Julianna DeMicco interviews Samantha Duncan to discuss the inspiration behind her latest poetry collection The Birth Creatures. Read on to learn about Duncan’s cultural and aesthetic influences, her take on the merits of compiling poems as a chapbook, and what prompted her to explore the darker side of pregnancy and childbirth.
JD: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background as an author. How have your personal and cultural backgrounds influenced your writing?
SD: I grew up in a Texas suburb and spent my early writing days getting a lot of that “suburban underbelly” writing out of my system (I wrote a novel that was basically the plot of the show Weeds) before I realized that particular topic wasn’t what I really wanted to explore. I studied fiction writing as an undergrad and am actually pretty new to poetry writing. I’m also just beginning to explore race in my work through my experience as a first-generation mixed race person. Having multiple racial and cultural identities can be challenging to view from a wide enough lens to write about it, so expressing that aspect of myself is very much a work-in-progress.
JD: Which aspects of your life do you feel inspire what you write about? Where did the inspiration come from for the poems in The Birth Creatures?
SD: I always try to keep my mind open to finding inspiration from anywhere, whether it be the news, a dream, or something I see while out walking. If I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about something and the reactions or feelings it causes, I usually do end up considering how it could be expressed creatively, whether in poetry, fiction, or nonfiction.
The Birth Creatures came from a few places. I wanted to reclaim my own postpartum experience, which I felt had been downplayed and not taken very seriously by those around me. I also think not enough is said about how bizarre pregnancy and childbirth are, so I wanted to write something that reflected that.
JD: How would you define your aesthetic? Which other poets have influenced your aesthetic?
SD: I don’t write in a particular style, though my poetry and fiction often gravitate into magical realism territory. Similarly, my poetic tastes vary widely, from Ashbery, Dickinson, and Bishop to Gluck, Baraka, and Sharon Olds to Cate Marvin and Claudia Rankine.
JD: For your book The Birth Creatures, why did you choose a chapbook structure for this project rather than a full-length collection? What do you think are the strengths of a chapbook structure in general?
SD: Chapbooks provide a level of intimacy I felt this book needed—it covers a short and specific time period and the massive changes that can occur in small spaces (a human body and a house). I like that chapbooks allow, and often demand, a tighter focus on one thing, as opposed to full lengths which tend to have multiple themes.
JD: What are your thoughts on how our society talks about women’s bodies and motherhood? In what ways to do you see this book addressing those representations?
SD: Aside from the aesthetic judgments passed on pregnant and post-pregnant bodies, there’s a reluctance to talk about, or even acknowledge, the trauma that pregnancy and childbirth inflicts. The focus is always on the baby, and if the baby is alright, anything the mother is suffering almost becomes irrelevant. I can probably count on one hand the number of women I know who had complication-free experiences with pregnancy and childbirth—it certainly doesn’t seem like the norm. And yet still, the challenges aren’t talked about. I haven’t figured out why this is, but that was another goal with The Birth Creatures – to go down that path and examine that darker side.
JD: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should be watching for?
SD: I’m shopping a flash fiction chapbook called Chaos Theory and am happy to be publishing individual stories from it, as I consider fiction my primary field.
Samantha Duncan is the author of the chapbooks One Never Eats Four (ELJ Publications, 2014) and Moon Law (Wild Age Press, 2012), and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Pinch, Fruita Pulp, Posit, and Flapperhouse. She serves as Executive Editor for ELJ Publications and reads for Gigantic Sequins. She lives in Houston and can be found at planesflyinglowoverhead.blogspot.com and @SamSpitsHotFire.
Julianna DeMicco is a rising senior at Binghamton University. She is currently pursuing a double major in philosophy, politics and law, and English with a concentration in creative writing and global cultures. She is a student leader on her campus and has focused her experiences on a service-based learning mentality. As a vocalist, trumpeter, ukulele player, and poet, she is fascinated by the musicality of poetry and loves to experiment with different rhythms in her own work. In her spare time, she furthers her independent study of Italian, French, and Chinese. In addition, she is pursuing a study of poetry and literature from different eras, specifically those written during the Medieval Era to those written in the Early Renaissance.