An Act of Survival: Interview with Emari DiGiorgio on Girl Torpedo

Jessica Walsh talks with Emari DiGiorgio about her forthcoming collection Girl Torpedo (Agape Editions, 2018) and the spaces we create for survival.

JW: When you look at the book now, what experiences or other influences do you think led to its creation?

ED: Like many poets, my first book The Things a Body Might Become took nearly a decade to write and place, and to be honest, as it continued to bounce along the contest and open reading circuit, it was really hard for me to commit to a new project. I was in the habit of reopening and revising the manuscript every six to eight months. But one fateful July, I was traveling with my daughter and husband in Nicaragua, and hours after we arrived in the country we were robbed while changing a flat tire. In sixty seconds, my backpack with laptop and journals were gone for good, and for the next three weeks, I could not reopen that manuscript. I could not work on anything I had planned to.

My husband had packed a gorgeous leather journal as his anniversary gift to me, and suddenly, I was back to writing by hand and asking myself, “What’s next?” Now that the first book was literally out of my hands, what did I want to work on? What did I need to write?

I was reading Patrick Rosal’s Boneshepards and Natalie Diaz’ When My Brother Was an Aztec (the only books I’d packed that were not stolen), and both of these richly textured and sonically pleasing collections are rooted in personal and cultural history. I don’t think I was aware of writing into my own personal and cultural history at the time, but in retrospect, I can see how they guided me.

Besides being forced to start on the next project, I know that becoming a mother of a girl-child deeply influenced me. Suddenly owning or reclaiming my personal traumas, which I never named, which I never called “assault” or “rape” (as Rachel McKibben’s has discussed, sometimes there’s power in not naming a thing), seemed vitally important.

JW: Girl Torpedo seems to hover and dance in liminal spaces: between fight and surrender, between hope and grief. Even the title creates a tension between two concepts that initially seem incredibly varied: girl and torpedo, a child and a weapon. Do you see the book as arriving at a unification of sorts, or does the gulf remain? Is disappearance the resolution?

ED: I love this question and how you’ve described the book. Girl Torpedo does move between fight and surrender, hope and grief—in part because that has been my own experience and many others’ experience, too. But I also think it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to be or believe solely one thing.

You’ve mentioned disappearance: when someone else causes the erasure, it’s a violent and terrible act, but when a woman makes herself disappear, I recognize it as an act of survival, but sometimes this act perpetuates the existing social order. The book tries to hold space for all of these perspectives.

JW: How do you see Girl Torpedo in the context of the larger cultural conversation/confrontation/reckoning taking place regarding women’s voices and bodies? Is the girl meeting a weapon or becoming one?

ED: I think that Girl Torpedo is part of a lineage of women and non-binary people writing about their voices and bodies. I did not intend for it to launch at the crux of the larger cultural conversation, but I am glad to be contributing to it. I remember this past fall, the day after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, my poem “Where Does the Rabbit Go When the Hounds Are Loosed?” – the poem from which the book title comes – was published in The Collagist, and I watched in amazement at how many people read and shared/re-tweeted it on Facebook and Twitter. This poem interrogates the normalization of sexualizing girls and young women in so-called safe spaces, especially classrooms and mentor-mentee relationships. In that poem and throughout the book, I ask, “Where does a girl torpedo strike/an old battleship? Where’s the love she wants?” She is meeting and becoming a weapon and trying to imagine a life and world where she isn’t trapped in this binary.

JW: What projects are you working on now?

ED: Right now, I’m in that equally exciting and terrifying space of discovering what’s next. I find myself wanting to write into the uncomfortable territory of race, class, and privilege. As an Italian-American woman, I have experienced the privileges whiteness affords, but because I have a dark complexion, I am routinely othered, specifically by whites. I am also interested in writing poems that use the language and tropes of social neuroscience to explore why and what we believe. If this next project is anything like Girl Torpedo, I know that I have a lot of failed drafts ahead of me to unpack my perspective and experience and to discover the language of and entry to each poem. I also have a lot of notes towards a lyric essay about my complicated relationship with Stockton University, of which I am an alumna and where I have been teaching for eleven years.

And I’m not there yet, but I’d like to be writing toward joy.

Emari DiGiorgio is the author of The Things a Body Might Become(Five Oaks Press, 2017). She’s the recipient of Passages North‘s Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, the Southern Humanities Review‘s Auburn Witness Poetry Prize, and a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She’s received residencies from Rivendell Writers’ Colony, Sundress Academy of the Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center. Emari teaches at Stockton University, is a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Poet, and hosts World Above, a monthly reading series in Atlantic City, NJ.

Jessica Walsh is the author of the poetry collection How to Break My Neck, as well as two chapbooks; she is in the process of seeking a home for her second book. She teaches English at Harper, a community college in the Chicago suburbs. Her poetry has appeared in RHINOTinderboxWhale Road Review, and many other journals. She writes and shoots arrows at targets, mostly missing the mark in both but enjoying the effort. She is the Blog Manager for Agape Editions.


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