I heard Callista Buchen read her poetry last fall at an event hosted at Purdue University Calumet and knew instantly that her writing was something special. However, it wasn’t just about Callista’s work that drew me in. The kindness and comfort she projected made me interested in her work even more. And when she says “I feel keenly that we have a responsibility to support and encourage one another,” I believe her. I hope you enjoy Callista’s interview below.
Blotterature has a strong connection to our place – industrialized Northwest Indiana – and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.
I’ve lived in the Midwest for most of my life, in Wisconsin, Ohio, Kansas, and now Indiana, with a brief stopover a few years ago in Oregon. Place is an anchor. It’s the music, the syntax, and the pace. So much of the energy seems to come from where one is and how that feeling permeates everything. Grounding in place is central to my chapbook, which includes a lot of specific places and place names (from the intergalactic to the local), and the ways in which these places pull on the speaker.
Who/What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?
Who and what I love have mattered the most as I write, but my work as a reader has been also profoundly influential. In The Bloody Planet, a lot of my loves interact: my obsessions with outer space and rural and urban settings, the compelling nature of gravity, the everyday domestic, classical music, and the speaker’s complicated relationship with the beloved. Most recently, having children has changed the way I understand myself, and how I understand the world, and this necessarily impacts what and how I write.
How do you generate new ideas for your work?
I read a lot. I observe. I think about what I read and observe. For me, though, the question has never been about a lack of ideas. Rather, I struggle with time and balance, as I know we all do. The ideas are all there—but my commitment to the desk and to the work is sometimes tested. When I choose to write, I’m actively choosing not to do something else, to be with the people I love or to work with the students I teach. Sometimes, it is hard to make that choice. One thing that has helped me is to be mindful of the person I am when I’m actively writing and the person I am when I neglect the work, and I’m a better person (a better mother, even) when I put in my time.
When have you been most satisfied with your work?
I had a miscarriage a few years ago that was completely devastating for me, which was unexpected. I felt guilty, and still do some days, about that grief and about the loss itself, and of everything I’ve written, I’m most proud of the poems that I wrote about that experience. When they came into being, it was a sliver of healing, but also a kind of way to communicate about an individual version of a universal experience. I heard from women after some of them started to appear in publications, and I felt embraced by all the women and I embraced them back, and a kind of wholeness came out of that for me. In that, the poetry had an immediacy that was satisfying and active and very much in the world.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I know a piece is finished when I’m out of play, when it finds its center and stops calling out to me. I think it is something like how you know you’re really, really done when you are playing Solitaire. You don’t always win, but you know when its over.
What has been your biggest failure and what − if any − lessons were learned?
Oh, goodness. At what haven’t I failed! I have hundreds of little failures everyday. I think as a writer and as a parent and a spouse and a human you must learn to accept failure the way you accept breathing or blinking. To fail is to grow, and there is no progress, at least for me, without all the failing it takes to get there. It becomes a kind of friend. You make peace. There are all kinds of things I wish I had done differently, personally (oh, to go back and time and start over with certain important people in my life), professionally (the connections I didn’t nurture, the messages I didn’t return, the time I didn’t take), but I go on. I learn and I do better, not in spite of the failure, but because of it.
Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?
Beyond my own creative writing, I’m a new college professor, and I’m committed to developing a greater sense of literary community on my campus, as well as in my new extended community. I’ve started a new visiting writer reading series at my college, and I’ll be taking students into local elementary schools next year for an immersive literacy course. It is an incredible privilege to accompany students on their journeys as readers and writers and thinkers, and watch them grow into members of the literary community. I also have an upcoming project and set of goals to continue to review, review, review—let’s talk about all these wonderful collections being sent into the world and the work they are doing.
What is your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?
If I have a pet peeve, it is the inconsistent approach and sometimes failure to acknowledge bias and really listen. I want to be a part of a writing community that does better at recognizing and hearing marginalized voices, and making space to celebrate, highlight, and appreciate those voices and perspectives and audiences.
I have a pet peeve about myself, though, too (how can I criticize the external world without also turning inward?)—my life has changed a lot in the last two years, and these changes, coupled with shyness and overwhelming introversion, have meant that I haven’t always been the kind of supportive presence that I believe good literary citizenship demands. As I move forward, I want to do better at demonstrating my commitment to poetry, to sharing the books I’m loving and the conversations I’m having. I feel keenly that we have a responsibility to support and encourage one another, and while I love the poetry being written today, sometimes, especially outside of the classroom, I love too much in private.
What are you working on right now?
I’m finalizing edits on a full-length collection of mostly prose poems that explore the destabilizing nature of motherhood, as well as the ever-evolving self. To me, motherhood feels, still, even after five years, like such a surreal, mysterious state, and the poems try to consider and think through this mystery, using the tools of the surreal. I’ve loved writing these, which have helped me stay anchored in my writing and in my physical self. Most recently, some appear in Fourteen Hills, Salt Hill, TAB (http://journals.chapman.edu/ojs/index.php/TAB-Journal/article/view/1163), and Handsome, with a set of 3 forthcoming in La Vague. A selection is also forthcoming as the chapbook Double-Mouthed from dancing girl press.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Robin Coste Lewis’ Voyage of the Sable Venus. The stunning and long title poem is made of titles of artwork, organized by historical period, that feature the black female body. Read it today if you haven’t come across it before. I’m also buried in Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife, as well as Ross Gay’s Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude. It feels like such a moment for poetry—it makes one grateful to be reading.