Hope Jordan: The topic of Solastalgia – climate change anxiety – is pretty difficult. What was it like for you to spend so much time with it?
Brittney Corrigan: For me, writing is my way of dealing with difficult subject matter. A natural way to deal with all the grief or anxiety I have around climate change or extinction is to write about it, and be immersed in it that way. I feel like it’s important to sit with the darkness and take a hard look at what we’ve done to the planet, and hopefully that inspires people to take more action.
HJ: Tell me about the “blessing” poems?
BC: I meant them to be a celebration of these beings, so my hope with the collection is that even if the subject is tough, there’s a lot of beauty and celebration of these plants and animals we share the planet with. This is my pandemic book. I was one of those people who really thrived during the lockdown. I was lucky; we were all employed but didn’t have a thousand things to do … Right after the 2016 election, a group of friends decided to write together for a month, and we posted them each day to this private blog and commented on them. It was just a way for us to be writing together in this difficult time. In December 2020 I’d already worked on a few poems of this subject matter so I started – picked a different species every day, so that’s where those all came from. I could go on and on writing them …
HJ: I especially love the coyotes in your poems.
BC: I have always loved wildlife. I’ve always had pets and been fascinated with wild animals that have learned to live with us in populated areas. It’s like a funny little mirror, with pets and wild dogs, that these animals have really learned to adapt to these urban areas and thrive. They’re a reminder that we’re in their habitat and they’re kind of thumbing their noses at us. And I kind of love that. And coyotes in particular. Reed College (Interviewer’s note: where Corrigan works) has a protected wildlife area in middle of campus with trails and the path is about a mile loop. Almost every day I walk there on my lunch hour, and one day I was rounding the bend and there’s a coyote standing fifteen feet in front of me on the trail. I just stepped aside and I took a little video. It walked straight toward me until it was about six feet away, then veered off the trail. It was kind of magical to have that experience; I was always the little kid who wanted to touch all the wild animals.
HJ: What was your biggest challenge in putting this collection together?
BC: I have a lot more poems originally that were part of the manuscript that I pulled out. Finding the right balance of poems, interspersing them with poems that were more personal, that had me in them, poems that have my kids in them or my career ones and poems about aging. Finding that balance of which ones to include. (My first version) was too long, had too many pandemic poems. It’s still topical, but maybe all those pandemic poems didn’t belong in there.
One of the other challenges, the editor said it should be in sections, so deciding what the sections were going to be … I had all these different ideas, nocturnal and diurnal, wondering how to best showcase the subject matter and the different spheres of the earth and these topics like the blessings and the triolets and ghost careers/parallel lives …
HJ: Anything else you want to leave us with?
BC: The topic that nature takes things back … knowing that a lot of these beings would be better off without us – I think that’s something I had to grapple with. I had to explore that idea and know they’d be better off without us, and yet have that little bit of hope that we can be stewards, and we belong. What can we do? We’re not getting some of these species back and we’re not reversing climate change. How can we look at this planet as something we share, not something we own or dominate?
Brittney Corrigan is the author of the poetry collections Breaking, Navigation, 40 Weeks, Daughters, and most recently, Solastalgia, a collection of poems exploring climate change, extinction, and the Anthropocene age.
Hope Jordan is the interviews/reviews editor and a poetry editor for The Worcester Review.