“Maybe I am afraid that the dead won’t let me in, that there won’t be room for me,” from Divedapper, with Kaveh Akbar

KA: Each one of your four collections is very different, formally, and we’ve talked about the tonal evolution—in Heliopause especially. Each of the past three books has had a sort of unified visual presentation, the poems tended to look similar on the page within the context of each book. That’s not to say a poem from The Difficult Farm looked like a poem fromWhat is Amazing; but, within each book, the poems tended to have similar formal conceits. That’s much less true for Heliopause. You go from “Where No Light Can Harm You,” a poem that’s maybe twenty or thirty words, into “How Long is the Heliopause,” which is four pages. It’s a gorgeous poem, by the way. You quote, among other things, a box of corn flakes?
HC: (Laughing) I think they’re called Heritage Flakes.
KA: Ahh. So you go from a poem that’s twenty or thirty words to a poem that spans four pages. There aren’t really gestures like that in your previous collections.
HC: Right, I feel like there are two kinds of elements inHeliopause. There are the longer poems and then there are these shorter poems, the sort of actors in between the longer pieces. There is definitely more variation. But, they feel to me like they come out of the same kind of thinking, in a way that is difficult to put into a language. The poems’ form and plot have a lot to do with each other. They seem of the same kingdom.
KA: There’s definitely cohesiveness. You have the poems like “As if No Light Could Warm You,” and then you have the entire “Dear Seth” collection. If you were to try to summarize those pieces, they’d seem fairly disparate. But, reading them in this collection, they feel much more connected.
HC: I hope this doesn’t sound too ridiculous, but I think that much of Heliopause is concerned with letters, whether we’re talking about letters that you might send through the mail, or the letters of the alphabet. A lot of my wondering about poetry and language over these past couple years has been about letters, and about how these technologies we have allow some form of correspondence between the dead and the living, between the present and the absent, between earth and other solar systems.
I think when I was little, I mixed the ideas of heaven and outer space. I don’t think I’m quite over that yet.
KA: That ties into the title of the book, which is something I wanted to ask about—the definition I found for “heliopause” is “the boundary between the heliosphere and the interstellar medium outside the solar system. As the solar wind approaches the heliopause, it slows suddenly, forming a shock wave called the ‘termination shock of the solar wind.’” Can you talk about why that term works as a title?
HC: Sure. I didn’t know “Heliopause” was going to be the title until quite late in putting the book together. I find titling whole collections of poetry pretty nightmarish. I love titling individual poems, but titling books just makes me go insane. When I realized that the “heliopause” came up in a few different poems and thought about why that might be, it began to feel like an appropriate title for things.
I was writing these poems as I was pregnant with my daughter and the heliopause was showing up in the news quite a bit. Voyager 1 had just recently crossed the heliopause, so we had this man-made object suddenly going where no man had ever been before. Or woman. (Laughing) Or baby.
What fascinated me about it is that we didn’t actually know that crossing had occurred until after it had already happened. Because I tend to think metaphorically most of the time, that seemed like a pretty great way of understanding waiting for birth. There are many many things about my daughter that were determined already that we couldn’t know until she was born.
KA: That’s fascinating.
HC: She had completed that voyage, you know? And then, I also found myself thinking about death. There’s an elegy to Neil Armstrong in there, there’s the poem for my friend Bill Cassidy, who died four years ago. I found myself thinking about the divide between the living and the dead and how long it might take for information or data or messages to reach them, or to get back to us from them. It turned out that Neil Armstrong died the same day Voyager crossed the heliopause.
KA: Right, right. Wild.
HC: It made me feel like the world was kind of telling me the title, because I had already written that elegy for Neil Armstrong, and I had already mentioned the heliopause in the poems, so for those things to correspond in that way made it easier. I didn’t have so much of a choice. Sometimes choice can make you very unhappy.

Read the full interview here.

Other Interviews