MM: In reading As Long As We Got Each Other, we’re taken through something like a love affair, with friendships and other lovers crossing over and through the speakers’ lives. Just as we select that thread through the mass of the work, there are also highlighted phrases that we’re meant to pick out of the poems, and that stand on their own, or form their own poetry. What forms were you looking at that inspired this melding of form and content?
CT: I wrote As Long As We Got Each Other specifically for ELJ Editions’ call for micro chapbooks on the theme Growing Pains. As soon as I saw the theme, my mind immediately started singing the opening credits theme song to the television show Growing Pains. ELJ was looking for manuscripts of 8-12 pieces and I looked it up and the theme song has 12 lines. It felt like kind of a ridiculous idea to start, but I thought, I wonder if I can write any entire manuscript centered around the lines from this theme song. And that is what I did.
The highlighted phrases are the lyrics. There are 11 pieces overall instead of 12, because one piece, As Long As We Got Each Other, uses one line of the lyrics for the title and another line in the piece itself. As far as the form that each piece takes, it really was just a matter of where each particular line of the lyrics led me. There’s a lot of “you” and “we” in the song, so it worked well for writing about relationships and intimacy and loss.
ELJ was looking for collections with coming-of-age themes and nostalgia, so I narrowed in on the early teen years and into high school because that time is full of such intensity in its relationships and the examination of the self. For some of the pieces I was able to keep the full lyric as a single line and those ones read more like prose poems/flash pieces. And for others I split up the lyrics into pieces and built poems around those words.
MM: That approach is so interesting to me because I, personally, would have expected a more scattered result, but the final product is so cohesive. Do you feel like chapbooks are a good place for that kind of narrative poetry that tells a single story?
CT: I didn’t actually intend for this collection to be a single story or attempt to write it as one. That it reads as a single narrative is sort of a happy accident and I think is largely because of the limitations in POV/speakers offered by the song. I wrote each piece with the hope that it can stand on its own independent from the larger work, but because it is tackling a more universal theme of growing up, navigating friendships, love, loss, moving on, I think it does read as a single story about coming-of-age. In general, yes, I think chapbooks are well suited for structuring a lot of different forms around a single story. I have a (currently unpublished) hybrid chapbook about motherhood that essentially flows chronologically from pregnancy through early childhood.
MM: That’s so interesting, that such a tight thematic coherence can stand in for a narrative coherence. That’s on display in your non-fiction chap from Ghost City too, A History of Rats, where the tight focus on the motif of rats ends up creating a sort of autobiography of place and a natural history of the way we share our urban spaces. As you mentioned, much of the work in As Long As We Got Each Other is prose poetry. Where is that line between poetry and prose for you?
CT: That’s a good question for which I don’t have a very good answer. To be totally honest, I have never invested much energy into examining what makes something poetry versus prose. I think there is a lot of prose that feels deeply poetic, and there are lots of poems that read like very complete, satisfying stories. I read both poetry and prose submissions for Capsule Stories and often there will be pieces that I think read like prose that was forced into a poetic structure, or vice versa, stories that I feel would work better as poems so that the language has a little more room to breathe, but it’s all just based on feeling for me. I don’t have much of an education in writing, so I can’t in any sophisticated way offer up a dividing line between the two. For my own work, I was a very depressed young person (and adult, for that matter) and I started writing poetry much earlier in my life in part to express those emotions. I came to prose later than poetry, and I think a lot of my prose has poetic elements. Often when revising my prose, I have to really remind myself to be sure I’ve actually got a story somewhere in there and I’m not just spitting out feelings in paragraph form.
MM: Fascinating. It sounds like the difference you’re intuiting runs something like poetry=primarily an emotion based piece of writing and prose=primarily a narrative based piece. And of course, narrative and emotion need each other, so no wonder your work really walks the line. For me, I tend to draw the line based on clarity and beauty. That is, poetry is concerned first and foremost with sound, how beautiful something is. And prose is more concerned with clarity, how well expressed or transparent something is.
CT: I think that’s a good distinction. And yes, maybe in a way poetry uses emotion to convey a story, and prose uses a story to convey emotion.
MM: If I can sort of pivot here to content: As Long As We Got Each Other is, as you’ve said, about young heartache and loss and friendship and love. For me, when I write on those subjects it’s hard not to write in the distance I’ve gotten from them. But your poems are shockingly present in those feelings as they are felt in the moment. How do you eliminate the distance the years have given you?
CT: Time is very weird. Sometimes I feel so far away from that period of my life that it’s almost like it happened to someone else entirely, and at other times I can recall the emotions of that period as if I had just lived them yesterday. I think some of it is the continued through-line of depression in my life. As an adult I have a much more robust and nuanced understanding of depression and how to manage it and care for myself than I did when I was young, but the intensity of that experience remains. My depressed self now is largely the same as my depressed self then, so in a way I am constantly and repeatedly accessing those same emotions even if the way I respond to them has changed.
I think in some ways, being a mother also helps me close that distance. My son is young now, but already I can start to imagine him as a teen, to sort of insert his image into my memories of that life stage.
MM: I’d like to end with you asking me a question that I can then turn over to our readers. What would you like to ask?
CT: I guess my question would be, did you watch Growing Pains and if so what’s your favorite episode?
MM: Hahaha, I did not! It was one of those shows that was before my time, and only got resurrected on cable, which we didn’t have until fairly late in my adolescence. I wonder what people’s favorite episodes will be in the comments!
Claire Taylor is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications. She is the author of a children’s literature collection, Little Thoughts, as well as two micro-chapbooks: A History of Rats (Ghost City Press, 2021) and As Long as We Got Each Other (ELJ Editions, 2022). Claire is the editor in chief of Little Thoughts Press, a print magazine of writing for and by kids, and serves as a reader for Capsule Stories. You can find Claire online at http://clairemtaylor.com and Twitter at @ClaireM_Taylor.