This month I’m thinking about playing – the summer can be a time to really open yourself up in terms of what you read and write. In that vein, I came across JP Seabright’s experimental poetry collection, Fragments from Before the Fall: An Anthology of Post-Anthropocene Poetry. It imagines a series of ‘found’ poems that are pieced together by an unknown person in the future. I was struck by its inventiveness, and the way depth of emotion was communicated in just a few words.
As someone new to experimental writing, I wanted to find out how she went about the process of writing and perfecting them. Also, where did her vision of this dark future come from? Read on to find out more.
Your collection happens after a post-apocalyptic world where we can see the impact of climate change and pandemics. Why were you drawn to write about these topics in particular?
Fragments is very much a conceptual collection, with the idea that these poems are literal fragments of text found by an ‘activist archivist’ at some point in the future. Who, as archivists do, is attempting to piece together and understand what occurred in the past from poems written just before, during and immediately after a global environmental catastrophe – our ‘now’, or very nearly. What I wanted to achieve is what many writers do in speculative fiction, and take real events happening now and imagine how they might play out in the future.
I use the term Post-Anthropocene as part of the book’s subtitle to suggest that this world of the future is so impacted by climate chaos that humankind, our current Anthropocene era, is in fact no longer the dominating influence on the planet, we are all at the whim of the weather.
I found the arrangement of your poems striking – they appear on the page almost like ‘deleted’ poems, where words are scattered across the page. In fact, in the opening you refer to this as being because they have only been partially recovered. Why did you decide to use this format for your poems?
I actually wrote these poems as ‘normal’ poems first without the concept of the book in mind. After I realised I had several on the same theme of the climate crisis, and imagining what the world might look like after a global environmental catastrophe (post-apocalypse) I began to group them together as a collection. I sent an earlier version off to a publisher which was (quite rightly) rejected, as it lacked that glue to gel it together. I then came up with the idea of actual ‘fragments’ of text – taken from the title poem, which I wrote back in 2013! So I set about deleting my own poems, creating new erased versions from my originals. Aside from this completing the concept behind the collection, it provides space for the reader to insert their own meanings, and allow their own imagination to fill in some of the gaps. I felt that erasure poetry was also a good medium to comment on the climate crisis and what humankind is doing to the planet – literally erasing plant and animal life around us.
I was also struck by the rhythm of the language you use. Was editing and perfecting each one a long process or did you find they came to their finished form quite quickly?
Once I had my concept of found fragments of text, it came together very quickly. I didn’t agonise too much over how or what to delete from the poems, and went more with a gut feel. Some of them (Spilt Milk) are erased in a certain way that suggests how the poem fragment was found – from paper ripped in half; several of them aren’t erased at all, but felt in keeping with that sense of uncertainty, living in chaotic times, some also written in Spring 2021 in the early stages of the Covid pandemic. The poem that I found hardest to erase, but was the right thing to do, is the first and title poem, since it’s the one I wrote first and I was quite fond of it as a result. But ultimately this was quite liberating, and has also influenced some of my subsequent work, in terms of being more experimental or playing with form.
How did you go about publishing your poetry collection?
There was a submission window open with Beir Bua Press last summer which gave me the impetus to finalise the collection is it’s new ‘fragmented’ form, as they were a new experimental press that I felt would be a good fit for this work. It was accepted very quickly and published three months later, which was very exciting. BBP Owner and Editor Michelle Moloney King was very enthusiastic and supportive, which did wonders for my confidence in my work in general, and I’m very proud that they are my debut publisher.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve had or do you have any of your own that you’d like to pass on?
I don’t think I’ve ever received any direct writing advice – unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to go to creative writing courses or workshops or commit to being part of a writing group, as much as I know I’d benefit from that, due to current health and financial constraints. But from my own experience, I would say: keep writing, if it’s a subject or story that interests you, it’s bound to have an enthusiastic audience somewhere – even if there may not be an obvious or conventional route to find them! Don’t be afraid to rip things up and start again, this is what I did with Fragments, by literally pulling it apart and erasing much of the original poetry, it became a far stronger and hopefully more engaging piece of work. As far as you can, seek support and feedback from other writers. I’ve found Twitter invaluable for this, and that’s currently my only contact with other writers, but it’s been a lifeline and alerted me to other writers, publishers and opportunities I would otherwise not have known about.
JP Seabright (she/they) is a queer writer living in London. They have three pamphlets published: Fragments from Before the Fall: An Anthology of Post-Anthropocene Poetry by Beir Bua Press; the erotic memoir NO HOLDS BARRED by Lupercalia Press, and GenderFux, a collaborative poetry pamphlet, by Nine Pens Press.
MACHINATIONS, an experimental collaborative work exploring the life and work of Alan Turing is out later this year from Trickhouse Press, as is Be∞Cause, a microchap, from Ghost City Press. JP is Assistant Editor of Full House Literary Magazine, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in October 2021. More of their work can be found at https://jpseabright.com and via Twitter @errormessage.
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