Mordecai Martin: So I’d like to start by asking about how you think about line breaks. Your work features some splendid short lines, you really keep it very spare. What do you hope to accomplish on the level of the line? What are you trying to feature by giving so much space to every few words?
Nolcha Fox: Part of that is because I’m a migraineur—although I’ve been migraine-free for a year by eating only meat and dairy, and drinking an ocean of salted water every day—and I’m sensitive to too much of anything crowded together. So my lines and my poems tend to be short. I break lines based on where I breathe, rhythm, and surprise. Bet you didn’t see that next line coming.
Mordecai Martin: The sense of breath and rhythm is key. I found myself nodding to the poems as I moved through them, almost like a beat. Your comment about surprise brings me to the humor in many of the poems, some of which is dark humor, coming from death and human betrayal—I’m thinking here of the darkly comic story poem that moves from grave to grave, “Love and Death” — some of which is lighter, coming from animals or even scatological jokes. What do you feel is the role of humor in poetry? Why write a funny poem?
Nolcha Fox: Humor is engaging, and makes my poetry more accessible. I like hiding a message in humor. I have my father’s sense of humor. My friends worry about me every time they read one of my darker poems. They’re concerned about my mental health. I chortle while I write dark/funny poems. So maybe there is a mental health issue?
Mordecai Martin: Your father is a presence in many of the poems, as is your mother and your husband/other past lovers. What do you discover about these relationships as you bring them into the poems?
Nolcha Fox: I learned quite a bit sharing family poems with my mother, stories behind the stories. I share those new stories with my younger brother, since he isn’t aware of them either. One thing I learned was that my father, who always blamed me for being impulsive and not thinking things through, was the impulsive one in the family. Writing family/relationship poems has helped me love what used to scare me, to love my own failings. They’ve helped me make peace with the past. I now know that everything that went wrong between my parents and between me and past lovers wasn’t all my fault (sometimes I wasn’t at fault at all.)
My husband enjoys the poems I write about him. The poems have also strengthened and deepened my relationship with my mother, since she reads everything I write.
Mordecai Martin: So having just talked about the effect of poems that address your life experiences, what about poems like “Life and Death” which are more fictional in nature, that tell a story?
Nolcha Fox: “Life and Death” was an unusual type of poem for me. Most of my poetry doesn’t tell a story like that. I see my poems as capturing a moment, sometimes an instant in time. The more I write, the more I find that the line between life experience and fiction blurs. I think that’s why my friends are more concerned about me lately. They can’t tell if I’m writing about my experiences, or if my wild imagination just broke out of the corral.
Mordecai Martin: You mention your friends, and it makes me wonder about audience. In small press poetry, we can sort of choose who we’re reaching, who we’re writing for. What does audience mean to you? How much of this writing is for people you’re close to and how much of it is for some other audience?
Nolcha Fox: Ultimately, my poetry is for everyone who wants to read it. That’s why I submit like a maniac with my hair on fire. When I finish a draft, I send it to a small group of reviewers. I like the feedback. When one of my poems is published, I often don’t know if anyone read it, or if it made an impact. Sometimes I get feedback on a published poem from people on Facebook. I post some poetry on Clock Radio. There I can tell if people are reading it by the likes and the comments. The poems I post there are ones I can’t figure out where to submit.
Mordecai Martin: How do those different experiences of audience impact the actual writing process for you?
Nolcha Fox: Occasionally I’ll get a suggestion for improving the poem before I submit. Sometimes the reaction I get gives me a feel for how likely that poem will get published. I write the majority of my poems within about 5 minutes, and that first draft is the final draft. I often feel that I’m not writing the poem, someone else is. I may be channeling some dead poets.
Mordecai Martin: You’ve mentioned in your chapbook bios that you consider Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll major influences on your poetry. Do you think that childishness is part of your process? That there’s something childlike about poetry for you?
Nolcha Fox: I put my inner critic in the bedroom and lock the door when I write. You make a point, it’s the child me that writes. I love putting odd images together, playing with alternate definitions of words, twisting the end. My adult me is the one who figures out where to submit the glorious mess I make of a poem. My only adult-me contribution to the process is to use WordHippo (https://www.wordhippo.com/) to explore word definitions, synonyms and antonyms. And also to find alternative words with a better rhythm.
Mordecai Martin: So we come back to rhythm. Is there a meter you’re using, a form that I didn’t check for? Or is it more intuitive than that, your sense of rhythm?
Nolcha Fox: It’s intuitive. Sometimes as I write, I find myself whispering dah_Dah-dah-Dah or whatever rhythm takes shape on the page. Several years ago, I took a poetry class that explored different meters, different forms of poetry. After that class, I decided I didn’t want to write poetry.
One of my poet friends literally pushed me into writing poetry. But please don’t ask me to use rhyme or some poetic structure. I’ll run screaming out of the room. I feel forced to use words I don’t like within structure. It becomes an intellectual exercise, and kills the joy for me.
Mordecai Martin: That joy is so important to keep alive, and it’s felt in your work. I’m afraid I need to wrap up. I like to end by inviting you to ask me a question. So what would you like to ask?
Nolcha Fox: So, what made you decide to interview people? How do you figure out which questions to ask? Wait, that’s two questions.
Mordecai Martin: I started conducting interviews because I think it’s an interesting collaborative form, and I was wondering if there was a way I could make my natural talent and enthusiasm for conversation about art and writing and poetry into a piece others could enjoy.
Mordecai Martin is an Ashkenazi Jewish writer working in a blur between Mexico City, Philadelphia and New York. His work has appeared in Catpault, Peach Magazine and Timber Journal. He is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Randolph College. He tweets and instagrams @mordecaipmartin.