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Literature : Interview

Dusk: An interview with Arda Collins

by Courtney Maum

Courtney B. Maum and Arda Collins on poetry and Fudgie the Whale.


"Murderer who lives in my building. His name is Dan Bevacqua. He's a fiction writer." - Arda Collins

I met Arda Collins because I had to apologize to her. At a reading she gave last summer at the Bread Loaf writers’ conference, I gasped so loudly during The News that she stopped mid-sentence at the lectern, looked directly at me and said, “No gasping!”

Haunting, inescapable, and frankly, kind of creepy, Arda Collins’s poetry has seemingly little in column with Arda Collins herself. She exudes the kind of self-effacing charm that makes people want to make snow angels. Here’s an example: She showed up for our interview with a jar of homemade tomato sauce as a gift. And yes, I am going to go there, I am going to compare her cooking skills to her verbal deftness: the sauce was complex but abbreviated, with a stunning amount of garlic. I ate it with a spoon.

Arda’s first collection of poetry, It Is Daylight (2009) was awarded the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. Her poetry has illuminated the pages of The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, and jubilat, among others. Currently, she’s a Doctoral candidate at the University of Denver where she’s working on a new manuscript of poetry.

We met in an aptly named bar in Amherst, MA called The Moan and the Dove over two steins of Beer of the Gods and a vegetarian pizza to discuss horseback riding; her daily walks to the pond; her writing process (which involves dancing); and the existential angst in Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Courtney B. Maum I think I mentioned this to you in an email. In order to get at the claustrophobic aspect of your work, these questions will include lines from your own poems in It is Daylight, interspersed with security questions from the Bank of America. So just free associate.

Arda Collins Right on.

CBM You do not arrive on time, or ever.

AC Oh, “Central Park South.” I was like, I know this song! (Long pause). The coffee table is an homage. / He tried to help you remember, / that is his job.

But for more of an answer, I like thinking about being outside of time a lot. Time and no time are the same thing. We’re arriving on time, or never. We’re doing it right now. This is the best time because the light is changing, and it’s too bad, because I can see it and you can’t ’cause it’s behind you. It’s that feeling you’re just going into open time. It’s right here on earth, right now. This is the cosmos.

CBM That’s why we’re drinking the Beer of the Gods.

AC Exactly!

CBM What was the name of the first school you attended?

AC Ocean Avenue Elementary School. I feel like this is one of those things if you get the name of the street, you’re going to come up with my porn star name* or the house I’m going to live in twelve years from now.

(*After some deliberation we decided that combining the name of Arda’s first pet and the street her elementary school was on did, in fact, create a great porn name: Mitzy Ocean.)

CBM The components of your dinner are waiting for you downstairs.

AC Components of anything are critical. Dinner is definitely not the point there; components are life’s basic pleasures. If you take a bunch of stuff, not at random, like you went towards four things, or twelve things, or one hundred things, they wouldn’t form a composition on their own. If you could make an arc out of them—actually it wouldn’t even be you imposing it—you could follow what they did. Like we’re doing this now. The components of today were partly the drive here and the way the road looked, the pale sunset and the dark tree. Those are the components of the dinner downstairs. This is the same thing as dinner.

CBM In what city did you honeymoon? (Enter full name of city only.)

AC I feel like the city was snow. The city was the woods, and it was snowing, and there was an actual moon and there was an actual honey. The snowy forest by a frozen river. Take that Bank of America!

CBM In what company did you hold your first job?

AC Carvel.

CBM Come on, that’s great.

AC I was thirteen. It was one glorious summer. It was on Long Island, on 25A. It was the ice cream cake place; everyone went there for their birthdays. They had this big vat of the crunchies, and it had this big vat of oil on top. You have no idea what’s in it. I still have no idea. It was gross. Mixing in the crunchies was one of the jobs you had to do. You mixed in the oil with the crunchies until it was all absorbed. I ate a lot of them while I was doing it.

By the end of the summer, I was learning to decorate roses. I participated in a Cookie Puss and a Fudgie the Whale. But I quit because my parents thought I would fail school if I worked during the school year. Also, they thought it was dangerous—they said I could never have the six to nine shift, which I was bummed about because there was a cute guy from work who always worked the six to nine shift, so I never had his shift.

The guy who owned it was Mr. Winter. It’s crazy to own an ice cream place and be Mr. Winter. I was just thinking about this while I was home for Christmas because I was driving near there. He made me go babysit his granddaughter while his daughter sold baby clothes out of her house one time.

CBM In real life you’re a glamorous marketing agent.

AC You should just take that as fact. That’s a true statement.

CBM Why is it so easy for others to shoot guns and ride horses?

AC That is an ongoing—I get nervous just thinking about it. I had my big chance last summer, not this past summer, the one before. My friends got married at this place in Montana: Chico Hot Springs. One of the things they had was skeet shooting. It was the only time I even had the chance to shoot anything, and I was really hungover so it was not a great moment, but the guy was there and he showed me how to do it and I had the gun in my hand, and I just couldn’t. It wasn’t like I couldn’t pull the trigger; I couldn’t get my body to get with this thing, and I was terrified. I felt my limbs turning into Jello and thought I would shoot myself or someone else by accident. If I had to do it a million times and also not hungover, I could get my thing around it. It’s so Freudian. I just said I couldn’t “get my thing” around it. That’s ridiculous! But I just could not get with this gun.

CBM What was your favorite cartoon character during childhood?

AC Underdog. Literally. But I watched a lot of cartoons. I watched The Smurfs, that was fine, and all the Bugs Bunny. All the Woody Woodpecker with fucking Tom and Jerry. With Tom and Jerry, it’s not even about “liking,” it’s an involuntary emotional . . . Tom and Jerry is deep shit. Tom and Jerry will fuck you up.

CBM What became of all the things that never happened?

AC They’re still here. Somewhere. I mean they’re made out of something. They’re probably like snails and pine trees. And they’re just like particles. Or they’re doing it in neutrino land.

Courtney Maum is a fiction writer based in between the Berkshires of Massachusetts and New York City. A humor columnist for Electric Literature, her work has recently appeared online in Tin House, Blip, The Rumpus, Vol. 1, Anderbo and others. A frequent reader at NY-based series and a Literary Death Match champion, she’s currently working on a collection of comic fiction. Find her on Twitter at @cmaum

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