Conversations in the Author's Corner: Meg Eden
About the Book (via Press 53): Drowning in the Floating World immerses us into the Japanese natural disaster known as 3/11: the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Relentless as the disaster itself, Eden seizes control of our deepest emotional centers, and, through insightful perspective, holds us in consideration of loss, helplessness, upheaval, and, perhaps most stirring, what to make of, and do with, survival. Her collection is also a cultural education, sure to encourage further reading and research. Drowning in the Floating World is, itself, a tsunami stone—a warning beacon to remind us to learn from disaster and, in doing so, honor all that’s lost.
About the Author: Meg Eden is a 2020 Pitch Wars mentee and teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of the 2021 Towson Prize for Literature-winning poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (Press 53, 2020) and children’s novels, most recently Selah’s Guide to Normal (Scholastic, 2023). Find her on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal or at her website https://www.megedenbooks.com/
Kiera Wolfe: The first thing I’d love to talk about is the sheer scale of diverse forms in this collection. As James Arthur notes in his review, we have “a range of poetic styles—form and free verse, intimate lyrics and found text,” haiku, Yelp reviews. How has your experimentation with form developed?
Meg Eden: Some people have asked, how do you talk about one thing for a whole book? I try to find many different angles to talk about the same thing, the same event. One of those angles is form. Forms and their constraints are a helpful device for unlocking the heart of what I’m trying to say.
KW: Did you begin with more traditional forms and then get more experimental over the course of your writing? Or did you find yourself jumping around?
ME: Jumping around. Triplets in the haiku are an underlying form here. I love the haiku— each line leads to an aha moment. I wanted to go beyond telling what people knew, the pain of the disaster, and try to find some realization, something beautiful, even in the heartbreaking. For the Yelp reviews, it’s more literal than it seems. I saw these Yelp reviews for Fukushima— what a weird way to troll! What a weird way for us to talk about disaster. I liked looking at certain objects— in that section there’s a chart of debris that is a literal mimicking of a form that existed; there were charts online documenting objects found at sea. The columns are in conversation with each other. Of course, I was also in grad school and taking forms courses to play with form, hear about it in new ways, and realize what it can do.
KW: There are images this collection often returns to: boats atop buildings, the opening and entering of corpses, rising tides of devastating water. Part of the deeply moving experience of reading the poems is coming back to these images in new and newly devastating ways, in exploring the same disasters from different perspectives. Do you often find yourself artistically interested in this kind of visual repetition? How do you think about writing similar images/scenes in new ways and in new contexts?
ME: Haunting is something that happens to all writers— we write, in part, because we’re haunted. Certain images haunt us, and those images will keep coming out until we’ve coped at some level. Since writing about this disaster, I cannot handle films with water in them. I have almost had to step out of theaters when there is a huge flooding of water. I’m not sure how intentionally I’m trying to repeat those images. You look at the footage, and you see a boat on top of a building, and you think, a boat is not supposed to be on top of a building, something is very wrong. You can’t stop thinking about it. The washing machine is one that comes up as well— there was an interview where someone referred to the town as a giant washing machine and I thought about how these townspeople are objectified. Like clothing in a washing machine. Sometimes I intentionally repeat images and think, how can I transform this?
KW: This collection is deeply interested in reference, research, and history. Many of the poems are explicitly after or inspired by specific figures, quotations, news articles, and the reader has access to much of your inspiration in detail in the back of the book. How do you see your art interacting with what you read? How do you see your reader interacting with these texts?
ME: Let me first address the section in the back [where I list my references] because I got at least one criticism that it felt like I was showing off my research and it was off putting. This collection was accepted with Press 53’s immersion series, and something my editor Chris Forrest wanted was to educate the reader and create a learning experience. That was an intentional part. Disaster comes and goes, people hear about it in the news briefly, but they often don’t know the extent of it. There are so many complexities with this disaster and so many ways that this is a warning of how our governments work. I hope readers can get more than the news was talking about, and remember it after it’s left the news cycle. If you don’t live in Japan or you’re not interacting with Japanese people, maybe this is something that came and went in your memory. But I think it’s important we memorialize and remember and learn from disaster.
For my writing— everything I write is in response to what I’m reading. I’m always trying to fill up my tank and keep an eye out for what interests me. I think all of us, as writers, should be constantly consuming— consuming discerningly.
KW: One reference I found myself researching was the radium girls. It’s one of the few poems in the collection that exists outside the physical space of Japan and incorporates a trans-oceanic connection between two different cultures. How did you come to that poem? How do you see it fitting into the collection?
ME: I first heard about the radium girls briefly in conversation, then went on a huge research rabbit trail just fascinated. I felt that connection with Fukushima— of radium as part of our everyday life and how our view has changed. I was so disturbed by the idea that a company knew the problems with radium. They did everything to not educate the girls on the danger of licking their brushes and putting radium in their mouth every day, to not hold liability. These girls’ bodies were literally disintegrating. I saw the parallels between how TEPCO dealt with the radium leak and how Japan continues to deal with the radium leak - there are so many things that are censored and erasured from the people, things that have perhaps more lasting consequences than we’re talking about. History repeating itself. Those patterns fascinate and haunt me. Until we acknowledge what’s happened in the past, how are we going to be able to deal with the future?
KW: I’d love to hear also about your experimentation with speaker. I really love the poem where we hear directly from the cow. Some poets or collections like to speak from a consistent voice, how do you think about your experimentation in that respect?
ME: One of the first collections that really blew my mind to what poetry could be was Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler. I was blown away by how she talked about disaster and how she let different objects speak for disasters. The Superdome has a voice, the president has a voice, a dude that owns a dog has a voice. I was definitely thinking about that collection as I worked on this— how can I view the disaster from a different angle? I’m fascinated by the way they view spirits and objects in Japanese culture, especially dolls. I thought to myself, what would it be like for a doll that didn’t get funeral rites? How would it feel about being abandoned? About not getting closure because of disaster? How would this building feel— the last building standing? It’s a fun thought experiment and it opens your eyes to new realizations about a disaster. It opens up empathy. I think everyone should play with different perspectives.
KW: For our Author’s Corner project, we’re promoting authors who have published with small, indie presses. Can you talk us through your publication process and your experience with Press 53?
ME: I did what every poet does and played the poetry lottery to some degree. I tend to apply more to places that didn’t have a submission fee, or a submission fee where I got something for it like a subscription copy of a book or journal. That’s when I stumbled on [Press 53’s] immersion series. They explained what it was, and I thought, I can make a case for how [my collection] is educating people about Japan, about a historic event and disaster. I wrote a letter justifying why it should be in the series, and it was a culminating element where I really had to think about what the collection was and what I was trying to do with it. So it had been a finalist/sem-finalist elsewhere, but Press 53 ultimately accepted my letter and the collection. And I’m just so grateful it went with Press 53, they’re a great press. Chris has put so much care into this collection editing— he was paying even more attention than I did to certain craft elements. They offered to do more for this book than has usually been offered in my experience. It was so collaborative. But still, there’s so much the author does on their own— contacting people in your circles that might be able to review it or post about it. There was a little bit of both.
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About The Inner Loop: The Inner Loop is a literary reading series and network for creative writers in the Washington, D.C. metro area. We aim to create a space for both emerging and established writers to connect with their community, and to transform the written word into a shared experience through the act of reading aloud. This interview is part of our Author’s Corner campaign, promoting local authors publishing with indie presses.