Lannie Stabile’s newest work, Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus, is somehow a heart-wrecking account of trauma and an awful lot of fun. Chatting with her was also a blast.
MM: To begin, the work in the collection centers around the mythical image of Zeus and the many stories of his rapes or sexual assaults. Myth of course, is a subject of a lot of poetry, traditionally. Do you feel you’re engaging with that tradition? Are you invoking Ovid or Homer here? Or do you have a relationship with these myths away from poetry?
LS: I don’t consider myself an academic in any way, so when I engage with something, it typically comes from an intimacy with the subject. I’ve been unfortunate enough to have my own run-ins with “Zeus,” and I’ve stirred these personal stories in with well-known and not so well-known myths of Zeus’ conquests. When you’ve been thrust into victimhood, it’s easy to have a relationship with others who have also been violated. There’s a common, unbreakable thread. Even with fictional women.
MM: The book focuses with an almost shocking intimacy on the violence of that victimhood, with very little looking away from the pain of it. How did that process of hacking into that raw power come about? Do you need to revise to bring that power out or does it flow more naturally?
LS: This collection actually started off as a single poem with the same title, but I realized I had more to say. So, I made a micro-chap. Then I created a chapbook. Still, there was more and more to say. Until finally it became a full manuscript.
When I realized I wanted to talk about this awful thing that happened to me, I didn’t know where to start. I literally wrote the title “I Can’t Talk About It,” and listed all the ways I couldn’t talk about it. It became easy after that. Well, not easy. Excavating memories on rape is never easy. But I found I was capable and had quite a bit to say. After that, there was lots of power and little revision.
MM: “I Can’t Talk About It” is definitely a sit up and take notice poem. I think the part that stands out to me is the repeated device of renaming a body part. It actually weirdly links back to my first question, in the sense that Homer also uses appellation like that, these powerful descriptions.
Speaking of form, there’s a couple of poems like “Callisto,” that can be read in at least two orders. What is that writing process like, that dual processing?
LS: It was important to me to have many different forms in this book. To force a piece to be read again, in some cases. To never let the reader get comfortable. Because survivors don’t get that luxury, right? It’s about constant vigilance.
To speak on the writing process itself, it can be tricky. “Callisto” is a contrapuntal, so it’s read three intended ways. A poem like that takes precision and exactness. And very little punctuation. I learned quickly that punctuation makes it a harder process, so I just steer clear.
Callisto’s form was intentional. I set out wanting to write it as a contrapuntal. But the other poems that you may have in mind, like “Depression Wakes Me Up in the Morning” or “Alcmene,” were just me trying new things to get the point across. What if I did this? What if I repeated this line? What if? What if? I think it’s necessary to be playful, especially when it’s such a heavy topic.
MM: That playfulness shines through! Especially in your titles which are actively funny at times. What’s a good ratio of humor to anger to pain in poetry?
LS: Don’t forget irreverence! I’ve been called irreverent so many times now, I’ve started wearing it as a badge of honor. I’m thinking 25% pain, 23% humor, 52% anger.
MM: That comment, “irreverence,” raises the question of what’s to revere in the experiences you’re discussing.
LS: The reverence isn’t in the experiences, it’s in the powerful men. A woman is supposed to feel flattered when a man finds her irresistible. This book is a middle finger to that expectation.
MM: Speaking of expectations, i feel like many of the narratives we get around rape pay a great deal of attention to the narrative of healing, of working through trauma. Your book mentions healing processes like therapy, but mostly we just sit with you in the amount that it sucks to be traumatized and attacked and hurt. Was that lack of a healing arc intentional?
LS: More intuitive than intentional. I’ve been working a long time on trusting my gut, and writing is the first place I’ve learned to FEEL into a decision, rather than think it to death. It doesn’t make sense to me to present my pain as “I was raped and sexually assaulted on multiple occasions, but everything is okay now because I found anger management or talk therapy or antidepressants or fill in your own blank.” Healing is a long fucking road.
I understand the need for happy endings, though.
MM: Let’s wrap up the way I usually do, by picking two images from your work and asking you to choose between them
MM: A city or a ceiling fan?
LS: Definitely the ceiling fan. Five blades. It’s one of the most vivid images I remember from that night. Which is why the number five plays such a big part in this collection.
MM: Oh wow, I didn’t notice that my first pass. Gotta read closer.
Lannie Stabile (she/her), a queer Detroiter, is the winner of OutWrite’s 2020 Chapbook Competition in Poetry; the winning chapbook, Strange Furniture, is out with Neon Hemlock Press. She is a back-to-back finalist for the Glass Chapbook Series and back-to-back semifinalist for the Button Poetry Chapbook Contest. Lannie currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Barren Magazine and is a member of the MMPR Collective. She was named a 2020 Best of the Net finalist. Her debut full-length, Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus, is out now with Cephalopress. Find her on Twitter @LannieStabile.