/who got the biggest slice) with mine (with princess dolls/poking out their eyes,/ripping off their legs). I used little punctuation so the story would flow.
RR: We see that your book, Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry, was co-written with your sister. What difficulties are there in co-authoring a book? Was there anything easier or more fun working with someone else than alone? If so, what?
CS: My sister lives on the East Coast and is one of my closest friends. She is a wonderful photographer and she is the one who suggested I write a poem for her photographs of hands. It was great fun to share the creative process. I have a picture of us on the floor of our den, surrounded by pages and pages of photos and poems. Writing is usually a solitary practice and our collaboration was pure joy. We also enjoyed doing readings together on both coasts.
RR: Treasure Island gets a special mention in your poem. Does that book have an important meaning to you? What other books do you find inspire you and why?
CS: Treasure Island is one of the books my mother read to my brother. I stood outside his closed door trying to listen. We also had the Basil Rathbone recording on 78s. I loved being terrified by it, the way I was often terrified of my mother, who was alcoholic and mentally ill. This is part of the darkness I didn’t want in the poem.
I want to add a final note. I adore my brother and he is an important part of my life. We have a wonderful time together and share a love of classical music and opera. He is my go-to person on music, since he is a composer and pianist. I am sorry he had a mother who used him to satisfy her own emotional needs. As a child all I saw was how much of her attention he got. I am sorry I wasn’t always kind to him.
Claire Scott’s work in Issue 8.1: