Pins & Needles No. 40: Christian Rees

Pins & Needles

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco

No. 40: Christian Rees

Q. No one teaches writers how to utilize white space in poetry, and everyone has their own techniques. What advice can you give to our readers on the matter?

Keep in mind William Matthews: “There’s nothing to an onion / but skin.” Poetry isn’t filling blank space, it’s pasting new layers. Erase your words, what’s left? All-pervading blank.

In this poem I hit tab or return in place of every comma or period. My poems draft blocky, very few visible seams, and I shape from there. In this poem I began to see and hear how placing blankness in or at the end of lines mutated rhythm. Sowing white space showed me how much my punctuation held its breath. The end product: one long gasp.

White space can stabilize, resolve, or unsettle. Look at the way your poem physically inhabits the page (streaming couplets, unbroken slabs, spindly stanzas) and how you layout a line (long, short, staccato, legato), then try deconstructing or over-constructing. Both highlight blank space. Be mindless, ruthless and random in this pursuit. See what comes of it.  

Q. “She obeys because she’s spliced so” brings up the debate of nature versus nurture. Is the rope-maker’s beautiful daughter a product of her environment, or was she shaped in this way?

Both suggest fabrication. In story there is little room for character choice: wolf devours, woodsman guts, grandmother piles in the stones. The Daughter was assembled by her lathe of upbringing, a peg for a hole. The men of her life dictated shape and purpose, like knots on a noose. It’s unavoidable for her to do what she was made for: to constrict and be constricted. The intention of others, the men who mis-purposed her, only lasts until the job is done. She’s tossed into the tackhouse, out of objectifying respect or brutal apathy. There she loses their shape, the story’s shape. The rope-maker’s beautiful daughter, like the Maiden Without Hands, Galatea, Rapunzel, even Vasilisa the Beautiful, is knotted to her story, eventually ending up lost in no sure ending. It isn’t until everafter that agency rouses. Here she renatures: their forceful use gone, she crafts her own.

Q. If loving your main character is carpentry, what profession would you like to be loved as?

I hope no one loves me as they do her. That love for the rope-maker’s beautiful daughter ends two ways: at the end of a noose or in the scrap pile. It’s love with the illusion of agency. Carpentry gives the appearance that it can end in any desired structure, but there is an unavoidable blueprint dictating form. For the rope-maker’s beautiful daughter, it’s always a gallows. I’d like to be loved like a butcher loves a hog. That’s a love with stages. It’s a process. The breaking down of the body not so much reduction, as complex transfiguration: pig into pepperpot soup, leather, jello, sausage, ham hocks, chops, cheeks, snout. Butchery loves all the parts, offal or otherwise. It acknowledges each station as having its own ugliness and beauty. Or maybe loved like bookbinding. Perhaps that’s a bit less gross.

Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.

Christian Rees’ poem, “The Rope-Maker’s Beautiful Daughter,” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.

they never love her like a knot
loves a bind       to them loving her is carpentry
lay seven untimely stairs flush
one crook-fingered post true
latch the trick-lip door
reassure in a low condemned second-tongue
she was woven for waiting
twisted and oiled          coiled over
the drop-man’s knuckles she lingers to be told
you are a beautiful choke of threads the lattice heart
my clemency                my reprieve
men of her life handle her
roughly                               tool they cut                length to bind
hempen days grip                           fingers test the give of the loop
pull                     tauten                   drop               wrench
she obeys because she’s spliced so                    the run of cord
elegant              practical                cinches only one way
they discard her as superstition of dead men’s brides dictates
they’ll not have their work called                      unfaithful
count her threads      each numbered             each a daughter of hangman’s fingers
christened constant   like grief
she holds to no contours       like pain
she spreads salt staining the tack-house floor
tangled with half-sister loose ends                  frayed widows
pale and painted
oil-black with mourner’s grease.