Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: In your poem “Codependency,” you craft a powerful metaphor of the strangler fig and its host tree, creating a strong image of suffocation and withering. How did you decide to incorporate this into your piece? How do you make the connection between this plant and the feelings you associate with it?

Lorrie Ness: This poem came about as a way to explore relationships and how the boundary between healthy entanglement and unhealthy enmeshment is more of a zone, a moving target, a point to be defined and redefined by all of us as we continue to move amongst ourselves. There may not always be an agreed-upon “line,” and the strangler fig really struck me as a way of illustrating this. It climbs the host tree and receives the structure and support it needs to grow. As the strangler fig becomes more established, it begins to encircle the host tree and it initially provides support and buffering from storms and winds, benefitting the host plant. Slowly, over time, the strangler fig kills its host, and this is accomplished after it is large enough to support itself. Sometimes the host tree rots away or is completely subsumed and all that is left is the way its former shape is echoed by the strangler fig. It seemed an apt comparison for human relationships…how we mirror each other, how we support, wound, separate and sublimate. This poem highlights a moment in a relationship where the partners are out of synch in terms of their need for space. It’s left to the reader to decide where the reality of this situation resides. Is one member pathologically afraid of the act of partnership and so it feels like strangulation? Or, is one member slowly choking out the other’s independence? There is no resolution, and we are left with that contemplation.

RR: This piece is four stanzas long and alternates between five and four lines per stanza, which intensifies the finality of this poem. Do you often work in patterns or with symmetry in your poems, or do you tend to lean towards free verse?

LN: I can’t say that I’m pulled toward a specific form or pattern. I definitely write free verse, but within that, I’m often drawn to creating different types of repetition or patterns within the lines and stanzas. I often find that there’s a visual component to the lines, as if a certain alteration of line length is something I find visually pleasing. I also like to experiment with space, so my work takes a lot of different forms and shapes.

RR: We are curious about how often you revisit your poems and make changes. As a writer who has been published in many journals, how do you decide when a poem is “complete”?

LN: How often do I revisit poems as I’m working on them? So often that I lose count. I have to work in short bursts, walk away and come back a few minutes later with fresh eyes and thoughts. Generally, I work more frequently and intensely on a poem over the first three or four days of its creation, but then I keep going back to it after I’ve let it sit and cool off for a few days. New ideas will strike me once it’s no longer fresh and those later edits are often really useful. I also like to share new poems with other writers to get reactions and feedback, which can also help the poem grow into something stronger. To be honest, I’m never really sure a poem is “complete.” I know that sounds cliché, but I think there’s a certain urge to keep tweaking poems even years later, after I’d been satisfied with them for a long while. I decide something is “ready enough” if, after several reads, I find that I’m not making changes any longer, or I’m making a change and then reverting back. I think at that point, the waffling that I experience is just the act of discovering new interpretations and meanings within what is already written, but it isn’t necessarily reflective of the need for structural work to be done.

RR: When did you begin to write, and how did you make the decision to begin submitting to literary journals?

LN: I’ve been writing for relaxation and fun since I was a little kid. When I was in my late 30s, friends started urging me to share my work and try publishing. It was at that point when I decided to submit a few pieces to literary journals. The process has helped me grow as a writer and it’s helped me connect to amazing people.

RR: Do you engage in any special rituals before writing a new piece?

LN: I don’t really have any special rituals that I engage in before I write, but there are a few common themes. I think a lot when I’m out in the woods and this is often where ideas strike me. I’ll repeat phrases in my mind or make a note while I’m hiking so that I can work on them when I get home. I also love writing outdoors when I can. If the weather isn’t too cold or stormy, I’ll park myself outside. I also feel a sense of inner peace when I sit down to write, and I haven’t found any other activity that replicates that feeling. While I don’t have a ritual to precipitate writing, writing is a ritual that precipitates my sense of groundedness.

Lorrie Ness’ work in Issue 9.1: