An Interview with Annie Christain

Dear Readers,
In the week leading up to the publication of our MIDTERM chapbook, we’ve selected a few poets to interview regarding their work both in this issue and more broadly. Please enjoy the following conversation with Annie Christain and follow the link below for details of the MIDTERM 4 release reading on December 19th.

MIDTERM 4 Release Reading

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How are you? What have you been creating during the pandemic?

I’m a poet, professor, and proud parent of four-year-old twins. Having recently faced and made it through many intense personal challenges, I’m now more able to quiet my mind and enjoy small moments and appreciate them for what they are. My newer poems have a slower pace and more subdued tone as a result. During the pandemic I’ve been working on my third manuscript of poetry. So far I’ve written poems with forms inspired by tweets, taxonomy grids, movie trailers, and transcripts from TV signal intrusion incidents.

2. Do you have a favorite poet or poem?

Right now I keep coming back to “I Loved You Before You Were Born” by Li-Young Lee. The longing and love the speaker describes for his object of affection goes back before and beyond eternity, which is both endearing and maddening since the object of affection is elusive, making the speaker an ouroboros, a snake that is only whole through the perpetual devouring of itself. I like that the poem is romantic but also honestly describes the loneliness of the human condition. The speaker actually submits to it since “In longing, I am most myself, rapt, /my lamp mortal, my light /hidden and singing.” It’s a sincere and thought-provoking poem that I can’t let go of.

3. You are a professor of Humanities at SUNY Cobleskill. How do you think your time in teaching has impacted your writing and your thoughts on writing?

I teach at a college that has many agricultural based programs, and as a result of this, the student essays I read often draw me into that world and introduce me to many concepts I wouldn’t come across otherwise. One of my students wrote an essay about robotic milking, about how quite often the cow comes to the point where it wants to be milked by a machine and, of its own accord, enters the milking room like clockwork. This animals’ reliance on machines prompted me to think of humans and their own dependence on technology, which then led to my writing a poem where people enter a milking machine, but the device itself is never named, so what exactly is being taken from the characters and why is a key question in the poem. I have my students to thank for giving me so many interesting ideas to ponder.

4. You’ve recently published your first full-length poetry collection, “Tall as You are Tall Between Them.” What prompted the title? How was the process?

The title was taken from my poem “Inside a Hand Basket at the Burlesque Theater.” The original meaning was one of empowerment, that two monoliths maintain their height and power only when the speaker is figuratively “standing tall” between them—a speaker that is unable to physically stand. When I chose that as a book title, I believe I was subconsciously thinking of the way in which the book (when thought of as a living being) could gain strength or power each time a reader engages with the material. Julie Marie Wade viewed the title as: “I’m also thinking how everything is measured by something other than itself, the way the title ‘you’ is only tall in relation to ‘them,’ and maybe not tall at all without ‘them.’”

5. Your two pieces forthcoming in MIDTERM tackle an intersection between technological futurism and the construction/deconstruction of gender. How do you generate this discourse within a space that has seen a lot of misogynistic characters, theorists, writings?

Many times the writing space I enter into and create is done with the purpose of creating a safe space to confront and counter injustices, especially misogyny, homophobia, and racism. I generate this discourse by keeping honesty and fearlessness at the forefront of my mind and doing my best not to dilute my message despite outside pressures or expectations to either censor myself or to stay within certain confines of past social justice themed messages or poems.

6. How did your usage of form develop over time? Do you find the creation of the visual elements of poetry to be engaging, reductive?

In my early work, my poetry forms were inspired by my public readings. I placed line breaks, spaces, and stanza breaks on the page based on where I paused while reading the poem aloud. For my subsequent work I tried more experimental forms as a way to challenge myself and to keep the writing process fresh and exciting. I also tried using forms that some might consider overdone or cliché to see if I could breathe new life into those forms.

7. What would be a piece of advice you give to young writers– especially young queer writers? Why?

My advice to young writers is to be careful about the advice you take from more experienced writers. Discernment is vital because the objective mentors you’re looking for may be harder to find the more promise and talent you have. My advice to young queer writers is to not let others define you or your writing and to be mindful of how much the world needs to hear your voice and perspectives.
ANNIE CHRISTAIN is a professor of composition and ESOL at SUNY Cobleskill and a former artist resident of the Shanghai Swatch Art Peace Hotel and the Arctic Circle Art and Science Expedition. Her poems have appeared in Seneca Review, Oxford Poetry, Prelude, and The Lifted Brow, among others. She was a first-place winner of the Driftwood Press In-House Poem Contest and received the grand prize of the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest, the Greg Grummer Poetry Award, the Oakland School of the Arts Enizagam Poetry Award, and the Neil Shepard Prize in Poetry. Tall As You Are Tall Between Them, her debut book of poetry, was published by C&R Press.