Every time a new book comes out from Publishing Genius, the author is interviewed by the author of the previous PGP book. I’m pleased to present a bunch of questions that Edward Mullany (author of Figures for an Apocalypse) posed to Melissa Broder (author of SCARECRONE). —Adam Robinson
EDWARD: Can you talk about the figure of the “Scarecrone” as she relates to your book as a whole? What is her significance?
MELISSA: The Scarecrone personifies my fears around time, death, and the loss of physical beauty / sexual desirability. She is a dry succubus, a cautionary tale of the inevitable and the perceived inevitable. She is a mirage. But she is a powerful mirage. She is dangerous in her unreality. She may have something wise to teach. On a social level, one might say she is the ghosts of discarded women in a culture obsessed with youth, though this book doesn’t really fuck with culture, because I don’t really fuck with culture. I fuck with me, mostly, and my own obsession with youth. I fuck with time. I fuck with fucking. Also death.
To your mind, is the difference between “the inevitable and the perceived inevitable” a significant one? What is that difference?
I made the distinction here, because death is (historically) inevitable, whereas time’s slow, cruel drain on my worth as a human being is a perceived inevitability. Where did I get this fear that to grow old is to become worthless? Did I get it from culture? From my mother? From nature? It isn’t a truth in the way that death is a truth. And intellectually, I know it’s not a truth at all. But to me, on a visceral level, it’s a very real fear. And it dictates a lot of my actions. And I can probably make it true if I believe it enough, or at least I can will my own misery. So I guess I’d say that the inevitable and the perceived inevitable are different, but that one’s reality and one’s perceived reality are the same.
You mention that the Scarecrone can be understood as a sort of succubus. Does this suggest that your poems are concerned as much with the supernatural, or spiritual, as they are with the physical? Or does it suggest something else?
I tend to negate the value of the physical world and reach for realms of fantasy, the imagined, the spiritual. I think that’s because I’ve always found it difficult to live in a body and sought union with something bigger than me for relief. It’s that tension between soul and body that compels me to write poetry. If I could choose my ideal god it would be a god that protects me from pain, from people, from life–a god that makes me feel blissed 100% of the time. It would basically be heroin, except it wouldn’t be a false god, because I wouldn’t be dependent on anyone or anything for it. And I would never come down. And believe me when I say that I have tried to make many tangible things into this god. And believe me when I say that you always come down. I mean, I have had a lot of those peak experiences in life–those ecstatic whoa moments that feel lotusy and like I imagined ‘spirituality’ would be. I am a succubus for those moments. But I’ve found that even when they aren’t attached to a drug or a lover or a guru or X or Y, they aren’t sustainable. But then there is this other kind of spirituality that is tangible, not as showy, the kind that works through people, action based, pause-based, stillness, quiet moments of gratitude for nothing, a not-reaching for glitter, a more Earthy spirituality, laughter. Its lack of glitter, its humanity, is counterintuitive to me. And it is exactly what I need. It has been instrumental in keeping me on the planet.
Sexual appetite, or need, is strong in the voices in your poems. Could you talk about this?
Yes. These are some horny poems. But is it a sexual need or is it spiritual/creative need disguised as sexual need? Are they the same? Is it both? I’m not sure. There are so many different kinds of holes to fill, not just physical. It’s a lot easier to try and plug those holes sexually than it is with stillness. Like who wouldn’t rather go to a beautiful face for solace than sit quietly? And maybe that’s ok. But at some point it’s going to hurt really badly. Because lovers don’t comply with fantasy. Reality doesn’t comply with fantasy. That sucks. That still surprises me. People aren’t infinite peace like the power is infinite peace, which ultimately, is what I am in it for. To be ok. To feel ok. So heartbreak comes. The heartbreak that is the death of a fantasy. But knowing this, having experienced this many times, I keep going there anyway. Maybe this time it will be god. And more want comes. And more pain comes. And then I surrender and grace comes and the poems come. And the poems are grace, pure grace, even if there are dicks in them. God likes when I am writing poems. And I know it’s god because the holes get filled and the poems don’t hurt me after. But then there is time. And I look away from the poems. And the holes empty again. And I want to fill them. And I want to fill them quickly. And I press repeat.
One of my favorite lines from your book is from the poem, “The Saint Francis Prayer Is A Tall Order”. The poem ends like this:
To be a saint is to be courageous
about the pursuit of what?
I have a pretty mouth.
Meet me at the black clock.
There is something provocative in this. But I’m not sure how to describe it without diminishing the poem’s complexity. Let me just say it puts me in mind of the William Blake line (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell): “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. Could you talk a little about this?
In terms of religion, I wasn’t raised to have any hangups or guilt about sex. So I don’t see spirituality and sexuality as warring forces in that sense. But in terms of an addiction model, I know that I am inclined to try and fill an insatiable longing (or holes, as I call them in my last answer) with glittery, tangible stuff. And sex is some of that glittery, tangible stuff. Sex for sex’s sake is beautiful. But for me, having sex to fill a bigger chasm usually only doubles the chasm. And sometimes I don’t care. I am willing to double the chasm if it means a temporary filling, or illusion of filling. And that’s what this poem is doing. It’s saying fuck it. Let’s fix now. Sate me.
What, to you, is an appealing characteristic of human beings?
A good sense of humor.
How would you characterize SCARECRONE’s relationship to your previous books? Do you see it as a progression? A departure? Something else?
The difference between the texts is definitely physical. MOTHER came from the head. It was syllabic and form-driven and clever. And I am so over clever. MEAT HEART was sort of a hybrid, where I took it out of the head and brought it deeper into the body. Maybe the heart, actually. SCARECRONE came from even deeper places, somewhere between the neck and the genitals, also the third eye and this place above the head. I’ve learned how to clear the channel. I’ve learned how to get out of my own way more. I’m still not great at that in life, but I’m happy with where my poetry is headed. The stuff I’ve written since SCARECRONE I feel like I don’t even want to use language anymore, just like burbles and whitespace or something.
I was watching a movie last night, and one of the characters, a film producer, said to his friend, in a conversation about casting, “Unhappy people can act well”. Because they were trying to decide who to give a role to, after an audition. And I’m just wondering what you think about that. If someone was to suggest to you that unhappiness is usually involved in the creation of art, what would you think, or say?
I act as though I believe that you don’t have to suffer to make art. Like, I take daily actions in my life to move towards the light, in spite of how I might feel or mistakes I make. Something in me really wants to live. But I will say that I am way more compelled to write poems when I don’t get what I think I want than when I do.