Ribbons of Physicality: A Conversation with Nain Christopherson ✺

Nain Christopherson & Ruoyu Wang

Interviews

Ribbons of Physicality: A Conversation with Nain Christopherson ✺

Ruoyu: Nain, it is such a delight to read your work! Your lines are so funny and personable and full of voice; I especially love how surreal your imagery is and the way it toes the line of plausibility. “How eternity roils / under the horizons of skin,” “I’ve been an armful / of the longest leaves,” “shed[ding] onion-fat tears”... The speaker’s exhaustion, their frustration, their petulance—these feelings stretched into forms that are larger than ourselves. I’m interested in how you balance an almost ironic self-consciousness in the speaker’s voice with the expansiveness of their emotions.


Nain: I love this question, largely because it comes as a surprise! In my actual emotional life, I guess I do think about how to walk the line between embracing my feelings and tempering them—but when I wrote the first draft of “Irises,” I was thinking primarily about images. I’d just seen Van Gogh’s 1890 painting, at the MET, of a bouquet of irises flailing kind of recklessly—horizontally, almost—out of a round white vase, and was floored and really moved by the visual abundance of the flowers and their rich colors. And then I had all these snippets of imagery stored in my Notes app: the smashed dragonfly, the tree chandelier, the tears, etc. I approach most of my writing these days by trying to arrange images together so they reveal something to me, rather than by trying to make a poem or its body of images express a preconceived idea or feeling. In other words, it’s exciting to me that you see a tension in this piece between expansiveness and self-consciousness or self-regulation, because I didn’t plan for that! But I agree it’s there—it’s what the images in “Irises” have pointed out to me about myself.




Ruoyu: In “Irises,” you navigate themes of disruption and shock and inconsistency. What is so lovely to me, nonetheless, is the way these instances of annoyance come to serve as the reliable grounding for the poem themselves. You write, “imagine / if they knew I have always existed”; how, “sometimes / I whisper hit me,” how “sometimes, I’m glued / in place.” For you, to what extent are change and continuity dependent on each other? How do they coexist, and how does this manifest in your choice of language? 


Nain: In my high school physics class, we watched a documentary once that showed what it would look like to roll dice in 4D—where every new position remains in physical contact with the last, so the dice create these ribbons of physicality as they move through time… I’m obviously botching this explanation of the fourth dimension, but sometimes I think about myself changing in terms of that visual: if I’m different now than I was a year ago, or ten, or ten minutes, I’m still very literally connected to those other versions or copies of myself. We’re still in contact. In “Irises,” maybe this idea shows up in my use of repetition—“sometimes,” “look at you;” on some level, I’m pointing to different iterations of what’s essentially the same feeling, in that it’s in constant contact with these other moments, of trying to fully inhabit my humanity even as other people’s understandings of me are inevitably partial or flat in some ways.




Ruoyu: Could you tell me about one piece of art—this could be anything from other poems to TV show scripts—that has been deeply formative in creating the spaces your work exists in? In what ways does it continue to compel you towards new understandings? 


Nain: Last year a friend lent me his copy of Nine Gates, a book of essays by Jane Hirshfield on “entering the mind of poetry,” as she puts it in the subtitle. She talks a lot about allowing images and metaphors to create meaning (as opposed to reflecting meaning, in my understanding). And in one essay, she writes, “Learning to trust the possible and to accept what arises, to welcome surprise and the ways of the Trickster, not to censor too quickly—all these are lessons necessary for a writer.” Of course, as writers we also want to be in control of the language—but Hirshfield’s essays, and the work of Bashō, especially, and the other poets she examines in Nine Gates have given me permission to trust my instincts and my images and to lean into strangeness in my work. ✺

Read the piece here.


Nain Christopherson

Nain Christopherson (she/her) lives, writes, and teaches high school language arts and creative writing in Salt Lake City. Her poems have been featured or are forthcoming in The Shore, Scribendi, and The Exponent II.


Twitter: @nainchris

Instagram: @nainchris


Tip the author through Venmo @Nain-Christopherson



Ruoyu Wang | Interviewer

Ruoyu Wang (王若雨) is based in Washington state, where they enjoy cold walks. An Adroit Prizes commended winner in poetry, their work appears in The Shore, Sine Theta, COUNTERCLOCK, and elsewhere. Find them at their website.


Published

Mar 16, 2024

Ribbons of Physicality: A Conversation with Nain Christopherson ✺

Nain Christopherson & Ruoyu Wang

Interviews

Ruoyu: Nain, it is such a delight to read your work! Your lines are so funny and personable and full of voice; I especially love how surreal your imagery is and the way it toes the line of plausibility. “How eternity roils / under the horizons of skin,” “I’ve been an armful / of the longest leaves,” “shed[ding] onion-fat tears”... The speaker’s exhaustion, their frustration, their petulance—these feelings stretched into forms that are larger than ourselves. I’m interested in how you balance an almost ironic self-consciousness in the speaker’s voice with the expansiveness of their emotions.


Nain: I love this question, largely because it comes as a surprise! In my actual emotional life, I guess I do think about how to walk the line between embracing my feelings and tempering them—but when I wrote the first draft of “Irises,” I was thinking primarily about images. I’d just seen Van Gogh’s 1890 painting, at the MET, of a bouquet of irises flailing kind of recklessly—horizontally, almost—out of a round white vase, and was floored and really moved by the visual abundance of the flowers and their rich colors. And then I had all these snippets of imagery stored in my Notes app: the smashed dragonfly, the tree chandelier, the tears, etc. I approach most of my writing these days by trying to arrange images together so they reveal something to me, rather than by trying to make a poem or its body of images express a preconceived idea or feeling. In other words, it’s exciting to me that you see a tension in this piece between expansiveness and self-consciousness or self-regulation, because I didn’t plan for that! But I agree it’s there—it’s what the images in “Irises” have pointed out to me about myself.




Ruoyu: In “Irises,” you navigate themes of disruption and shock and inconsistency. What is so lovely to me, nonetheless, is the way these instances of annoyance come to serve as the reliable grounding for the poem themselves. You write, “imagine / if they knew I have always existed”; how, “sometimes / I whisper hit me,” how “sometimes, I’m glued / in place.” For you, to what extent are change and continuity dependent on each other? How do they coexist, and how does this manifest in your choice of language? 


Nain: In my high school physics class, we watched a documentary once that showed what it would look like to roll dice in 4D—where every new position remains in physical contact with the last, so the dice create these ribbons of physicality as they move through time… I’m obviously botching this explanation of the fourth dimension, but sometimes I think about myself changing in terms of that visual: if I’m different now than I was a year ago, or ten, or ten minutes, I’m still very literally connected to those other versions or copies of myself. We’re still in contact. In “Irises,” maybe this idea shows up in my use of repetition—“sometimes,” “look at you;” on some level, I’m pointing to different iterations of what’s essentially the same feeling, in that it’s in constant contact with these other moments, of trying to fully inhabit my humanity even as other people’s understandings of me are inevitably partial or flat in some ways.




Ruoyu: Could you tell me about one piece of art—this could be anything from other poems to TV show scripts—that has been deeply formative in creating the spaces your work exists in? In what ways does it continue to compel you towards new understandings? 


Nain: Last year a friend lent me his copy of Nine Gates, a book of essays by Jane Hirshfield on “entering the mind of poetry,” as she puts it in the subtitle. She talks a lot about allowing images and metaphors to create meaning (as opposed to reflecting meaning, in my understanding). And in one essay, she writes, “Learning to trust the possible and to accept what arises, to welcome surprise and the ways of the Trickster, not to censor too quickly—all these are lessons necessary for a writer.” Of course, as writers we also want to be in control of the language—but Hirshfield’s essays, and the work of Bashō, especially, and the other poets she examines in Nine Gates have given me permission to trust my instincts and my images and to lean into strangeness in my work. ✺