Mariel Fechik’s first chapbook, Millicent, deftly illustrates the surreal, yet embodied reality of what it can be like to live through grief. There is a bold awareness that sings to us from its pages, and a delicate resoluteness that endures long after the book is done.
What is your earliest memory of reading/writing poetry? When did it come alive for you?
Oddly, I can’t really pinpoint what my earliest memory of it is. What I do remember is my 7th grade poetry unit. We wrote portfolios and were encouraged to read in front of the class, as well as submit to a youth anthology. I remember being one of the few in the class who relished in this. It seems that it was already alive for me at that point – always had been, really, I guess. My family is made up of artists, and as a child, I think all different forms of art blended together for me.
Your gorgeous debut chapbook, Millicent, was published earlier this month by Ghost City Press. Can you tell us about some of the central themes in your book?
This book came about after my grandma died three years ago. In many ways, it was akin to losing a parent. Her death was simultaneously sudden and drawn out, and I spent weeks after school while I was student teaching in hospitals and eventually the hospice center where she died. Those few weeks are kind of a wash in my memory, feeling both endless and like nothing at all. One of the ways I worked through the subsequent months after she died was to write. She wrote poetry herself, and it felt like the right way to honor her.
Grief is such a common theme in poetry, but it’s not a topic that ever diminishes in power. Though the theme of grief is in a very personal context in my book, it’s still of course a universal language. Aside from this, I think that memory is the other theme of the book. I think memory, more than anything else, informs grief and how it manifests for each person. I have always been an overly nostalgic person, someone who fixates on tiny details of memory. The way my grandmother’s kitchen looked in the afternoon will always be something that sticks with me. The way her house smelled in the summer. The little spot of red on the hall rug. Those are the things that keep her alive for me, and though these poems all came from a place of loss, the details of memory are what allowed me to move forward.
When reading your poems, there is a distinct, felt sense of the body & its place in the world you’ve created. I especially appreciate how you evoke ways grief can live or manifest in the body. How do you think the body (does or doesn’t) shape the poem?
It only occurred to me after I read this question how often I mention hands in this book. I’ve always had a fixation with hands, partly because I think they’re beautiful, and partly because of all the feeling we carry in them. If you watch a person’s hands, you can often tell their mental state. When I’m anxious, my cuticles become wastelands. Both my mother and I gesticulate wildly when we’re upset. When I think of grief, I think of hands that don’t know what to do with themselves. I think of the way they try to keep themselves busy to compensate for a body that’s filled with the malaise of mourning. There’s this line from the show Fleabag spoken by the title character after her mother dies: “I don’t know what to do with all the love I have for her.” In the poem “Making Soup,” the “you” in the poem is my mother. She loves to cook; she’s always told me that “food is love.” Though I came to Fleabag long after I wrote that poem, I think that’s where I was coming from. I watched my mother exorcise her grief and her love through her hands into something else. I think my answer to the question is that grief shapes the body, and the hands shape the poem.
Millicent is dedicated to your grandmother. In your book, there is a strong sense of the matrilineal and an exploration of what it means to be part of a heritage. What are some of the ways lineage and legacy inform your work?
This pretty much informs everything about my work. My mom’s side of the family is Jewish, but because my mother doesn’t practice and my grandma never pushed us to be a part of it, I’ve always felt relatively isolated from the Jewish community from a practical standpoint. But culturally we’re very Jewish, and this is something that’s hard for me to explain to others. It’s something that I feel in my blood. When I spend time with my grandma’s family. In the way my mom and I interact. In how my natural reaction to everything irritating is to say, “Oy vey.” My grandmother was a poet and a singer, my mother is an artist, and I have followed in their footsteps. It was never something I actively thought about when I sat down to write, but somehow, “mother” and “grandmother” nearly always made it in. And that’s how this book happened.
Your poems in Millicent seem to be firmly rooted in this world, yet there is an ethereality, a stunning beauty, and a willingness to explore “other worlds…dream…the alternate… the other side…horses.” Tell us how you manage to incorporate these realms, sometimes simultaneously. Do you see them as being interconnected or discrete, and why?
I’ve always been an overly nostalgic person. Especially in childhood, I would cling to things that other people didn’t even remember. I’ve also always had an overactive imagination. Memories and dreams often collided when I was younger, and there are things I remember now that I’m genuinely not sure are real. For example, the poem “Lake St. Mary” is based on a family trip to Montana. We went horseback riding, and for some inexplicable reason, I remember my horse taking off in a gallop ahead of the group. It’s an impossibly vivid memory, and yet my mom doesn’t remember it happening. I’m aware of how crazy that sounds! But I think I’ve always used the idea of alternate realities to cope with difficulties, as a way of imagining what might have been or allowing magic to infiltrate daily life. I’m fascinated by the idea that other possibilities are always occuring – not quite so much the multiverse theory…but something more subtle. I think sometimes, too, that traveling to other worlds in my writing makes the grief that much more potent. When you take a familiar thing to an unfamiliar context, it becomes at once more alien and more real. I wanted this book to feel like the half-real, half-dream state I found myself in for the couple years after losing my grandma. Thank you for making me feel like I’ve achieved that! As for the horses…I’m not sure when I became a horse girl. Apparently halfway through compiling these poems.
As a singer in three bands (Fay Ray, Moon Mouth, and Tara Terra), how do you make time for poetry? Do you have a “writing process”, or a daily practice with either writing music or poetry? Also, as someone who is both a poet and a musician, how do you feel one (does/doesn’t) inform the other?
What a great question. The answer is that I don’t have time. Ever! But I’ve always thrived on stress (an unfortunate quality that resulted in several panic attacks during high school when my activity levels tipped over the edge of practical) and so I’d rather be busy than not. My band Fay Ray just released new music and I’ve been working on promo for that. We have lots of shows coming up. So, sadly, writing has been pushed to the side a bit for now. That said, I’m more of a spontaneous idea writer than I am a disciplined one. I won’t write for months and suddenly will have what seems like the best idea I’ve ever had. This goes for music and poetry. The two have always been intertwined in my life. I’ve always come at music from a poetic standpoint, and often I find my lyrics take ideas from my poetry and vice versa. I don’t think I’d be decent at either if I didn’t have both.
What other projects are you working on right now?
For the past couple years, I’ve been obsessed with Louise Glück’s book Averno, and particularly her Persephone poems. A Myth of Devotion is possibly my favorite poem ever. I’ve been writing my own Persephone poems for a while, inspired by Louise, and I’m hoping to re-up my knowledge of Greek mythology to write hopefully at least a micro-chapbook of mythology poems! Hopefully speaking this into the void will encourage me to really pursue it.
Mariel Fechik lives in Chicago, IL and works in a library. She sings for the bands Fay Ray, Moon Mouth, and Tara Terra, and writes music reviews for Atwood Magazine. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Bettering American Poetry, and has appeared or in Hobart, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Yes Poetry and others. She is the author of Millicent (Ghost City Press, 2019) and An Encyclopedia of Everything We've Touched (Ghost City Press, 2018). Melissa Eleftherion is a writer, librarian and a visual artist. She is the author of field guide to autobiography (The Operating System, 2018), & six chapbooks, including the recently released little ditch (above/ground press, 2018). Born & raised in Brooklyn, Melissa now lives in Mendocino County where she manages the Ukiah Library, teaches creative writing, & curates the LOBA Reading Series. Recent work is available at apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com.