If you have not read any work by Meg Pokrass, take two minutes and read one of her flash fiction 2 page stories, or maybe the two poems that I have stapled to the end of the interview below. Her nimbleness as an editor in choosing what to leave out and what to delve into is an art. I often find myself rereading her pieces after the first pass and looking at them like magic tricks. How did she get the house to levitate? Make the rings pass through Mt. Rushmore? Land a helicopter on the head of a needle?
“The Loss Detector” is written in her economical style, but is an expansive piece in her canon at fifty pages. The arc of time passing in the story is dreamlike as characters come and go, some just falling away one day as do relations in our own lives.. Will they be back? Where exactly did they go?
I am thrilled to be working with Mark Givens in our pursuit of issuing top drawer works of this nature on our new imprint Bamboo Dart Press. Prouder still to come out of the gate with a bang of a story that haunts me months after reading it. Meg’s “The Loss Detector” is out now via Bamboo Dart Press direct bamboodartpress.com and everywhere on October 22nd. This work strikes me as an epic song that feels like it is 9 minutes long, when in fact it times in at 3:30.
The unquiet mind of mine was thrilled as expectations and cliches were substituted with a realism, unmoved by the possibility of easily dialing up the grandeur or drama in this moving piece. I shit you not, dear reader as I have invested money that I didn’t have in order to put out records for over thirty years that hit at a truth that needed to be taken from the ghostly to the physical, this book does the same for that want. The high of discovery, nothing beats that.
Meg is founding editor of the beloved flash fiction magazine New Flash Fiction Review, founded in 2014. Below is an interview I conducted with Meg a few weeks back.
I see your talent in the arena of editing as your great unsung weapon in relation to your writing. Do you spend much time editing your work, is it second nature to you? It seems to me like such an incredibly unique part of your style, the unsaid.
Thank you so much Dennis. Yes, I’m an obsessive editor but that’s because my stories need it. They’re never right after just one or two drafts. My first drafts can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours to write, but the editing part can (unfortunately) take months and sometimes years to perfect. I’m one of those writers that really has to put a story away and come back to it with new eyes and new eyes and… new eyes.
When editing, is sequencing the flow of pieces important to you or does the stand alone nature of them not require that kind of attention?
The sequencing for a flash novella is quite a fascinating and completely different skillset to writing stories, closer to making a playlist or what I imagine to be true when putting together a record album. It’s like how songs are changed by what comes before and after each one. In this way, the feeling about chapters and their emotional impact are changed by where they are situated and for me, experimentation is the name of the game. I wrote an essay on the craft of sequencing in the anthology My Very End of the Universe, Five Novellas in Flash and a Study of the Form (Rose Metal Press, 2014). It was reprinted and you can read it here in full at Talking Writing.
If you look at the order of the songs on a great album, it’s clear how the impact of a particular song is changed by the song that has come before it or that follows. This is, for me, why records are so addictive. It’s the order of songs and the emotional narrative created by juxtaposition. What that takes us through and how each one changes because of the other. I love how you never quite know exactly how you’re going to feel, no matter how many times you hear a great album, because of that contrast, and how we, as listeners, come to it new at different times in our lives.
As a reader, there is to me a musicality in many of your poems and fiction, does that hold true for you as the writer of these?
I’m a music addict. I can’t write without it. I can’t ride a bike or take walks without music either. I’m afraid I live inside music, perhaps that’s an okay thing. As far as playing an instrument, I never learned one. That is so unfortunate. I can sing (a bit).
Moments of “The Loss Detector” read as memoir, to clarify, memoir for the possible reader. Some of your descriptions of older Southern California hit me right through the sternum.
The similarities between this novella and my own life are clear. I grew up in Santa Barbara, a very long time ago, when it was a very different place (and time). I grew up with a single, working mother and one of my sisters was a film actress. The novella is based on my life, however loosely. The character “Josh”, however, is completely fictional, drawn from my imagination. The funny part is that “Josh” somehow feels more real to me than anyone else in the novella. This was one of the really interesting aspects of writing this piece, how I came to care about this imaginary person so much. The California connection is what drew me to want to work with Bamboo Dart press. I feel that the novella belongs with a California publisher.
I will let Meg Pokrass close with two poems of hers. I sincerely look forward to you reading her work, if you haven’t already, and moving through the next five decades with her.
Extra Terrestrial (originally published in Gone Lawn)
There are no signs of extra-terrestrial life: Only two itchy dogs in the garden. One dog carries a blanket, lies down on it. Ma is sure she saw a spaceship float down into the neglected orchard after martinis last night. I’m on security patrol. My branch of the oak will be comfortable to sit with a pomegranate and an orange. Carrying them in my pockets up to the lookout, scouting for aliens in the leaves. We’ll move as the rent increases, but for now; sour wood sorrel invades our grass, fleas terrorize the dogs, Ma stays in, and I imagine this house belonging to creatures who know what to do about life on Earth.
AMERICA (originally published in RATTLE)
I drive a hummer in America
because it is mighty.
A mighty woman in
a mountainous car.
Nobody can faze me or tousle
my spirit in that impossible thing.
Dreams are primitive pests,
laughable and like stick figure
insects. I swat them away
while reciting the names of African countries.
I imagine speeding over land lumps
with my very best friend,
the two of us laughing about
childish things. I am a child
in America. Later, the phone rings,
it is a telemarketer, the kitchen
is a mess, she has a solution to something.
There are marks up and down my body,
welts like little dead kisses.
Friends think I am sad,
but they don’t know about my plans.
They have never lived in my house,
with that husband, or that friend,
or felt that breeze,
the one that keeps me awake.