Nikki Reimer is a multimedia artist and writer and chronically ill neurodivergent prairie settler currently living in Mohkinstsis/Calgary. They are the author of four books of poetry and multiple essays on grief. They launched GRIEFWAVE.com in February 2022, a multimedia, web-based extended elegy.
No Town Called We is a meditation on emergency and grief of what was lost in said emergency, in all its many forms and the pain it causes. It traces the death of elders, social panic, and the climate crisis via the lens of the multiply disabled, female-coded body approaching midlife.
Nikki is being interviewed by Brianna Bock.
Brianna Bock (BB): When I read No Town Called We for the first time, I was surprised to find that some of the poems were written before the COVID-19 pandemic. The collection itself feels very of the pandemic (and the dominos were being set years before we realized what was being set up). Given that one of the collection’s themes is chronic illness, and the pandemic is the albatross around all our necks, how did the pandemic affect the writing of these poems for you?
Nikki Reimer (NR): I have lived with chronic illness most of my life so it’s the uneven ground through which my poems emerge. Climate change and my father-in-law’s cancer were the central concerns for me before the pandemic started, as was the concept of the alienated, singular subject. After the pandemic started, we moved to the small town where my father-in-law passed away, and we stayed there for a year and a half managing his affairs. This setting, safer from COVID exposure but windy and lonely, heightened a sense of paranoid isolation, driving the book’s search for a collectivity that is impossible to achieve.
BB: You mention in the notes section that No Town Called We was written between 2018-2022. When you first began writing in 2018, did you have a certain plan in mind for the collection, or was that focused on each singular poem in the moment? Did the collection’s intent change?
NR: I did not, I was just writing. I find it hard to start from a singular project focus and not end up somewhere else entirely, which to me is one of the nicer things about being a poet. I have my workaday life for singular focus. Poetry is the space where I work shit out, as it were.
BB: I’m always fascinated by how poets format their poetry. The poems in No Town Called We vary a lot in different formats. When you’re writing, how do you decide the formatting for a specific poem? Is it based on rhythm, instinct, etc?
NR: It depends. Some poems with more narrative slippage seem to want to be prose poems. Sometimes it’s driven by rhythm. Formatting often gets worked out in the editing stage, based on mouthfeel.
BB: There are a few poems that just end mid-sentence, like ‘Goodnight Capital’, on pg. 9. The lack of periods at the end of poems also contributes to a feeling of some poems petering out, while also containing a distinct mood or idea. When do you decide to break punctuation rules in order to enhance a poem?
NR: I see those more as abrupt cuts, rather than petering out. Like a movie that ends mid-scene, and the audience is left piecing it together on their own.
BB: Maybe it was because the line “i hate narrative” in ‘So What’ (pg. 16), was capitalized, but it really stood out to me during my second read through. How do you, as a poet, take poems with similar themes into something that feels more structured than a collection while still being a collection of poetry? If not narratively structured, what helps you make a series of poem feel thematically coherent? What helped you make No Town Called We into a poetry collection that built on itself?
NR: Every writer has certain themes, troubles or itches that they return to again and again. The impossibility of the city. The impossibility of the body. The relentless grind of capital. The desire to resist. These are the building blocks.
BB: There’s a loose sense of time in No Town Called We, where everything blends together into a state of limbo. Occasionally there will be a date mentioned, usually 2019. I found that it both grounded the poem as well as interrupted it, reminding the reader that time itself continues to exist. When did you determine when was the best moment to introduce those dates for the best impact?
NR: I think those dates are just the when of the text.
BB: I really love how you used the white space in the iLL symbolic section, and how the formatting differs from all the other poems in No Town Called We. It really stands out and I love how the space makes the reader pay close attention to what is and isn’t being said, adding to that floating, liminal space. This ties into question 3, but why did you decide to format the iLL symbolic section?
NR: “the iLL symbolic” is my attempt to write a poetics of migraine. Symptoms of migraine include a sense of groundlessness, floating, liminality, being either too embodied or being decoupled from one’s body. The spacing of “the iLL Symbolic” section is meant to enact that sensation upon the page.
BB: How did you decide on the chapters/sections of No Town Called We? Did they come first or after all the poems had been written?
NR: My substantive editor, good friend and poet Danielle LaFrance, was my substantive editor for this book. I had been struggling with the shape of it as a whole; Danielle and I laid all the pages out on my floor and pulled and shaped them into segments that spoke to each other, while my cat Chandler stomped through the scene and stretched his magnificent self over the paper.
BB: You quote a lot of other poetry within your own poems of No Town Called We. When you’re choosing to quote/build on a different poem and make it fit your themes/ideas, how do you choose them?
NR: Nicole Markotić says that the best response to a poem is another poem. The best poems inspire immediate reinterpretation.