Carrie Murphy's book FAT DAISIES made me rethink what I thought I knew about poetry. I mean, this book. It's confident and celebratory in its vision of the world, and it makes you wonder why you haven't been reading poetry like this your whole life.
Not to mention, Carrie is a fellow dog enthusiast, so, you know. I'm sold.
I'm glad I got the chance to talk to Carrie about this wonderful book and her unfathomably cute dachshunds. Stay tuned for her tips on how to write with humor and purposeful abandon, why pop culture is a necessary touchstone in poetry, and how feminism guides her life and work.
But first, some background: Carrie Murphy is the author of the poetry collections FAT DAISIES (Big Lucks, 2015) and Pretty Tilt (Keyhole Press, 2012) as well as the chapbook, Meet the Lavenders (Birds of Lace, 2011). She received an MFA from New Mexico State University. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Carrie works as a teacher, freelance writer, and doula in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is a member of the Dirt City Writers collective and lives with her husband and two dachshunds Pablo and Dolly.
As a Pomeranian person who has a hard time picturing her life without their fuzzy little fox faces, I have to ask: is there a specific reason you’re drawn to dachshunds?
Dachshunds are the best! I love their loving and fiery personalities. Plus, they are just SO DAMN cute. I melt whenever I look at doxie pics. My husband and I will sometimes Google "dachshund videos" and just laugh and laugh. They're amazing to look at.
You mentioned that Pablo is named after Neruda and Dolly after Dolly Parton. Do your pups take on any traits of their namesakes?
Ha, I wish! I don't know that they could really take on traits of those specific people. Like, would Dolly be musical? Would Pablo write love poems? But Pablo definitely has a big nose, like Neruda!
I can’t remember the last time I read a poetry collection that made me laugh as genuinely as FAT DAISIES does – the kind of laughing you do when the joke reveals something unshakably true about yourself. When your dogs slink into your poems, is this the influence of environment or helping your readers see some of themselves in your work? Both?
I would say it's definitely more about my environment. I work from home, so I spend a lottttttt of time with my dogs (seriously, my Snapchat is like 3/4 videos of them), and they're a huge part of my emotional life. So if they make their way into my writing, it's from a genuine place, something that comes out of my own daily experience.
“When I'd let a little humor sneak into my poems and didn't immediately kill it out of fear, writing became a lot more fun.”
Your best advice for an overly serious poet who wants to take a stab at writing something humorous? Totally not asking for me.
Relax!! When I realized poetry didn't have to be this whole big serious DEAL, when I'd let a little humor sneak into my poems and didn't immediately kill it out of fear, writing became a lot more fun. Just don't overthink it and it'll probably work. You might have to unlock some parts of yourself to let it in, but it'll be worth it.
In “I Am the King of My Own Life,” a poem that follows the speaker’s rapid-fire association game, you write:
The dried-up Ss of worm bodies on the sidewalk freak me out
My dog licks them
My dog is the best thing in my life
Better than food or sex or money
I accidentally eat my dog’s tiny hairs every day but I never feel sad
(Side note: the ability to endure eating dog hair is, in my humble opinion, a good litmus test for love.) How did you land on making the dog the first associative leap the poem makes?
This is probably not the answer you're wanting, but I don't really know! That poem was in many ways a stream-of-consciousness type poem, where I just let my gut lead me into the next thought / image. I sat down and kind of yielded to the spark, if you know what I mean, and followed it wherever it wanted to go. And it went a lot of places (that poem mentions my dog, Pablo, but also Heath Ledger, and gentrification, and grief, and a whole mess of other topics). That was one of the first poems I wrote for FAT DAISIES that I felt was happening in a new voice, a new register—something less tight and controlled than the poems I was writing before. I remember after I wrote it I was like "....what just happened?" It's still, to this day, the longest poem I've ever written.
“No matter what's going on in culture, we're still here, humans with our big dirty hearts, trying to live and love and process and exist.”
Whether you’re writing about the comments section or running marathons, pop culture (from Katy Perry and “Remix to Ignition” to Peggy Olsen) plays a key role in fleshing out Fat Daisies’ voice. I know some poets tend to shy away from these kinds of allusions for fear of “dating” their work, but it can be such a useful point of reference. This is a long way of asking: let’s hear an argument for pop culture’s place in poetry.
I'd like to know why people think that pop culture doesn't have a place in poetry! I'm completely uninterested in reading or writing poetry that is divorced from the actual things that are actually happening, the sights and sounds and feelings and fuckings and everything else of the life we're living HERE, NOW, TODAY. That's not to say that the canon isn't the canon for a reason, or that poetry that's timeless doesn't have a place, but I think you can write about Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian or whoever / whatever, and link those cultural references to ideas and thoughts that are still deeply and uniquely human, something that someone in 2050 would still read and say, "I get this, this speaks to me." No matter what's going on in culture, we're still here, humans with our big dirty hearts, trying to live and love and process and exist, you know?
Who knows, maybe the person in 2050 will have to look up who Kim Kardashian is / was, but having specific cultural references adds another layer of meaning that's worth it, to me. The timeless "white snow on a brown bough" type of poetry might be able to speak to us down the ages without much translation, but I live in 2016 and want my white snow to be trodden on by LL Bean boots and I want my brown bough to be like, cut up and used in an artisanal table that sells for $3,000 in some haute hippie store.
“I am always, on some level, in the bigger picture, writing about being a woman and what it means to have a female body and how to manage / negotiate that.”
How has being a feminist and a doula informed what you write about / how you write it? I’m thinking specifically about the poems in FAT DAISIES where you reference white people / girls (e.g., “Universal”: “When you say everyone, meaning everyone, do you really mean / white people?), body acceptance (in “Moon Chart”: “I refuse / to hate / my body”), and the anxiety around the decision to have children (“The End of Antennas”: “Why should I want to bring a baby into this world / where we’re running out of water / & we’re running out of time?”).
It's impossible for me to separate my feminism from my writing, and my feminism from my work as a doula, and indeed, to separate my feminism from any of the work I want to do in the world. I am always, on some level, in the bigger picture, writing about being a woman and what it means to have a female body and how to manage / negotiate that—because we still live in a culture that is profoundly misogynistic (and racist, and sexist, and paternalistic, and on and on...). Being involved in birth has given me a different perspective on a litany of things in my life, including feminism itself, but that's honestly a topic for an entirely other interview... I have way more to say than you probably have space for on your website!
What are your best tips for writing a political poem that you would ostensibly read at a bar?
Whatever you write, mean it. Mean it really fucking hard.
One reason dogs are good poetry fodder? And a follow-up: how have your dogs helped you write?
Dogs are good poetry fodder because everything is good poetry fodder! They're also very grounding, right? And poetry can so often be like UP THERE IN THE WORLD OF IDEAS and dogs are always DOWN HERE IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND SLEEP AND BUTT SNIFFING. I think the way my dogs help me write is that they help me access a really simple, micro level of being—like looking at way the fur grows on one of my dogs, touching it, really noticing it, going down into that part of my brain where I'm just being more mindful and sort of letting things wash over me, if that makes sense. Plus, they just give me endless amounts of joy!!
“Whatever you write, mean it. Mean it really fucking hard.”
A simile for your pups?
Dolly is like the most loving and tender piece of Velcro you could ever attach to your body—she wants nothing more than to be near you, loving you as hard as she can, at all times. Pablo is like the teenager who is a little standoffish (he barks A LOT at visitors), but deep down he just wants to cuddle.