In the Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Karleigh Frisbie
1. Tell us about your CNF pieces in Volume 21: “Punk House,” “Two Piece,” and “The Basin Set.” How did they come to be?
I wrote “Punk House” at a small poetry retreat up in Washington, on the coast. I went with two women I was only loosely acquainted with. There was something slumber-partyish about that weekend that reminded me of my youth, about sleeping in unfamiliar beds, falling in love with friends, semi-platonically, and becoming expeditiously intimate with near-strangers. “The Basin Set” evolved from a swatch of a longer essay I’d written after my parents’ house burned down in the October 2017 Northern California firestorm. Most of it is based on a photograph and a newspaper clipping, neither of which exist anymore. A couple of summers ago I was walking through my neighborhood and passed a twelve- or thirteen-year old girl in a tube top and lipstick. She reminded me of a specific time, an awkward time. That’s where “Two-Piece” came from.
2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away, or stop reading a piece of writing?
I’m most drawn to language in writing—the diction and the syntax. Its music, its connotations, its ambiguities or precision. Form and content are important too, and I tend to favor those pieces that surprise me or even bewilder me. I am turned off by predictability. If I come across a cliché in something I’m reading I’m tempted to put it down. I don’t though. I want to be proven wrong.
3. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing?
I read Christine Schutt’s A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer on a flight to Philadelphia. I haven’t been the same since. Every sentence is so rich. She is a master of language. Virginia Woolf is the original risk-taker, my forever favorite. Maggie Nelson, Sarah Manguso, Noy Holland, Jorie Graham, Leni Zumas, Jenny Erpenbeck—I have so many favorites that all influence me in their different ways.
One of the poetry classes I took in my MFA used Mark Doty’s The Art of Description as the textbook. It’s one of those slim, perfect Graywolf books. I go back to that time and time again. “To yoke,” Doty says, “within a single figure, the vegetal and the made, or the hard and the soft, or the tiny and the immense, is a means of bringing energy into language through the unexpected collision of elements that seem to meet only in the mind, in the framing field of thinking.” This energy is what I am after, an “unexpected collision” that engages the reader’s (and my own) mind by its syzygies, its disparate components that create tension that is outside of plot or point.
4. Do you practice any other art forms? If so, do these influence your writing and/or creative process?
I sew and I’m not very good at it despite having studied apparel design for a year. I’m impatient and sloppy, I cut corners wherever I can. But I love doing it. I turn hideous cast-offs or discount fabric into my wardrobe. There’s such a joy in making the ugly pretty, in rescuing something destined for a landfill. I think there’s a related practice here, between my sewing and my writing. In the same way that an unlikely garment or a cheap material can surprise me in its applications, words, used new and unexpectedly, make me excited. This is all a metaphor for possibility.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a memoir about wildfires and drug addiction and control and lack of control and god.
Follow Karleigh on Instagram.