Enter Rachel Mckibbens’ blud, from Copper Canyon Press, a collection which touches the sensitive degrees of a woman who grew up in a family that held dysfunction as close to their hearts as a major award. Mckibben’s commanding yet misfit-y verse flows like a creek cutting through distressed memories with an eagerness and a bold poise.
(Excerpt from “Salvage”)
I have learned to need the body
I spent years trying to rid the world of
have learned to cherish its pale rebel hymn
warped by ghost heat, carried, carried,
by all my loyal dead.
DC Life Magazine: How did blud come to be?
Rachel McKibbons: I have always been writing blud. Many of these poems have been with me so long it’s hard to remember writing them, while others were visceral and immediate, written weeks before the final draft went to print. The poems in blud have been orbiting me for more than a decade. I spent a lot of time avoiding it, out of both fear and insecurity. If you’re going to write a book that speaks on mental illness, queer identity, physical/sexual violence and the weight of inheritance, you have to feel in your cells that you are ready for such a task.
DC: There’s a vibe of touching familial legacies in this collection. Can you expand on this?
RM: I come from a self-hating Mexican family who were shamed out of learning to cherish their lineage. It’s such a devastating form of erasure, a brutal disconnection. One of the things that occur when you write about immediate origins & your childhood is that the larger history starts to insinuate itself. We can’t tell our stories without connecting to a larger, historical sense. When your people decide it is time to speak, let them speak.
DC: Do you think blud is helping to make a statement for women of all backgrounds?
RM: This is a book about and for survivors. Of course, it is likely women and femmes who will recognize a lot of their own struggles within the book, but sorrow and grief and redemption are universal. That said, I definitely approached these poems with a vibrant, more feral feminity than I have in previous works. It took a long time to get comfortable in this body, to shed my own internalized misogyny and feel empowered by who I am in the world.
DC: Is there a line from any of these poems that leaves a particular
dent with you even to this day? If so, why?
RM: All the dents came before the poems. There is a line in “Glutton” that destroys me every time I have to read it aloud, but that line is what I’ve chosen to give. That’s the craft. The why of it remains all mine.
DC: How do you go about your personal writing process?
RM: Ha! I have to chuckle at that because I always think every book is my last book until the next one comes along. I once wrote a chapbook in 24 hours, during a grief fit, and have a tendency to hammer out dozens of poems in one sitting, then spend years revising. A poem I wrote recently took six years to write. I attempted it over and over and just couldn’t nail it down. I had to forget about it, then return to it with a fresh perspective. I am not very disciplined, I don’t have anything like a daily writing routine. I rarely have free time. I’m a mother of five, I own a bar, I run a reading series and a writing retreat. Writing takes a backseat to all of that, but also, all of those things help nurture me as a writer, so it balances out. I’ve always been able to write in the middle of chaos, to claw my way out of something, so if I have to, I will.
DC: If you could send this book to anyone, with the guarantee that they
would read this and absorb it, who would that be?
RM: Some days I can’t even absorb this book. I am happy that people have read it, and that it has opened up conversations about mental health awareness. So many of us who live with mental illness feel isolated & untethered to the world. This country doesn’t know how to talk about it in a way that allows people to remain people. We are so much more than data and hyperbole.
The most unlikely person to read this is my estranged mother. I don’t know what kind of reading comprehension level she’s at, but I know she’s outraged by this book, without having read it. She’s written horrible reviews about it, has made many attempts to publicly shame me for it and I think, if she were to truly sit down and receive the poems and recognize herself in them, she’d have a better chance of healing. Accountability is medicinal. To deny it is to remain a wound.
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Cultural and Poetry Editor