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The Memphis Blues
By The Editors
April was going to be a big month for Kim Vodicka. Her poetry collection The Elvis Machine (CLASH Books) premiered at AWP earlier this year, but Vodicka voluntarily decided against seeing the copies of her book for the first time it due to safety concerns. Today, she is still fighting against the shadow of COVID-19 amidst cancelled book readings, meet-and-greets, and other crucial events for a book's success, including the New Orleans Poetry Festival and L.A. Times Festival of Books.
Like many writers, she's turned to the internet's writing community for support. While we're not thrilled with the circumstances, it's still pretty badass to talk to her about 1950s dudebros, how to carve out a poem, and the intersection of poetry and performance.
The Elvis Machine is inspired by living in Memphis, Tennessee and being surrounded by 1950's nostalgia. How does the romanticization of 1950s culture influence both the book and the community of Memphis?
Memphis is a city that wears its past heavily upon its present. It’s part of its charm, but it’s also very insidious. The past often eclipses the present to the point where it distorts our perception of the present. The main things I take to task in The Elvis Machine are ideas about femininity and “a woman’s place.” We’re in the Bible Belt here, where even the most forward-thinking people still have pretty traditional views of gender roles and relationships. There’s something about having a nostalgic appreciation for the 50s that sort of locks you into that antiquated mode of thinking and leads to a recession of the imagination and limits people (especially women) from expressing their true selves in the here and now. Men are afraid of a Boss Bitch in general, but I think that fear is especially strong in the south. Memphis is just one example. I’m making an example of it because I’ve lived it.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you pour it all out and rearrange the parts later or carefully stitch lines one at a time?
I have several different processes, depending on the piece/project. I jot down lines/ideas every day and keep a running document, which is hundreds of pages long at this point. Sometimes I feel moved to write a whole poem start to finish in one sitting, but more often, I keep notes for many weeks or months and then eventually write based on those notes. It varies greatly, but I often spend several weeks working on a single poem. Sometimes it’s patchwork just in the sense of seeing how ideas I thought of separately might actually go/belong together while combining them with new ideas that emerge. I think of it more as composing than writing, and that’s also because sound is a huge factor in what I do. I don’t write purely for sound, but I constantly read what I’m working on aloud. It has to feel right. It has to land. I have to be able to deliver it in a performance setting, which is my lifeblood. I need it to move me first if I ever want it to move anyone else. The repetition puts energy into it, which is the same as casting a spell. The spell has to come from the inside out for it to have any power, and I take that approach to writing.
How has COVID-19 affected your career and your personal life?
This month, I had plans to participate in readings/panels at various events, including the New Orleans Poetry Festival and L.A. Times Festival of Books, as part of the CLASH Books roster of new authors/releases, but all of those events have now been postponed or outright canceled. It’s unfortunate because I’ve been working really hard on social media marketing, putting in hours upon hours with no sponsoring or financial backing, and I think attending these events would’ve started showing the rewards of those efforts. I’m an author who tours often and is known for being very performance-driven, so missing out on in-person events is a huge loss in terms of conveying the work in my own voice, which helps to sell books.
I’m deliberately trying to avoid discussing the more emotional impacts of all this for now. Trying to keep this brief and stick to the facts, but this whole thing is a huge bummer that I haven’t really even been able to process yet, and is still very much in progress. I’m just relieved most people seem to be adhering to the suggested protocol so far, in terms of social distancing. It sucks, but it’s not really about me or my book. I just want everyone to be safe.
Why is it important for people to support the arts, even during times of uncertainty?
Times are always uncertain. No matter how well informed you are, you never really know what’s going on. I’m always expecting my life to fall apart or the world to explode, or more simply, for things to go far differently than planned. I don’t see anything as particularly different now. Supporting the arts is something people should do no matter what. Artists make life worth living. Artists add color and texture and complexity to the world. They offer insight and analysis and inspiration. They reject complacency and shake things up. They are where change begins. The arts have always been necessary, if not dire. It’s weird to me that some people live their whole lives without a genuine appreciation for them. They must be very sad and scared and empty, but they’re the people I want to reach. No matter how bleak and dreadful and terrifying things get, there is hope, no matter how fleeting. That’s the gift of art, even the darkest arts.
What are some books you want to recommend for people's quarantine piles (besides your own, of course!)
Witch by Rebecca Tamas, The Pisces by Melissa Broder, The Sadean Woman by Angela Carter, Little Birds by Anais Nin, and, of course, all the other titles on the Clash Books roster. ;)
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