The Rumpus Poetry Book Club chats with Carly Inghram about her new collection, The Animal Indoors (Autumn House Press, September 2021), feeling-based logic, and writing poems during a pandemic.
This is an edited transcript of the book club discussion. Every month the Rumpus Poetry Book Club hosts an online discussion with the book club members and the author, and we post an edited version online as an interview. To join the Rumpus Poetry Book Club, click here. Upcoming poets include Derrick Austin, Amanda Moore, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Matthew Olzmann, Jennifer Huang, and more!
This Rumpus Poetry Book Club interview was edited by Brian Spears.
Brian S: I’d like to start with a process question, if I might. I know my own poems come from experience, but I feel like yours are at least operating in a different area, if that makes sense? Where does a poem begin for you?
Carly Inghram: That’s a great place to start! I often begin in experience (the present, or a memory) and then I just travel from there. Either through sound or image. I think the idea for me tends to be around linking experiences through sound or image so that I end up with a sort of collage.
Brian S: So it’s like you grab a moment and then link it to something nearby, whether in space or in thought, and then the next, and so on?
Carly Inghram: Yeah, it’s associative.
Brian S: I love reading poems that do this, but every time I’ve tried to write one I’ve run screaming into the wilderness.
Carly Inghram: Hahahaha. It can get wild.
Brian S: Do you have to fight the urge to impose a narrative or a logic on the poem?
Carly Inghram: Unfortunately, or fortunately, my brain mostly works this way. It makes more sense to me. While reading, I map out poems and diagram sentences.
Brian S: I’m glad there’s a variety of ways people approach writing poems! They’d be hella boring otherwise.
I don’t mean to suggest that there’s not a logic to your poems, just that it’s not the thing that tends to stand out in them as much as the individual images playing off each other.
Carly Inghram: Yes, I think that’s right! The poems definitely travel a lot, and are not super cohesive. I don’t know how much logic they have, either. Probably mostly feeling-based logic or something
Elizabeth Shack: Feeling-based logic is a great description. That makes a lot of sense.
Brian S: I was typing this and then I opened my copy of the book and saw “Just Lay There Flat,” which is this lovely poem about a churro woman and the speaker interacting, and it’s exactly that, feeling-based logic. There’s no logical reason for the poem to end the way it does and yet it still fits perfectly.
Carly Inghram: Thanks, Elizabeth! And yes, Brian, that’s a perfect example of what we’re talking about!
Brian S: There’s this movement from “I imagine that I am her daughter” in the seventh line to “she puts a small braid in my hair” in the last line and I’m like, of course she did!
Carly Inghram: Lol, yeah, I guess that’s how my experience gets woven in, like the scenarios or actions could be wild but the feelings are real and material experiences.
Brian S: Then there was the poem I wrote about in my piece on selecting this collection for the Poetry Book Club, “America Self-Storage.” Could you talk a little about how that poem came to be? I sensed a lot of longing and loss in that poem, but not just that.
Carly Inghram: That was such a generous piece, thank you! Your assessment was so accurate!
“America Self-Storage” is very much a poem about loss. And trying to situate myself within it. Or, like, a loss that was growing and became something new. Like a renewal of loss. Towards the end, I wanted to enter the physical world more than the emotive one and so I introduced a new character to function as a subject or an object of loss.
Brian S: I knew I was in for something when I read “your new mailing address; / the thing I still own of yours.” That was just an ohhhhhh, wow moment for me. And then that command at the end: Do not.
Carly Inghram: There’s a lot of hurt there. Fear!
Brian S: I don’t see many poets drop into that second person at the end of a poem. Maybe more of us should?
Carly Inghram: Breaking rules can be fun! But we should all just do our thing. We’re doing it well!
Brian S: How long did you work on this book before you started sending it out? What’s the oldest poem in the collection?
Carly Inghram: I want to say about a year. But the oldest poem is from wayyy back.
Brian S: Wow, that’s fast.
Carly Inghram: “If you go into the Forrest” I wrote pre-MFA and thought it fit well here. Everything else is more or less of the same time period, 2019 and the very beginning of the pandemic
Elizabeth Shack: (I adore that poem and need to re-read it another half-dozen times; I keep catching new things.)
There are two poems titled “Praise Poem”; are they related?
Carly Inghram: Elizabeth, good question! I heard Terrance Hayes say, potentially quoting someone else (pretty sure he was quoting), that there are only three kinds of poems, one of them being praise poems. And this made me VERY AWARE that I never write/wrote praise poems. So, I wanted to. The first one in the book I wrote in the early weeks of the pandemic, feeling really low, grasping. The second was more like, let me do this Terrance prompt; let me feel celebratory. I wrote it at a coffee shop in LA.
Brian S: That’s remarkable. Do you think your writing has changed much since the pandemic started?
Carly Inghram: Yes! I think I’ve changed quite a bit because reality seems different to me now. I think writing and how I make stuff is different now, too.
In essence, it’s the same; I’m still moving through feelings using the vehicles of sound and image. But it “feels” different to me now… like maybe even in terms of why I write, or what I’m writing towards.
Brian S: I haven’t wanted to get too over the top about it but I’ve felt for a while like we’re due for a shift in terms of writing and maybe this last five to ten years is the kind of thing that’s going to result in some really groundbreaking work coming out. Like, maybe we’re too close to see it right now, but people in the near future might look back and say, yeah.
I was real leery at the start of the pandemic with all these people who were saying “so much great art will come out of this,” and I think that’s still kind of not necessarily true? Because who knows what can push artists to break molds and so on. I should probably stop before I end up tweeting something that twenty-thousand people respond to.
Carly Inghram: Hahahahaha.
Yeah, there’s no way to slice the pandemic that isn’t bleak. I’m most hopeful about the way people have been reimagining visual art, and driving it more toward collective experiences and work.
Brian S: That’s a world I don’t know enough about.
Carly Inghram: Me either, haha.
Brian S: Which means I’m probably qualified to do a podcast about it. That’s how it works, right? Let’s team up, lol.
Carly Inghram: Haha, perfect.
Brian S: Do you think of your poems as a project, or just as individual poems and then see what happens once you have a pile of them?
Carly Inghram: I guess I consider time and place as a project in themselves. Like, there are so many factors in collaboration right now that will soon move.
Brian S: I think that’s a good way to approach it. I mean, I’ve done the larger organizing principle with poems, and I think maybe that idea is dominant right now in terms of book publishing, but your book is proof that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Carly Inghram: Yeah! I think how I did it was similar to how I organized my thesis. I wrote a bunch of poems and then saw what I was doing and then tried to fill in what I thought I wanted there to be more of or what I wanted to be louder. That’s how that forrest/competition poem got pulled in. So, some poems were expressly written for this purpose.
Brian S: I did that with my book way back when—I saw a couple of places where I felt I needed a bridge poem and then wrote it. And the funny thing was I’d never even considered doing that before, until I did it.
What are you reading lately?
Carly Inghram: I just started re-reading (because I never finished it before) Anna Karenina today.
Brian S: I’m not sure I ever started reading that.
Are you going to be able to do any readings for your book when it comes out? Anything set up for a virtual tour?
Carly Inghram: Cave Canem reached out, which I am super excited about! I think that’s in October. [Join Carly and next month’s featured poet, Derrick Austin, on October 25 at 6 p.m. EDT. – Ed.] And I’ve organized one with some friends who are also writers on the day the collection releases. And Autumn House has organized one, too.
Brian S: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Carly, and for this book! And for staying up late on a school night as well.
Carly Inghram: Thank you, Brian! 🙂
Brian S: Have a good night.
Carly Inghram: You, too!
Photograph of Carly Inghram by Elana Engleman-Lado