The Poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: Your piece, “Ill-Suited”, follows a narrative style. Would you say this is a consistent trend you fall back to for comfort? If so, where do you find fault in other forms you engage with? And, If not, how do you find this piece successful in the narrative form versus others forms you utilize?
Christopher Dollard: Free verse narrative poetry is what I write the most, though I wouldn’t say it’s a fallback or that it’s comfortable. It has its own set of challenges like any other form. However, for me, narrative gives me a chance to tell a story using realistic characters based in our day-to-day world. I like the accessibility the form has, how it can reach a broad audience, and how it can blend with other forms and styles. The narrative thread is versatile—it can be stitched and looped and braided throughout a poem for variety and to offer a richer experience to the reader.
RR: Is the character in your poem, “Ill-Suited”, based on a real-life person and nonfictional events? As well, would you mind illuminating your inspiration for depicting him this way, and your inspiration in depicting his specific experiences?
CD: Well, I found myself shopping for a suit one day, for my best friend’s wedding, and though I am not a divorcee, I get what this speaker is going through. The poem is mostly fictional, though it includes a few real-life elements—the salesman’s admonition to face the mirror really happened, and there was a hideous brown suit at one point.
I like depicting characters that are in moments of crisis, decision, and catharsis, and I find it effective to place those characters in settings that amplify those elements. In this case, you have a late-twenties speaker who is ruminating on his divorce and how awful heartbreak is in contrast to buying a brand new suit to celebrate someone else’s marriage—which reminds him of when he got fitted for his own wedding suit. That contrast, that emotional push-and-pull, is the stuff of everyday life that we all experience, and I am always interested in exploring that poetic territory.
RR: What drove you to format the narrative of “Ill-Suited” in an untraditional manner; did you put something in the lines which your audience might overlook and that you’re dying to explain, if they missed it?
CD: To me, narrative falls flat if it doesn’t have some kind of emotional core. In this case, after writing the first draft, I saw that I could layer the poem’s present narrative with the speaker’s past experiences and emotional states. That enabled me to expand the narrative beyond the constraints of the poem’s setting. So, that layering, to me, allows the reader to follow the speaker’s mind and pick up on dramatic or emotional cues that they might miss if the poem was solely a linear or “traditional” narrative.
RR: The ugliness of separation from a partner, and the way in which it manifests itself in daily tasks is carefully explored in “Ill-Suited”. How did you settle upon the scene of trying on suits? Did you consider placing the narrative in another setting?
CD: Well, if you follow the speaker’s thoughts, you end up in more scenes than just the suit shop—his apartment when his ex-wife moves out, his basement when he chops wood, his driveway when he smashes bottles, etc. So, in my mind, the narrative goes to those other settings within the greater context of trying on suits.
But when I wrote the poem, I didn’t try or expect to do that—I wanted the initial contrast of heartbreak/divorce and buying a suit for someone else’s wedding (which was my first thought toward writing the poem), so the poem’s setting was the first choice I made and I didn’t consider another option.
RR:Are you currently working on any other projects that involve these themes? What else are you writing at the moment?
CD: Right now, I’m working on a series of short narrative poems that follow a single character, which I started after reading Zbigniew Herbert’s Mr. Cogito. I have no idea where it will go, but it might become a larger project, and it covers all sorts of thematic territory, including relationships.
Christopher Dollard’s work in Issue 2.2: