Featured Poet: An Interview With Alec Prevett
Updated: Jun 20, 2019
Saddle up, darklings, because it's time to get to know another of our featured writers! Issue 2's featured poet is Alec Prevett: a brilliant, kind (and patient!) writer whose lyricism on the page is by turns endearing and quietly devastating. Check out "Poem With Dysphoria and Nephew," and "Becoming Delicate" here!
Jacqueline Boucher: One of the things that’s the most striking about these pieces is the way that they move on the page. What role does movement and white space play in your work?
Alec Prevett: In workshop, I often hear the critique (usually in response to fiction but to poetry as well) “this takes me out of the piece.” Perhaps this is a familiar experience to you as well. Personally, I’ve always resisted that idea that reading ought to be an illusion we’re wrapped snugly within. I love poems that feel disjointed, unfamiliar, that demand that we learn how to navigate them as we would a forest with no predesignated paths. That flaunt their position as poem. Playing with the spatial aspects of my own poetry allows a sense of personal discovery, but also allows me to control and engineer surprise and the unexpected in ways that feel intentional and inventive. Plus, it’s just fun to take up the right side of the page sometimes! All of these things ultimately contribute to my sense of owning and feeling completely in control of my work.
JB: Both of the poems in this packet have to do with the idea of making, of becoming. Can you speak to the specific metamorphoses you see at play in these pieces?
AP: A lot of my work recently has been concerned with the idea of intentional construction, often of the body but more generally of the self. For years, I’ve wrestled with my gender identity and presentation, and have struggled to find a lens to view myself through. It took a long time before I could recognize myself as not being a cisgender person, and even longer to come to non-binary as an identity that felt comfortable to me. That notion of struggling is really what informed “Poem with Dysphoria and Nephew”—specifically, with accepting or at least acknowledging the inevitability of struggle, and the different ways it can be approached. The grounding scene of the poem is a true one: my nephew loves to build trains, and is so unperturbed when the grand plans he concocts can’t pan out. Watching him plan and fail and plan and fail, over and over and without exhaustion, felt so foreign to my own internal struggles with gender and presentation. That juxtaposition of two people trying and failing to build something they wanted was what really drove me to this poem.
As for “Becoming Delicate,” I don’t really know what to say about that one. I’ve tried a few times now to say something about it that speaks to the question, but all I can come up with is basically the motivation of the poem: what if someone was happy about their teeth falling out? I have had bad teeth all my life, and sometimes that just sounds nice. Simple.
A funny note: that poem used to be very different—second person, traditionally lineated stanzas, very neat and clean. But then I thought, what could be messier than all your teeth falling out?! So then I felt some license to kind of blow the poem to bits. It seems so silly in hindsight, but it took me a long time (and a lot of revision) to realize that it didn’t have to be so clinical and sterile.
Another funny note: The line about the moon—“the banana!”—was also nephew-inspired (the way kids perceive the world really can fuck up your notions of reality in the best way). There was a crescent moon one night, and my oldest sister, his mother, was trying to get him to tell us what kind it was (I guess he’d been learning about the phases of the moon in school around the time). He took a long, thoughtful pause, then turned to us and said “a banana!”
JB: One thing I love about your work is the tension between language of the body and the language of food (“a stale crescent roll,” “a ripe tomato”). Can you discuss what the relationship between those two facets of language looks like for you?
AP: I think the language of food, particularly fruits and veggies, is just so ripe (lol) for juxtaposition with language of the body because our interactions with both are so tactile, dictated by touch. Think of an apple in your hand! How heavy and smooth it is! How vibrant! So much potential.
I also abuse the hell out of comparisons between our skin and the skin/outer layers of fruits and veggies, how the good stuff (metaphorically for us and literally for food) is almost always underneath, hidden—that’s something that resonates a lot with me just as a person. I’m actually working on a chapbook right now where these two facets really mingle together, and that’s been such a blast. I’m hoping that finds a home sometime before the end of the year—there is a lot of work in there that I’m extremely proud of (including both of the poems y’all were so kind as to publish!).
JB: Who are you reading right now that excites you?
AP: Oh, I could provide a hundred answers to this question and still feel unsatisfied.
I just finished Gretchen Marquette’s May Day and I can’t stop thinking about it. The first time I read the collection, the only thing I could think to do was go back to the beginning and read it again. That collection is bursting with evocative, precise, and tender language, and left me feeling like a fuller person than I was before.
I’m not reading them quite yet, but I’m so eager for Paige Lewis’s Space Struck to release in October—their poetry has been a consistent source of awe and inspiration for me. They had a poem come out in Poetry a little while ago called “You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm” which truly challenged what I thought could be done with poetry. I mean, it genuinely floored me, as have so many other of their other poems. Space Struck, like Marquette’s collection, is sure to be among the most powerful and moving ones I’ll have had the opportunity to read in the next few years.
I’ve been struggling to find Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities in a bookstore, but that’s another one I really, really want and am excited to read as well (I could order the book online, but my apartment is notoriously awful about receiving packages, so I try to avoid ordering things in the event that they’re lost, which is the usual result). Chen is one of the best poets today, I think, at surprising the reader with language, both in the sense of making us gasp and also in the sense of just making us softly go “oop.” I find the latter ability to be an especially enviable and delightful quality of Chen’s work.
JB: What’s your favorite bone?
AP: This is technically a bunch of bones, but I love the legs of birds with bones that are hollow. That’s just really wild to me. If I had to pick a single, scientific-sounding one, I’d say the tibiotarsus! Which looks to just be the bird version of a tibia, or so this Wikipedia diagram tells me. Also, in researching this, I discovered that birds are also unique because they typically walk on their toes rather than their feet, which I’d never thought about before! So basically, birds are always ready for ballet.