Amie Zimmerman lives in Portland, Oregon. Her work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Sixth Finch, DIAGRAM, Salt Hill, Puerto del Sol, and BathHouse Journal, among others. She has two chapbooks, Oyster (REALITY BEACH, 2018) and Compliance (Essay Press, 2018), a mini chap, Kelley Point, and is events coordinator for YesYes Books.
Writing from the film of memory has the urgency of fall transplanting put off another year, roots more entwined, bark firmer, new sweet buds more lush, an ache knowing it will be harder to dig up, more dangerous, the tree less likely to flourish. Now rather than later. The feeling of knowing what storms are coming, boats lashed to their anchors, ready to bash each other to bits rather than cut the lines & drift to the unknown. Choosing sure wreckage, known. What is happening is my neighbor is building a house so tall it blocks the sunrise until nine am in winter. What is happening is my rescue cat is so traumatized she will sit only in my lap. What is happening is my son has begun smoking weed with his friends. What is happening is the hosta’s leaves are wilting for the season & will leave a hairy tuber the size of a basketball, needing to be divided. What is happening is all of these things will leave a chronological mark but I will not trust it, as I do not trust other of my memories. I will say I lived in the Middle East & then I will say I traveled through the Middle East. I will say my parents were in a cult & then I will say they were good Christian believers. I will say my grandfather assaulted me & then I will say my grandfather knew what he was doing. I will say “No War for Oil” & then I will say “Fill Up Please.” I will say refugees where we lived & I will say I do not know. I will say I know & I will say I do not know & I will say my body knows & my fingers know how to hold a man & my heels know how to run & I do not know, flatness of the table under my back, & I will say I know, ice cream over the edge, this language & my tongue will not release but my hand still holds the other hand & I do not know, piles of scrap metal, & I will say I loved animals & had aquariums & cages & bowls & I do not know, threaded gold through filmy pink, where they went & my sorrow means death I am sure but I do not know, saved smashed bow from wrapped holiday present, & I do not know why I do not know, soft skin inside the arm cast, & I will say tequila & Frankie Gonzales behind the halfpipe & I will say fourteen & then I will say twelve & I will know that the age was not right & I know that the ages are often not right & I do not know, sound of tires before the embankment, & I will say my wedding at nineteen but it was really at twenty & still too young to drink & I know, raindrops on hot pavement, this & then my son at twenty-five & then forgive me but I stop knowing so much & I try to place where & when & the size of him & what he said & I know so much, Cheeto cheese fingers inside me dry, but I don’t even remember what antibiotic he is allergic to, & how we discovered this & I know, my thumb to make a moat, I went to therapy when he was three months old & I do not know, bare legs on my friend’s front porch, & I know trauma takes hold of memory & I will say my trauma started at three months old & that’s why my body took control of my memory & I will say that’s where the anger is & I will say that’s where so much disappeared & I do not know, the angle of the stairs to the basement, & I know, slam the door & lock it, it is there still somewhere & I know, cousin Eli crying, I will remember what his first word was & I will say it will come back even if I didn’t write it down & I know, eggs & ketchup & toast mashed in a cup, it may not ever & I will say I know, electric candles in the windows, how to believe myself & I know, spell everything right, I don’t believe myself & I know, sitting on the stepstool in the kitchen, I despise this weakness & I do not know, motors underneath floors, & I will say to my body that it’s okay it’s okay & it will take time & I know, white laces in white shoes, I got back my quadricep the other day & maybe I will get back my masseter & I know they meant to give away their love & I will say they spread hope if only to themselves & I will say they were so wrong & I know they did not know they were wrong & I will say a child both knows & does not know when their parents do harm to others & I know my parents did not know & did not see & knew & did not know of the harm done to me & saw & did not see in the way our damaged memories find pockets in our bodies, for example in my father’s knee & hip, the one he had replaced.
KMA: Amie, Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions about Compliance, your third and most recent chapbook. As you know, I’m pretty damn excited about what’s going on in this collection and I can’t wait to learn more about your thoughts regarding the work and your process in creating it! Let’s start here: why prose blocks? Why did you choose that form for this particular collection??
Amie: The subject matter of this collection felt like it was always spilling out over the edges, crumbling, trailing off into places I couldn’t follow. I think the structure of the pieces on the page helped me to feel like I was being held together, it was an attempt to contain what felt beyond my control.
KMA: In what genre is this book? As readers, do we even need to know?
Amie: I dunno. This is a hard one. It really has more conscious effort toward essay and sequential thought than much of my poetry, but far more lyric and experimentation than I’ve done in previous essay writing. Last fall, my instructor asked for a certain number of pages of creative non-fiction, in whatever genre we chose. Then he addressed the poets in the class particularly by asking that we just not break the lines. Beyond that, we were free to go where we needed, and this is what came of that freedom.</p?
I understand the idea that we really want to know about genre but I also believe that the reader can be trusted to figure it out. Hopefully it doesn’t come across as arrogance to resist genre categorization. I simply trust the reader to decide if they care to spend their time with my work, or not.
KMA: The book is called?Compliance,?yet the?form is very loudly noncompliant in terms of punctuation. Please talk a little bit about this tension.
Amie: I knew what I wanted. A couple of years ago I was studying the process of several types of geological threats, and was really impressed by the process, the physics, of tsunamis. I think in my head I had this idea of a twenty-foot wave coming to crash over everything like a wall in one big moment, but really that’s not how it happens. In the ocean, a single wave can be miles long. Miles. When the rolling motion of a wave encounters resistance from the ocean floor after being acted on by an outside force (like an earthquake), it starts a process of amplifying not just the height, but the duration. The wave slows as it hits the shore, but grows stronger and then just doesn’t stop. It doesn’t ebb, it keeps rising, and it can take hours. Can you imagine hours of water continuing to rise? How terrifying. I wanted passages in this book to feel like that. Like you can’t take a breath if you read it the way it’s written.
KMA: This is your third published chapbook; how has the writing process for?Compliance?been similar to or different from your experience writing your previous two?
Amie: Kelley Point and Oyster are both collections of individual poems written over periods of time, with the pieces selected for the purpose of theme and style. It felt fairly obvious to me which ones were in conversation with each other. Kelley Point is my love letter to Portland, as corny as that sounds, the Portland where I became an adult and finally set down roots. Oyster is about family and power dynamics, the idea of what we consume in order to survive.
Compliance is different because it was written in concentrated bursts over a six week period of time. I wrote for almost two hours every morning sitting on my bed, watching the sun come up later and later in the day, watching my bedroom window get less light as the house being constructed behind mine grew tall enough to block the morning sun. I had a page count I was attempting to meet for a writing class I was in, and had asked my memory to release to me what it was holding. Earlier that year, my mother had sent me a box of photos of my childhood in a downsizing effort. Turns out it was filled with evidence of memories I had been questioning. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I’ve learned that memories can halve and twin themselves, be opaque or see-through, can show up or fade out at will. I often am not in control of my own recall, and this makes me question myself.
Specifically, I remember driving a car when I was maybe 8 years old, in the desert development next to our apartment building, near an arroyo. This was in the piece Shoe—I was sitting on my father’s lap, steering, while he worked the pedals. There was an abandoned adobe house out there we kids would climb around inside. I clearly remembered these things, but had begun questioning if what I remembered was just metaphor, kind of waking signifiers. Then I received that box of photos and there was a picture of me at that adobe house. It was so important to feel real! I wasn’t wrong! And if that was real, how many other important symbols were real as well? It felt like I’d been made flesh, not just my memory proven, but my actual self made substantial.
KMA: In?Compliance?there is a profound sense of emotional isolation within a landscape of relationships and connection. Can you walk us through how the feelings of isolation and connection operate in this collection?
Amie: When I operate from memory in my writing, I find myself often asking—How can both be true? That’s pretty clear in the piece that Vinyl took, Hip. What happens when my felt experience does not line up with what I am being told by others that were there, when they are saying they lived through something entirely different than I did? In excavating the past for those moments I know are true, because I was there as well, how do I not doubt myself, consider myself a liar, even a betrayer of my family? The isolation of being in a sected religious community, and suffering sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, creates a reality bubble that can be hard to penetrate. Attempting to replicate the dreamlike state I lived in, and can revert to, was one of the goals of this book. It felt dangerous to reveal the struggle for identity this collection catalogues, but I’m hoping it shows the amount of work it takes to peel back however many layers of suffocation were placed between me and any possible emotional intimacy with others.
KMA: Please share a bit about books you have read that may have had an impact on the creation of this collection or books you feel are in conversation with?Compliance.
Amie: I’ve been drawn to writers who have the ability to cross genre, to speak intimately, but demand much. I am in awe of those who manage a conversational tone while also truly put the work in to craft beautiful, rigorous voice. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets will always be a favorite. Leading up to this time I had also been reading Gwendolyn Brooks’ Selected Poems, Denis Johnson’s Jesus Son, Anne Carson’s Short Talks, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Marie Howe’s Magdalene, Shane McCrae’s In The Language Of My Captor, and Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies. Elements of each of these works show up in Compliance.
KMA: In your recent publication in?Diagram?you added a note at the bottom which included the following:??“The ugly erasure of women in the Christian evangelical patriarchy, and the calculated removal of access to intersectional feminism, isolates women from each other and from their identities.” Please add to this statement with any thoughts you’d care to share and also a few words about how it has influenced your work.
Amie: Seeing that statement here is a little intimidating. It’s a really sweeping condemnation. That said, it’s true. And it feels like I will probably never be able to write without finding a reactionary thread of it in my work somewhere. I was raised in a traveling tent revival evangelical Christian missionary cult in the 1970’s and 80’s. Christian missions work is, and always will be, colonialist at its core. It serves the white supremacist patriarchy, even if those who participate do so with the very best of intentions, and I am constantly working to de-louse myself of its infestation in my life. We left the cult when I was 7 or 8, and I left the church at 17 and then again at 25, but it has taken me all of my life to identify the ways in which evangelical Christianity has excised me from my own body. Only in the past decade have I additionally been able to see how the church cut me off from my ability to identify as a feminist and, more crucially, as an intersectional feminist. Women traditionally have no voice and no brain in the church. This has not changed and cannot change because the system itself is rotten and, like capitalism, reduces women to commodities. We leverage our selves for survival in the church by performing prescriptive roles that force us into a feminine hierarchy, which isolates us from each other. I want no part of this damaging system.
KMA: And finally, I’d love to hear more about any new projects currently on the boil.?
Amie: Ah yes, the manuscript. It’s being sent out now, so we’ll see what happens there. But honestly, I’m trying to figure out being ok with simply not producing as much. I think our culture puts so much value in being productive, and in producing commodity, I get really uncomfortable when I’m not actively writing every day. At this point, I’d like to give myself permission to not produce, and to be ok with that identity as well.