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Still Life: Monica Fambrough’s Softcover
At AWP’s The Writer’s Notebook, Kathleen Rooney talks to poet Monica Fambrough, author of Softcover, a “direct, honest, funny, and full of clarity and grace” debut collection that Natural History Press calls “a still-life of life itself.” A conversation here unfolds about the long-in-the-making manuscript, Fambrough’s former employer Wave Books, the delicate balance of poetry and parenting, a less-boring sense around the domestic life, generosity as a feminist act, time as accordion-like, and more. An excerpt:
Rooney: Something I love about this book is how it talks quite openly about the challenges and also the frequent boring-ness of domestic life, both in terms of being a wife/partner and being a mother. In “Midpoint,” for instance, you write: “I am the wife. I am a doe, / I am a trophy. // I am a wageless worker” and then on the next page you list some of the wageless work that you do: “I am […] // A baby maker. // A caretaker. // I get up and make pancakes. // Monica is pancakes are awesome.” The whole book seems to meditate, on and off, about pursuits that are largely unpaid, but that many people do any way for more subtle kinds of pay-offs, like being a parent and maybe even being a poet. Can you talk about how your life as a poet and your life as a parent complement or compete with each other, and how these themes found their way into your poems?
Fambrough: It’s funny, because this book was all written pretty much before I had any children (I now have three). So I really had no concept of how intense the role of wageless worker could be. But I have always been interested in emotional labor and domestic labor. I like babies and baking and making birthday cards. I think I am in that category of women about whom people in power might say, “You are better at this kind of underappreciated, menial, repetitive work. You seem to actually enjoy it. Therefore you should always do it, and for minimal reward.” I am not always good at resisting that pressure, but I do try in my poems to validate that kind of effort. Both the work and the resistance to always doing it. I am also genuinely entranced by things many people find inane (toddler babble, morning television, community newsletters.) I am an intensely local and domestic person. I am highly reassured by rituals and am genuinely inspired by a lot of the in-between, everyday stuff. And even if it is not inspiring, I feel it is important to give artistic space to the kids of thinking that domestic labor requires. I have to work not to put too much of it in my poems. (Let’s just say I am not too far off from having a poem in my book called “The Best Way to Fold the Towels So They Look Nice but Also Maximize Space on the Shelf.”) I am a full-time mom now, and it is harder than office work—very physically demanding, very long hours. I have found it doesn’t hinder my ability to write poems, but I have had to change my process. I write more episodically and in a style that I think can stand up to less rigorous rewriting. What I have a harder time keeping up with is the “poetry life,” submitting to journals, giving readings*, attending readings, even reading poetry books.
*I am writing these responses on a plane, on my way to Denver, to give a reading. It was necessary to wrangle three childcare providers in order to be gone for a weekend. Luckily I have wonderful family support. My mother works full time, but she will use her vacation days to take off work and watch my kids, so I can travel to do a reading. This generosity is the kind of feminist act that I feel deserves wider acknowledgment.