Unabashedly Human: a conversation with poet, Adrienne Gruber
Interviewed by Emily McIvor
Buoyancy Control (Book Thug) is Adrienne Gruber’s second full length book of poems. This work is raw, sharp and visceral. The poems explore the strange confluence of physical and emotional being with urgent language but also with humour and kindness. I chatted with Gruber recently via email. This is what we both said.
EM: Buoyancy Control is divided into two parts: land and sea, but whether or not they are explicitly about the sea, the poems are juicy, full of liquids and melting and dripping and of the all too human experience of permeability. Were the poems written as a body or did you look up one day and realize that they were related?
AG: The poems in Buoyancy Control have gone through so many revisions and have moved around in the book so much that it’s hard for me to say when exactly the book found its cohesive structure. I was definitely writing poems with the intention of having them in a book together but at least half of the poems that were in earlier drafts of the book were cut and newer pieces found their way in. Every poem was related in some way thematically but I didn’t quite have the narrative structure of the book figured out until years after I had written most of the poems.
EM: What is your favourite revision strategy (or several of your favourites)?
AG: I don’t have any strategies. What I tend to do is workshop poems with some very trusted poets who know my work and are able to tease out the crucial lines and point out the weak sections or redundancies. While this sometimes happens over email, I get a lot out of in-person workshops or conversations over the phone. Those conversations are lifelines for the work. The rest of my revision process involves coffee, line/stanza Tetris, printing out the manuscript and laying it out on the living room floor so I can move pieces around and get a feel for the book in its entirety, tinkering with line breaks and form and punctuation, getting irritated, putting it away for three or six months to work on something else, more coffee and probably cookies, the realization that my work is garbage and then the hopeful optimism that comes with just needing to finish the thing.
EM: Both sections begin with a prologue but the prologues are poems. Why?
AG: These poems had different titles originally. As I was restructuring the book later on, I realized I wanted an introductory poem for each section. The book is divided into two sections, the first focuses on land and the second focuses on water. The first prologue poem takes place in the small community of El Llano in Northern Mexico and examines how landscapes, while beautiful, confines us. The second prologue poem takes place at Lake Superior in Northern Ontario, where water is introduced as a source of fluidity and letting go.
EM: The title, Buoyancy Control, refers to a piece of equipment used in scuba diving; it allows the diver to control her own buoyancy and thus the rate at which she ascends or descends in the water. Writing poetry is also very controlled, even while drawing upon wild imaginative leaps and peripheral associations as well as the sloshiness of human experience. Is that what you meant?
AG: I was making reference to the device that helps a diver control his/her buoyancy in the water, but I was also going for something a little tongue and cheek. Diving is meant to be a very serene and gentle activity, but in order to achieve that calm, one must be very controlled in the water. The idea of control within a body or an identity is fascinating to me, as impulses and desires tend to be fluid. It seems as though we need to let go of our need for control in order to truly explore and experiment with identity and sexuality, yet there is a false sense of security in that control, a feeling that we are safer staying within the confines of the status quo.
EM: In the interview you gave for Book Thug, you say that at the time of writing, you were engaged in an exploration of personal and sexual identity. Can I say that things don’t feel unresolved? The poems feel confident; like you’re comfortable in your own skin.
AG: That’s interesting. It never occurred to me that this book would feel resolved to the reader. It might feel less that way to me because this book represents a time when I didn’t feel remotely resolved within myself. I don’t want the compelling theme of the book to be a sense of shame or discomfort with my own sexual identity, however the poems explore experiences that leave me in some vulnerable places. I’m glad the poems come across as confident. To me they are dichotomous; filled with anxiety and doubt, but also self-love and acceptance.
Emily McIvor is a Victoria writer of poetry and creative nonfiction. She is excited by connections and ideas and by the world.