Ahead of the release of Match Cut, her newest collection of poems, Letitia Trent took time to speak with Sundress editorial intern, Lauren Sutherland, to discuss the themes, imagery, organization of the collection, and the darker shadows of writing and psychology that continue to inspire Trent’s work.
Lauren Sutherland: Movies clearly inspired this collection of poems, from the title to each of the poems themselves. How was it incorporating films into your personal ideas for individual poems?
Letitia Trent: I didn’t really choose to write about film, it was the only way I could write poems for a long time, from around 2008 to 2011. I started the movie poems after I got out of my MFA program and moved back to my home state of Vermont. I’m pretty sure I was depressed around this time, and my writing started to suffer, or at least my old vision of myself as somebody who could pretty easily write a poem faltered. I couldn’t figure out how to write the kinds of poems I was writing during my MFA, and I started to feel isolated from community and frustrated with myself. Movies saved me during that time. My husband and I lived walking distance from the local movie theater, so we saw a movie almost every weekend. I also started to revisit films I’d always wanted to watch in the past but had never gotten to.
When I was a kid, I was wild about movies. When I was around ten, my mom bought me this enormous “Rating the Movies” book and I read it straight through, marking all the movies I wanted to watch with a check mark. We would go every week to the video store, and I tried to get all my checked movies in, so at one point, when I was about eleven, I found myself watching Taxi Driver with my horrified parents. Then, I went to college for literature and grad school for writing and kind of lost track of my love of movies for a while. When I got out of grad school, I felt lost, so I came back to movies again. The writing itself came out of the movies–I didn’t really have a pre-conceived notion of what I wanted to write but instead, let the poems come from
the material in the film. Once I got going, almost every movie I watched produced a poem for a period of a couple of years.
Sutherland: Was there a particular strategy for ordering your poems or did it just happen organically?
Trent: I went through so many attempts to organize these poems. I’d say that was the hardest part for me. I had a lot of help from the editors here at Sundress, as organizing a book is probably one of the biggest struggles for me, and I needed as much help as I could get. I usually try to feel it out and organize intuitively, but the more suggestions I got, the more the poems seemed to separate based on theme. There are a lot of poems about gender, particularly about how films define women. Film noir and horror, in particular, have these conflicting ideas about gender, ideas that both appeal to me and feel uncomfortable. I’m interested in these tropes and how we (as a culture and individually) use the raw material of film to build identity. I also wrote a lot about mothers and children and sex. I did not realize that these were my themes until I began the work of reflecting on the poems. Writing and organizing this manuscript was an excavation, sometimes a surprising one.
Sutherland: Did your poems come first or did you like the idea of working with the genre and mold your poems to fit that?
Trent: I’m an enormous fan of horror and tend to be attracted to the murky, the dark, the noir-ish—and since the poems came from the film, those themes were bound to show up. These are wells I’ve been digging for most of my writing career in a variety of genres. All I know is that
these themes have always attracted me.
Sutherland: How did you come to love the darker side of writing and integrate that into your poetry?
Trent: I think an interest in more shadowy parts of life and consciousness pairs with my interest in psychology. I like to wrestle with things that trouble me. Poems have been a way for me to work through the more confusing, slippery, and troubling parts of myself. I think that’s why I’m attracted to genres at the fringe of “respectability,” like film noir or horror or exploitation films. I think they can often access the parts of us that we push away or keep in the shadows because these are genres that don’t use tasteful or acceptable ways of framing the more volatile parts of human life (sex, death, fear, etc.).
Sutherland: Your exploration with form in this collection is vast, including your creativity with capitalization (in “Blue Velvet”), line-breaks (in “The Brood”), and spacing (in “The Dreamers”). Do you find this kind of variation to be necessary when compiling a book of poems, and do you feel like it’s a challenge to branch out from the more comfortable forms?
Trent: When I was writing these poems, I was really interested in OULIPO writing techniques. A couple of the constraint-based poems are in the manuscript, including “Secretary”, which I think was an attempt at a snowball, a poem that increases word count gradually (though I think I messed the word count up and just kept the mistake in the poem) and an N+7 poem (“Kairo”), where I used a dictionary of sexual terms to replace most of the nouns in the poem. I have a few poems where I would initially write a poem response to the film and then do a collage or
OULIPO exercise on the poem I’d just written. I found constraint-based writing to be incredibly freeing. I started to get excited about writing again. While I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone, it was exciting for me to try new ways of writing.
Sutherland: What did you find to be more of a battle, and what did you find to be more innate when writing the poems that make up Match Cut?
Trent: It took me a really long time to make this manuscript exactly the way I wanted it, despite having a pretty clear organizing principle (film poems) right from the beginning. I have to thank my proofreaders and editors for that, as it was really initially just a mess of poems about movies without a lot of shape. Also, because so many of the poems were made in a rush of excitement after watching a film, they were sometimes a bit raw and unformed. It took me a while to have
enough distance from the manuscript to see the themes and to see my way forward for revision.
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Letitia Trent’s work includes the novels Echo Lake and Almost Dark and the poetry collection One Perfect Bird. Her work has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, 32 Poems, and Waxwing, among others. Letitia works in the mental health field in a small town in the Ozarks with her husband, son, and three black cats.
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Lauren Sutherland is a recent graduate of Lee University in Cleveland, TN and proudly has a Bachelor’s degree in English with a writing emphasis and a Deaf Studies minor. Lauren enjoys reading, writing poetry, but her ultimate passion is for editing. She has been interning with Sundress since July and loves getting the opportunity to have a hand in the literary community.