Poetry News

Frontier Poetry Interviews Lee Ann Rorigpaugh

By Harriet Staff

South Dakota Poet Laureate Lee Ann Rorigpaugh's newest collection tsunami vs the fukashima 50 appears via Milkweed Editions this week. Frontier Poetry spends time with the author to find out what inspired her most recent work, which "interrogates the 2011 disaster with unswerving gaze." "We’re honored to have the chance to ask Lee Ann some questions about her writing," the staff writes. Let's go from there: 

How did you originally approach the task of writing about such tremendous tragedy? Did the tsunami’s voice come right away, and were there other voices that came but didn’t make it into the book?

Lee Ann Roripaugh: The tsunami and Fukushima disaster had a stunningly visceral effect on me. I didn’t initially anticipate writing about Fukushima, but long after the disaster had fallen off the major American news cycles, I continued to be sickened, troubled, haunted. And so I initially began (although I didn’t realize I was beginning, yet) by listening. Listening and reading. I read everything I could find about the disaster, and signed up for daily news alerts. About one year later, I had started thinking a lot about the Godzilla narratives emerging as an ecocritical response to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at the end of WWII—how radiation caused the rise of monsters on Monster Island. I began to envision the possibilities of working with similar tropes as an ecocritical and social response to the Fukushima disaster. Soon, I began dreaming of a character named Tsunami rising as a feral monstress, a supervillainess, a femme fatale, faced off by a cadre of superheroes—the “Fukushima 50”—whose superpowers were created by accidents involving radiation. I began writing poems about Tsunami around fifteen months after the disaster. When I wrote these Tsunami poems, I decided to write them in third person omniscient, as a way of creating a sense of fluid, shape-shifting power. For me, to attempt to write in Tsunami’s voice in first person seemed too limiting, and potentially much too ponderous, given that she’s larger than life, a force of nature. After drafting a couple of these poems, they began to easily click into place as third-person projections of fear, desire, and awe toward something multifaceted, multivalent, and mythic. In terms of process, I wrote all of the Tsunami poems first.

The other main thread of this project consisted of the first-person dramatic monologues in the (mostly) fictional voices of the “Fukushima 50”—victims and survivors of the disaster, who faced off against Tsunami. These poems really borrowed from the processes of docupoetics, as well as theatrical monologues, and required a lot of intensive research, in addition to building characters/voices to (hopefully) respectfully illuminate, commemorate, and honor the experiences and legacies of the nuclear diaspora.

Read more at Frontier Poetry.

Originally Published: March 14th, 2019