In anticipation of the release of her collection Something Dark to Shine In, Inès Pujos spoke with Sundress Publications’ editorial intern Ryleigh Wann about the use of the speculative and macabre in writing, animals, and survival.
Ryleigh Wann: The manuscript for Something Dark to Shine In was, at some points, also known as Against Porcelain and Lilly of The Valley. Could you speak more about the title of the book and how it encompasses the collection?
Inès Pujos: When I originally finished writing the manuscript post-MFA, I named it Against Porcelain after the title poem, which captured this urgent and macabre perspective that seemed to thread the collection as a whole. There was something eerie about porcelain, in the color and the fragility nature of it all. After submitting to several contests, a few editors pointed out that they thought a different title would be better suited. So I began submitting it as Lilly of the Valley, a nod to another title poem that was added after the first draft of the manuscript. But as time went on, I felt that title felt a little too mundane. My manuscript was previously picked up by another press and the editor suggested that I just lift my opening quote from Frank Standford’s The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You: “I’ll just bleed so the stars have something Dark to Shine In.” This quote has always resonated with me and really encompasses this idea of making something special out of one’s own martyrdom and trauma…which is what my whole collection discusses, and so the manuscript officially became Something Dark to Shine In.”
RW: Can you speak about the use of the speculative in this collection, found in the wolf
character in “Breaking Winter” or the meandering nature of “Patron Saint of All Lost Things”?
IP: I first began writing because I was not able to draw…or at least draw well. I always loved the surrealist painters and gravitated towards the surreal in my writing. It was in those early writing days that I created whole alternative worlds with these more fantastical characters all living in a village by the sea. As the years went on, more of these surreal characters began to emerge and I’ve carried them with me in various poems. Interestingly ,the wolf character appeared in my writing as a predator, in relation to the narrator. But over time, the wolf also became a feral protector. A few years out of writing “Breaking Winter,” I was working on my trauma with my therapist through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and the wolf character came to my protection…in all of his feralness he was able to be protective and at times nurturing so my relationship with this character changed.
As for “Patron Saint of All Lost Thing,” that poem was written in one sitting. I was on the train from NYC to New Haven and “Says I Love You”… I just remember having written one line and then it all flowed out of me, very much stream of consciences…which also could have been facilitated by the movement of the train. It was here that I explored a bit more of my personal family folklore and the long form allowed for a more whimsical approach. By the time I reach New Haven, I had the first draft done…my friend and I spent the afternoon walking through a graveyard …which was peak gothic and writerly and was able to make its way into sections of “Patron Saint of All Lost Things” after that.
RW: Can you tell me about the use of form throughout the collection, specifically in “Breaking Winter” or “More Blood in the East Village” and your use of space on the page?
IP: I find writing in certain forms to be very motivating when I experience writers block and although I am comfortable with more traditional form, I do like creating a hybrid out of it… taking something traditional and adding a twist to it. Yes…I love using white space…whether it is through erasure poems or using the space to create an erasure type esthetic. I use spaces as a way to add a bit more breath in my poems…often I find that my work has some manic energy to it and I rush to get everything on the page. The use of white space in “Breaking Winter” or “More Blood in the East Village” acts almost like the beat cue in screenplays. I want to add more tension between the manic/more urgent pacing with the use of white space.
RW: This haunting and haunted collection employs morbid language and imagery to discuss the impacts trauma has on the body. Can you discuss the influence of the macabre in your writing of such visceral language, themes, and imagery?
IP: My use of the macabre in my writing is a direct influence from my thought process and I’ve turned to writing to explore and destigmatize my own intrusive thoughts from previous traumas. But I also think that I’ve always been a bit morbid. As a child, I was fascinated by animals and wanted to be a surgeon. Growing up, my cats would often leave their prey lying around our yard and I would take their bodies back inside and try to examine their bodies and blood under a microscope. When I saw a dead bird on the road, I would put it in my bag and examine its wings, tried to sew it back. My desire to be a surgeon stopped the moment I experienced some medical trauma when I was thirteen. Though I still poured over my own surgery notes and pictures…I just didn’t feel comfortable inflecting harm on someone even if they medically need it. I find the body fascinating, whether human or animal and am curious to witness its inner workings. Post numerous surgeries and medical treatments, I took a lot of those experiences and put them into writing. That lived experience combined with intrusive thoughts only further fueled my more visceral images in themes. I think there’s a link between the macabre and trauma, In Esme Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias, Esme teases out this connection beautifully…of consuming more macabre media and even true crime following a trauma. I think it’s my brain’s way of finding attunement, so I’m naturally drawn to morbidity.
RW: Tell me about the particular syntax of these poems, particularly the use of enjambment and blank spaces between phrases in individual lines like in “Good Faith.”
IP: I approached “Good Faith” in a similar manner to “Breaking Winter” and More Blood in the East Village”…in terms of the form and use of white space. Though, in this later poem, many of the spaces are not so much about creating tension and rather using the space to emphasize the intimacy between my partner and I…kind of like when we look at each other and I know what she’s thinking and vice versa.
RW: Something Dark to Shine In almost reads like a grimoire. Can you discuss the balance of the personal and cosmic mythologies (or magic) occurring within these poems?
IP: I grew up in the United States with just my immediate family…all my extended family was in France and so the only constant connection to my larger family was through old photographs. I used to take them out and look at my relatives, create narratives as a way to feel closer to my relatives. At an early age I found out about my grandmother’s suicide, which occurred when my mother was fourteen. My grandmother was so tragically beautiful and the stories surrounding her depression, her mental illness, and her family dynamics captivated me. So those stories always appeared to have some scene of mysticism/ family folklore. I would say that this folklore is very present in “Patron Saint of All Lost Things”, where I explore family grief and trauma and making something bright out of something so terribly tragic. It all ties back to the need to make something special, it’s very human.
RW: What truths do you think the book is searching for?
IP: I think a lot of personal truths were written within this manuscript by my own unconscious. When I first wrote the poems within my second and third semester of my MFA, I had not come to terms that during my first semester, I was raped. And yet, looking back at the poems now, almost ten years later, it was so clear that my body processed the rape earlier than my own mind…so there are so many personal truths hidden throughout the poems. Same goes for my own gender identity…I look at the lines that are in this book and I am stunned at how clearly I knew myself within that realm of the poem, but that it took me a little longer to come to terms with these truths.
RW: Many of the truths in these poems include a consideration of place, such as the East Village, Tompkins Square. I found it interesting how this ecotone is written about; the speaker or language of these poems interacting with a location. What does it mean to you to write about a place?
IP: I find location to be a very important part of my writing process. Perhaps it’s the influence of screenwriting, but I almost always need to ground myself in a physical space…whether imagined or real…I need the reader to be able to see where I am. And a great deal of these poems from the manuscript were written at coffee shops in the East Village, on my walks through Tompkins Park, and throughout the Lower East Side. I think there’s something inherently special about the East Village…so many great art movements were born there, and it was the first time that I saw a
large city function as literally a small village. I talk about my friend’s mother, Leslie, who I never met while she was alive…but having heard so many stories about her while in High school, always imagined the neighborhood as Avant Garde and feral. When I first spent more time in the East Village, I felt instantly connected to it, and to Leslie, and I began writing my own folklore narrative between us.
RW: Which poems compel you the most?
IP: This answer has changed so many times of the years. Looking back, I notice the difference in my work the most with the poem entitled, “The New Frontier.” While the subject matter is about grooming and sexual assault, a subject that I cover in other poems, It’s the first poem that I am more direct about the subject itself. It was written after I had realized and began to process that I was a rape survivor, and I was more comfortable with claiming that trauma and had the words to articulate what I had survived. Previously, my unconscious didn’t’ have that clear cut language and I tended to rely on metaphors and more surreal settings. While there are some
surreal aspects to this poem, it felt like a turning point in my own trauma processing and writing.
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Inès Pujos holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU. Their poems have appeared in The Adroit Journal, Gulf Coast, Puerto del Sol, and Verse Daily, among others. Their manuscript was a finalist for multiple prizes, including Alice James’ 2017 open reading period and Semi-finalist for The 2017 Berkshire Prize by Tupelo Press. For more information visit inespujoscreative.com.
Ryleigh Wann is an MFA poetry candidate at UNC Wilmington where she teaches creative writing and is the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in Rejection Letters, Flypaper Lit, and Kissing Dynamite Poetry, among others.