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A Conversation with Sally Roundhouse

Our Blog Editor, Travis Turner, sits down for a spell with poet Sally Roundhouse. Sally currently teaches English at the University of Alabama while also pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been featured in Bayou Magazine and Caketrain Journal. When not writing/teaching/working, she has also been instrumental in organizing collaborative art events within the Tuscaloosa community.

TRAVIS TURNER: Discuss your creative process. What inspires you to write or what gets you started on a work?
SALLY ROUNDHOUSE: My writing tends to be a combination of language play and autobiography. Part procedural or conceptual, part confessional. The most important thing is not to be boring. I don’t want to bore the reader, and more importantly, I don’t want to bore myself, so I’m always looking for ways to switch up my writing process. In certain poems, I used a variety of procedures to get me started.

To write the “Future Daughter” poems, I used a bank of lines and playing cards. Early in the writing process, I glued the lines to cards, shuffled and flipped through the deck, and wrote down the lines as they came out. As I collected more and more language, I gathered the lines in a booklet, assigned each page a card number, and would then flip cards and choose a line from the page it brought me to. I stole a lot of the lines.

“Future Daughter”

Numerous and many-toothed Mable is serrated author by numbers, the roots, dirts, n’ dead. But where are the words for embarrassed, menstruous, industrial us, is Mable wetting her whistle a little with more of that loose-mouthed water? She’s in bad, she’s in terrible, morning is private and shameful. Needy, larval, breastfed Mable, undress your starling struggle. This ain’t no walk-a-thon, cancerous skin, I laugh as if my thighs aren’t thin. Now we’re somewhere lovely, Alabama, father our lather who art in feathers, any type of blight. It’s nothing the Noh stopped, sombrous snow, oh sky requires a layer of alters much to the relief of trees.

“Future Daughter”

“Feeling altogether dead nested in eucalyptus matters,” she said, “broment men again,” she said, “Cloppity-clop.” See, clop. See, snow stopped, all the daughter-piled Noh sopped, snorez loud as fuck on mountains forever splendid. Forever blends intoxicants. Now Meko, don’t you do that, which is tell me what to say, since I know someone who might cause complications. And maybe I shouldn’t have done the second one if my tongue’s about to rupture. Fuck them two-ton ushers. Fuck them new bush thrusters, for this is all they’ll ever say about sky.

To write the “Incantations,” I homophonically translated sections from “Future Daughter,” meaning I replaced words and phrases with other words and phrases that sounded similar or had some other association in my mind. I then homophonically translated the first translations, pulling words from dictionaries and other books, as needed.

“Incantations for the Cherry Bureau”

Orphan waffle, New Housekeeping, yours cycletronic
nauseates attic at Stonehenge, this-a-way, waffle
a bled. Innisfree U.F.O. greases archer
dove dell where nethermen were naked. Skewer tide
whip carcinogens. Trout cliff. Limp more mica, gaunt
kid. Heal the gulch. This alabaster retracts into
Christ-mist-trisquit-wrinkles. Awesome. Spite house in Maine.
Oh youth them hollow moon, a lass so gnarly, buffle,
brass, wreathes the soothsayer around green leaf gallop,
eyes the cute silken dude. Daffodil stains the do
under. Tank-o-amino, on-call, ahem, chapel.
Cave own rash pup. Hound inside a tingle.

I wrote the “Hello Skyline” poems using Jackson MacLow’s “Daily Life” process, which employs a 26-line bank, each line corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. I used this bank to spell out different words in the manner of an acrostic. The words I chose as seed phrases all came from my daily life, for example, the names of my migraine prescriptions, my dog’s name, my boyfriend’s name, etc. The lines I used all came from my notebook. Jackson MacLow was not about the ego (says he). I am all about my ego.

“Hello Skyline”

Say hello to the skyline
Hello skyline
Sometimes I’m sorry for everything I’ve ever said about Alabama
Say hello to the skyline
Asking people if they think you’re narcissistic has to do with you being narcissistic
I made myself cum in my sleep two times right next to you
I don’t want to be held responsible for your verbs
You just got stoned and took a Xanax
Asking people if they think you’re narcissistic has to do with you being narcissistic
I made myself cum in my sleep two times right next to you
Sometimes I’m sorry for everything I’ve ever said about Alabama
I made myself cum in my sleep two times right next to you
Linda, I’m sexually attracted to your son in this picture
I made myself cum in my sleep two times right next to you
No is never all I have to say
The bottom panel of the door to our bathroom is falling off and scrapes like a banshee on
                    the ground every time you open it

“Hello Skyline”

I lie in the crook of your arm and you play with my nipples as I jack both of us off
I made myself cum in my sleep two times right next to you
And I don’t want to fuck you when you come back from Tucson
I made myself cum in my sleep two times right next to you
When I take drugs, I feel like a goddamn supernova

How do you balance your time with teaching, work, etc.? How do you make time to create?
Since I’m super busy during the day (also have a job at a coffee shop, in addition to teaching and schooling), I usually write at night. People always tell me to prioritize writing—make it the first thing I do every morning—but I find I have a hard time writing for any sustained period when I have a long to-do list. I love to write at night, though. It’s way easier to just let loose and have fun and play around.

Do you find it easier to complete works in one sitting, or do you prefer to have multiple “irons in the fire”?
I usually think I’m working on more than one thing, but they end up being the same thing or at least closely related in the end. I don’t do a whole lot of revision on individual pieces because my process includes so much collage and reuse of material that it becomes a type of revision in itself. I also don’t worry about throwing away half of what I write.

That being said, because most of the poems I write are part of a series, nothing ever feels done in one sitting. Even if I don’t plan on revising what I’ve produced, there’s always more writing on the horizon before a work is done.

Who has had the biggest influence either personally or professionally on your writing?
My work is hugely influenced by music. Rhythm and sound are central to a reader’s experience and often overshadow more traditional ways of meaning-making. Interestingly enough, I see the clearest impact of the lyricists and musicians I was listening to about ten years ago, when I first started writing poetry, on my own work, including MF Doom and Yoni Wolf, who was mainly working with his band with WHY? at the time.

Gertrude Stein is my first love. I read her for the first time about ten years ago, too, and her work, especially Tender Buttons, is something I always return to. I’m always surprised by how fresh it feels, though maybe I’ll tire of it eventually. Who knows. Writers I’ve encountered more recently who’ve profoundly affected me include Harryette Mullen (Sleeping with the Dictionary, Recyclopedia, and The Cracks between What We Are and What We’re Supposed to Be), Alice Notley (mostly her earlier stuff, like Waltzing Matilda), Bernadette Mayer (her sonnets are really great), and Hannah Weiner (Hannah Weiner’s Open House was my introduction to her work).

What’s something/who is someone people should be reading right now?
Sade Murphy—Dream Machine (Coimpress)
Sommer Browning—Backup Singers (Birds, LLC)
Sophia Le Fraga—Literally Dead (Spork Press)
Rachel McKibbens—Mammoth (Organic Weapon Arts)
Carrie Lorig—NODS. (Magic Helicopter Press)

Last indie work you read for pleasure?
I think all of the books above are indie books, and they were all read with/for pleasure!

Any advice for other writers on publishing/submitting work?
Some really good advice a friend gave me is to submit to the online components of small presses. If the people at the press like what they see, they may ask for more, and you’ll have the opportunity to build a working relationship with them.

Travis Turner is a Blog Content Editor for The Spark. He has taught writing and literature for the past ten years at several institutions of higher learning, including University of Alabama, Judson College, University of West Alabama, and Shelton State Community College. The southern Alabama Black Belt native writes both fiction and non-fiction with his work having been featured in various publications, such as Folio, Blinders, The Gambler Mag, Zouch, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Manifest Station, Literary Juice, The Flexible Persona, The Succarnochee Review, Alabama Outdoor News, and The Sumter County Record-Journal. He loves spending time outdoors, black cats, billiards, and good bourbon.

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