Contributor Spotlight:
Interview with Ellery Beck

Ellery sits near the ocean, facing the camera in a blue jacket

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We were drawn in by how your poem “Bramble” compares the body to a rather unsettling image of moldy blackberries. How did you balance or develop details that are both direct and surprising?

Ellery Beck: Especially in poems so focused on a single conceit, I try to zoom in with little metaphors inspecting every element of what I’m talking about. In an extended metaphor comparing the body to blackberries, I began to think about not only the preservation of blackberries but also aspects like their life span and expiration dates. When attempting to make things strange and surprising, smaller direct images in between the more shocking ones tend to keep my poems grounded.

RR: In “Bramble,” we’re empathetic to the speaker’s sense of overwhelming powerlessness. How do you think poetry can play a role in helping people cope with or understand negative emotions?

EB: I think poetry gives you the ability to interact with and examine your less favorable feelings in a unique way—it allows you to talk to those feelings, to find some kind of art in even the hardest moments. I’m a strong believer in the idea that you should let yourself have time to process trauma before trying to write about it—the process of writing poetry often helps me understand negative emotions, but sometimes you’re not ready to understand them. And that’s okay, you deserve the time to experience and work through them first.

RR: Much of your work focuses on very concrete images from daily life. What is your process for taking the ordinary and making it feel so strange?

EB: I think a lot of my process for making things strange is to first become intimately familiar with them and then to obscure what you already know so well. The closer you zoom in and look at things, the funkier the details you find are. I try to spend time defamiliarizing the world around me, either in my head or in writing (even if it isn’t for a poem). After a while, when you’ve found the idea that you want to make unfamiliar, it just becomes a process of balancing that estrangement with familiarity.

RR: Can you speak to your experiences working on the literary magazine, The Shore Poetry, and how that may have influenced your own writing?

EB: Aside from being exposed to more incredible contemporary poetry than ever before, The Shore Poetry pushed me out of my comfort zone and into being their Founding Interview Editor. The experience of interviewing some of my favorite poets taught me not only to articulate my craft questions and knowledge in a more precise manner, but it also helped me to consider my work in relation to these influential writers as well as the greater contemporary poetry community. The conversations your poetry can have with the public are so important to me, and I think a lot of my awareness of these interactions (and the importance of them) stems from working for The Shore Poetry, as well as in my ongoing experiences with Poet Lore and Beaver Magazine. 

RR: What writers or books have felt influential to you as a writer?

EB: The most influential book for me is The Arrival by Daniel Simko, and some other poets who never fail to inspire me are Kimberly Grey and Catherine Pierce. Each of those three artists hold such a special place in my heart and writing, as they all so intricately write lyric work with such a delicate attention to sound, pacing, and rhythm, as well as attention to each individual word they use. Grey’s focus around relationships and marriage in The Opposite of Light has helped me find new ways to explore connections in my own life, and Pierce’s gorgeous anti-pastoral work is currently influencing my poetry the most. I try to constantly expose myself to new poetry as well as to new art in other genres, whether that be prose, photography, visual art, sculptures, or anything else I can get my hands on!

Ellery Beck’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.