A Curious Swarm or Energy: Talking with Rachel B. Glaser


HAIRDO, Rachel Glaser’s second book of poetry, contains thirty-four poems of the kind you’d want someone to read to you from the passenger’s seat on a road trip through the desert at night. They have a soaked, slow, roaming quality to them.

Some, like “My Naked Princess,” are just three lines, while others span a few pages. They’re funny but delicate, too, with lines like “yoga seemed like the quickest, cheapest way to soothe humans” and “the tree looked like an old wizard dying at an art museum.” Dicks, highs, cell phones, the Zach River, God, threesomes, and tragic Snoopys make appearances. Relationships are examined. The voice is irreverent but serious, blunt but searching. Some poems are silly and whimsical, while in others Glaser deftly switches to a more serious and elegant tone, like in “Kitchens in the Middle of the Night”: “never turn the light on in the kitchen at night/ don’t disrupt the order/ the waiting / I walk into my kitchen and end up in yours/ only in the middle of the night/ when nothing knows my name.”

Glaser, the author of Pee on Water, MOODS, and Paulina & Fran, corresponded with me through email.


The Rumpus: I loved Paulina & Fran. You’ve said it was a way to think about ambiguity and loss. Could you describe what you wanted to explore in HAIRDO?

Rachel Glaser: I didn’t set out with any theme in mind. For several years, I was part of a group who emailed each other new poem drafts every Monday. All the poems in HAIRDO are Monday poems from 2013–2016. They were written during and after writing Paulina & Fran.

I think both books explore vanity, youth/loss of youth, inner thoughts, personas, femaleness. HAIRDO explores the preoccupations of a variety of narrators, most of them (but not all of them) human. It also has some meta/confessional moments that play with time, the connection between narrator and reader, and the act of writing. 

Rumpus: Can you talk about your writing process? Do you have any rituals or rules?

Glaser: I do most of my writing in a turret connected to my bedroom. I write on a desktop computer and use an ergonomic keyboard. I usually listen to music. I also write in little notebooks. This is great for getting down ideas in restaurants or subways, on sidewalks. Sometimes it’s just venting to understand pages. Sometimes the notebook feels like a little portal to future readers. I try not to censor myself (especially in the early stages).

Rumpus: You have a turret? Where do you find you get your strangest ideas? Do you have to be in a certain mood? I remember Eileen Myles saying a while back, at Naropa, that she liked to write when she was at work, when time felt stolen away. What about you? What do you try to avoid doing in your notebooks? What makes a notebook feel good to you?

Glaser: When I lived in Providence I got really into turrets and hoped one day I would get to live in a house that had one. And then, six years ago, I got to move into a turret house, and I’m in the turret right now.

Many of my strangest ideas arrive when I am out, making jokes with friends. I agree with Eileen Myles. I love writing during a lecture or reading, or while other people are talking. The writing feels like a good secret then.

I avoid making to-do lists in my notebooks, but sometimes I do. I like starting my entries with some context—where am I and how am I and what just happened. I like when I start writing about a book I’m working on, and then have other unrelated thoughts, and write those down, and it starts to feel like a thought train with no end. I’m writing as I’m thinking and so have little time to think about what I wrote or if it’s as “good” as it just tantalizingly seemed.

Rumpus: Are there certain future readers you imagine at the other end of the notebook portal? I’d be curious to know if most or all of them are female, or if you just generally imagine a kind, knowledgeable sort of person who wants to think and laugh.

Glaser: I don’t think too much about the future readers as people, they are more like a curious swarm or energy, and aren’t gendered. They are like the strangers we fave on Twitter—strangers who are friends, or friends who have become strangers. I also imagine my “in real life” friends, who have been editing my work for the last fifteen years. I had this thought about the Internet a few years ago—that the things we used to tell our parents when we were kids (“today my pizza fell on the ground!”) we now say to the Internet. I think the portal readers are like this—a sort of warm distant entity that is listening to me.

Rumpus: You made an awesome Black Cake album with some of the poems from HAIRDO. How’d you get the idea to do something like this?

Glaser: Kelly Schirmann of Black Cake invited me to record an album. I listened to a bunch of Black Cake albums and was really wowed. Making the album was really fun. I recorded it on Garage Band and even found a realistic orchid voice! The few poems I set to music were inspired by Cassandra Gillig’s amazing mash-ups. Please listen to Cassandra’s mashups! They are groundbreaking.

Rumpus: The mashups are brilliant. I like Ice Cream, TN best. It sounds so decadent when she lists all the fruits. And I like the line, “The fruit we picked up so easily, like talking.” How do you prepare to set your poems to music? What’s involved? Do you think putting these poems to music gave you a different appreciation for, or understanding of, the words?

Glaser: Yes, the mashups are great! It’s actually crazily easy to set your poems to music. I used GarageBand. If you download any song into iTunes, you can easily upload it into GarageBand and edit it down, and adjust the volume of the track. You can easily find wordless versions of songs by downloading the karaoke version. I just used the built-in microphone in my computer. You should try it! It’s easy and fun. Putting the poems to music definitely made me see the poems in a different way. Like the voice I used for the orchid poem—that really felt like the ultimate voice of the poem, how the poem should always be read… if I had the guts I’d try to read it like that at readings.

Rumpus: I love the part in “Can you find me” about the taxidermied frog bought on eBay: “I once bought a taxidermied frog on eBay / it was dressed like a policeman / I gave it to my first boyfriend / where’s it now?” It’s hilarious but also makes me feel nostalgic for all the objects I’ve let go, or lost, or given away to people who maybe didn’t appreciate them. In these poems you often describe intimate relationships with various objects, or else imagine living the life of these objects, in a way. I’ve read that in some societies belongings used to be regarded as part of the family. Can you talk about the kinds of relationships you have with your stuff?

Glaser: I tend to hold onto a lot of objects! I like how they make me remember things, and how they form strange arrangements with each other on my bookcase or floor, or thrown together in a shoebox. I’ve always had fun imagining that objects can see and feel (and sometimes talk). In recent years, I’ve been trying to throw out some of these unnecessary things I’ve saved through the years, but there is something comforting about being surrounded by the clutter of these relics. I remember I was moving out of my apartment in 2010 and my friend Seth was trying to help me throw things out. My most absurd object was this mini bottle of mouthwash that had never been opened. It said it expired in 1998 and it was only ⅓ full of neon blue-green mouthwash. The rest had somehow evaporated in that small sealed up place. He said, “I promise you won’t miss that.” And I was like, “It’s like a science exhibit; it’s like art!” It was like an hourglass that lasted a decade, but I threw it out :(.

Rumpus: That’s amazing. I like the idea of objects forming these ties with each other. Kind of like how pieces of writing, like those in a literary journal, or an anthology, have an energy that you can feel when you move from one to another. Do you wish sometimes that you were more of a minimalist? Are you attempting to become attached to fewer objects?

Glaser: Yes. Over the last few years I’ve been donating books and clothes and recycling old drafts. In my first poetry workshop at UMass, Peter Gizzi told me to “organize your mess” using line breaks, and that’s been good advice all around—emotionally too!

Rumpus: What books were you reading when you wrote HAIRDO?

Glaser: While writing HAIRDO, I read After Claude by Iris Owens, Thin Kimono and Can You Relax in My House by Michael Earl Craig, Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence, The First Bad Man by Miranda July, Lay Me Low by Chris Cheney, The Bed Moved By Rebecca Schiff, You Good Thing by Dara Wier, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, a bunch of James Tate poems, 10:04 by Ben Lerner, Lydia Davis stories, When Watched by Leopoldine Core, The Father of the Arrow Is the Thought by Christopher Deweese, Valparaiso, Round the Horn by Madeline ffitch, Bad Sex by Clancy Martin, Confidence by Seth Landman, Blood Makes Me Faint but I Go for It by Natalie Lyalin, Dark Green by Emily Hunt, nineties by Lucy Ives, and others!

Rumpus: I’m reading 10:04 right now. What did you think of it? Which of these were your favorites? And I know Moshfegh wrote it for money, but I thought Eileen was excellent.

Glaser: I loved 10:04. I bought it the day it came out, like a new CD in the ‘90’s! I also loved Eileen, but love her story collection more. I know Ottessa said that money thing in an interview, but my guess is it was just a form of motivation to get her through the daunting novel process. I didn’t put it above, but one of my favorite books of poetry is Mark Leidner’s Beauty Was the Case That They Gave Me, which was definitely very influential for me. Same with Dorothea Lasky’s books.

Rumpus: Are there certain objects or images you keep on your turret desk or walls?

Glaser: I try to keep the area pretty pared-down. I used to have the first chapter of Paulina & Fran taped up on my wall early in the process of writing it. Right now the wall is blank. An old picture of my grandmother, my mother, aunts, brother, and cousins is usually on my desk looking at me.

Rumpus: Do you keep a record of all the books you read (or do you just have a spectacular memory)?

Glaser: I’m on Goodreads 🙂

Rumpus: Are you into literary journals at the moment, or small presses? Which of those do you follow?

Glaser: I love literary journals and small presses! For a while the Paris Review was killing it with fiction. That’s how I tracked Moshfegh’s new fiction after a friend recommended her to me. I also love reading Jubilat, the books Mount Analogue has been putting out, and anything by Factory Hollow Press and The Song Cave. (The Paris Review might totally still be killing it with fiction, but my subscription ran out and I stopped following it.)

Rumpus: What’s next for you?

Glaser: I’ve been working on two novels. One shares some territory with 10:04, but it’s crazier, more meta, and very 2017. The other is crossover YA and I love it, but don’t want to say anything official about it just yet.

Maria Anderson is from Montana. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, Big Lucks, and The Atlas Review. She is an editor at Essay Press. More from this author →