BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Recently, poet Abigail Welhouse's debut chapbook Bad Baby was published by Dancing Girl Press in mid-2015, which focuses on the idea of a child gone wrong. She was kind enough to talk with us regarding the collection:
Why "Bad Baby?" How did you come up with the title?
I was listening to an episode of "This American Life" about children who are violent or otherwise considered "bad." I wondered: how do babies go bad? Is there any way to guarantee that your baby won't be a bad baby?
Your writing focuses on visuals often, whether it is a reference to a piece of art (such as Picasso) or the fact that many of the poems are in couplets or tercets. Would you consider yourself a visual poet?
I do care about the way that a poem looks on the page. I'm hesitant, though, to claim the label of "visual poet." I'm often thinking of how I want readers to hear the poem in their heads, and whether I want the poem to feel quiet or loud. So the visual organization also affects how I imagine the sound in readers' heads.
The speaker is often in a dialogue with someone else in the poem, usually through an address. Why is this? Who is the speaker actually talking to?
This is an interesting observation! I've never thought of it that way, although I do also write plays and I've written some poems with two voices, like "Q&A," which The Heavy Feather Review published. I've always been interested in written correspondence, though, so it makes sense it would come out in my other writing.
For the past year, I've also emailed new poems to friends via Tinyletter.com/welhouse. I call these my Secret Poems, since I send them to my Tinyletter subscribers before I submit them for publication.
You often use images of animals in this collection, which draws a direct comparison to the "Bad Baby" character, as if to say humanity is still not so different from their animal brethren. Did you set out to do this intentionally?
I didn't, but I think many adults speak to babies in a similar way that they speak to animals. Of course, humans are a kind of animal.
Since Bad Baby is my first chapbook, it's been fun for me (and also scary) to release it into the wild and let it not be mine anymore, to let anyone who holds a copy in their hands become a collaborator with their own insights, interpretations, and associations. In Yusef Kumunyakaa's book Blue Notes, he writes about encouraging "a space into which a reader can come and participate in the meaning.” So thank you for being generous and participating.
Often times when we write, we are unaware of many themes circulating our words. What are some themes you were initially unaware of in this collection?
You've told me a few! I was also surprised when I was working on this chapbook how many poems made reference to something I've read for work. I work in book publicity, and when I wrote "Cows, Mad" and "I Dress Up," I was working on writing a press release for a book called Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions--A New Biological Principle of Disease by Dr. Stanley Prusiner, a Nobel Prize winner who researches diseases like Alzheimer's and mad cow. I hadn't realized that mad cow disease had seeped so much into my poems until I was arranging the manuscript. Those two ended up side by side.
How do you write your poems? In one sitting? In multiple sessions? Through editing? Many of these poems are extremely concise--not one word overdone. I would guess you are a fan of constant revision?
I typically write first drafts in one sitting. You're absolutely right that I'm an obsessive reviser. I like giving poems time to ferment.
Who is your reader? What would you like to say to them?
Before Bad Baby came out, I pictured my readers as other poets. But in the last few weeks, I've been surprised to find some other readers, too -- including my grandma and some precocious children (I should note that there are poems in Bad Baby that are definitely not for kids--maybe I should write a kids' version). So whoever's reading, I'd like to say hello--and welcome. Thanks for giving me your eyes and ears. (If I were Bad Baby, I'd add here, "I'm never giving them back.")
Abigail Welhouse is the author of Bad Baby (dancing girl press, 2015). Her writing has appeared in The Toast, The Morning News, The Rumpus, Lyre Lyre, Yes Poetry (obviously) and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the City College of New York, sends Secret Poems at tinyletter.com/welhouse, and would like to talk to you on Twitter: @welhouse.