CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
ERIN ELIZABETH SMITH
The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: You use culture and transformation within “On Watching an Old Episode of A Cook’s Tour” in a profound way. Could you explain how these themes come from your life experiences?
Erin Elizabeth Smith: I’m a huge foodie, though I hate that term. (Probably, though, in the same way that hipsters hate the term “hipsters.”) I cook a lot. I keep chickens, ducks, and sheep. I grow a lot of things at home. I am an adventurous eater—I’ve had parties based around eating various varietals of brains and balls, and I am the one to coo over snails or sweetbreads. But as I was watching the season one episode of A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain’s first show, I thought back to myself in 2002. Back then I was scared of sushi, thought jalapenos were the epitome of heat, and would have fainted from the sheer idea of butchering my own animals. I think it’s interesting how much we are willing to change, but how much of that change is cultural as much as it is personal. Would I have sought out weird bits if I hadn’t been inspired to cook the “normal” ones? Would I have made my own haggis (from a stomach I cleaned out myself with a garden hose) if I hadn’t watched seasons of Bizarre Foods? Would I have (regrettably) tried “three penis wine” if I hadn’t felt the need to have that cultural capital? No. But I’m glad (except for the last one) that I did.
RR: What was the experience like when you were first published?
EES: That takes me back. My first poem was published (really published, not high school lit mags or vanity what-nots) when I was eighteen in an online journal, a new thing back in 1999. I remember, better, the first time I was published and paid. (Still a rare thing.) I screamed high-pitched girly screams and danced around my room like a John Hughes movie. And then I probably did something boring like buy groceries or pay my electric bill. It was exciting though. It was a justification of what I wanted to do.
All that to say that publication doesn’t have to be that though. I remember going through a long dry spell with rejection after rejection, and I took that to mean that I should consider another avenue of education. I think it’s easy to attach too much to publication. Or publication in the “right” places or rejection letters that don’t say the right things. I actually have a bar that is decoupaged in old rejection letters in my basement. (I can send a picture if you’d like) It’s a good reminder of what it all ultimately means.
RR: What motivated your choice to juxtapose the perceived levity of Christmas with such darkness as the murdered kittens?
EES: This was one of the first times that I tried writing about my family, which is pretty hard stuff. I had a fairly violent and unhappy childhood that I escaped from as soon as possible. But for whatever reason, I would come home for Christmas each year, like an unhealthy pilgrammage, or a reminder of why I should stay away. To this day, I still have a hard time when the Christmas music starts blaring and everyone is stringing lights to their porches. It’s supposed to be a holiday based around family, and therefore, it’s a reminder to me of that violence, of that heartache, and the things you can’t take back.
RR: What sort of emotional journey do you hope readers experience while reading “On Watching an Old Episode of A Cook’s Tour”?
EES: I want readers to think about their own proclivities. About opening themselves to change. To trying something scary. To allow for more experiences. Food is an easy one. We eat several times a day. Every time I go to my favorite Mexican restaurant (Senor Taco in Knoxville), I make whoever is with me try whatever crazy thing I’m eating that day—buche, tripa, lengua, menudo. And usually they do. Sometimes it becomes a new favorite thing. More often than not they say, “That’s not terrible, though not my thing.” But that opens a door. Everyone should keep opening doors in life.
RR: How would you define appetite?
EES: A voice in the hunger. Something that defines what you want to devour.
Erin Elizabeth Smith’s work in Issue 1.4:
Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and the author of two full-length collections, The Fear of Being Found (Three Candles Press 2008) and The Naming of Strays(Gold Wake Press 2011). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Mid-American, 32 Poems, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Tusculum Review, and Crab Orchard Review. She teaches a bit of everything in the English Department at the University of Tennessee and serves as the managing editor of Sundress Publications and Stirring.