Time Is Just an Idea: Talking with Carly Inghram
Carly Inghram’s The Animal Indoors, released by Autumn House Press, winner of the 2020 CAAPP Book Prize, and a Rumpus Poetry Club selection, is touted by Terrence Hayes as “a capacious, capricious new book,” and noted by Donika Kelly as a book of “poems [that] sow the unexpected and bloom with ease.”
Inghram is a poet from Atlanta, GA. She received an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University, and her work delves into the queer lived experience, maximalism, and much more. Her writing has been featured in The Indianapolis Review, Prelude, and elsewhere.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Carly via Google Meet and discuss her newly released collection, the way sound and power dynamics play into the expression of queer life through her poems, and more.
The Rumpus: Tell me about the journey of how this collection came to be. What was your baseline inspiration for The Animal Indoors, and how did this group of poems evolve into a full collection?
Carly Inghram: The first poem I wrote was from a long time ago and it’s one of the ones towards the end of the collection. “If You Go Into the Forest and Kill an Animal, Not Only the Animal Kingdom Around Becomes Shaken, but the Trees Also.” So, I wrote that first, and for a while I was trying to write in form. That one was important to me because it brought up this idea of competition, and a lot of this work is specifically interested in self competition and how that might play itself out on a larger (much larger) stage. And it evolved from there. Another poem, entitled, “For They Will Inherit the Kingdom,” utilizes a lot of forward slashes. I see it as one of the anchors for the book because of the way it navigates and manipulates the space it’s in visually.[A third poem], one of the longer poems I wrote, is composed of ten sections and is another anchor. I was interested in what was happening in these anchor poems because they’re pretty dense. I was interested in how they worked together and how they were loosely in conversation. From the three dense poems, I saw that they could make a nice family and I built from there.
Rumpus: I know that you just talked a little bit about form, and there was a form in particular that interested me in the collection. It was a recurring craft element where you divided sections by asterisk and then longer bodies of text. Can you walk me through this choice a little bit?
Inghram: I find that asterisk helpful because I think it signals quickly to the reader that we’re hopping space and time, and I love to hop space and connect random things. I think that it can be really jarring to readers, so I like to think that the asterisk is useful in that way both for me to be like, “Now we physically see this jump,” and a useful signal to say, “Oh, change is here.” Change is jarring when we are unprepared or not expecting it, so to make it visual is appealing to me.
Rumpus: One poem where this is present is “You’ll Be Okay.” Then there are a couple of poems where you use this right at the beginning, and it’s really striking. It really does indicate that jump.
Inghram: It seems to be working in a few different ways. In the beginning of the collection, in the poem, “Everything Is Small and Familiar,” I feel like it works because I’m chunking very different things together. Or at least what I imagined to be very different things. I like to make things that appear different visually the same within a text. I might have three separate poems that I worked on individually, and then I’m like, You know, it’d be cool if I put it together. The first poem, “You’ll Be Okay,” after Tao Lin: In that one I really was looking at how the writing functions because my poems do a lot of time hops and I liked the way the writing was moving. I built on that idea by using time-scape and aesthetics, which to me are very Sad Boy, which I love, and then trying to see how present time also functions within a condensed time-scape. Since time is just an idea, you know, and not really a reality, since it’s not a physical object at all, except for when it is.
Rumpus: This kind of speaks to the fact that time and space are a theme within these poems specifically. But would you say that’s something you utilize technically throughout your poetry, too?
Inghram: Yeah, I think the field of vision of my poem sees time as condensing a lot of different pixelated images together, so that it’s like a collage of time. There aren’t singular events in a certain way or singular names in a certain way, and all things are sort of altered, which makes them less clear, but they’re all sort of bunched together in a weird bundle. I think it’s nice when time is bundled in this way because we see it as a more clear picture of reality. In our reality, there is always this delicious and interesting bundle of images appearing and disappearing right before us, right before the physical objects in the room, just as if they were real things present.
Rumpus: That makes a lot of sense within the context of these poems. I know that along with time and space, power dynamics are also a big part of this collection. How would you say that power dynamics play into the collection as a whole?
Inghram: I’m interested in how problems work within poems, where attention is a sense itself, which I think is what initially interested me in those three denser pieces I was talking about earlier. Particularly “For They Will Inherit the Kingdom,” because there are a lot of problems within that one. It plays out tensions, and we see how the tensions or images travel and where they go, not necessarily seeking resolution of the images, but just to see what happens in that confined space. I think often in poems that interest me, I start from an area that presents a problem or an image and that problem or image can be rooted in power. If I’m thinking of power, I’m also thinking of what power I hold in relation to the power presented somewhere, and what that relationship is, or what the tension or image is. So, there’s power within the poem, power outside of the poem, things that I can’t control, and the images the lack of control presents. I’m interested just in the sort of broad idea of power because it’s always playing itself out in time in deceptively nuanced and unique ways. Power is never one brand or one thing; it is always different.
Rumpus: Along that line of dynamics within a poem, I know we’ve talked before about the queer lived experience and how, when you were writing this collection, you were just unearthing the fact that you weren’t making up your queerness and investigating that in your life. Can you tell me a bit more about how lived experience plays into this collection, as well as how it changes the dynamics throughout?
Inghram: Yeah, so as far as themes go, that feels like the strongest one coming through for me, and it’s certainly the most personal element for me in this book. Queerness means something; like being allowed to fully express oneself or express ourselves specifically.
In terms of a queer aesthetic, I am interested in some campy, kitsch aesthetic sort of stuff. I think I’m also interested in, and this feels very Atlanta to me, maximalism, like gold chains and doing the utmost, which also feels queer to me. And performance. I think most centrally, performance. My poetry is hyper-performative, just through the way that it uses language. That feels very queer to me, too. Performance is important to me as a means to balance my love of honesty and authenticity. I find that I need this other energy of performance as an outlet in order to more fully see the image of who we are as queer people and where I, as a person within that space, land.
Rumpus: All of those things really shine through in this collection. I know we’ve also talked before about the linguistics of storytelling. How would you say language and “language poetry” and storytelling intersect in this collection? What specific instances are there in which you think that really shines through?
Inghram: “Righteous Violence” in the collection feels fairly language-y because it starts off with an image that I quite literally did see on the train. Then it goes completely somewhere else. It hops into an image of the characters and their inner image-scapes on the train. And then just floods into that image and fully goes there. The images become them, fully. But it’s still telling us the story within the strange language-scape that it’s performing.
Rumpus: Is there any other space in which you’re like, Oh, I really did that?!
Inghram: I think I’m into possession within language. I think it’s interesting. So, I like how I start the poem, “Last Night I Saw the Boat Just As It Was Exiting My Purview,” with strange possession and then end with love as possession. I like that because love has often been the ultimate for me, and so to see it as an image of something I like less like possession, and also to see language, which I love, within the light of something I love less like possession, it makes it more interesting to me. But also, I’m obsessed with prepositions, so I throw as many propositions as possible in my poems.
Rumpus: I love that. I think that having your thing with language and knowing what your obsession is in your writing makes your poems your own. Your language is so nuanced, so I’m curious if there are any technical or craft-based things that you’re particularly proud of within this collection? Give me a top five list of really prevalent craft elements throughout these poems and tell me a little bit of how they play into things on the grander scheme.
Inghram: Repetition is important as a signal towards importance, and musically, I think. Sound play is incredibly important. I think that I use found language as a tool. And also text features, like we talked about—the slash or the asterisk—those are important. I’ve noticed, when looking back at it, the work is strangely visual.
Rumpus: It’s really visual! As you navigate each poem, it’s incredibly immersive in the world of visceral image. So, on that idea of craft: how does form affect your poetry? How does that inform you and your writing?
Inghram: “That Which Carries Breath or the Living Wind” is in a form similar to a pantoum, and I wanted to create a crown of poems. I wanted to write in form as a challenge. I’ll have bits of text that I think are interesting, and then I find it fun to try and fit bits of text together. So, it’s not necessarily things that were meant to be together, but it’s things that I’ve put together intentionally and then had to rework. A lot of this one specifically was pre-existing text that I wanted to put in a form. And then one that was not crafted that way was, “And So, We Got to Be For Each Other What the Others Missed.” This is also in some sort of form. With this one I thought, Yeah, I think this form is interesting, because it’s the same words and phrases over and over. Again, I sort of eff up the form because you were supposed to have each word reappear in a different way. Since forms are given, it’s fun to play with them and experiment and see where the language might find itself in space and in time given the constraints of my own experiences.
Rumpus: With those elements of building pre-existing texts together, what is your revision process like?
Inghram: Revision is tricky. I often just like what I write when I write it because it often feels intentional, and by the time that I write it, I have thought about it a lot. Revising can feel hard for me because I’m like, No, I liked that. But I think that revising can also be helpful in clarifying what I was thinking about, and what seemed most important to come through. I guess in the case of this collection, the strongest element seems like sound. Sound is something that feels really personal to me and also really impersonal and fully grounded in a collective, an echoing of sorts. I think editing and revising is helpful for that reason, because if something else comes through louder in a poem, then it could distract from what I’m really trying to say.
Once I had a fuller body of work, it was easier to go back and revise because I was revising towards something. Individual revision can feel really tricky. I guess the first thing I think about is sound because I’m so interested in the way it works and I get lost in my own sound. When I’m revising, I think about what the sound is doing or saying, or how it’s functioning, so that I’m certain it’s purposeful. Although playful sound is fun too, I think more about how it’s functioning and whether it’s functioning how I hoped it would within the poem. I’m thinking more about the poem as a whole and how individual elements are coming together, and if there are distracting elements or not within.
Rumpus: I’m always interested in people’s revision processes because I feel like they inform a lot of what they see in their poetry. Revision processes and technical elements of the poems also often invoke the spirit of other writers, which brings me to my next question: Who do you feel like your poetry and body of work is in conversation with?
Inghram: There’s this poem by Anaïs Duplan, called “On a Scale of 1-10, How ‘Loving’ Do You Feel” that I’m loosely speaking to in the poem, “This Woman’s Work” (which is also of course the title of a Maxwell song). This specific poem by Duplan also feels loosely connected to another poem I’ve referenced, “That which Carries Breath or the Living Wind” because of the form and the insane way it travels. Duplan’s poem is loosely derivative of/based on The Waste Land.
That same poem, “This Woman’s Work” is also inspired by Morgan Parker, specifically her book, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. She’s generally an inspiration to me and one of the big things I’ve taken from or learned from her is using comedy within poetry. I think that’s one of my favorite things authors do. You’re talking about the topics so it’s serious, but it’s also at the same time, hilarious. And then, I know she’s on many people’s lists as an influence because she’s just one of the greatest of all time, but Audre Lorde was huge in helping me feel comfortable writing about “the gay experience.”
Rumpus: What do you hope readers take from this collection? Also, what did you take from creating this collection? What has it done for you as a writer?
Inghram: These questions are tied together. I feel like what came out of it for me is something along the lines of learning to police myself less. That’s what presented itself to me as I navigated writing and pulling this collection together. I guess I would hope the same thing for someone else—not explicitly the same thing—but I would hope that this is a message that readers receive. That would be my hope and intention for someone else as well.
Photograph of Carly Inghram by Elana Engleman-Lado