Behind The Scenes
Behind The Scenes Interview Series, hosted by Marcelle Newbold
Continuing our series of author interviews where we give you, readers, a glimpse behind the making of poetry collections, artistic collaborations, novels and anthologies, Rare Swan Press, Managing Editor Marcelle Newbold, chats with poet Amantine Brodeur. Amantine is a contributor to 100 Words of Solitude, published by Rare Swan Press earlier this year.
You have just released a new ‘gathered poems’ collection ‘Falling Slowly’ with Book Hub Publishing, tell us a bit about the history of this collection?
Hi Marcelle, lovely to see you, thank you for having me. Well this collection is a re-working of an original manuscript which I’d withdrawn from publication nearly a decade ago now. The writing of it originally came after a period of time during which I’d retreated emotionally and almost literally from the world after the death of my closest friend. She’d committed suicide and I’d no clue how to process it. More than anything, looking back, I couldn’t cope with not having been able to convince her to stay alive. The circumstances of her death too were devastating, I was essentially done in by it. I couldn’t deal with the idea of the outside world. I could barely deal with how i felt on the inside too, quite frankly. And I withdrew into a kind of silence. There is an aspect of grief that never really dissipates. Several years went by and on a day, looking through disparate poems and notes, I began working on something that vaguely felt could possibly be about losing her. I guess perhaps, I was searching for a wa to express what I felt I’d lost of myself too, at the time. After pulling the initial manuscript from publication, I left it for nearly a decade. The initial manuscript was somewhat different. During that time I’d intermittently sit with the poems, not really sure what it needed to become. That state of grief had me visit my history and over time, I had to face just how deeply my entire life had really has been profoundly shaped by loss.
Why were you compelled to develop this body of work?
It’s an interesting question, because the thing about writing, especially when it has something to say, beyond what you or I as a writer or poet believe we have to say, or even wish to explore, assumes a life of its own. Orginally, the collection began with a poem dedicated to her and I’d wanted to celebrate her brilliance as a writer. Yet, thi is not what the writing seemed to want to say at all. I wasn’t happy with the original combination of poems I’d put together and as I tried to work on it, nothing fitted. and so I let it lie. I went on to do other things and at one point didn’t even think I’d go back to it. As the years passed, I found I was writing increasingly about loss. The distress in which the soul and the psyche are immersed during the process of grieving, made me aware through these other emerging poems, that this feeling encompasses all those conflicting emotions in not having been able to save all those friends I adored, each of whom lost their lives in cruel and undeserved ways. When Niall from Book Hub Publishing extended an invitation to me to submit a collection, I thought this might be the perfect time and opportunity to give new breath and life to the collection. While working with you on the edits, I realised that in so many subtle ways, Falling Slowly pays quiet tribute to each of the friends and family I’ve lost and reminded me of how each on shaped me simply by being in my life, at one time or another. As we worked on it together, the collection, it made sense that it include different poems looking at the different kinds of loss we experience – personal, professional and sometimes even ideological, which can feel as valid as loss as any other loss we have. I’m also very aware that this collection came together during the last two years, two years during which my literary and publishing life blossomed, as the world came to a crashing halt and has so many millions across the world have been mired in loss and tragedy.
Will you tell us about the major themes and ideas explored?
Some of the major themes and ideas explored through the poems revolve around the sense of self, one’s identity, who we believe we are. Be it falling in love, or going to war, or becoming parents, or exploring life, we do carry expectations of whatever it is we’ve decided to undertake, and the disillusion, the disappointments, the sense of betrayals when these things collapse and unravel, are deeply affecting. This was a something of a subtext as my writing took me through my own experiences. I discovered I looking into how relationships unravel – be these marital, lovers, relationships with one’s children, between friends, professionally;. the poems explore the nature of what we lose of ourselves in the process of relationships going wrong or dying. There is also something woven through the collection about our loss of a connection with nature, fairy tales, imagination, and so it developed into an eclectic collection of work over a decade.
In this collection there are several poems that deal with the context of my upbringing which was very violent, and socially violent, as I grew up under Apartheid. There were demonstrations, a lot of them lethal, men coming back from war zones broken, not only in South Africa but worldwide, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan being the contemporary prevalent wars that we are all aware of. And being sucked into the idea of dying for your country as a matter of honour, and it turning out that not being the case. The loss of something within those men I think is quite profound and never really spoken about, and I felt that was worth acknowledging, as I was surrounded by it growing up.
Mythologies about truth, deception, perceptions, preconceived ideas, assumptions, how all of these intricately weave our sense of reality. Sometimes these are completely ripped and torn to shreds by choices other people make on our behalf. Or sometimes even our own choices turn out to be completely misguided. When you are in the company of somebody that is really close to you, and you care about deeply and they are suffering from depression, you see signs, you try and save their life and sometimes it’s just not possible, what do you do with that? How do you live in the aftermath, especially suicide. This was something I explored, also it took me to places where we kill off aspects of ourselves, even though we continue living, in disillusion, and giving up on hopes and dreams. So it is really looking also at different levels and different kinds of ideologies we buy into, whether these are personal, political or social and what happens when it falls apart.
Falling Slowly is in its essence about loss in many of its guises and how we unravel or gather back into ourselves as we’re swept into its aftermath, and still, how for all that pain, we seldom lose touch with our desire for love and connection.
You developed the cover art yourself, could you tell us about that?
As to developing the cover art, my love of design is really a result of my very early publishing and media apprenticeship on a magazine about design and advertising, at a time when everything was still compiled by hand; it was brilliant training; desktop publishing was barely out in the world. It was very rigorous training with very exacting attention to detail. And I fell in love with visual design and typography. I really enjoy the challenge of looking at ways in which you can create a cover that speaks to an anonymous audience in a personal intimate way, that is beyond the more impersonal, more standardised marketing concepts. Visual design something I really enjoy doing and being given the freedom to explore it on one’s own book, is especially rewarding, since it seems to work quite effectively, so, thank you Niall.
What has been the most enjoyable or satisfying part of the process?
Well, that’s collaborating with the editors, which means you are very much included in this process; working through the text and then being given the opportunity to see it from different perspectives, other than my own. While writing, one’s very involved in the interior of that landscape and by collaborating with a publisher and editors, it affords you a third eye, if you like. You can come back and revisit the work from a completely different perspective. It also brings a different kind of life to the book when you’re working through the editing process, so seeing it grow from the raw manuscript into the polished collection, or what you hope is the polished book at the end, is a very gratifying experience. Also because I really love the collaborative process. Seeing something evolve out of a joint energy being put into bringing ideas to life – that for me, is really very rewarding. So thank you, thank you, for giving me the opportunity of working with you so closely on that process. I learned a lot and it’s a very interesting give and take between poet and the editor, so I’m very curious to learn what was the most enjoyable part of this process for you too. It’s a reciprocal process, so I am very appreciative of having had the chance to do this collection in your company Marcelle, thank you so much.
On December 18th, 2021, Amantine Brodeur joined an array of poets on Damien Donnelly’s Eat The Storms podcast, The Christmas Episode. You can listen to Marcelle read “Schoolbook” from Falling Slowly. Also on the podcast you can listen to Mark Antony Owen, editor and curator of iambapoet.com, which features three of her poems in volume 111, read from Amantine’s “In the Scattering of Tongues, Beckettian Women in Four Acts“, on the first anniversary of its publication in Thrice Fiction in December 2020. You can also read a review of Falling Slowly by Mab Jones in BUZZMAG
School me in the book of you
along bench rows; rooms filled
to brimming along the line of
track and field, brick-walled
by the holler to attention.
Would you hold the cane
to the meanderings of my mind
or will I chat with the chill breeze
of absentminded affections?
School me in the book of you; choose
the currency of your typography. Leave
me lost or have me found between the chapter
and verse, or the slide rule of your misdemeanor.
Thumb me to the edges to make of me an easy fall
to the open page of discovery. Invent me
in a collective noun, let loose. Spilled into
the wood or crofts of past imperfect.
Dust the cover of my reckoning, field our
grammatical error in sidebars and pencil me
to the margin, to remind the future there was
once an imperative to our pages.
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