Logen Cure, curator of our monthly poetry series Inner Moonlight in conversation with local writers, Nomi Stone and Rose Skelton. They’ll be performing on November 13th at Inner Moonlight, our poetry reading series.
Logen Cure: Nomi, your recent book of poems is called Kill Class. Rose, I know you’re working on a fiction project called Homescar. Both of these titles are gorgeous. Will you tell me about each project and how you arrived at titles?
Nomi Stone: Kill Class is borrowed from military language; I heard the term when I was doing fieldwork as an anthropologist, in a war training camp. In one segment of the training, the training soldiers are tasked with surviving in the woods and learning how to slaughter animals, the kill class. But for me, the term is bigger; I saw the whole training project as something like a kill class. Many of the war games are staged in fake Middle Eastern villages within fictional countries, and soldiers rehearse cultural and tactical interaction with Middle Eastern role-players before deploying. Understanding the culture of the adversary was lauded by the military and media as a way to diminish violence. Meanwhile, as a military instructor explained to a classroom of soldiers: “We’re not trying to make you into lovey-dovey singers of kumbaya. Hopefully this class will give you the ability to be that much more lethal.”
Rose Skelton: Homescar refers to the mark that limpets – cone-shaped sea molluscs – leave on rocks after a lifetime of returning to the same rock. The interesting thing about it is that as the limpet grows, it also takes on the contours of the rock, so that in the end both rock and mollusc bear the shape of each other. My collection of stories is inspired by the island I am from off the west coast of Scotland, and each character is in one way or another formed by the island they are from, and in turn, the island is also changed by its inhabitants. I think a lot about place, and how we as people are formed by the contours of that place. I am from a remote island and I think my happiest place is alone on top of a hill, looking at the sea all around, a kind of safety net from the rest of the world. My wife is from the suburbs of Maryland and she is definitely happy when surrounded by people. We are products of these extreme landscapes, and I think both of our bodies of work lean towards thinking about this, and how it can play out on the page.
LC: Tell me about your current joint project. What does it look like to collaborate? I’m specifically interested in genre here, since you both write in more than one. Why the essay form?
RS: At the moment, we are working on a collaborative essay on the writing and reading life, love, solitude, and togetherness. We chose the essay form because it is a third form, a somewhat new form for both of us. The project came out of a class we taught together about science and language, and then changed into the epistolary format inspired by the intense conversations we would have – at breakfast, in restaurants, before we go to sleep at night – about whatever thing had come up in our work that day. We are both obsessed with language and can often be found in diners doing line-break commentary or sonic analysis of the menu, or lying awake at 4 in the morning talking about why a particular word in an email or book elicited such an emotional response from one or the other of us. I suppose these conversations spilled over into the essay.
We have been going backwards and forwards for a year, writing to each other about what’s been going on, what we’ve been reading and writing, sometimes about the things that have been hard in a new marriage (living together for the first time, sharing a small apartment, the green card process (I’m from Britain)!). We are hoping that by the end we will have a conversation that we can share with others about what it looks like to be a writer, because it definitely isn’t what some people think – all looking at nice scenery and “getting inspired”!
LC: You are both teachers. How does teaching intersect with your writing life and creative work?
RS: I think everything I do in life has the single aim to help me become a better writer, one way or another, and teaching is a pretty direct way for me to enable that. It’s a way to dig back into the books and stories that have changed me and my writing, a chance to go back through them with a fine comb and look at things I might have missed. I think as writers, it’s easy to become lazy, to fall into patterns that we know work, to write the same story over and over again. Teaching helps me to break out of that, to remind myself that there are infinite ways to write a scene, and that it doesn’t do me any favors to lean on trusted patterns.
It’s also a way for me to spend some of the excitement I have for literature, because sometimes it just bubbles up inside me and I don’t know where to put it. I still get giddy thinking about the end scene in “Sonny’s Blues,” where Sonny plays the piano in the club and his brother sends over the drink. I’ll never get over how beautiful that scene is, and I’ll never get over wanting to talk about it. Teaching gives me that. In the end, I would hope that my classes help students of writing discover that literature too, can change them, and that they can eventually become better writers themselves.
NS: Teaching helps me fine-tune my own craft, and to read more deeply into my own obsessions. This fall, teaching poetry workshops at UT Dallas, it was such a joy to think about syntax and structure and sonics with my students, questions that obsess me in my own poems. My two favorite things as a professor: to pair collections of poems with philosophical essays and craft essays to deepen my students’ inquiry; and to have my students do anthropological fieldwork as a catalyst for their poems. I’m particularly excited about the class I am teaching this spring, called “Laboratories: Ways of Knowing in Science and Poetry” – a hybrid class exploring our relations with the phenomena of the natural world.
I also love the thrill of connecting with students. I have this wonderful graduate student who is new to poetry, and her vocabulary for talking about poems is getting richer and richer, and it is so exciting to watch. She comes into class with such excitement to dive into poems. Recently, she came up to me after class and said she had no idea that poetry was so technical, and to tell me how much she appreciated what goes into making a poem. The most wonderful feeling is sharing a masterful poem with my students that they have never encountered, a poem that changed my own life when I read it for the first time twenty years ago. My heart thuds in class when I share a poem like James Wright’s “A Blessing.” “Suddenly I realize/ That if I stepped out of my body I would break/ Into blossom” — Will that blossoming change the direction of anyone’s life in that room? Or even of anyone’s day?
LC: Tell me about something beautiful that you both love. This can be a book or a movie or whatever, just something you both really enjoy or take inspiration from.
NS: We both love the wild garlic (ramps) that grow on the hillside path by the ocean, towards the lighthouse, in Rose’s home, Mull, an island off the western coast of Scotland; Rose makes gorgeous wild garlic pesto out of it, and we eat it on sourdough sandwiches with cheddar, and on pasta and on everything. We both love the Greek island of Aegina, where we have spent the summer writing the last two years, and zipping around on our moped by the sea, and reading a novel out loud to each other in the hammock: this past summer, it was Chris Castellani’s glittering, heartbreaking novel, Leading Men, about Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlo. When I read the end of a poem I love, I cover it line by line so that I can’t see what’s coming, and we did this too at the end of the novel, both bursting into tears in the final paragraph.
Nomi and Rose will perform on November 13th at Inner Moonlight, The Wild Detectives monthly poetry reading series. More info here.
Logen Cure is the author of three poetry chapbooks: "Still," "Letters to Petrarch," and "In Keeping." She's an editor for Voicemail Poems. She serves as an English faculty member at Tarrant County College and earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She curates "Inner Moonlight," a monthly poetry series at The Wild Detectives. She lives in Dallas with her wife and daughter.