By Jeana Conder
Abigail Zimmer, alumni from UW-Eau Claire, has just published her first full length book of poetry, girls their tongues. She completed her undergraduate work at UW-Eau Claire before accepting a graduate program at Columbia College in Chicago where she currently resides. She has also published other chapbooks, fearless as I seam and child in a winter house brightening. I got the opportunity to ask Abigail a few questions about her new book and how the Eau Claire area influenced her writing.
CVWG: Is there a recurring theme in girls their tongues?
Abigail: Water appears often. The book begins with rained out performance art and ends with a car's moving windshield wipers. Water as tears/grief, as weather, as form-finding, as a body of water—lakes and rivers—which is a sort of home to me. The poems in this collection are from many different speakers, all women, with undercurrents of loss, an obsession with happiness and measurements, and a need to tell a story, to say simply what it is she sees.
Has your experience living in Eau Claire shaped the content of this book?
Very much so. Eau Claire is where I met and fell in love with my husband, where we heard the diagnosis of cancer, where his family still lives. The long process of grieving him—and my memories of our time together—form the basis of the book. Some time after, I moved to Chicago, a city that I first felt was abrasive and lonely but have come to appreciate the surprising moments of intimacy between strangers—crushed up against each other on the train, good weather or city-wide celebrations calling everyone to the streets. Though unnamed, these two cities are the poems' landscapes.
How does girls their tongues differ from your chapbooks fearless as I seam and child in a winter house brightening?
The chapbooks each function as one long poem that makes or remakes a mythology: fearless as I seam is a series of prose poems that follow the protagonist on a journey through another world, while child in a winter house brightening retells the ugly duckling story with the duckling rescued by an ugly child. The poems in girls their tongues are not as explicitly cohesive, though as a collection they shape an emotional arc of the grieving process, of the disconnect experienced when one is forced to revise her reality. And while some of the poems have elements of the fantastical or pageantry, many chronicle small, everyday moments and interactions in a more personal voice than the chapbooks.
Do you have a poetic style you stick to in this book or did you experiment with various styles?
I don't fully understand the form of a poem I am writing until I am halfway through it, and even then it's often changed in revision, influenced by the forms of other poems in the project or perhaps what I am reading. There are a few long poems in the book in which I attempted to rely on space rather than line breaks for pacing and to convey formally an absence. And there are two series of poems threaded through the book, which repeat the same form. The "portrait" poems are short blocks of text made up of broken phrases to mimic a kind of stuttering, moving toward more fluid prose sentences as the narrator regains speech. The "sisters" poems follow two sisters on a series of adventures involving the high seas, a cooking show, deer hunting, and interior decoration. Keeping the forms the same I hope provides a familiar anchor for the reader, especially for those who don't usually read poems.
Any advice for young writers seeking to do what you do?
Be gentle with yourself! It's okay if you go through times of not writing or if your work keeps getting rejected. Neither are failures. Being on both sides of the author and publisher process, I've realized how rejections do not reflect or define your work. Perhaps the editor enjoyed it but went with another piece or didn't think it quite fit the aesthetics of the press. Perhaps she was in a bad mood and barely looked at it, which is frustrating but does not mean your work is unlovable. I think what ultimately matters is that you become a person who is watching and reading and absorbing and considering until your reflections begin to take a form, whether that's in writing or another creative outlet, whether you write every day or only during specific seasons in your life.
Girls their tongues can be ordered HERE