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An interview with 2022 Stacy Doris Memorial Poetry Award Winner B.P. Sutton

Conducted by Fourteen Hills’ Poetry Editors

Q: When and where did you begin writing “Palinode”? What inspired it to come into being?

A: Initially it was to get me to stop working on a different manuscript. I had continued to add, revise, edit the same manuscript for years, and it no longer felt productive, so I wanted to work on something new that would both answer/refute the earlier work in a way that would motivate me to write something else and be done. It didn’t work. “Palinode” has become a part of that manuscript also, as it felt like a means of concluding it.

Q: defines palinode as, “a poem in which the poem retracts something said in an earlier poem,” or, “a recantation.” What is recanted in this poem?

A: The manuscript it's responding to (and eventually became a part of) revolved around the telling and retelling of myths: cosmogonies, deluges, etc., which was driven by my interest and research into augurs, auspices and early divination practices. A lot of this poem is responding to/recanting specific elements and narratives in the manuscript that it concludes.

Q: What specific elements and narratives from that collection of poetry is “Palinode” responding to? Why recent these specific elements and narratives?

A: “Palinode” brings together elements from different sections of the manuscript that felt incomplete or unresolved, as I was trying to incorporate/thread it all together and be done. Some here, some there. A lot of the focus of “Palinode” and why things go unsaid is in the misreading of an auspice, with each section, in some way, revolving around birth.

Q: What is left un-recanted? Or what does the poet want to make sure wasn’t recanted?

A: In earlier drafts the poem was much more formal, closer to a crown of sonnets with identical repeating lines, but it wasn’t working. I only bring this up because those earlier drafts felt too closed; each section would introduce the same theme, undo itself/any movement, and then repeat. As it went through edits, I think it became more open by allowing it to devolve and show the more evident architecture of trying to tell the story over and over again.

Q: Where can we read, purchase, or hear more of your poetry?

A: Recently, I had a poem in Fence (#37-38) and a chapbook, Monument, published by Press 254, which is a handmade chapbook press and publishing workshop at Illinois State in which authors work alongside students through each step of production.

Q: That’s interesting. For readers who are not familiar with publishing processes, can you tell us a bit about the specifics of how authors work alongside the students through each step of production? Are these MFA students? How did it feel to work alongside these students in the production process?

A: Press 254 is run by Steve Halle and Holms Troelstrup alongside a class of undergraduate publishing studies majors. The focus of the press/class is for students to gain hands-on experience with editing, design, production, etc. It was a great experience to be able to discuss all of their ideas, how they approached the text, and how they envisioned it as a completed work.

Q: At Fourteen Hills we love to get the word out to our readers on new and emerging poets to watch for. Are you reading anyone exciting currently who you’d like to share with our readers?

A: Not all emerging but some of the books and poets I am reading/have recently read and am excited about: Valzhyna Mort’s Music for the Dead and Resurrected, Rachel Mannheimer’s Earth Room, and Oscar Oswald’s Irredenta. Some recent books by good friends include Gabriel Gudding’s translation of Gunnar Wærness's mixed-genre book Ta på Jesus (Touch Jesus) and Amish Trivedi’s FuturePanic.

Q: There seems to be a balance of the fulfilled and the unfulfilled within the poem, a tone of unsatisfaction paired with satisfaction. How did you achieve that balance?

A: The dissatisfaction and satisfaction, I think, go back to the difficulty of telling the story with each stanza/section being another attempt to make things clearer. When writing “Palinode,” I intended for it to be as if someone was refuting a story being told or untelling a story as it is told to a specific person (all of this motivated by becoming a parent/bringing a child into all of this, I am sure).

Q: How do you feel this focus in “Palinode” of “untelling a story as it is told to a specific person” was motivated by becoming a parent? Who do you feel is doing this “untelling” and who is telling the original story between a parent and their child?

A: The form of a palinode (at least how it is used here: referencing earlier work but then also individual sections within the poem actively retracting earlier sections) allows the scaffolding of a story to be experienced, as you can sort of piece together elements in each section as it unfolds. I’m not sure exactly what role becoming a parent played, but most of the earlier work and edits for the manuscript happened in the months before and early days of parenthood, which is an experience that kind of restructures everything in a lot of ways.

B.P. Sutton is the author of the chapbooks Monument (Press 254), [something billeted, something treatise] (Oxblood Press), and Then, the Unabridged (Black Warrior Review Chapbook Series). Poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Fence, The Literary Review, and Volt, among others.


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