Elliot LeGrange, an MFA candidate at SIUC, is the granddaughter of a mortician and was raised in a household where death was dinner table conversation. She has published in such places as Schlock!, Aphotic Realm, Lonesome October Lit, Mystic Blue Review, and Alcyone, among others. Visit her on Twitter @LJEngelmeier.
Our Poetry Editor, Britny Cordera, spoke with LeGrange via email about her poem, “The Fracturing.” Read their conversation below.
Your poem does a really good job with form following function. How did you go about choosing the title for your poem and making those formal decisions?
I’m not sure any part of this poem was a decision, not even the title. It led. I followed. I think it’s senseless in a lot of ways. It was put together in a frenzy, with minimal editing. It was me, at a time I was very broken, trying to reconstruct who I’d been before I lost myself, followed by me documenting who I was while lost.
Can you talk a little bit about your process for writing The Fracturing?
It’s the most difficult poem I’ve ever written and a poem I could never replicate. “The Fracturing” was written in the height of my first manic episode, though I didn’t know it was a manic episode or know I was bipolar until half a year later. All I knew was that I felt shattered and viciously unfamiliar to myself. During that time, memories of my childhood seeped up through the cracks. It would be an understatement to say I couldn’t think straight.
I tried to remember who I was—tried to remember lines I’d mentally penned about myself while delivering flowers around my home county those few months prior—and fevered, I scrapbooked those lines together in the first section of the poem. The second section of the poem was a piece of stream of consciousness I captured while putting the poem together, and I hated every moment of capturing it. But I needed to document how slippery and misshapen and quick and not fully formed my thoughts and recollections were. They came fast and without endings and they terrified me. I had no solid sense of self.
If you are willing and comfortable could you tell us a little bit more about the epigraph of The Fracturing?
There’s debate about “repressed memories,” one I can’t weigh in on. I just don’t have better words. Some of my childhood feels like a tape I recorded over with a nicer version. Some of my childhood I only know in snippets. That April just wasn’t a good time for remembering.
You are working on an MFA in fiction, how did you get into writing poetry, and this poem in particular? Which comes easier for you, fiction or poetry?
An undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at SIUC places equal emphasis on poetry and fiction. I was required to learn both. I struggled to understand poetry for some time, and how to write it, but eventually came to understand it was another storytelling medium for me, one that simply allowed me to tell very different stories. My poetry is reserved almost entirely for talking about my childhood. Fiction is more about creating something new. I am, unfortunately, an inspiration-driven writer and can only write when inspired. I’m inspired more often to write fiction—it comes easier—but the inspiration for poetry is always lurking.
What is it like to be the granddaughter of a mortician? Was that ever something you considered doing for a living before you chose to be a writer?
I never really considered becoming a mortician—or undertaker, as my grandfather would say. After graduating from undergrad, I did spend five months as a delivery driver for a florist, which was perhaps one of my favorite jobs to this day because of how close I felt to the bones of my home county, driving it endlessly every day. I consider that job an adjacent foray into the death business, in a way, as about half of the deliveries I did were to funeral homes or cemeteries. I liked when the funeral directors let me put the casket sprays on the caskets.
How has coming from a family of morticians influenced your own writing, fiction, and poetry?
It leaves a beautiful kind of stink on everything. Even when I’m not writing about death, I am. My father told me once he could never describe the beauty of a dead man’s blood on an embalming table, and I don’t think anything more accurately sums up how I write. There’s a lot of darkness, but I make it art. Sometimes, that’s the only way to bear it.
Can you say some things about how your fiction may influence your poetry?
My fiction helped me find an avenue into poetry, largely because I’m a narrative poet. I really only venture away from that when a piece has no narrative. My poetry influences my fiction, too, though. It taught me the importance of not wasting words.
As an MFA student can you talk a bit about what a day in the life of writing looks like for you?
I don’t write a lot on a day-to-day basis. If I’m not inspired, I can’t write. But I can’t plan when inspiration will strike, so I do a surprising amount of writing on my phone. If a piece of dialogue hits me while watching TV—pause, peck it into my notes until I hit a wall, resume. If I wake up at 3am with the clearest idea for a poem—open up the notes app and type till I’ve got nothing left. Things hit me in the shower or on walks or in the line at the pharmacy. And typing three or four paragraphs sporadically might not seem like much at all, but last month, I found I’d typed 11,000 words in two weeks. And two poems. Ultimately, I just try not to force it.
What do you plan on doing after your MFA?
Teaching? Working at a press? Publishing this crime novel of mine, certainly. We’ll see about the rest.