Virginia Konchan on The Social Distance Reading Series
Virginia Konchan is the author of two poetry collections, Any God Will Do and The End of Spectacle (Carnegie Mellon, 2018 and 2020); a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017); and four chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Believer, Boston Review, and elsewhere.
Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review
In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
“Konchan’s gloriously scathing and exhilarating second book mines the flotsam and jetsam of failed romance (“O eros, put away your bully stick”) and the god-awful “claptrap” of ersatz culture. Lioness-fierce (“I am not a marble goddess whose breasts resemble / bayonets of Spring), acerbic and magical (“the moon is in her stirrups / and the doctor’s prognosis is time”), Any God Will Do arrives on the scene, all systems go, as a lover’s lament, a fist-fast roller coaster, and a rocket-blast: hold onto your seat!”
– Cyrus Cassells
“Konchan, a self-confessed ‘atheist who says her prayers,’ is also a fast-talking phrase-maker of the first order who can switch poetic registers from the aporetic to the operatic in the pause after a period. Her ‘fallback plan / is style,’ and although she claims, ‘I have reached the end / of my ability to troubleshoot,’ these stylish poems shoot for trouble and nail it. Any God Will Do is a dictionary of desire, a breviary of post-religious bravery, and a book chockablock with lines that prove Konchan right when she writes, ‘I interrupt my programming / to say something original.’”
– Stephen Kampa
How do you begin a new piece of writing? What conditions help your writing process?
New poems, for me, usually come from a saturation in other texts or forms of language (found poetry, overheard conversations). Thus, often, I’ll begin a new poem with the “scaffolding” of another piece of writing, be it a line or image, and while that scaffolding usually gets erased or otherwise absorbed into my poem, I find it really useful and fun to play with these forms of intertextuality, this complex web of meaning-making that underlies all creation, humming in conversation together. I’m lucky in that I can write pretty much anywhere (in bed, on my phone; on the bus; in waiting rooms), but my preferred conditions for writing are sitting at my home desk with my cat Gigi beside me, an ever-renewing cup of coffee in my hand. I can’t listen to music when I write, but I do enjoy hearing the birds.
What was an early experience that taught you language has power?
I think my earliest recognition that language has power was when my mom or dad would make a promise to me, and then uphold that promise; that taught me that language acts have meaning, and that when language “do’ers” or agents state a will or intention, then follow through with it, they are enacting those powers. That taught me to mean what I said, and when using future tenses or making promises, to fulfill them to the best of my ability as a way to honor language and speech acts. Also, my younger sister Anne, when a child, used to say that the sun and clouds looked like “a pad of butter in a sea of mashed potatoes,” and I remember delighting in that simile and mixed metaphor of clouds/sea/potatoes; in 8th grade I started to use figurative language myself in my student writing, and was told by my teacher I could really “turn a phrase,” which gave me confidence and set me on the path of writing.
What poets or writers do you continually go back to?
Poets: Sappho, George Herbert, John Keats, William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare, Petrarch, Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Emily Dickinson, Louise Glück, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Celan, Rilke, Hafiz, Rumi, Wang Wei, Anna Akhmatova, Wislawa Szymborska, Robert Hass, Anne Carson, Robert Creeley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Charles Wright, Lucie Brock-Broido, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Claudia Rankine, Carolyn Forché, Sarah Vap, Danielle Pafunda, and Ariana Reines.
Writers: Kafka, Dostoevsky, Thomas Bernhard, Virginia Woolf, Proust, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Clarice Lispector, Lydia Davis, Samuel Beckett, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Kate Zambreno, Amina Cain, Ann Patchett, Jean Rhys, JD Salinger, Jeffrey Eugenides, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Mary Gaitskill, Joan Didion, Grace Paley, Patti Smith, Jean Genet, Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille, Dante, Raymond Carver, Donald Barthelme, Roland Barthes, Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Simone de Beauvoir.
What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book?
Tie between Roald Dahl’s Matilda and E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
A baseline introvert (with extroverted tendencies), I personally have been ok, and am grateful for the opportunity to catch up on writing, reading, and letter-writing to friends and family. I also have a loving partner and cat, and recognize how lucky I am not to be in total solitude. But I know so many are struggling (my friends in the performing arts, my elderly relatives and neighbors, parents now responsible for home-schooling their children, among them). This pandemic is terrifying and tragic for so many, in terms of lives threatened and lives lost (to say nothing of the upending of our global economy and all those whose livelihoods are imperiled, including my partner who owns a restaurant in Halifax), and I am grieving those losses and that uncertainty. However, the outpouring of support and love for those alone, endangered, or living in fear, the increased sensitivity we are all feeling in quarantine, and the heroic sacrifices our frontline and essential workers are making every day during this crisis encourage me to try to find hope in this situation, and in a collective future that could possibly become, when we emerge, more community-based, locally-sourced, and humane: what Carol Gillian called a “new ethics of care.”
Where can you find me?
The Social Distance Reading Series
Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review
We’re thrilled to host The Social Distance Reading Series, a collaboration between Green Mountains Review and The Vermont School poets. In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. At this point, we are focusing on collections by poets whose book events have been cancelled between January through May 2020.
Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
–Didi Jackson, Major Jackson, Kerrin McCadden, and Elizabeth Powell, series curators.
–Kylie Gellatly, editorial assistant, interviewer.