Rachael Crosbie’s poems have a cold, dark dread in them that you just can’t buy these days. We sat down and talked horror movies, dreams, and ambition.
MM: So jumping in, a lot of your work is built around dream. What compels you about dreamscapes?
RC: I tend to have incredibly vivid dreams and nightmares that invade my waking life. I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about them, and the feelings they invoked. Writing about them helps me let go of them.
MM: Would you say that the poems act as containers then, for the dreams? Or are they more like resolutions of problems that the dreams/nightmares present?
RC: I think containers is the best way to put it. I don’t know if my dreams say anything to me at all besides, “You watch a lot of horror.” Because, well, most of them have that sort of eerie, A24 vibe. I like encapsulating them in poetry or other writings because they’re interesting.
MM: They are! What about horror and dread keeps you coming back to them, either as media you consume or as themes in your work?
RC: I think the horror genre has the capacity to address the entirety of the human condition in an almost primal way. With poetry, I like how it justifies warped principles of reality and accentuates aspects we don’t usually think twice about.
MM: I’ve noticed a great deal of water and fish imagery in your work. What bodies of water did you grow up around? Why do they hold such a fascination for you?
RC: I grew up in a suburban neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There wasn’t much water near us, really, but we would often vacation at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’ve always gravitated toward beaches, and the imagery they’ve provided. The warm sand, the fermenting sun, the ocean water…it’s a lot to take in, and it all has a lot to give.
On a more unsavory note, I went fishing once, and I didn’t like it. The concept of reeling in a live fish feels wrong. Also, when I lived in Chinatown (NYC), I lived in between two fish markets. The smells were ammonia and metal, and it would cling. I still haven’t quite written about that enough.
MM: It took me a long time to move from abject horror to interested consumerism when it comes to fish markets. Still not sure making the transition was the right choice.
Speaking of horror, I’m not sure I agree that it captures “the entirety of the human condition”. What about boring contentment, which, while not all of life, is certainly part of it? Could you elaborate on what you mean by that?
RC: What I meant by that is I don’t think any other genre has as strong of a hold on the human condition than horror does. There can be romantic elements (The Haunting of Bly Manor — a true gothic romance series), family drama and grief (Hereditary), relationship issues and grief (Midsommar), and confronting one’s trauma (Possum). These are just some examples, but they highlight some of the complexities in life.
I can’t think of a specific title of any genre that focuses on only boring contentment, to be honest.
MM: Good point. I feel like the Hobbit has a good grip on boring contentment, even though that’s not the dominant affect of the book. But I think I see what you’re saying, that Horror can approach any kind of human conflict. Do you feel your poetry also approaches conflict?
RC: I definitely agree with that! Horror addresses some sort of conflict. His House addressed multiple: fleeing their war-torn country, trying to assimilate to a new country, navigating relationships, and more. (I don’t want to spoil it too much, but it’s a fantastic film.)
I think most writing approaches conflict in some way. Mine either navigates conflict with the self or someone else.
MM: Speaking of that tension, between navigating a conflict with the self vs. navigating a conflict with someone else, can we talk about your piece “choose your own adventure” that, to me, leaves that question ambiguous?
How did the piece come to be?
RC: That’s actually a great question. “choose your own adventure” started off as a chapbook concept in 2017. It was a character piece that I never finished, but there was enough remains to muster into a single poem. I was planning on showing the character’s life in three different paths: rich but marred by a reckless youth, not as well off and craving a better life but really got the short end of the stick, and someone who had a relatively decent life with minor shortcomings. It was a bit too convoluted, and I worried I would’ve been sued over the chapbook concept title (that is, if it ever was accepted). So, it fell apart as quickly as it became.
MM: It’s very compelling as is. Does that happen often, that a work starts off with an ambitious concept and then ultimately resolves into one or two poems?
RC: So far that’s only ever happened twice. I recently decided to revive a character chapbook concept I considered to be dead for a while. I’ve called it Go Lightly since its inception in 2015, but I’m thinking about titling it Swerve now based on some revisions I’ve made and the new perspective I have on it. I submitted it somewhere, and if rejected, I may be revisiting it again, shelving it, or scraping it.
MM: Do you write in different character voices more or less often than you write as yourself?
RC: When I was younger, I felt more comfortable writing in different character voices. I don’t think I had enough emotional maturity to tap into something completely personal. After I graduated undergrad, I started transitioning to more personal writings. MIXTAPES is all me, no fronts/characters.
MM: How’s that sort of exposure feel?
RC: A bit unnerving at times, but I know my poetry isn’t as accessible as Instagram poetry. So, that puts me a bit at ease, knowing that people are more likely to read it as something that applies to them rather than all my traumas laid out bare.
MM: Oh man, we’re almost out of time but you just brought up instagram poetry and now I want to think about that!
But I’ve been wanting to ask you about punctuation, and what your relationship to it is. Which would you rather talk about?
RC: Instagram poetry is definitely an interesting topic!
As for punctuation, I’m quite partial to the emdash. In general, I only use punctuation when the poem asks for it. If I want it to have an anxious underlying tone, I may use more emdashes than normal or use slash marks and nothing else (no line breaks either).
MM: That breathlessness and anxiety is a real through line in your work.
RC: Thank you! Some of it is from actually trying to bring that through and some of it is accidental. I do struggle with anxiety, however, so it makes sense that it’s prevalent.
MM:We all of us leak into our writing. Or maybe we just perform ourselves into it. Hard to say.
RC: That’s very true! They both tend to work through poetry. Sometimes together, and sometimes separately.
MM: Okay, we’re almost done. Last question. I’m gonna pick two images from your work and make you choose between them, okay?
RC: Got it!
MM: A chaise lounge or a trout?
RC: Trout! There’s definitely more wiggle room there.
MM: Trout! Wiggling! I get it!
What I wish I had asked her: Is there a connection between the feeling of breathlessness and fish, who, of course, have no breath? What is a period good for in a work? What IS instagram poetry?
Rachael Crosbie is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of the winnow magazine, the Poetry Editor for POCKETFIRE, and a poetry reader for Persephone’s Daughters. She has a BA in English Literature, and she’s working toward her MS in Publishing at NYUSPS. Her poetry is forthcoming or published in Feline Utopia Anthology, Emerge Literary Journal, Re-Side, Cobra Milk, Pussy Magic, and others. Her debut chapbook, MIXTAPES, is forthcoming in April 2021. Above all, she loves dissecting horror films with her fiancé, reading poetry, and hugging dogs.
Mordecai Martin is a 5th generation New York Jew who has lived in Jerusalem and Mexico City. He now resides in Philadelphia with his wife and his cat. His short stories can be read at http://linktr.ee/MordecaiPMartin, his tweets can be read @MordecaiPMartin and his blog can be read at http://www.mordecaimartin.net.