Suzanne Frischkorn is also the author of several chapbooks, most recently: American Flamingo (MiPOesias Press), Spring Tide (Aldrich Museum), and Red Paper Flower (Little Poem Press). She is the recipient of the Aldrich Poetry Award and an Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.
Water and air are the dominant elements in this collection, both speaking to the “grace still elusive” of nature as manifested though rain or the wind, as symbolized by the currents of the ocean and the many types of birds—flamingoes (“these noisy pink clouds”), sparrows, finches—that fly, stir or “filigree twigs” in the high branches. And in the poem “An Eye on New Zealand’s Bird” the speaker admits: “I seek beauty// through journeys/ by air or water, corridor/ or duct.” Why this attraction to these worlds? At what point in shaping this book did you realize that this was the landscape of Lit Windowpane?
The attraction to these worlds grew out of geographic dislocation. The ocean is a fixture from early childhood – most of my first five years were spent on the beach – and much of my adulthood was lived within walking distance of Long Island Sound. Water has been part of my immediate surroundings for most of my life. In 2001 I moved from a rapidly growing city to an old mill town in Connecticut’s Naugatuck River Valley. It was here that I began to notice the similarities between wind and water – currents, fertilization, and their ability to sustain and destroy. Here wind is a constant state of the weather, there is always a breeze or gale, whether it’s sunny or rainy, hot or cold. While few people would consider the area rural it was to me, for the first time I was able to observe the habits of birds and for the first time the horizon wasn’t marred by buildings. The entire pace of my life changed, and I found the stunted growth of the mill town juxtaposed with the regeneration of the natural world compelling. Many of the poems in Lit Windowpane were written in response to the bleakness I associated with the area when I first arrived. While some poems were written consecutively, each built upon the last, others were written quite far apart from each other, some after other projects with completely different landscapes like American Flamingo. If I had to select a poem in the book where I was able to see how the poems fit together it would probably be “First Outlook,” it contains all of the elements you mentioned. Once that poem went into place the rest of the manuscript fell in right behind it.
The title comes from the lines in the poem “Watermark”: “Last night’s trees tessellated/ with lit windowpanes.” It’s an image that speaks to discovering beauty through close observation—a combination of curiosity and contemplation. This particular poem reads like a cluster of haiku (or some other compressed form). There are other “window” poems or poems (like “Vista, 4PM” or “Crone”) that offer focused glimpses, like windows, usually involving nature or the seasons, like the traditional haiku. Is it more challenging to write this compressed verse? How did you determine that these shorter poems were complete and not seeds that could grow into a longer poem? What’s your process when writing these compressed poems?
I find them challenging to write. When I’m trying to capture the essence of an abstract concept, or an elusive moment as precisely as possible, it’s the exactness that makes it precarious, there’s no room for error.
The process of determining seeds from finished work is largely intuitive. “Still Water,” is a poem that grew from a small imagistic draft and “Window,” while one of the longer poems in the book is the result of revising a sonnet sequence. In physical terms I feel restless when a poem is not working because it isn’t fully realized. When a poem is finished the feeling is close to euphoria.
The process that leads to the shorter, concise poems usually begins with stream-of-consciousness writing, once the free writing is finished and reduced to draft form I generally go on to generate more work in the same manner. Ultimately I get the distance I need to view the early drafts dispassionately and I’m able to begin revising. Revision consists of removing any decoration, anything unnecessary to the poem, and weighing each word. My focus during revision becomes very intense and I’ll revise steadily until I reach a certain point, that point is when I need to stop revising or risk losing the initial energy and impulse of the poem.
“Eve” and “The Mermaid Takes Issue with the Fable” stand out because of their clear pro-feminist angle, the figures are granted agency and voice. Both are in dialogue with earlier versions of their stories—from the Bible and from a Neruda poem, respectively. How did you find a place for these particular poems in this collection? How do you see them as part of the larger project, or are do they function more as interludes? Is the next collection taking you to a different territory or to a familiar one?
As much as Lit Windowpane is about landscape, water, and air, it’s also about the speaker’s personal transformation and renewal. When I assembled the book I wanted the opening poems to introduce the themes of the book, the middle to explore those themes with focused intensity and the close of the book to end intimately. Both of the poems you mention were placed with that in mind – the first with the opening poems and the second at a specific turn in the book. The speaker finds transformation difficult, and she seeks relentlessly, yet from the beginning there is a sense of resolve, for example in “The Mermaid Takes Issue with the Fable,” she chooses life over death and takes control of her own fate. In “Eve,” she is unashamed of her insatiable curiosity, she accepts and embraces it. Acceptance is also a form of transformation. Initially I had the themes run parallel in the collection then ultimately stream together, each informing the other and unifying.
The manuscript I’m currently working on is a historical lyric sequence about the women who left New England’s farmland and villages to work in the textile mills – it’s a braiding of familiar territory and new territory.