The Disjunctive Reasoning of a Delirious Consciousness: An Interview with Kate Marchetto

It's Animal but Merciful contributor Kate Marchetto chats with George Wallace 

Kate Marchetto is a candidate for the Queens University of Charlotte MFA in Creative Writing and has studied with Cathy Smith Bowers, Morri Creech, and Alan Michael Parker. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh. Her poem "Virginia in the Throes of Encephalitic Delirium, 1932" depicts a woman who contracted encephalitis as a young girl, becoming practically dumb, in an exceptional exploration of what she calls "the disjunctive reasoning of a delirious consciousness".

GWFM: The poem you contributed to our collection, "Virginia in the Throes of Encephalitic Delirium, 1932" is big, ambitious, and uses the page in a very distinctive way. Can you talk about your approach to writing this poem?

KM: This is one of my favorite poems that I've written recently. It's actually an example of collaboration with Kyle Page: The "Virginia" of the title was his grandfather's cousin—Kyle related to me a story his grandfather, Kelly Gutshall, had told him of Virginia contracting encephalitis as a young girl, becoming practically dumb, moving in with him and his family during and after her sickness; it was an extensive narrative and goes on long beyond that. Kyle had actually recorded his grandfather talking for 20 minutes so I'd have the story from the source. I started by transcribing the recording—not the best idea without transcription software, as it took about four times the length of the actual recording, but I wasn't sure where to begin. For a few months, I tried to serialize it with poems in the voices of all the actors—Kelly, Virginia, Kelly's mother, Virginia's eventual husband—and none of the poems were succeeding. I went back to the transcript of the recording after a little while and, you know, there's a sort of disjointedness to the way we speak and relate stories, and that coupled with Kelly's description of how Virginia's thought processes were affected by the encephalitis—it took her 10 minutes to get a single thought out, she often didn't know the words for things or got confused easily—led me to explore the disjunctive reasoning of a delirious consciousness. I tried a few different physical forms—free-flowing stream-of-conscious prose, verse lines—and I showed a few versions to Kyle for his input because I didn't like how any of them looked. It was his idea to inject some space in between certain phrases, and I played with creating stanzas/paragraphs with the drop-tab from there. It ended up doing quite a job of imitating the terror I imagine that poor girl felt in her delirium.

GWFM: Pablo Picasso said "To draw, you must close your eyes and sing." Comment.

KM: There is so often a synesthesia to the process of composition. Sometimes I compose poems out loud; I read most of my draft iterations aloud (if my husband's not available, to the dog, although she rarely has anything helpful to say about them...) to attend to the musicality of lines and phrases. Of course I'm going to say that this interconnectedness is more poignant in the literary arts than in other genres, but I do believe that if, as a writer, you aren't attending to sound in your work, you're defrauding yourself of the beauty of the language you're using.

To my mind, this is true for prose forms as well as verse forms--some of my favorite prose works (In the Skin of a Lion and Coming through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje, The Meadow by James Galvin, Maggie Nelson's Bluets) succeed most for me because of their attention to the musicality of language.

GWFM: By the look of your bio, you seem to have strong associations both with North Carolina and Pittsburgh, perhaps via University of Pittsburgh. What place do you call your own?

KM: Of all the places I've lived, Pittsburgh seems to be the one I own most in my heart. I'm from Eastern Pennsylvania and, every time I visit my parents, the little town in which I grew up still has that feel of home in that I know it like the back of my proverbial hand, and I see at least one person I know everywhere I go when I visit. But there's something about Pittsburgh. Maybe it's because that's where I found my voice as an adult writer, because that's where I started cultivating the ideals that shape who I am as a maker of art, because it's the site of my first true independence. I love it, either way.

GWFM: Yet you've worked, lived, studied, traveled in the Carolinas. Must have a lot going for it, for you and more generally.

KM: In one way I’m actually brand new to life in the Carolinas, aside from my time at Queens University of Charlotte—which began in May of 2011. I just moved to Durham from Norfolk, Virginia where my husband was in the Navy; so this is a clean-slate start for our post-military life.

But in another way, I'm not. When I was a child my family vacationed in North Carolina. So in the way that we idealize vacation spots—and also in the way we tend to mythologize places, people, happenings from our childhood—for years I ascribed this sort of transcendent peace to North Carolina.

It hasn't disappointed me yet. There’s so much openness here, both of space and within the hearts of North Carolinians, and even just a sense of open space—of unrestrictedness—does much to clear my head. Also, I put a lot of stock in the vibe of a place, and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle vibes strongly of creativity. That makes a huge difference to me: creating in a place in which I feel that other creativity is happening.

GWFM: Is your poetry grounded by the place you call home?

KM: I don't consider my aesthetic to derive from a geographic community so much as an intellectual community. As an undergraduate, I studied a lot of literary theory in addition to my writing work, and since about 2006 I've been on a constant quest to articulate my own poetics. I've got pieces—I believe in craftedness over inspiration, I distrust metaphor and wish to always call a spade a spade—but there's nothing like a holistic theory of my own.

Of course I do identify in my head and heart a certain place as my home—Pennsylvania. So I think a Northeastern ethos tends to present itself in my work. I'm a very impatient person and I don't care to mince words—I prefer to say what I mean and do so in as few and as precise words as possible. But the ways I think about my own work have developed in conversation with writers and artists of varying backgrounds and histories. My abiding aesthetic principles—precision, sparseness of language, startling images, and most importantly that the reader should have to do a good amount of work herself towards getting at the heart of a poem—have developed themselves through conversation with a long-time friend.

GWFM: Who's Kyle Page and why are you collaborating with him?

KM: Kyle Page is a composer and long-time friend from my hometown. We've done a lot of work together—by which I mean working on separate things at the same time, discussing our work, our goals, our ideas and ideals. The tangible product of all this is the New Fraktur Arts Journal, which we founded in 2010, and the corresponding New Fraktur Press.

Originally, we developed the arts journal as a way to give exposure to some of the people we know who consistently produce great work, and as a way to manifest some of the ideals Kyle and I share: progressive, genre-fluid work; a deep underpinning of thought invested; collaborative community. Obviously, not every piece we've published has hit all these ideals in the crosshairs, but I make exception for truly good work.

The arts journal just produced its fourth issue. Kyle runs much of the press business, and does so on a curated basis; New Fraktur Press has produced a few intensely phenomenal collections. Though the journal continues to function, we've put the press on hiatus for a little bit, but may have a couple of projects out next year.

GWFM: What can the world expect next from Kate Marchetto?

KM: Like most MFA candidates, my thesis is my biggest project right now; if it doesn't become a full-length collection, I hope to expand it to book-length and find it a loving home. After that manuscript is done, I've got a backlog of work spanning the past five years, so I need to revisit much of that and hopefully in doing so I'll be able to compile a second manuscript, maybe within a year after completing the first one. More immediately, New Fraktur's coming up on its fifth issue, and I'm planning on making some pumpkin bread soon. That's not so pertinent to the writing, though, is it?

Kate's poem "Virginia in the Throes of Encephalitic Delirium, 1932" is published in our anthology It’s Animal but Merciful