Danielle Susi's "Pareidolia", first featured in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Agave Magazine, is just one of twelve powerful poems that, bundled together in Danielle's first chapbook, The Month In Which We Are Born (Dancing Girl Press), form a piercing examination of identity and how we evolve through experience. In celebration of her new publication, we spoke with Danielle about how The Month In Which We Are Born came to life.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: The poems in The Month In Which We Are Born deal with the fluidity and fragility of identity; did you consciously choose to address this theme or did it emerge organically?
DANIELLE SUSI: That emerged organically. I had just moved to Chicago from New England and it was very strange for me. I didn't know who I was in this new place and what value I had to add to the city. I was discovering new roles for myself and I was scared and lonely for awhile.
AM: Tell us about the period in which you wrote the twelve poems featured in your chapbook. Did you write the poems as a series or collect them together afterwards? What were you reading and listening to at the time?
DS: The transition from New England to Chicago was difficult. I was thinking a lot about a life I had left and what my youth had been like. These poems have three phases for me: urgency, confrontation, and elegy.
I didn't write any of these as a series, but began to recognise them as thematically connected after I had all of it together. I didn't think I realised how much I had been mourning my childhood until I saw that I was writing about it so frequently. In a way, these poems are "place poems", identifying very much with the bridge between place and what current experience sparks thought of the past.
In a way, the poems are also about my younger brother. He went to college at the same time I moved to Chicago and I knew his transition was difficult as well. I don't often see memories of my childhood without him in them so when I was writing about those memories I knew that he must have been mourning them too. He's even in the title, too. That "We" is he and I. We were both born in August.
Hadara Bar-Nadav's incredible book Lullaby (with exit sign) was a huge influence in the making of this work. I was also listening to a lot of Volcano Choir and Lorde and Paul Simon and thinking about what words they used to describe place and location-specific emotion.
AM: Do you have a favourite poem in The Month In Which We Are Born?
DS: "Ode to Absorption" is one of my favourite poems I've ever written. It's pretty different from the others in the chapbook because it talks less about autobiographical experience and centers around what it means to reflect that experience we take in. This poem is the light. The reveal.
AM: Which poem was the hardest to write?
DS: Probably "Bitter". It's the shortest poem, but it went through so many revisions. I worked so hard to make it reflect this immediacy of needing to try something and discover something as a child. It tends to be one of the favourite poems among those who have read the chapbook, so maybe I did something right there.
AM: Leonardo da Vinci believed that pareidolia was a helpful phenomenon for artists. How can writers benefit from finding arbitrary meaning in common circumstance? Have you had instances of pareidolia that have been significant for your poems?
DS: Certainly. I think writers can benefit from this type of experience as a means to tap into the subconscious and to reveal images or ideas that wouldn't have been available to them otherwise. In the poem the speaker is recalling this notion of having several separate instances of believing to have seen popular culture icons like Morgan Freeman, John Lennon, and Fiona Apple in public settings and then realising they weren't the person the speaker thought they were. In the end, the speaker makes the same mistake but thinks the seen person is the speaker's mother. This poem, too, is about identity and not only how we think others are who they are not, but how sometimes we see ourselves as someone different from who we really are.