Jenna Geisinger: In your collection, Marvels, you frame each section with a found poem from H.D. Northrop’s copy of Marvels of Natural History. How did you come across this copy?
MR Sheffield: We have several bookcases full of books A lot of them I purchased, but many were given to us. Marvels of Natural History is one such book. I actually just noticed it on my bookshelf one evening and was immediately enthralled.
JG: What inspired you to incorporate his poems into your collection?
MR: His descriptions aren’t really poetry. It’s a book of illustrations and information on animals. The kind you give to kids. You know, before the internet. Anyway, some of his descriptions are so strange and out of date. Like the double-fish entry—it’s just bizarre. And, I don’t know, it seemed like this stuff wanted to be poetry.
JG: The found poems are descriptions of different animals, which you repurpose in the rest of the poems of the section to apply to a mother/daughter relationship, creating really lovely extended metaphors. How did you make the connection between these “marvels of natural history” and Gladys and her mother? What struck you about animal characteristics applied to humans?
MR: Thank you. The extended metaphors grew out of the book itself—I can’t take credit for that. But, we tend to draw such a thick, black line between ourselves and animals, when really (and as everyone suspects, but perhaps denies) we’re all just animals. “Just.” It seemed to me that HD got to kind of go on this wonderful adventure describing these animals. I imagined the mother doing that—being this grand, world explorer who loves her daughter but will not sacrifice for her.
JG: Gladys and her mother communicate through various forms: telephone/voicemail, letter, and fax. Why did you choose to defy the time period?
MR: I thought it would be funny. It also seems to me that, although we have these new forms of communication (social media being a primary form more and more), we’re still saying the same awkward things. That is whether, through a conversation, a fax, a text message, or a comment on Instagram, we are preoccupied with the same old thing—the human condition.
JG: Your collection explores the themes of grief and abandonment within a family. Why did you choose to show both Gladys and her mother’s perspective, as opposed to just one?
MR: I don’t like the idea of one person dominating the conversation. It’s important to consider other perspectives. I thought bringing in Gladys would do this.
JG: What inspired you to make Northrop a love interest of Gladys? How do you think it adds to the larger arc?
MR: I’m not sure—that just kind of happened. I was so focused on him, and I wanted a reason for his presence.
JG: In your bio, it is noted that this is your first collection. What was your approach to tackling a work of this magnitude?
MR: I just wrote it, haha. At the time I was taking a writing workshop with Nick Flynn. He had us do freewriting exercises every evening. Those exercises became this book. This might sound stupid, but it kind of wrote itself.
JG: If you were to write another collection, would you change your approach?
MR: For sure, I want to try many different types of writing. I have a few other manuscripts of prose poetry and fiction. Right now, I’m working on a novel. It is definitely not writing itself, haha.
JG: What are you reading currently?
MR: Honestly? I’m reading a self-help book called Stop Obsessing. I’m not sure whether or not it’s helping.
MR Sheffield’s book, Marvels, is available for sale here.
More of Sheffield’s work can be found here:
Jenna Geisinger is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer from New Jersey. She attends the MFA Professional and Creative Writing Program at William Paterson University, while working as an associate managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and a reader for Philadelphia Stories, where she has been previously published.